Who will A.J. Hinch name as the Astros closer, Gregerson or Giles?
By now we’ve all heard the story. Houston Astros’ reliever Luke Gregerson believes he deserves to keep the job as the team’s closer. This is despite the fact that the Astros traded five pitchers, including former number one overall draft pick Mark Appel, to acquire 25-year-old flamethrower Ken Giles from the Philadelphia Phillies to shore up their bullpen. The assumption, by most, being that he would act as the team’s closer in 2016.
On Thursday, however, Gregerson had this to say to Astros’ beat writer for the Houston Chronicle Evan Drellich,
“How do you think I did last year? I don’t see any reason things should change. Obviously, bringing the guy we brought in, he’s got a strong power arm, he’s shown that he can get guys out on the major league level and I think he’s going to be a great addition to our bullpen no matter where we all fit in.”
He later elaborated on the topic saying,
“I don’t see any reason why I should lose my job because of it. I was pretty happy with the way things went last year. I think it could have went even better, just a few outings here and there.”
It’s true some things could have gone better for Gregerson considering he was part of the eighth inning meltdown the Astros’ bullpen had in Game 4 of last year’s ALDS against the Kansas City Royals. If the team had kept their four run lead with six outs left to go to move on to the ALCS, last year would have turned out quite differently.
However, Gregerson did play well last season. He finished 53 games for Houston, collecting 31 saves in 36 opportunities and posted a 3.10 ERA. He struck out 59 batters while allowing just eight unintentional walks over 61.0 innings.
Still, he isn’t your stereotypical closer. His fastball averaged approximately 89 mph last season. The Astros’ bullpen as a whole had the lowest average fastball velocity in the league at 91.1 mph. So, yes, Giles’ flame throwing ways were sorely needed by the Astros in 2015 yet, are they necessarily needed in the ninth inning?
There are actually a few reasons that we may end up seeing Giles in the eighth inning and not the ninth, despite Giles’ profile being what most expect a closer to be.
In 2015, Giles finished 28 games for the Phillies, collecting 15 saves in 20 opportunities. He posted a 1.80 ERA, which is somewhat misleading as he allowed nine unearned runs to score. He had 87 strikeouts over just 70 innings which is impressive however he also allowed 23 unintentional walks over that span.
Gregerson, a sinker/slider specialist, walks fewer batters than Giles and induces more ground ball outs. Giles on the other hand gets more strikeouts with his fastball but allows more men to reach base. Overall last season the two pitchers were, for the most part, equally effective even though they have completely different pitching styles. It shouldn’t really matter who manager A.J. Hinch decides to use in which inning.
Gregerson produces similar results whether he’s facing a right-handed or left-handed batter. Over the past three seasons he has not had a platoon split at all. He has allowed a .587 OPS to left-handed hitters and a .582 OPS to right-handed hitters, meaning that he could be safely brought into the game regardless of who is batting, even if there is already a runner on base.
It could be argued that perhaps Giles might be the better pitcher for the eighth inning, in that he’d be more likely to get out of a jam with men on base without allowing a run because of his high strikeout rate.
When questioned about the closing situation and Gregerson’s comments Hinch didn’t even hint at who the Astros’ closer will be come Opening Day. He simply applauded Gregerson for being competitive and didn’t begrudge him for voicing his opinion. He added that he believed Gregerson to be a good teammate and be focused on the ultimate goal of winning a World Championship regardless of the role he ends up playing.
We’ll have to wait until Hinch announces the team’s closer to find out how Gregerson feels about that. Usually it is the job of the veteran to lose his position before having to hand it over to a kid who has just one full big league season under his belt. In this situation he may have to as most managers prefer a hard-throwing closer. Yet no official decision has been announced and there is an argument for Gregerson to keep his job.