By Nathan Desai
In 2009, the Washington Nationals lost more than 100 games. It was a low point that signified that the franchise was ready to begin a massive rebuilding process. Over the following few seasons, the Nationals drafted numerous top prospects such as Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg in hopes of bringing consistent success to the nation’s capital. The Nats improved their record every season through 2012, and although they missed the playoffs in 2013, the Nationals currently sit atop the NL East at 55-44. One of the cornerstones of the Nationals’ resurgence is none other than Stanford alum Drew Storen ‘11.
Despite not often appearing as an eighth-inning “set-up” reliever, Storen still has 13 holds in his 38 appearances this season. A hold is awarded to a pitcher who gets at least one out, maintains the lead and does not record a save; in order to record that hold, though, a pitcher has to enter a game in a save situation, which means he enters as a relief pitcher with no more than a three-run lead or is brought in with the tying run on base, at the plate or on deck, or pitches at least three innings, all while not being eligible for the win.
While Storen notched 24 holds last season, he has pitched much more effectively this year despite being on track for fewer holds. Last season, Storen had a negative WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which meant that a replacement-level reliever would have been better than him. This was, in large part, due to his poor 4.52 ERA and 1.36 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched, which measures the number of baserunners allowed per inning). This year, however, he has improved significantly, with a spectacular 1.09 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
One theory for this improvement is a change in his pitch selection. Last season, Storen relied on mostly his fastball and slider, using his third pitch — a changeup — only 10 percent of the time. However, this year, he is utilizing his changeup for 16 percent of his pitches, with the results of this change being noticeably apparent.
Last season, Storen allowed seven home runs to opposing batters, but this year, he has allowed just one. This drop in the number of home runs allowed can also be explained by his greater use of the changeup. Normally, it is easier to hit a home run off a fastball than it is off of a changeup due to the difference in the innate forces associated with the two pitches. Obviously, there are exceptions from pitcher to pitcher and batter to batter, but it is fair to say that home runs are easier to hit off of faster pitches. Therefore, as Storen has used his changeup more, he has conceded fewer home runs and is actually inducing more fly balls.
Storen was Stanford’s star of the 2009 MLB Draft, as the Nationals took him with the 10th overall pick. In addition to Storen, there have been numerous other Cardinal alumni who have been drafted in the first round in recent years. With seven first-rounders in the last seven drafts, Stanford is sure to see many of its former players making it to the big leagues soon.
However, one alumnus that is currently lighting up the minor leagues was actually selected in the 30th round of the 2014 MLB Draft. Drafted by the Dodgers, catcher Brant Whiting ‘14 has shown his worth in the Rookie Arizona League in his 11 appearances for the AZL Dodgers so far. Though the sample size is small, Whiting has 11 hits in 24 at-bats, translating to an incredible .458 batting average. Whiting has shown incredible patience at the plate, as he has also accumulated five walks en route to an astounding .552 on-base percentage.
At the same time, one current weakness for Whiting has been his lack of power. In his senior year at Stanford, Whiting only had one home run, and the 2014 Pac-12 All-Academic selection has failed to go deep during his time with the AZL Dodgers. In fact, he only has one extra base hit — a double — which puts his isolated power (ISO) at .042. This is not necessarily a problem, as many Major League players have made a living as consistent contact hitters, but it is rather unusual to see this from a catcher. Nevertheless, Whiting’s playing style has translated into success both at Stanford and in the minors.
Whiting has played especially well recently, as he is currently on a six-game hitting streak, which began on July 3. Over the past three weeks, Whiting has gone 7-for-14 with a .611 on-base percentage. Though the sample size is extremely small, and it is too soon to tell how he will perform on a bigger stage, it is fair to say that if Whiting continues performing like this, he will be due for a promotion within the minor league ranks in the near future.
*Stats accurate as of July 24
Contact Nathan Desai at thegreatnate97 ’at’ gmail.com.