Last week, the Reds reached a one-year agreement with reliever Drew Storen. The club will pay the 29-year-old pitcher $3 million, an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses and $500,000 if he’s traded. The deal’s impact won’t be felt in wins and losses. And since it’s only for a year and a tiny amount of cash by MLB standards it doesn’t alter the trajectory of the Rebuild one way or the other.

But what caught my eye was the reasoning Dick Williams offered and the profound break it made from the recent past.

Let’s start with Williams’ comments on the WLW Hot Stove show:

“Yeah, I think fans should be really excited about this addition to the club, Drew. Not only a local kid, but a guy that’s had a lot of success pitching at the end of ballgames for successful teams. A high-leverage situation type guy.”

“He’s going to fit in real well with us. He’s got a great personality, good make-up and a good track record. We think last season was a little bit of an aberration for him and created an opportunity. We swooped in and took advantage of it. I think it’s a win-win signing that gives him a good opportunity. Gives us a real good pitcher at the back end of the game.”

Jim Kelch encouraged Williams to support the Storen deal by citing the reliever’s ERA from the whopping 18 innings he pitched at the end of 2016 for Seattle. Not only didn’t Williams bite, he pushed back on that thinking:

“Relievers, it’s hard to look at small sample sizes for guys like this. Drew had a six-year track record over in Washington and showed the ability to get things done. Sometimes when you switch leagues you’re facing new hitters, you’re pitching in a new park, a lot of things change about your environment. He struggled. He did make adjustments later in the year and finished strong.”

Williams then elaborated an important line of reasoning.

“(Storen’s down year in 2016) created an opportunity for us. It’s not typical you can find a guy with a track record like that available to a team like us. So, there’s going to be something there that scared teams off a little bit. … There are no risk-free signings at this end of the spectrum.”

“But the underlying fundamentals were strong. His walk-rate stayed low. His strikeouts stayed up. We emphasized adding pitchers in the bullpen that had command and control; that get ground balls. And he fits that category.”

Williams threw a little shade at evaluating pitchers based on ERA.

“Last year, even though he had the higher ERAs, the things he could control, the walks and strikeouts were still good. We hope that means he’s primed for a bounce back year.”

Williams had used many of these themes in a conference call with local writers earlier in the day: (transcript courtesy of C. Trent Rosecrans)

“Like I said before, keeping the strikeout rates consistent with his career averages, keeping the walk rates consistent with his career averages. He really had kind of a higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP) than he had in most all of his seasons historically. The fact that he was still able to control the ball with a good three-pitch mix, we saw a guy with a very consistent track record before last year.”

“He pitched with two new teams, facing new divisions, a lot of moving around. He was used a little bit differently, pitched in lower leverage situations. We hope to get him back to some of these higher leverage situations. We think the command will still be there. We think he will fit in nicely with the guys we’ve got.”

Williams addressed the decline in Storen’s fastball velocity:

“We saw the numbers. We know [the velocity] was down a little bit last year. At the end of the season, the fastball was up around 93 his last [game] of the year. We still think he can be very effective in that range. He’s got a good three-pitch mix. I think he can be effective where he is.” (Mark Sheldon)

* * *

That the Reds spent $3-5 million on a reliever for the 2017 season doesn’t merit a banner headline. Maybe Drew Storen will pitch well enough the Reds can move him to a contender and get back a decent prospect. About a dozen relievers were traded to contenders at the 2016 deadline. Otherwise, we’re talking about 65 innings.

Storen does check several conventional boxes: (1) only 29 years old, (2) experience with high-leverage pitching, and (3) success with high-leverage pitching.

Given the pittance and short duration the Reds were rightly offering, their options were going to be limited. Read this carefully as you fret over a few numbers on Drew Storen’s FanGraphs player page: Any pitcher who had a good 2016 season would not be in the Reds market. None of the relievers available in their niche would be unblemished. The tricky task for the Reds front office was to select from among those flawed pitchers one they figured likely to bounce back.

That’s where the Reds front office took a modern and encouraging turn.

The front office liked Drew Storen based on outcomes a pitcher can most control like BB% and K% instead of fielding- or sequencing-dependent stats like ERA. They were attracted to Storen because they believed a chunk of his high BABIP was the product of bad luck. They valued the large sample size of Storen’s 6-year record over the small sample sizes of Storen’s 2016.

Sweet music indeed to the ears of saber-inclined Reds fans.

Yes, Drew Storen will arrive to GABP packing red flags that aren’t just the ones flashing his new wishbone-C. Anyone who signs for $3 million and one year isn’t peddling a sure thing.

And before we hail the glorious arrival of a new, unbound Reds front office, a bit of perspective. The Drew Storen deal is one, small acquisition and the rationale offered speaks merely to tactics, not strategy. The organization may well remain prisoner to any number of crippling big-picture biases. We’ll find out in the coming year as more important moves are made.

But it’s heartening that the new voice and leader of the Reds front office explained its collective thinking – at least in this instance – in ways that make sense in the analytics-based century. It’s a sea change from chasing RBI-guys, worrying about hitting with runners in scoring position, creamy veteran grit-mania and dugouts full of last decade’s Cardinals.

19 Responses

  1. gaffer

    I think the Votto batting 2nd is not really the important issue. The issue is having someone in the 2nd and 3rd hole who BOTH have high OBP. Reds still love fast low OBP guys, and they love to bat them at the top. Moving Votto to 2nd is not the answer when he is the only guy with high OBP period. Batting Bham or Peraza 1 and 2 is going to be a major problem.

  2. David Eberly

    I agree with this. But I will say that the handling of the BP stuff is not DW’s fault. It seems that the (real or perceived) slights/broken promise that that BP is harboring have made him thwart any trade. I don’t really blame BP for that, but I don’t blame DW, either, assuming he was not the one who inflicted the slight/broke the promise.

