The Greggster

Toronto’s signing of Kevin Gregg this offseason to a one-year deal with a club option was a bit puzzling, given that a) he’s a reliever, and b) rebuilding teams generally shouldn’t spend money of veteran relievers. Moreover, the Blue Jays already had at least two pretty good relievers in Jason Frasor and Scott Downs, as well as players like Josh Roenicke (who came over as part of the Scott Rolen trade) waiting in the minors. But with a little thought, it became clear that not only was the Gregg contract not all that onerous, but that Frasor and Downs, as free agents after 2010, would both be good trade chips, and that Gregg, while perhaps not spectacular, could help hold down the fort.

He has done a bit more than that so far, moving into the closer’s role not long after the season started and handling the highest-leverage situations on the team (2.05 game LI). Gregg’s 2.12 ERA is not deceiving. He has a 2.09 FIP, and it’s not build on a house of fly ball luck, either, as his xFIP is 2.37. His 1.70 tERA is aided by a 10.5% line drive rate that is probably unsustainable, but clearly, Gregg has had a authentically good run so far this season.

Gregg hasn’t had a full-season xFIP under 4 since 2004, so we should look a bit closer. So far this year, Gregg is getting more strikeouts and avoiding walks better than ever before, which are obviously Good Things. He’s not getting lucky against lefties, either, as Gregg actually has a reverse split for his career — a career xFIP versus righties is 4.49, and 3.92 versus lefties, and that’s continued in 2010 with a 3.14 versus righties and a 1.26 versus lefties. What really stands out for Gregg in 2010 is his ground ball rate. Prior to this season, Gregg fluctuated between about average and greater-than-average groundball rates, but so far in 2010 ground balls have been a major key to to his success — 55% of balls in play have been on the ground. As Ric Flair might ask, “what’s causin’ all this?”

On this blog (and this podcasts) and elsewhere, there has been on-and-off talk of the cutter being a “miracle pitch” that more pitchers should add to their arsenal. Through 2009, BIS pitch types record Gregg has throwing almost no cutters. Guess what? In 2010, about 30% of his pitches have been identified as cutters. I haven’t read anything about Gregg talking about adding a cutter, and I’ll leave it up to BIS and the Pitch F/X experts to decipher, but whatever is going on, it is likely connected with Gregg’s better ground ball rate this season.

Let me emphasize for the nth time that all player performance is subject to random variation that can exaggerate changes over a short periods of time. This has to be keep in mind with relief pitchers in particular, given that even their full-season sample is so much smaller than everyone else’s. That being said, if Gregg has discovered something new that helps him keep the ball on the ground, he could not only be an good stopgap for the Jays when they trade their other veteran relievers, but he could become a valuable trade chip for a rebuilding Toronto club himself.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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Ari
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Ari
6 years 3 months ago

Isn’t it just as likely that this is a repeat of what Gregg often does, and that is get off to pretty solid starts? While last year wasn’t as good as this, he did have a 3.86era with 19k and 10bb in 16.1ip at this point in the 2009 season, with a 16% LD rate and strong GB #s as well. Strong early performances could be part of the reason Toronto invested in Gregg, figuring at worst they are out a couple million in a year they’ve reduced payroll anyway, and at best they can move Gregg for something worthwhile in July, along the lines of the Sherrill to LAD deal.

Devon F
Member
Member
Devon F
6 years 3 months ago

Most of the basic and advanced statistics say otherwise. K/9, GB% are up, BB/9 and LD% is down, and his BABIP is normal (perhaps even a little high).

Quick glance at the daily graphs suggests that last year’s performance doesn’t really compare to this year, even if statistically it looked like it was in the same ballpark. Whether this is due to a new pitch is anyone’s guess, but Gregg looks quite good so far this season, and there’s reason to believe that’s it’s not just a fluke.

Either way, if he keeps this up he would make an excellent trade chip for Toronto.

