On July 28, 2015 the Washington Nationals won the World Series. Well, that may be a bit of hyperbole. Still, they have definitely increased their chances.
On that date the Nationals gave up a minor league right-handed pitcher named Nick Pivetta for Philadelphia Phillies’ ace closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Graphic via mcall
Pivetta is considered to be a good prospect. The 22-year old chalked up a 13-8 record with a 4.22 ERA in Single A play in 2014. This season he has 7 wins to 4 losses with an ERA of 2.29 in 15 games in High A ball. He was then promoted to Double A Harrisburg, where he is 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA.
In 11 seasons as a closer, Papelbon has a 2.32 ERA and 342 saves, including 17 in 17 opportunities this year. His 2015 record also includes an ERA of 1.06, a WHIP of 0.76, a ratio of strikes outs per nine innings of 9.1 and walks per nine innings of 1.8. He also has seven saves and a 1.00 ERA in 18 career postseason games. His 342 saves are 12th best in Major League Baseball history.
It would appear that the Nationals team and fans should be quite happy with the catch, but they are not. The reason is Papelbon demanded that he be the closer. A demand that he won, even though the Nats have their own ace closer in Drew Storen.
Storen has been having a sensational year. He has converted 29 of 31 save opportunities with an ERA of 1.21, a WHIP of 1.01, strikes per 9 innings ratio of 10.9, and walks per nine innings ratio of 2.2.
So why did the Nationals make the trade? Simple. They don’t trust Storen in big games. This reputation began in the fifth game of the National League Division Series in 2012. As the Nationals closer that year, Storen was expected to close out the ninth inning with the Nationals beating the Cardinals 7-5.
Instead, Cardinals batter Carlos Beltran hit a double and advanced to third on a Matt Holliday groundout. Storen struck out Allen Craig putting the Nats one out away from taking the series and punching a ticket to play the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series. After getting the count up to 3-2, Storen walked Yadier Molina. Again Storen worked the count to 3-2 against David Freese and walked him. Storen then gave up a two-run single to Descalso that tied the game and then gave up a two-run single to Pete Kozma. As a result, the Nats lost 9-7.
Storen also blew a save opportunity in the second game of the 2014 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants.
This is not the first time Storen lost the closer role. The Nationals signed former New York Yankees closer Rafael Soriano to a free agent deal in 2013 and he was assigned the closer responsibilities. Storen didn’t take it well. His pitching fell off and he was sent down to the minors to work on his mechanics. Since his return to the Nats Storen has pitched well. For the 2014-2015 period his ERA is 1.36 and he has been second only to Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis, who is the league’s best.
Saying that Papelbon and Storen are the best one-two finishers in baseball is not hyperbole. The question for some is who of the two should be the closer.
Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post uses analytics to show that Papelbon is the ideal closer and Storen is the ideal set up guy.
It should come to no one’s surprise that Storen is not happy with the situation. There are reports that team GM Mike Rizzo met with Storen to explain why the deal was made. Publicly he is okay with it. Papelbon joined the club during their road trip to Miami and he and Storen were shown in conversation in the bullpen during the televised Nats-Marlins game on July 29. Storen pitched the eighth inning in that game, which the Nats won 7-2.
In the next game Storen was used as the set up guy and threw a 1-2-3 eighth. Papelbon closed it out in the ninth with his own 1-2-3 finish. The Nats and their fans hope that this finish will become routine.
Graphic via nypost