  3. gaffer

    The idea that there are 2 schools of thought “traditional” and “sabermetrics” is insane. Can you imagine if JP Morgan hired a broker who said, I do it the old school way of using my gut instead of using these computer things. We are in the 21st century and EVERYTHING is based on data.

    By the way, did you know that medical insurance approves providers based on cost scales of historical billing. In other words, insurance companies don’t agree to cover your medical care by just anyone, they pick the value (aka the cheapest) and even the cheapest combination of providers like cardiologist A and thoracic surgeon B. If they did not do this they would go bankrupt.

  4. Chris Shaw (@TheyCallMeBeebz)

    A breath of fresh air, really. And just a bit more encouraging that maybe… just maybe we could be moving to a more “data influenced” approach to assessing talent.

    Quick question: Is there a specific way to know which stats are considered sabermetric and which stats are not?

    There are obvious ones: BABIP, WAR etc.
    There are obvious NOTs: ERA, RBI, HR, etc.

    But are K% and BB% considered sabermetric? They are counting stats (albeit percentages of those stats) but it seems that these are counting stats that most sabermetric people agree are important for pitchers.

    (BTW, not saying you said that the above stats are or are not, just genuinely curious)

  5. sandman

    What if Storen struggles again this year? I understand that IF he does struggle then it won’t be that big of a deal bcuz it’s only for one year and $3mill. So I’m not talking about that. What will concern me if he struggles is the reasoning Williams used for the signing. In the article you quoted Williams as basically saying that they’re choosing to look at his career before last year and bcuz of that they still believe that he’s a good pitcher and is gonna bounce back this year. But my question is this What if last year was the start of a decline for Storen? I’m always hearing about this age related decline that players experience that starts right around the age of 30 (apparently). What if Storen’s ARD is starting a little early? Again, I understand that it’s only for one year, but my concern lies not with the player potentially struggling but more so with the way that Williams sees things. In other words, what will it say about how Williams sees things IF Storen struggles?

    • Chuck Schick

      Williams took a calculated risk. Storen may be good…he may suck. What’s the alternative? Should they not take affordable risk? You seem to want them to spend on sure things…which is not possible.

      Chapman is a sure thing….he also cost 5x’s what Storen cost. Should the Reds spend 20% of their payroll on someone who pitches 4% of the innings? The Reds can spend “X”…..in order to win with
      “X” they need solid performances by young( cheap)
      players and they need to get lucky with a reclamation project or two. That is their reality. It may not be fair…it may not be what we would want…but that is their reality.

      • sandman

        Chuck, I don’t know how you got that I wanted the Reds to sign better more expensive players (if you were indeed talking to me). I didn’t say anything of the sort in my comment. All I was saying is what it would say about Williams if Storen fails. If Williams used that logic on all the players he signs (looking at the good and dismissing the bad) then he’s gonna get burned. I do wanna say that I don’t think that DW will use this logic on ALL his signings but you never know, he’s still early in his career as a full GM.

    • Red Line 9

      Storen came incredibly cheap for his background. It was rumoured that Greg Holland might be looking for 10m.

  6. ScottyA

    I agree. The manager of the saber metric age needs to be able to manage the mindset of the players as well as the analytical side. I’m afraid Brian Price is too woeful in managing the mindset of the players to make up for it with any analytical approach to managing. He seems to be putting to use some of the analytics side of things which is a positive. Shifts, using bullpen relievers for more innings, batting order management. He certainly has an open mind to try new strategy’s.

    Although it isn’t about wins in 2017; it will be starting in 2018. I think we need to be searching hard for a well rounded manager who can manage players well and that strongly believes in use of analytics.

  7. David

    BUT WE WANT LAST DECADES’ CARDINAL STARS!!

    Why can’t we have them? 😉

    The Walt Jockety Era could not have ended sooner.

    And agreed that I want Bryan Price and Dick Williams on the same page regarding the roster, players and how much the young players are used (long term strategery). If they keep Dilson Herrera on the 25 man and play Brandon Phillips every day, that is just dumb.

  8. citizen54

    I don’t even care if Storen ultimately pans out or not. It’s a good signing regardless of the outcome. I think from reading DW’s comments on the signing it appears to be much more than just a glimmer of hope. Looks like the front office has finally found its way to the 21st century.

  9. Dan

    That kind of hope is similar to having to use the bathroom at a truck stop. You found a bathroom thank God but now you have to use it.
    I simply don’t think that there is any other sports organization is run as carelessly and without regard for success as the Reds

  10. DavidTurner49

    Is it possible the Storen signing means they’re reconsidering the decision to keep Lorenzen in the pen? Probably just wishful thinking on my part.

  11. Redsman

    Hey, do these two signings mean that maybe, just mayyyybe, Jumbo will finally be jettisoned? If so, rejoice! Subtracting him from the pen is a really big step in the right direction.

  12. Reaganspad

    I like the roster churn.

    How many guys have we cut because we have found someone better?

    That is the GM’s job

    Improve the roster at every opportunity.

    These moves have done that

  13. Michael E

    As I said before about Storen, as long as the Reds are willing to trade him at the deadline to an RP starved contender for a good prospect, then this signing is the type they should be making. The Braves (and others) have signed one year vets several times EACH year the past couple of years, and moved several of them for prospects that moved into their top 10 list. I wanted the Reds to do this last off season, but they didn’t.

    FYI, the Braves are at it again this year. If they manage to trade either of those ancient SPs they just signed to another team for a solid prospect, I will cringe that yet again the Braves brass appears smarter than the Reds brass.