As you may have surmised, this week we here at RotoGraphs are looking at relief pitchers this week. Much of the focus tends to be spent on closers, but seeing as how volatile the ‘position’ is, the set-up men deserve their proper due. And one of the more reliable set-up men over the last few years who certainly deserves the recognition is none other than Luke Gregerson. The former Padres reliever has been a staple in the San Diego bullpen and given the frailty of Huston Street, the Padres longtime closer, he’s been as close to a must-own reliever as you can get without regularly accruing saves. However, now that Gregerson has landed in Oakland, his value heads south for a variety of reasons.
His 2013 season was fairly solid. Over the course of 73 appearances last season, Gregerson posted a 2.71 ERA (2.70 FIP) with nearly a strikeout per inning (8.68 K/9) and recorded 25 holds and four saves. The strikeout rate was down from the year before, but so were the walks and so were the home runs allowed. He may have pitched to a little more contact than usual, but he was still able to post a 14.1-percent swinging strike rate. Save for the strikeout rate, it looked like another solid year.
But now as he moves into his age-30 season, the outlook isn’t as bright and shiny. First off, his strikeout rate actually hasn’t been the same since he suffered a strained oblique in 2011, tried to pitch through it and then landed on the DL for a month. He went from posting double-digit K/9 to just a 5.04 mark that year. He brought it back to 9.04 in 2012 thanks to a massive increase in the use of his slider, but still was never the same.
Perhaps it’s the steadily diminished velocity we’ve witnessed over the last several years. His fastball was averaging 91.1 mph back in 2009 and over time has dropped roughly 3 mph between then and now. He’s also dropped roughly 2 mph off both his slider and changeup. With that change in velocity, at least over the last three seasons, we’ve seen an increase in his fly-ball rate, but fortunately for him, his home park has masked that. Oakland shouldn’t be much different with that, although it doesn’t stifle the power of righties as much.
But where Gregerson will really lose his value is just simply being in the Oakland bullpen. In San Diego, he was the primary set-up man for Street. He was the guy. Over in Oakland now, he shares that role with the likes of Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle. The three of them will be mixed and matched during the seventh and eighth innings which will likely eat into his innings pitched and reduce the number of holds he would normally accrue.And if something should happen to newly-acquired closer Jim Johnson, it probably won’t be Gregerson who gets the call to replace him. Yes, he shared that role in San Diego at times, but he was still afforded plenty of opportunity in the ninth when Street got hurt.
This last one is obviously less of a knock on him and more on his situation, but between the reduced strikeouts, the diminishing velocity and now fewer opportunities to pitch and garner holds, Gregerson simply doesn’t have the value as an elite middle reliever anymore. He’s still plenty talented and will likely post an ERA and K/9 similar to these last two seasons, but when it comes to opportunities, we will likely see fewer innings from him which means a lower strikeout total, fewer holds, and probably very little chance of picking up a save at all.
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