Is Drew Storen Worth Keeping Around? Depends On What You Value

As the MLB trade rumors heat up around the Washington Nationals, one name that continues to pop up is Drew Storen’s, the club’s young closer. Just this past winter it was Storen’s name that emerged as the lynch-pin for several would be deals, including the package that almost sent former Cy-Young winner Zack Greinke to Washington, and it appears that he could play a pivotal role in the club’s attempt to land B.J. Upton or Ubaldo Jimenez this week.

Several reports emerged this week that the Nationals were considering including Storen in a potential deal to acquire Minnesota Twins centerfielder Dernard Span. MLB.com’s Bill Ladson put those rumors to rest however, citing a team source who said the team would not trade Storen to Minnesota. Still though, the question remains, what is it about Storen that everyone seems to want? And why do the Nationals seem so intent on keeping him?

The 23-year-old was drafted 10th overall by the Nats in 2009. That season the club was the first team to ever have two selections in the top 10 in the MLB draft, and after taking Stephen Strasburg No. 1 overall, Storen was the perfect cheap option for a second pick that could provide them bullpen help immediately. At the time of the draft, however, many wondered about his true ceiling as a pitcher, but he was widely considered to be one of the closest pitchers in the draft to being MLB ready.

Since, Storen has shown strong potential in the bullpen by posting 3.58 ERA in 54 appearances in 2010, and in 2011 by establishing himself as an MLB closer by collecting 25 saves while posting a 2.68 ERA. The question, though, has never been whether he could be a strong presence in the bullpen, however scouts have speculated at just how high his ceiling could be.

A look at the stats begin to tell the picture. Storen’s 7.33 K/9 ranks relatively low among the top closers in the game. To put that in comparison Atlanta Braves rookie Craig Kimbrel (who to be fair is a monster) is averaging 14.37 K/9, and the only other pitcher who ranks in the top-10 in saves with a K/9 lower than Storen’s is Heath Bell. K/9 is a strong evaluator of closers because, especially for pitchers who often pitch just one inning, the easiest way to keep runs off the board is by not even allowing batters to put the ball in play. While some closers like Mariano Rivera make a living off of a pitch that no one can make solid contact with, most live and die with their ability to earn strikeout after strikeout.

In 2011 Storen adjusted his approach to basically become a two-pitch hurler. While in 2010 he threw is curveball 10% of the time, that pitch has vanished from his repertoire this season, and as a result he’s seen his strikeouts drop rather steeply. His step away from convention has been a successful one for him though, as he’s on pace to have the best season for a Nationals closer since Chad Cordero dominated the National League in 2005.

But does that make him untradeable? I asked my Twitter following today whether they would be ok with trading Storen for a player like Dernard Spann, and the results overwhelmingly pointed to no. Some who responded didn’t want to trade him for sentimental reasons, other’s considered him a franchise player, but most seemed to consider the value of a legitimate closer far higher than that of an above-average position player.

That’s what this argument comes down to. If you are a believer that a) closers are an incredibly valuable part of a team and that b) they’re hard to come by, then no, trading Storen would not make much sense for the Nationals. However if you subscribe to more of a moneyball point of view, you might think that a) closers are given arbitrary value because of a newly designed stat that doesn’t measure as much as it pretends to and b) Storen could be replaced within a year by another young bullpen arm.

Where Mike Rizzo stands on this debate is yet to be seen.