Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Astros sign righties Neshek and Gregerson to bolster 'pen

Brian McTaggart had the best analysis: the Astros now have 3 of the 4 key members of the 2011 Padres 'pen in Gregerson, Neshek and Qualls.  They are now just missing Heath Bell who is also a free agent, and would... ummm... be cheap and available.

Yesterday, I bemoaned the lack of activity - at least as measured by appearances in MLBTR - which was really the calm before the storm.  The Astros sign two really interesting and not dissimilar relievers to add to the current crew of Qualls, Sipp, Fields, and probably Chapman.  Will Harris, Darin Downs and Mike Foltynewicz are somewhere in there as well, with some competition for once for various 'pen roles.

Both Neshek and Gregerson have a history of excellence, although in a different way.  These two represent a significant upgrade - perhaps not of the Robertson / Miller variety, but excellent nevertheless - and make solid additions to a 'pen already poised to take a big step forward via regression to the mean.

Pat Neshek has managed to parlay one fabulous year into a $12.5M, 2 year contact, with an option for a third at a similar rate.  He has an interesting back-story, including some tragedy, and works via an unusual delivery...
"Neshek has a very unorthodox style of delivery that transitions from starting at a submarine angle to finishing sidearm with an explosive thrusting motion..." (wikipedia)
... that gets some unusual movement and angles.  This translates into a low rate of base hits (6.4 career H/9).  He also walks very few (3.1 career BB/9), and has a very solid strikeout rate (9.1 career K/9).  His career FIP is a solid 3.75, but his career ERA is nearly a full run lower (2.78) over 281.2 innings pitched so he could be one of those guys that outperforms his peripherals.  It is easy to see why this may be the case looking at his throwing motion - I am guessing most batters haven't seen many other guys like him.

His most recent season was ridiculous.  For the Cardinals in 2014, he posted an ERA of 1.87 on the back of a 5.9 H/9, 1.2 BB/9 and 9.1 K/9.  His FIP was a not-as-good-but-very-robust 2.37, and as mentioned above, he consistently outperforms his FIP in terms of earned runs allowed.  The raw numbers are also eye-watering - 71 games, 67.1 IP, 44 H, 9 walks, 68 strikeouts, 14 runs - none unearned.

And as a side-armer, he isn't useless against lefties, either.  He has a career .180/.246/.297 line against fellow-righties, and a career .227/.307/.400 line against south-siders.  In his 2014 campaign, he was even more impressive split-wise: .176/.205/.236 versus .196/.237/.304.

Gregerson is also a slightly unusual guy.  He gets by on a 2-seam fastball and cutter/slider that occasionally breaks 90 with wicked downward movement.  This movement has resulted in a career 48.5% groundball rate.  He has a career 7.1 H/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 8.8 K/9, yielding a career 2.99 FIP and 2.75 ERA over six years and 419.1 IP.  He also possesses only a slight career split (.196/.247/.311 versus RHB, .238/.315/.337 versus LHB).  He has been very durable - in his six years, he has thrown between 55.2 and 78.1 IP.

Gregerson's contract will top out - if all incentives are met - at 3/21.  This seems like a fair price for a solid relief pitcher.  I would also feel much better about eating 3/21 if it all goes to custard than 5/50 or 4/46, so with less investment, there is definitely less risk.  And, no draft-pick compensation!!

Gregerson was drafted by Jeff Luhnow and the Cardinals in 2006, and went to San Diego in the Khalil Greene trade.  Gregerson was the victim in this bit of Chris-Carter-bombery, so lets hope we don't see too much more of that.  (And before we worry too much, remember that David Robertson was also roughed-up by Chris Carter a week or so prior).

But stealing ex-Athletics has been a great thing to do - that is how the Astros got Chris Carter in the first place - so Gregerson represents a solid get for the 'stros.

Now, about that lack of activity....