Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Exit Music (For A Music): Luke Gregerson

This is the Exit Music (For A Player) series, reviewing the major components of the 2015 season. Check out other Exit Music (For A Player) posts here

Acquired: Signed as a free agent, December 2014.

Age: 31. Gregerson will be 32 next May.

Contract Status: 2nd year of a 3yr/$17.5m deal, running through the 2017 season.


Drafted in the 28th Round of the 2006 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Gregerson has always been a reliever - every single one of his 664 professional appearances has come out of the bullpen. In 2008 he was at Double-A Springfield, throwing 75.1IP, 62H/28ER, 78K:26BB. Just before the 2009 season, Gregerson was sent to San Diego as the PTBNL in the deal that sent Mark Worrell to the Padres in exchange for Khalil Greene. He immediately joined the Major-League team, skipping Triple-A altogether.

In 2009, his Major League debut season, Gregerson struck out 93 batters in 75IP with a 2.50 FIP. In 2010 he struck out 89 batters in 78.1IP with a 2.86 FIP. Then something happened: in 2011, Gregerson's 3rd season, he only struck out 34 batters in 55.2IP, and his ERA and FIP flipped, but this season was an anomaly. His K/9 rate in 2009 was 11.2, in 2010 it was 10.2. In 2011 it was 5.5, the lowest K/9 rate of his career by 1.8 K/9.

His success carried on in 2012 and 2013, striking out 136 batters in a combined 138IP with a 2.54 ERA on a 3.04 FIP - mainly in a set-up role as he recorded a total of 16 saves in 363 appearances.

Gregerson was traded to the A's in December 2013 for Seth Smith, and he was excellent for the A's if a little bit lucky - recording a 2.12 ERA on a 3.24 FIP (.260 BABIP). And he was murder on lefties, allowing a .219/.258/.263 slash line in 122 PAs against lefty hitters.

What happened to make a reliever's K/9 rate drop by almost half? He induced more soft contact (26.9%) in 2011 than he did in 2010 (15.9%)


So the Astros announced the signings of Gregerson and Pat Neshek on the same day - December 10, 2014 - to bolster the back end of the Goatpen and it...worked out. Gregerson recorded 31 saves, struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings and posted a career high 5.9 K:BB ratio. I hesitate to say that it completely worked out because Neshek was...well, we'll get to him soon, and Gregerson was like going on a roller coaster where you realize that your seat belt is broken: it'll probably be okay, but those drops are scary, man.

Gregerson himself had a really strange year. He took a personal break for a "very private" family matter in May, and we still don't know what it was for (it's really not our business, anyway) and missed some time for the birth of a son, which is awesome.

Overall, Gregerson's stats look pretty great: 61IP, 48H/21ER, 59K:10BB, 0.95 WHIP. But there is some devil in the details. He gave up five home runs all season long - four of them in May. From August - end of the regular season, he allowed 16 hits with 14 of those only going for singles.

Gregerson really only threw his sinker, which generated a high number of grounders, and his slider, which generated a whole bunch of whiffs, in 2015. Overall Gregerson threw 56% sinkers and 42% sliders (he threw 14 changeups all year long). Whereas he threw mostly sinkers in the 1st half of the season (in July he threw 68% sinkers and 31% sliders), in September and October he flipped it, throwing 54% sliders and 45% sinkers. Gregerson was good when his slider was biting. Two months that they weren't biting were in May (.375 BAA/.813 SLG) and September (.417 BAA).

Gregerson only allowed runs in 12 of his appearances, and the Astros only lost 10 games in which he pitched. But of those 12 appearances in which he allowed runs, Gregerson gave up 2+ runs 10 times. Three of those games the Astros lost by one run. It's really easy to cherry pick those games as Missed Opportunities, but he threw scoreless outings in 15 of the Astros' one-run wins.

And let's be clear: while the bullpen was caving in down the stretch, Gregerson was the one true constant. From August 28 to September 23 (when we wrote a post about how the world was ending), here were the components of the bullpen:

Fields: 7IP, 13H/10ER, 9K:3BB, 12.86 ERA/2.29 WHIP, 1.002 OPS against
Harris: 10.2IP, 10H/5ER, 9K:4BB, 4.22 ERA/1.31 WHIP, .761 OPS against
Velasquez: 10IP, 10H/9ER, 10K:6BB, 8.10 ERA/1.60 WHIP, .927 OPS against
Qualls: 8IP, 11H/5ER, 8K:1BB, 5.62 ERA/1.50 WHIP, .853 OPS against
Neshek: 7IP, 13H/5ER, 4K:3BB, 6.43 ERA/2.29 WHIP, 1.128 OPS against

And then here's Luke Gregerson: 6.2IP, 3H/2ER, 7K:0BB, 2.70 ERA/0.45 WHIP, .384 OPS against.

The division lead was squandered because for three weeks the Astros just couldn't get to Gregerson. 

In the postseason, Gregerson was part of The Game Of Which We Shall Not Speak. In said GOWWSNS, Gregerson was brought in to try and finish out the 8th inning with the score tied 6-6 after Harris, Sipp, and Correa failed to end a Royals threat. Gregerson couldn't put away Drew Butera (!!!1) and walked him on ten pitches. This is the same Drew Butera who in 853 regular season plate appearances has a .507 OPS and a .241 OBP, walking just 47 times. This was when I threw my hat. 


Gregerson will be a major part of the team in 2016 because (a) he's under contract and (b) because of how well he pitched, but I fully expect him to return to the 8th inning once (if!?) the Astros acquire that hard-throwing reliever everyone keeps talking about. Gregerson's slider sits around 90mph, and he doesn't throw a traditional fastball. That may work in his favor, but it would be nice to have a guy in the 9th who makes hitters - instead of fans - crap their pants.

Franchise Marks:

*Gregerson's 5.9 K:BB ratio was 11th in baseball
*His 2.35 SIERA, 2.86 FIP, and 2.71 xFIP were all best on the team
*His 31 saves were the most on the Astros since Jose Valverde got 44 saves in 2008.