On December 12, 2014, Luke Gregerson signed a three-year deal with the Houston Astros. The 18.5 million dollar contract coupled with the signing of fellow reliever Pat Neshek were just the beginning as Jeff Luhnow and company signaled to the rest of the league that the Astros were ready to compete. Last year was the product of a number of factors coming together, from health to young prospects stepping onto the big stage, but one of the biggest factors last year was the strength and stability at the back end of games. Much of that stability came from Gregerson’s 64 appearances in which he racked up 31 saves.
While the 2015 Astros bullpen was one of the strongest units in the majors, they showed warts down the stretch as heavy usage led to a number of pitchers wearing down in the second half. Gregerson was no exception pitching to an underwhelming 4.50 ERA in September and October.
Ultimately, a weary bullpen down the stretch and the desire for a true power arm out of the pen led to the Astros big move of the offseason, trading for Ken Giles. Giles projects to step into the closer role presumably pushing Gregerson to the eighth inning as the primary setup man.
Until coming to the Astros, Gregerson had primarily pitched in a setup role throughout his career, as seen by his 154 career holds. In 2010, Gregerson’s second season in the majors he was part of an enviable bullpen trio along with Mike Adams and Heath Bell. Primarily serving in a seventh inning role, Gregerson went on to pick up 40 holds in 2010, which at the time was a major league record.
At 31 years old and coming off of a successful season as the Astros closer, moving back into a setup role is not what Gregerson had in mind for 2016. With that said Gregerson has expressed a desire to remain the closer and A.J. Hinch has stated that the ninth inning job will be open to competition entering the spring.
Sadly, Gregerson has been battling a sore oblique, which could derail his bid to remain the closer. The right-hander plans to throw on a mound within the next week and claims the injury will not affect his regular season status, but any lingering issues in spring training do not bode well for his chances of claiming the ninth inning.
Regardless of who ends up claiming the regular closing duties, Gregerson should be in line for numerous high leverage appearances and at least a few chances to finish out games. Regardless of who ends up closing, here’s to hoping that Gregerson and Giles are shutting down opposing teams and closing out wins well into October!