By In Baseball

Shelter from the Storen

Belief is a funny thing. Friday afternoon in New York, a 32-year-old tennis veteran named Roberta Vinci did not really believe she would beat Serena Williams in the U.S. Open semifinal, not in the way we would normally use that word. She booked a flight out of New York for Saturday. When a friend told her she could win, she laughed. When the first set ended as expected, with Williams cruising through an easy 6-2 destruction, Vinci told herself to just enjoy the moment (her first grand slam semifinal) and to just try and put the ball back into the court and make Serena work for her inevitable victory.

Of course, we now know that Vinci won the match – an upset for the ages – and as I wrote in the moment it does seem to bring into question the idea that you need to believe to win.

Then, there’s the contradictory case of Drew Storen. In baseball, when you look at the big data, it’s often hard to find the narratives that sportswriters and storytellers have been pushing for more than 100 years. Belief? Clutch hitting? Chemistry? The value of grit? The wisdom of sacrifice? The significance of pitching (is it 90% of baseball)? The extreme difficulty of pitching in the ninth inning? These things sound likely and important, but the numbers tend to motor on without them, which is why I suspect so many people mistrust the numbers, and why I suspect so many others mistrust the gut.

Drew Storen, as an individual, seems particularly driven by the gut. It’s probably silly to speculate why, though it could as simple as his being the son of a fine sportscaster, Mark Patrick. My own daughters, I am shocked to find, tend to believe more or less what I believe about sports even though we  never talk about it and, as far as I know, they have not read one sports story I’ve ever written. The other day our younger daughter Katie just blurted out that intentional walks are unfair. It was like looking in the mirror.

In any case, Storen grew up just as the Nationals did. From the start, he had a good fastball and a devastating slider, the reliever’s happy meal. His first year, 2010, the Nats lost 93 games and he unsteadily worked his way into being a regular in the bullpen. The next year, he became the closer and saved 43 games in 48 opportunities. The Nationals were just a game under .500.*

*I saw that pal Brandon McCarthy made a bit of a Twitter stink the other day about the habit of saying that an 80-81 team is a “game under .500.” If there was a .500 team in the division, the Nationals would technically finish a HALF GAME back, meaning that the correct terminology (according to Brandon) should be “the Nationals finished a half game under .500.”

Well, I would say I 37% agree. The reason I 63% disagree is that when someone says that a team is any number of games under .500, they are often referring to how many more games they need to win to get to .500. As of this writing, Baltimore is four games under .500 – 68-72. They do not need to win two games to get to .500. They need to win four.

Now, where Brandon is right is after the season ends. If the Orioles finish the year 79-83, they did not really finish four games under .500 – two more wins would have made them .500. So it’s all pretty confusing. I’d say this: If someone finished 79-83 and you said they finished two games under .500, nobody would get it and there would be mass confusion and the earth would be swallowed whole by giant marshmallows. Brandon, buddy, some fights ain’t worth fighting.

During the 2011 offseason, Storen had a bone chip removed from his elbow, which forced him to miss more than half of the 2012 season. As it turned out, that was the Nationals breakthrough season. Storen eased his way back in after the All-Star break, pitched very well, and then was named the closer in the playoffs. Everything seemed in place in October. He threw a scoreless inning to preserve a 3-2 victory over St. Louis in Game 1. He pitched another scoreless inning in a big loss in Game 3, then pitched beautifully again and was awarded the victory in Game 4. All seemed right with the world.

And then, came the all-important Game 5. The Nationals went into the inning with a two-run lead and the people in the crowd were going out of their heads – three outs away from the Nationals first victory in the postseason in 70 or so years. Storen has been just about flawless up to then. He came in and gave up a double to Carlos Beltran, but then he got two outs. One out away. Nothing about Drew Storen’s young career suggested what would happen next.

He walked Yadier Molina, who, it must be said, is not easy to walk. He then walked David Freese to load the based. He gave up the game-tying single to David Descalso, who hit .227 that year. He gave up the game-losing single to a rookie, Pete Kozma, who had only played in a few games. The Nationals lost. The moment was devastating for Washington. No one felt it more deeply than Drew Storen himself.

