30 Players in 30 Days: Luke Gregerson
The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Luke Gregerson in the 28th round of the 2006 MLB Draft but sent him to the San Diego Padres three years later as part of a deal for Khalil Greene. Gregerson made his major-league debut with the Padres in 2009 and appeared in 72 games. In five seasons in San Diego, Gregerson posted a 2.88 ERA and 1.092 WHIP.
After the 2013 season, the Padres dealt Gregerson to the Oakland Athletics where he appeared in 72 games while maintaining a 2.12 ERA in 2014. Gregerson became a free agent after the season, and the Houston Astros signed him to a three-year, $18.5 million deal in December of 2014. Gregerson’s role was up in the air until manager A.J. Hinch named him the team’s closer before the 2015 regular season started.
Gregerson’s debut with the team went about as good as one can get. In the first game of the season, he came on in the 9th inning with a 2-0 lead against the Cleveland Indians. Gregerson only needed six pitches, all of them strikes, to induce two groundouts and a strikeout to end the game.
Most closers in baseball have a hard breaking ball and mid-to-upper 90s fastball to blow by hitters, but that is not Gregerson’s game. According to Fangraphs, his fastball sits at 89 mph on average, but he throws his sweeping, 82 mph slider 40% of the time. Gregerson doesn’t work to strike out hitters, but rather to induce soft contact.
Gregerson threw seven straight scoreless innings to start the season while allowing only two hits over those seven games. In each of those games, he never had to throw more than 16 pitches in an inning. Gregerson finally got touched for two runs and a blown save on April 24, but still came away with a win.
In May, he allowed two runs on three different occasions, but the team came away with the victory in each of those appearances. Early on, he was better when the team gave him no breathing room. There were four occasions in the month when he came on with a one-run lead, and he did not allow a hit in three of them.
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Gregerson finally earned his first loss on the season in June against the Toronto Blue Jays. With a 6-4 lead, he came on and immediately gave up a ground-rule double and an RBI single to Jose Reyes that cut the lead to one. After a Josh Donaldson line out, Reyes stole second then the Jonathan Villar incident occurred, and one more single sealed the team’s fate.
He didn’t allow another run up until the All-Star break after the incident in Toronto, and he had 18 saves in 20 opportunities at the halfway mark. Gregerson’s problem in the second half and on the season wasn’t that he strung bad outings together, it was that he couldn’t limit damage once it started.
The soft-tossing righty only allowed earned runs in four of his 30 second-half appearances, but in each of those instances he allowed at least two runs. In fact, Gregerson allowed earned runs in 10 games this season and in all but one of the games he allowed more than one. Oddly enough, the team was 6-3 in those nine games.
Gregerson would finish with 31 saves in 2015 (10th in the AL) and a 0.8 WAR. Among the top 10 AL saves leaders, Gregerson ranked fifth in ERA (3.10), third in WHIP (0.95), and held the second-best K/BB ratio (5.90).
In the postseason, Gregerson had four appearances, three saves, six strikeouts and only allowed one run – a solo home run – in Game 3 of the ALDS.
For the traditionalist, Gregerson profiles more as a set-up man to a hard-throwing, shutdown closer and they have a solid argument. According to Baseball Reference, his 83.8% save percentage was the second worst of the top 20 saves leaders in 2015.
More Houston Astros Season Recaps:
- Vince Velasquez
- Tony Sipp
- Jonathan Villar
- Preston Tucker
- Mike Fiers
- Hank Conger
- Chad Qualls
- Jon Singleton
- Joe Thatcher
- Marwin Gonzalez
- Josh Fields
- Jake Marisnick
- Pat Neshek
- Jed Lowrie
- Luis Valbuena
- Scott Feldman
- Evan Gattis
- Will Harris
What to expect in 2016
Gregerson was successful in his first stint as a full-time closer in 2015 with the Astros, but he may be moved from the position if the team targets a hard-throwing closer this offseason.
A 7-8-9 tandem with any combination of Pat Neshek, Tony Sipp, Will Harris and Gregerson leading into a shutdown closer would solidify an already great bullpen. Gregerson’s WHIP was his lowest since 2010 and, according to Baseball Reference, his BB/9 rate has gone down each of the past five years.
If the team does not target another closer, then the underrated Gregerson will be back on the mound finishing games for the Astros in 2016.