OsandRoyals
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

I think someone elsewhere pointed out that the Greggster (love the nickname) had added a cutter, maybe BtB.
Yup btb: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2010/4/21/1434416/kevin-greggs-transformation
I also feel that Toronto has a tendency to teach cutters at least on the MLB level. Their pitching coach deserves more props than he gets, with the team always having consistently good pitching (although prone to injury)

Carl Solomon
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Carl Solomon
6 years 3 months ago

I don’t think Downs or Frasor represents much in the way of trade bait.

Historically, have middle relievers with good numbers ever brought much back in the way of prospects? Neither of them has ever really been The Man (to borrow another Flair line) in a bullpen, at least not consistently. They’re both typically good pitchers, and I’m happy to have them on the Jays, but I don’t think they’d attract that much interest in a deadline deal.

bluejaysstatsgeek
Member
6 years 3 months ago

One of the better things about Cito’s coaching philosophy when it comes to pitchers is “throw strikes, don’t walk batters and let your defense take care of balls in play.” That puts a premium on having a repertoire that induces ground balls. As OsandRoyals said, the Jays love the cutter, and I would add the change up. I’m sure this message has gotten through to Gregg; at least the evidence suggests so to this point.

OsandRoyals
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Hasn’t that been the pitching philosophy for a while, even before Cito was hired? Maybe, I’m just not remembering correctly but I feel like that’s the way the blue Jays have been formed as a team for a while. I remember Marcum started throwing cutters at some point but that may have been in 2007 or later. they’ve also had strong defense up the middle with first McDonald, Scutaro, now Alex Gonzalez partnering with Hill. If they didn’t have Hill the team would have been a perfect fit for Adam Kennedy.

bluejaysstatsgeek
Member
6 years 3 months ago

The presence of Roy Halladay also dictated strong IF defense, so yes, it has been a keystone for a while. But listening to Cito being interviewed, I doubt that anything peeves him more than giving up walks.

Jon
Guest
Jon
6 years 3 months ago

Phil Hughes can attest to how much of a miracle pitch the cutter is. It’s been his best pitch by far, and is the real reason why he’s become much more effective as a pitcher (his curveball is still decent, but that cutter has been setting up situations for him to throw said curve.)

SatchelPrice
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

I actually wrote the BtB piece about Gregg, and after talking with Mike Fast (a great Pitch F/X guy) in the comments, he said that it’s more likely that Gregg isn’t throwing a cutter but rather that Pitch F/X is labeling the pitches incorrectly because Gregg is throwing his slider different than he had in the past.

Rather, Gregg has begun to depend on his offspeed stuff more often, moving away from his fastball, while also throwing his slider slightly harder. He’s still depending on a four-pitch mix (fastball, curve, slider, splitter), but he’s began to throw more breaking stuff and more splitters.

You should read Mike’s comments on the BtB to get a better understanding, he’s like an expert on the Pitch F/X stuff and he makes it sound a lot better than I just did.

SatchelPrice
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

For sure. I mean, in the end, it’s not necessarily about what exactly Gregg has changed, but rather how those changes have improved him as a pitcher.

Whether he’s working in a cutter now or turning to a slightly harder slider as well as increased curve/split usage, it would seem that Gregg has made some sort of legitimate improvement as a reliever.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
6 years 3 months ago

Why don’t we hold off on the “trade chip” talk until the best power hitting team, with one of the most talented young starting rotations, and apparently now a good closer and a deep bullpen, actually falls out of the top-5 in the AL, eh?

Omar Little
Guest
Omar Little
6 years 3 months ago

I’m a huge Jays fan and love the great start but I still want a firesale at the trade deadline. The offense just will not keep up like this and they won’t leap frog the big 3 in the AL East. I’m very optimistic for 2012 or possibly next year. I’d trade everyone I can other than Hill, Lind, Snider, Lewis and most the starters. It’s great to see guys like Gonzo and Bautista raise that trade value.
A great start this year but I want a WS and not just a great run at the playoffs.

Impossibles
Guest
Impossibles
6 years 3 months ago

Sorry buddy, in any other division they have a chance, but not in the AL East. They’ve only played what…8 games against the top 3 AL East teams? Once they start playing TB/NYY regularly its not going to be as fun.

Sincerely,
A Jays Fan

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