So … now what? If you can look at it in a big picture way, nothing had really changed. Storen had one bad moment. That’s all. True, the timing for that moment was terrible, but he’d pitched extremely well for two years, and he’d pitched extremely well in the playoffs before that game. Heck, ONE DAY EARLIER, he came into a tie game, and pitched a dominating inning so you couldn’t say he was incapable of pitching under extreme pressure. He had played a critical role in the ascent of the Washington Nationals. That was the big picture.

But, when something that traumatic happens to a baseball team, the big picture tends to become fuzzy. Three months after the loss, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo signed Yankees closer Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal.

“Drew Storen is a closer,” Rizzo told reporters. “He’s going to be a closer. He’s got closer stuff. He’s got a closer mentality. And by no means was the signing of Rafael Soriano … based on one inning and one game at the end of the season.”

Look at that quote again and ask yourself: Then what was it? If Storen was a closer – with closer stuff and a closer mentality and all that closer goodness – why in the world would you spend $28 million on a 33-year-old closer who, incidentally, had basically been the exact same pitcher the previous two years?

Soriano 2011-12: 101.2 innings, 45 saves, .993 WHIP, 8 HR, 93 Ks, 32 walks, 3.25 FIP.

Storen 2011-12: 105.2 innings, 47 saves, 1.013 WHIP, 8 HR, 98 Ks, 28 walks, 3.05 WHIP

Soriano is almost eight years older than Storen, he did not grow up in the Nationals organization the way Storen did, he had never been a closer for a team for more than a year. Why in the world would you bring in Rafael Soriano unless, well, unless the obvious: That one inning had triggered Storen doubts in the minds of people who make the baseball decisions in Washington.

Storen pitched horribly as a steup man in 2013. For four months, the National League absolutely teed off on him, hitting .295 and slugging almost .500. Why did it happen? There are never easy answers for such things – Storen talked often that year about “command.” But what is command? In a general way, it means throwing pitches exactly how you want and where you want. In a general way, you could argue, it is baseball’s version of “belief.” The lack of faith in Storen may have played a role. And maybe it didn’t. We can’t get into other people’s heads — heck, we have a hard enough time getting into our own heads.

In late July, the Nationals sent Storen down to the minor leagues, apparently to get his head together. He pitched horribly in Syracuse and then came back up and … was absolutely terrific the rest of the year. Go figure. From mid-August to the end of the season, he gave up three runs in 19 innings. He did not allow a homer. The league slugged .214 against him.

Meanwhile, Rafael Soriano was kind of mediocre. He blew six saves, a career high, and opposing hitters seemed quite comfortable when he came into the game. This could only have surprised someone who is unaware of the aging pattern in baseball. In 2014, Soriano started off brilliantly – the league managed just 19 hits and one home runs against him in his first 37 appearances – but no one really seemed to buy it. And then, Soriano went in the tank – the league hit .305 and slugged .505 against him the rest of the year. In early September, he blew a three-run lead and exited to a symphony of boos. “We’ll address it,” Williams told the media. The Nationals were playoff bound again after a hugely disappointing 2013 season, and they needed someone they could count on to close games.

Yep. They turned back to Drew Storen.

Well, Storen had pitched fantastic baseball all year. Whatever command or belief or mechanical issues he’d had in 2013 were now worked out. He’d added a new changeup to his arsenal of pitches. First time out, he struck out two in a scoreless inning and he did the same in his second outing and that was more or less how he pitched all season. Through September 6, he had a 1.37 ERA and Matt Williams brought him into close out a one-run game against Philadelphia. Storen did that. Williams called on him to close out a game the next night and the night after that, and Storen did that too. In all, he was called in to close out 10 games in an 18-day period. He did not give up a single run.

Then came the playoffs – and more pain. In Game 2, Jordan Zimmerman pitched 8 2/3 innings of shutout baseball. Then he walked Joe Panik and Matt Williams made a bizarre decision: He decided to pull Zimmerman — though he’d only thrown 100 pitches and had been dominant – and bring in Storen to get the final out.

On the one hand, you could say the Nationals were only showing great confidence in Storen (and none in Zimmerman). On the other hand, it looks like the desperation move of someone managing scared. Whatever the case, it didn’t work. Storen gave up a single to Buster Posey and a double to Pablo Sandoval – Posey was thrown out at the plate or the Nationals would likely have lost right then … but that would have been preferable to what followed. The game turned into an 18-inning horror show for Nationals fans and ended in a loss anyway.

Storen pitched again two days later, with the Nationals up 4-0, a clear effort to help him regain whatever confidence had been shattered. He gave up a single and a double to lead off the inning, but then did settle down to get out of the inning with only one run. He did not get to pitch again.

So … now what? Well, Mike Rizzo tried a different strategy after this postseason disappointment. The Nationals let Soriano go and did not try to sign a veteran closer. “We trust Drew,” Rizzo told reporters. He said that Storen was penciled in as the team’s closer and that was that.

And Storen repaid Rizzo’s confidence this year by becoming one of the best closers in baseball for for four months. He saved 29 games in 31 opportunities – even in his two blown saves, he allowed just one run and the Nationals came back to win them. The league slugged .244 against him. Unfortunately, Storen and Bryce Harper aside, the Nationals were playing bumpy baseball. The team had been expected to be the best in baseball after the 2014 success and the signing of Max Scherzer. But there were injuries, and there was inconsistent play, and the rotation disappointed, and the bullpen leading up to Storen was shaky. Still, on July 29, the Nationals were seven-games above .500, they were up two games in the National League East …

And Rizzo traded for Jonathan Papelbon to be the new closer.

I’ve already written about the utter bizarreness of that trade. But, on July 30, you saw what Rizzo was thinking. The Nationals led Miami 1-0 going into the eighth inning. In came Drew Storen, who struck out two and forced a weak groundout. In came Papelbom for the ninth, and he also went 1-2-3, striking out Michael Morse to finish the job. The Nationals were three games up. Everything was roses.

Only, of course, it wasn’t. Storen was gutted by the demotion. Well, of course he was. You can say that it’s a baseball player’s job to play the role that is given to him. You can say that a player too fragile to handle the ups and downs of big league ball is not one to be counted on in the big moment. You can say anything you want. Reality is reality. Storen held his own for a week. And then the roof caved in. Against Colorado, he entered the eighth with a three run lead, he loaded the bases and gave up a grand slam. Two days later, he entered a tie game then gave up a single, hit a batter and gave up the game-losing two-run single. Two days after that, he came into a game the Nationals trailed by a run, he promptly hit another batter and gave up a run-scoring double.

What was happening? There was no obvious answer because there never is an obvious answer. He was throwing as hard as ever. He was mixing his pitches as he had. But, suddenly, batters were just not swinging and missing his pitches anymore. Command? Confidence? Belief? As things got worse, he got worse. The Nationals were falling apart as a team and desperately needed to beat the surging Mets just to give themselves a chance at October.

In Game 1, Max Scherzer gave up three homers and a collection of bullpen guys helped the Nationals blow a 5-3 lead.

In Game 2, the Nationals led 7-1 when the bullpen went haywire in the seventh inning. Blake Teinen gave up two singles and a walk. Felipe Rivero came in to walk the only two batters he faced. And then Storen came in, and he was an absolute mess – he gave up a double to Yoenis Cespedes and then followed with a walk, a wild pitch, another walk, ANOTHER walk and the game was tied. Jonathan Papelbon came in to give up the game-winning homer in the eighth as all of Mike Rizzo’s nightmares came to life.

In Game 3, Bryce Harper hit two home runs and Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 and it still didn’t matter – Storen was brought into the eighth with the score tied and a runner on first and he gave up the season-crushing home run to Cespedes. That was that.

Storen went into the clubhouse, slammed the lock-box on his locker and broke his thumb. He’s gone for the season. Anyway, the season was already gone.

And what is there to learn from all of this? Some will say that Mike Rizzo and the Nationals ruined Drew Storen by alternately treating him with disdain and faith through a stormy few years. Others will say that Storen is simply too temperamental and erratic to be relied on in the biggest moments. What you and I believe probably says more about you and me than it does about Storen.

But maybe there’s something here about belief. Roberta Vinci says she beat Serena Williams without belief … but in a weird way, her lack of belief was a sort of conviction. She kept telling herself to just keep the ball in the court. She kept telling herself to have fun. When she needed to serve out the match, she told herself, “It’s OK. You’ve already lost this game. Just accept that you have lost.” These were the right things for her to think. All of this kept her present, kept her centered in the moment, and this is how people can do great things.

