Nationals Reward Drew Storen Breakout With Jonathan Papelbon by Jeff Sullivan July 28, 2015 Among the bright spots for the Nationals this year has been the emergence of Drew Storen. Already an effective reliever, Storen tweaked his breaking ball and became something of a strikeout machine. Instead of sitting down two of every 10 batters, Storen has bumped that up to three out of 10, succeeding as the closer for a first-place but somehow still disappointing team. As a reward for his step forward, the Nationals have demoted Storen out of the closer role, agreeing to pick up Jonathan Papelbon and everything that comes with him. For a straight swap, this one’s a little complicated. The Nationals needed to convince Papelbon to come, and there was the matter of his $13-million vesting option. The option was almost sure to vest, but the Nationals opted to guarantee it for $11 million. That gives Papelbon some certainty, yet he’s also been given other certainty: the right to close, down the stretch. Technically, I suppose, the Nationals could go back on their word. And if Papelbon struggles, well, the Nationals would be stupid to leave him there. But this is without question the interesting thing. A team with a closer added a closer. That’s what some people are having trouble understanding. Why replace what doesn’t need to be replaced? Isn’t Papelbon redundant? If you just think of him as a closer, yeah, sure. If you have a really good catcher, it doesn’t make sense to acquire another really good catcher. But this is less about the closer role, and more about the bullpen. The Nationals aren’t adding Papelbon and losing Storen. They’re adding Papelbon and shifting Storen. Back in the earlier days of sabermetrics, dozens of writers made it their mission to knock closers down a peg. Closers were being overrated, and it was repeated that more important outs can be generated in the seventh and eighth innings. It isn’t true that setup men throw higher-leverage innings than closers do. It is true that sometimes this happens. There can be important outs in any inning. You want to have good pitchers available for as many important outs as possible. What Papelbon does is lengthen the Nationals bullpen. Leverage statistics show why the Nationals need more than just Storen. The average leverage index when Storen has entered a game this year has been 1.66. The average leverage index when Aaron Barrett has entered a game this year has been 1.61. Viewed in that way, they’ve had almost equivalently-stressful roles, and now instead of that being Storen and Barrett, that’s Papelbon and Storen, with Barrett moving down a rung. Make an addition in the bullpen and it can have an effect on every role. I don’t know if Papelbon is better than Storen, but I know that he’s good, and I know that he’ll kick out someone worse. Contenders trade for helpful relievers. The Mets just traded for Tyler Clippard. Good relievers get funneled big postseason matchups. We know the Nationals aren’t very vulnerable in the earlier innings. Now they’re less vulnerable in the later ones. The Clippard trade isn’t a bad comp, in that Clippard fetched the A’s Casey Meisner, while Papelbon fetched the Phillies Nicholas Pivetta. Meisner and Pivetta are differently regarded, depending on who you talk to, but they’re both live-armed, tall, project righties in the lower levels. Pivetta is a couple years older. Meisner just recently cracked High-A, while Pivetta just recently cracked Double-A. Both of them could conceivably start in the majors. Kiley gave them both future-value ratings of 40. This seems to be the going rate for a good and pricey veteran reliever: a prospect with arm strength and projectability. A third-tier prospect with a shot at being a second-tier prospect. The Phillies will be happy to have Pivetta. He helps the organization more than Papelbon would’ve, and there’s value in just having this over with. Papelbon wanted out; he finally got his wish. He got a couple of his wishes. For every veteran shown the door, the Phillies get closer to reaching the other side of this. Every one makes the next one easier. No more do they have to deal with the Papelbon questions, and within a few days, we should be able to say the same of Cole Hamels. And the Nationals, you’d think, will be happy to have Papelbon. They’re not thrilled that he’ll cost them $11 million next year, but that’s not a horrible price for an effective reliever. And next year will be next year’s problem. For now, the Nationals have Papelbon and his personality, and perhaps he’s less likely to become a distraction on a team that’s going places. Perhaps Storen will keep any disappointment to himself as long as he’s still getting the ball, and the Nationals are still charging for the World Series. It can’t feel good to get demoted, but this is where a manager comes in, and while I hate to defer to authority, you’d think the Nationals wouldn’t have done something like this if they thought it would result in catastrophe. They believe this’ll help the bullpen, and that winning will prevent any problems in the clubhouse from spiraling out of control. The funny thing is the Nationals’ bullpen wasn’t bad. Even beyond Storen. It’s not a unit that demanded an upgrade. Even still, it got one. With injured players now returning, the Nationals were running out of spots to improve.