The Return of Drew Storen

The 2014 Nationals will enter the playoffs with a familiar face at the back of the bullpen. After a turbulent 2013, Drew Storen has emerged as the team’s late option after Rafael Soriano went through a rough stretch. Storen has rewarded the Nationals’ faith this year, posting a 1.25 ERA, and 2.80 FIP, over 50.1 innings. That wasn’t the case last year. Storen posted a 5.95 ERA over his 42.1 innings and was demoted to Triple-A. Less than a year later, he’ll close things out for the Nats again.

How has Storen regained his form? Mechanics have played a big role. Storen’s mechanics have changed drastically since last season. Here’s video of Storen from last May. Notice his front leg at the beginning of his delivery. It just sort of glides forward, barely coming off the ground. That was the case in August as well, after Storen was recalled from the minors. Storen was actually much better after being recalled last season, but decided to overhaul his mechanics anyway.

Now, compare that video to his mechanics September. There’s a huge difference, especially with his front leg. Storen now completed lifts it off the ground. He’s even added a little bit of a pause in his delivery. I’m far from an expert on mechanics, but it seems silly to write an article about how Storen has improved without mentioning how different he looks on the mound.

So, what can the numbers actually tell us about his performance. Well, Storen has been much more effective against left-handers this season. A big reason for that has been an increased reliance on his changeup. Storen’s usage is way up this season, particularly against lefties. Storen threw the pitch 16% of the time against lefties last year. This season, he’s up to 33%. The changeup was actually pretty effective against lefties last year, and Storen must have noticed. Both years, he’s used it as his primary out-pitch against southpaws. It’s been a wise choice. Storen’s change has the best whiff rate of any of his offerings. As an added bonus, he’s also been able to get more batters to pound it into the ground this year.

That’s not a trend with just his change. Storen’s done a much better job keeping the ball on the ground this year. His groundball rate has jumped to 48.6% after being down at 40.9% last year. Every single one of his pitches has seen its groundball rate jump in 2014. Storen’s posted decent groundball rates in the past, so this isn’t necessarily new, but a return to anything prior to 2013 is an upgrade.

Of course, none of that will matter if Storen pitches like he did during the 2012 postseason. One pitcher shouldn’t be defined by a single appearance, but it will be tough for fans to put that out of their head when he takes the mound. At the same time, it provides Storen with another opportunity at redemption. Storen’s been in the league for a few years now. He’s dealt with adversity, and was found a way to overcome it. If 2014 is any indication, he’ll be ready when he gets another shot.

Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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