Storen, I suspect, has found all that harder to be centered in the moment. In the end, he cannot blame anyone else for stupidly breaking his thumb in a temper fit or for collapsing after the Nationals demoted him. But there’s a difference. Tennis is an individual sport, all you have is yourself. Baseball is a team sport. Or anyway, that’s what we’re told.

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35 Responses to Shelter from the Storen

  1. ericanadian says:

    For me, I get wanting to add bullpen depth. What I don’t get is allowing an outside player to just waltz in and cherry pick the most coveted role in the bullpen. Papelbon would’ve thrown a fit being moved to the setup role, likely to the point of refusing to play, but doesn’t that kind of knock out any theory about Storen being too tempermental to close? All closers are like this.

    Rizzo could’ve gone outside the box and had the two guys play alternating 9th innings and they get whatever save opportunities they get. I think it would’ve made more sense because you get more use out of the guys and they both get shots to close. If one guy outplays the other, then you can set the setup/closer roles back in place. Then he could’ve at least made it seem like Papelbon needed to earn the role. Instead he completely disrespected Storen and I think that pissed off Storen more than it shook his confidence. I think Rizzo has done a great job in Washington, but this was a bad move.

    • invitro says:

      I thought Papelbon had a contract clause allowing him to block trades that would result in him not being the closer. If so, the scenarios you postulate are impossible.

      • Bill Caffrey says:

        Sort of. I think he just had a general no-trade clause (not specifically tied to being a closer) and he would only agree to waive it for a trade to a team that promised he could close. So the overall point is correct that Papelbon wouldn’t have come to Washington unless he was assured of closing.

        That said, when contending teams with solid closers trade for another closer for the stretch run, they usually make the incoming closer the 8th inning guy. They don’t usually kick the incumbent “down” to the 8th if he’s been pitching well. Think about fantasy baseball. When you have a closer on a bad team you’re always worried he’ll get traded to a good team where he won’t be the closer anymore.

        • Well, a fantasy league closer on a bad team is pretty useless. They often don’t get enough save opportunities to help you. You want them getting 2-3 saves a week, and more in some weeks. Imagine having a closer from the Braves or Phillies. Not good.

          • Bill Caffrey says:

            This seems logical but it’s actually not true. Closers on bad teams rack up big save numbers pretty routinely. Aroldis Chapman is a good example. He has been almost exactly as valuable as a fantasy closer in 2014 and 2015, when the Reds have been bad, as he was in 2012 and 2013 when they were very good.

            Bryan Harvey saved 45 games for the expansion Marlins team that went 64-98. There are lots of similar examples.

            Some people even prefer closers on bad teams. Since even terrible teams are going to win about 60 games the thinking is that BECA– USE they are terrible many of those wins will be by 3 or fewer runs, so there will be lots of save opportunities, whereas if you’re a truly great team beating everyone by 4+ runs every night your closer isn’t getting many opportunities at all.

    • Brian says:

      Papelbon deserves to close over Storen because he is a better pitcher than Storen. He has had a better career, he was better before the trade, and he was better after the trade.

  2. After reading this story, at most I can conclude that Storen has always been really, really good in stretches and really, really bad in stretches. We’d all love to be able to figure out why (especially Storen), but if life (and baseball) were that simple, none of us would have any problems.

    • invitro says:

      I seriously doubt that would solve more than a tiny handful of problems, much less ALL of them. As an example, how would this prevent the problems of the Syrians trapped in their country’s civil war, in danger of becoming casualties?

      • Evan says:

        Probably one of the sillier questions I’ve encountered. If life were simple, there would be no civil wars. But life is messy, and hard, and there are no easy answers, and I’m pretty sure that’s Craig’s point.

        • invitro says:

          Are there a lot of people saying that life is not messy and not hard?

          • Evan says:

            Is there a point you’re driving at? I fail to see how an offhanded musing about life’s complexity could sustain even the most inane internet argument (which this appears to be).

          • invitro says:

            I was hoping that the point was clear. It’s that the statement “but if life (and baseball) were that simple, none of us would have any problems” is intended to be profound, but is actually devoid of meaningful content.

          • Evan says:

            Seems a bit peevish to knock on the guy’s rhetorical flourish, but if that’s your style, go ahead. Anyway, his point (we can only guess what’s going on with Storen) is sound enough. Not sure I can say the same about your geopolitical tangent.

    • inutero says:

      I cannot see that solving much more than a few smallish problems, if any. Take the case of the Greek debt or people suffering from oozing, cancerous skin tumors. How much of your understanding of Storen would it take?

  3. Gesge says:

    ‘I saw that pal Brandon McCarthy made a bit of a Twitter stink the other day about the habit of saying that an 80-81 team is a “game under .500.”’

    I’ve seen other people say this, and it is dopey. As Joe writes, the expression “x games over/under .500” looks forward, and that’s true even if the team doesn’t have enough games left to reach the .500 mark.

    The second clue that should tip people off that McCarthy and co. are wrong is the problem with odd numbers. If a team is 59-30, are they 14 1/2 games over .500? What is a half a win? (OK, a tie, but not in baseball.)

    But the most maddening thing whenever this discussion pops up is how smug the math-challenged people, who don’t understand what “x games over .500” means, get. There’s wrong, and then there’s arrogantly wrong, which is where folks like McCarthy fall.

    • It’s just not understanding the definition. “Games Under/Over .500” has been used pretty consistently to the point of having an established definition. It’s like people who use “irregardless” instead of “regardless”. It’s not just being math challenged, it’s being language challenged. Baseball players, on the whole, are not intelligent people. I say this, btw, having been a baseball player & having experienced it. They often play baseball to the exclusion of everything else & never move beyond a High School education (if they get that far). It’s pretty shocking when I go back to my High School reunion and find that most of the best baseball players from my team are borderline unemployed. Once baseball was over, there just wasn’t a lot for them with a limited education. McCarthy attended Community College (aka 13th grade), so he’s probably not a rocket scientist.

  4. Trace says:

    Well, to be honest, Storen had a knack for giving up big hits at Stanford even before the Nats drafted him. They were more intrigued with his stuff than how he performed in tough situations. One of the reasons Nats fans have probably been unusually hard on him is that Rizzo took him as his second pick in the first round of the 2009 draft, ahead of more highly-regarded Shelby Miller and some guy named Trout.

    As for the Game 5 meltdown, that is largely a product of the media coverage of the event. Almost zero media focus from that night has been on 1) Gio Gonzalez, who was staked to a 6-run lead by the the 5th inning but couldn’t get out of the sixth because he couldn’t throw a strike; 2) the managing of Davey Johnson, who could have intentionally walked Descalso – who had been hitting like he was the second coming of Honus Wagner – to let Storen face the opposing closer (or the Cardinals third catcher, the only guy left on the bench) instead; or 3) the umpiring of Alfonso Marquez, who pulled a reverse Eric Gregg by not calling any pitch that had a break on it as a strike after the 6th. Pitchtrack showed at least 4 sliders for strike three thrown by Edwin Jackson and Drew Storen that bisected the strikezone that Marquez called balls. It was worse than the two separate strikes that Carapazza called balls against Panik what would have ended Game 2 in 2014, which would have obviated the need for Williams to call on Storen. But because Storen was the guy on the mound when it all went wrong both times yet after the game answered all the media questions rather than avoiding them, he was scapegoated by reporters too lazy to actually report what happened. Kinda like they did with steroids, and well, just about everything.

    It’s certainly true that Rizzo has mishandled Storen, but my own opinion is that he did more damage to him by hiring Matt Williams as the manager, who, as one tweeter put it, was given a Ferrari and has been telling everyone how great it handles as he drives it into a ditch every night.

  5. Brent says:

    Not to be nit picky Joe, but this sentence doesn’t make sense to me: “And then, came the all-important Game 5. The Nationals went into the inning with a two-run lead and the people in the crowd were going out of their heads – three outs away from the Nationals first victory in the postseason in 70 or so years.”.

    The Nationals, of course, have never won a post season series. Their predecessors, the Expos, did (in 1981), but it was 30 years ago, not 70 or so. And if you are speaking of the good people of Washington D.C., their only post season victory was closer to 90 years prior to 2011, not 70.

    If you were just exaggerating for effect, OK, but 70 years is an odd number to pick, especially when you could just add 20 years to it and be accurate.

  6. Eric says:

    I’ver never really believed in “belief” as a major factor for sporting wins. As a tennis player myself, I go into most matches with a proper regard for my own abilities and my opponent’s. Most athletes are probably similar, and I suspect that few of them are delusional. They know their chances are slim when they go up against Djokovic or Serena. But most of my biggest victories came when I thought I had no chance to win and decided to play my hardest and go down swinging. Sometimes, like Vinci, you find a crack.

    As for Storen and Papelbon, I’ve found Joe’s reaction to this trade very confusing. How many times has he praised the Royals for assembling a bullpen with three closers? I’m sure that’s exactly what the Nationals were thinking when they pulled the trigger on this deal. It hasn’t worked, sure, but their problems in the last month have gone a lot deeper than Drew Storen.

    • There are examples of teams/players that psych themselves out & have no chance. But mostly, when you’re the underdog, you know it & accept it. However, the normal reaction is to go out and give it your best. A lot of times, it doesn’t work out because, well, the other team/player is better. But if you have some success and either hang in there or take a lead, you do build confidence & then anything can happen. Coaches often want to put weaker teams away early because if you let them hang in there, then their confidence grows & in a close game, anything can happen. It’s the same in individual sports.

      So, I don’t think it’s uncommon at all for underdogs to realize that their chances are not great. But I don’t think it’s that common for the underdogs to mail it in and not give it their best. Especially a professional tennis player, in their 30s, who’s playing in semi-final of a major tournament. Serena did what Serena has often done. She played poorly in the second set & let Vinci back into the match. As the 3rd set moved along, and it was close, the match then hinged on a couple of points. Vinci won the key points and that was the match. Serena failed by not putting her away early in the 2nd set when she had the chance. Then Vinci maybe would have folded realizing she had no chance. But that’s not what happened. Underdogs do win, but rarely without the help of the favorite playing poorly and making plenty of mistakes. Serena made tons of mistakes and this time, couldn’t overcome them.

  7. Sam says:

    The other day, I had an orange. It was pretty great. Juicy, nice citrus taste. Nothing rhymed with it. Most people would have agreed that it was a very good orange.

    Then, I had an apple. The first bite was alright, but it got sort of mealy afterwards. The texture was bad, and it did not have much flavor. It is hard to know for sure what exactly went wrong with that apple. Maybe the wear-house guy just left it around for too long before moving it to the distributor. Or maybe the retailer didn’t get it sell it fast enough. On the other hand, it might have been stored at the wrong temperature at some point in its journey from the apple farm to the grocery store. I actually think that’s very important: the temperature that fruit is stored at can have a pretty big effect on its overall flavor. I’m not sure that people take that into account enough when they set up produce distribution systems.

    Or, maybe it just wasn’t a very good apple in the first place.

    On the other hand, I really liked that orange.

    • Mr Fresh says:

      I’m not sure I completely get this.. it’s littered with grammar and spelling mistakes.. and yet my overall reaction? Brilliant.

  8. Wilmer's Tears says:

    Maybe Storen is just one of those closers like Trevor Hoffman who can excel normally but given a really big situation has a tendency to melt down. This fragility was further fueled by Rizzo’s demotion of Storen by first getting Soriano and, later, Papelbon. Rizzo (and Storen) would have been better off getting a solid setup guy OR another closer willing to set up for Storen. As GM, it’s up to Rizzo to understand the strengths and weaknesses of all his players and he failed to fully comprehend what has been going on with Storen. Ultimately, it is Rizzo’s fault.

    As an aside, I found it interesting that Joe predicted a week or two into the Cespedes trade that the Mets’ offensive surge would subside and the Nats would prevail by season’s end. The reason that hasn’t happened is because that surge, while fueled by Cespedes, was not simply a product of his contributions. I think Joe overlooked the fact that the Mets also added at that time Conforto, Uribe, Johnson, and Wright and d’Arnaud, both of whom came off extended time on the disabled list. All of these additions, in addition to Cespedes, have transformed the Mets in the second half.

    • Uribe and Johnson were quietly having pretty nice years with the Braves. They were the two veterans that fueled the Braves to being close to .500 at the AS break. When they were traded, the team went to hell. There were other moves, of course, but having two consistent contributing veterans can make a huge difference.

      Johnson was the bigger surprise because he barely got a spring training invite. He was expected, at most, to be a backup….. if he even made the team. But he’s really had a nice season.

  9. scott lucas says:

    Is “command” really like “belief”? Command would seem to be a function of mechanics, and sometimes an athlete is simply off. No one plays at his highest level at all times, and in baseball, with both hitting and pitching, small imperfections in mechanics tend to multiply as players try to figure out what is wrong.

    • mark says:

      I don’t think they are the same but there is a relationship there. The mechanics for throwing a baseball can be broken down to minute parts: the angles of your shoulder and elbow, arm speed, wrist flick, finger placement and pressure, etc. You can know what they all are, analyze them, and determine what you have to do to be successful, but if you try to think about all of them during any one pitch you will likely fail. At some point you have to trust your muscle memory to just get it right. If you do not trust that, then you will likely start thinking about it too much in the middle of it and fail.

      But now we’re also discussing two types of belief. There is the belief that in the moment my body will do what I know it can do, and the different belief that I will beat my opponent. Vinci never had the latter belief against Williams, but it sounds like she never lost the former type of belief.

  10. Jay says:

    Roberta Vinci had that “twelce O’clock High” attitude about her. To quote Gregory Peck

    “But stop worrying about it and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it won’t be so tough”.

    When you are already dead, you can stop worrying about all the other stuff and concentrate on the task at hand.

  11. wogggs says:

    The obvious culprit here is Mike Rizzo.

  12. Dan W. says:

    The greatest closer in the history of baseball lost game-7 of the 2001 World Series. He also failed twice to close out the 2004 ALCS. We also know of the Hall of Fame pitcher & closer who gave up a World Series game losing home run to a guy who could barely walk (Eckersley vs Gibson). Then there is Gossage whose name is affixed to several momentous playoff homeruns. Point being that it is foolish to judge a pitcher by a a few, select, outcomes. For me, I would be worried about Storen because his career record is one of inconsistency. A pitcher who has stretches of brilliance and stretches of futility is not my first choice for “closer”. That said, GMs who chase closers, like Rizzo did with Papelbon, get what they deserve.

  13. Marco says:

    It seems like you’re retrofitting a narrative to the Storen events. Could you be right? Sure. But it seems like most of it is just guessing.

    • The problem with Joe’s narrative is that Storen didn’t immediately become a basket case when he became the setup man. He was fine the first week. Then it went wrong. Why do players have cold streaks? There are a lot of reasons. The most likely reasons, in this case, are that either (1) it’s a long season & fatigue/minor injury became a factor (2) it’s a long season & the pressure of the pennant race started kicking in or (3) just because cold streaks can pop up at any time…. and for Storen, it was just time for a cold streak.

      Cold streaks start as a couple of bad games, that get into your head and blow up into a full blown slump. No real reason. It happens to every player at some point during the season. But most of those slumps are buried into times that were not so visible and in less visible positions than pitching the 8th or 9th inning during a pennant race…. or at least what was a pennant race.

      The idea that suddenly pitching the 8th inning vs the 9th inning, to me, seems like the least likely explanation/narrative. Storen is a major league pitcher. If he was really that emotionally fragile, how the heck did he last in the big leagues this long? Isn’t this the type of narrative that Joe usually rails against?

  14. Dan W. says:

    I am beginning to wonder if all of Joe’s writing about Storen is really about Cueto. Talk about the wheels coming off the bus on that trade! What are the Royals going to do with a #1 pitcher who is sporting a 10 ERA and 2.0 WHIP in his last 26 inning pitched?

    • invitro says:

      Realize that 26 innings has little meaning, and a cherry-picked 26 innings is completely meaningless?

      • Marc Schneider says:

        that’s not really fair. You could have said the same about Max Scherzer after his first 26 innings after the ASB. But his struggles continued for most of the second half-at least until his most recent start when it was too late to make much difference. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to worry about Cueto rather than just assuming that his last 26 innings are just noise. It’s certainly not inconceivable that his slump could continue as Scherzer’s did.

  15. brewer3 says:

    David Owen of Golf Digest said it as well as I’ve seen: “Hopelessness is the poor man’s confidence.”

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