Drew Storen has everything it takes to be a closer. He was drafted to be a closer, signed to be a closer, has the 97 mph fastball flat-brimmed cap and icy gaze of a closer, but he isn’t the closer. The Washington Nationals haven’t officially named Burnett or Storen the closer, and they shouldn’t. Not having a true closer puts them in a unique position to do something smart. The Nationals don’t have a large enough following to turn this into a Sonny vs. Billy type of deal, but there will be people out there that clamor for a closer to be named. The reason the Nationals shouldn’t do it is because the save stat is flawed.
A save can only be earned when a reliever pitches the 9th inning and faces the tying run or when a reliever pitches the last three innings. The save doesn’t always come in the 9th inning, and with some teams a three run deficit is too much to come back from. It could also be the case that the set-up man has already taken care of the tougher hitters and all the closer has to do is get out batters that most pitchers with major league talent should be able to get it. These are all reasons why the Nationals have a chance to do something unique. Don’t worry about choosing between Storen and Burnett, or even Clippard. Simply use the best pitcher when he is needed most.
Imagine a situation where it is the 7th inning in a one run game and the lead was obtained in the bottom half of the previous inning. This is where it is important to have a shutdown inning. The tiring starter records one out around a single and a double that has runners on first and second. The go ahead run is in scoring position and the tying run is 90 feet away and can score without the benefit of a hit. A strike out or pop up is needed. Should the team bring in their third or fourth best reliever, because that is who pitches in the 7th or should they bring in the closer, because let’s face it the lead and the game are both in jeopardy. This might be the true save situation of the game, but teams with a named closer won’t bring that guy in. They will save him so he can earn a stat save if the team can maintain the lead, but there is less of a chance of them doing so by bringing in a lesser pitcher in this circumstance.
The Washington Nationals without a named closer can throw the book out. They have a chance to ignore what most teams would do, and do what is right. The decision to pitch Storen in the 8th or the 9th should depend entirely on who is coming up for the other team. If it is the middle of the order in the 8th then Storen should be pitching in the 8th, but if it happens to be the bottom of the order then it should be Clippard or Burnett. The game isn’t only on the line in the 9th inning.
Drew Storen has the icy glare, the flat-brimmed cap, a swinging gate leg kick, and the nerves of steel it takes to be a closer. When he first faced Jayson Werth in Spring Training he threw at him in order to obtain some measure of revenge for a walk-off homer Werth hit in 2010. That is the type of mentality desired in a good pitcher, whether they happen to be a starter or a reliever. Bob Gibson waited until an older timers game to get his revenge on the man that hit the last homer hit off of Bob Gibson in the majors. The fire of competitive desire is important in all major leaguers, and when else would a true competitor want to be in the game than when it is on the line. Whether that is the 7th, 8th, or 9th the best pitcher should pitch in the toughest situation.
Some might say that a tougher situation might present itself later on, and that is a reason to hold back the best pitcher, but if the first tough situation isn’t dealt with then the second one might only mean the other team is looking for some insurance runs instead of trying to take the lead. Baseball is a tricky game, and decisions can only be based on what is happening and not what might happen. The best pitcher should pitch when he is most needed, and while Drew Storen is the closer in our minds he should never be a traditional closer in name.