by Eno Sarris //
The closer carousel in Baltimore continues. Since 2008, George Sherrill, Alfredo Simon, Jim Johnson, David Hernandez, Mark Hendrickson, Mike Gonzalez, Lance Cormier, Jim Miller, Cla Meredith and Rocky Cherry have all notched a save for the Orioles, and that’s not mentioning the two main candidates for the closer’s role this year.
This past offseason, the Orioles signed Kevin Gregg to a two-year, $10 deal. Gregg has functioned as his teams’ closer for four straight years, providing solid-but-not-spectacular numbers for the Marlins, Cubs and Blue Jays along the way. Now that he’s the second-highest paid player in the pen, and owns the most career saves of the crew, is the the favorite for the role?
Probably, but that doesn’t mean he’s not without his flaws. Last year, Gregg struck out 8.85 batters per nine, walked 4.58 batters per nine, and had a 42.3% groundball rate. All of those numbers are too close to average for relievers to get very excited about. Relievers averaged 7.58 strikeouts per nine, 4.56 walks per nine, and a 42.7% groundball rate last year. That means that Gregg was a mere strikeout per nine away from being an average pitcher, which doesn’t scream “Closer” with a capital ‘c.’
Last year’s closer, Koji Uehara, is still with the team, as he was resigned to a one-year, $3 million deal that can jump to $5 with incentives. He might be paid a little less, but he’s a better pitcher. After moving to the pen last year, Uehara had an insane 11.25 strikeouts per nine against 1.02 walks per nine. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher – his 23.6% groundball rate has to count against him – but that kind of strikeout punch and control is ideal for a closer. Some may point to his relative inexperience in the role as a negative, but Uehara pitched over 1300 innings in Japan, saved 32 games in 2007, and has a generally excellent resume once you include his Japanese history.
Take a look at the Bloomberg Sports projection for Kevin Gregg on the left, and the argument comes into focus. Gregg may be in line for the saves right now, but his projected ERA (4.11) and WHIP (1.37) should make fantasy managers nervous. Remember, saves are just one category, and Uehara should easily trump Gregg in the other categories – and could easily steal the job completely. Consider handcuffing these two together late in drafts this year.
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