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Closer Rankings: Drew Storen's up-and-down career

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The Washington reliever has been good as a closer, bad as a closer, good as a setup guy, bad as a setup guy. Does it mean anything?

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Let's talk about Drew Storen today.

It's been something of a roller-coaster career for Storen as a closer (or "closer"). He sort of fell into the role in 2011 when the team didn't have anyone else. He saved 43 games in 48 chances, struck out almost a batter an inning and had a 3.32 FIP. He wasn't vintage Mariano Rivera, but he was very good.

Elbow surgery in 2012 kept him from pitching much, and then somehow, he wasn't good enough to be a closer anymore, and the Nationals felt the need to go out and get a real "bona-fide" closer in Rafael Soriano. Still recovering from injury, Storen struggled in 2013 to a 4.52 ERA, but was again elite last year, with a 1.12 ERA. On the back of success as a setup guy and some (largely injury-related) struggles as a closer), Storen built a reputation as one of those guys who couldn't succeed as a closer, who didn't have that one factor that made the ninth inning doable.

Regardless, when Soriano became a free agent after 2014, the Nationals let him go, and installed Storen back as the closer.

It went well. Great, in fact. As of the last week of July, Storen had a 1.73 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 36.1 innings and 29 saves in 31 chances. For a team that was in line for a playoff spot, he was pitching crazy well.

Even with that, the Nationals went out and got Jonathan Papelbon. Now, I don't think this was a Rafael Soriano situation. If the Nationals had had their way, odds are good they would have left Storen in the ninth inning and made Papelbon the setup guy. But Papelbon had conditions for the trade, and with a contract that rewards him for finishing games, he wasn't going to let the closer role go. So I don't blame the Nationals for not trusting Storen, but the facts remain that he lost the job for no real reason.

And since? Well, Storen's been one of the worst relievers in the game. He pitched five scoreless innings to start his tenure as Papelbon's teammate, but in his last four games (3.2 innings), Storen has given up 10 earned runs. Since Papelbon joined the Nationals, Storen has a 10.38 ERA, bringing his season number to 3.40, almost double where it was when he was the closer.

Now, help me out with the narrative here. If Storen was the kind of guy who couldn't succeed in the closer role, why was he so good to start the year? If the ninth inning is different, why was he good in 2011 before struggling in 2012-13? If he lost confidence by being removed from the role this year, why did he have a 1.12 ERA in 2014?

The simple answer here is that these confidence/soft factors/mythical inning narratives are shenanigans, red herrings tossed out there because analysts aren't allowed to shrug their shoulders and say "sometimes things are weird." But really, that's the answer. Maybe Storen struggled in 2013 because his injury was still dogging him, or maybe it was the .319 BABIP. Maybe he has struggled the last couple weeks because he's tired or because he's hurt, or because bad luck happens.

It's no fun to be an analyst sometimes, when the answer to a question is a shrug and an indeterminate noise. But so often, particularly in the small samples, that's what we should do, even if it isn't what we ever actually do do.

Just some thoughts. Now, on to this week's closer rankings. After that comes "What they're talking about."

Closer Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week
1 Kenley Jansen LAD 4
2 Aroldis Chapman CIN 1
3 Craig Kimbrel SDP 2
4 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 5
5 Andrew Miller NYY 3
6 Huston Street LAA 9
7 Mark Melancon PIT 10
8 Jonathan Papelbon WAS 7
9 David Robertson CHW 8
10 Glen Perkins MIN 12
11 Zach Britton BAL 11
12 Cody Allen CLE 14
13 Greg Holland KAN 6
14 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 13
15 Ken Giles PHI 17
16 A.J. Ramos MIA 18
17 Roberto Osuna TOR 21
18 Dellin Betances NYY 15
19 Brad Ziegler ARI 19
20 Jeurys Familia NYM 22
21 Luke Gregerson HOU 20
22 Shawn Tolleson TEX 23
23 Hector Rondon CHC 25
24 Arodys Vizcaino ATL 27
25 Brad Boxberger TAM 28
26 Santiago Casilla SFG NR
27 Wade Davis KAN 16
28 Jake McGee TAM 30
29 Carson Smith SEA 26
30 Bruce Rondon DET NR

What they're talking about

  • On Kenley Jansen:

  • On Aroldis Chapman:

  • On Jonathan Papelbon:

  • On Greg Holland:

  • On Roberto Osuna:

  • On Dellin Betances:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Yankees?src=hash">#Yankees</a> Dellin Betances leads baseball with 83 multi-K relief appearances since 2014. Only Chapman has even 70; no other pitcher has 60.</p>&mdash; Ace of MLB Stats (@AceballStats) <a href="https://twitter.com/AceballStats/status/631545642582568960">August 12, 2015</a></blockquote>
    <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

  • On Shawn Tolleson:

  • On Santiago Casilla:

  • On Wade Davis:

  • On Edward Mujica: