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On The Astros: Leave The Bullpen Alone

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Let's understand why we're saying to leave Gregerson in the "closer" role.

Luke Gregerson has blown 5 saves this year. "Get that bum out of there!", right?  Yeah, not so much.
Luke Gregerson has blown 5 saves this year. "Get that bum out of there!", right? Yeah, not so much.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
I understand all the frustration with Luke Gregerson right now.  It's hard to remember that even the greatest "closers" blow 10-11% or more of their save opportunities.  Take a look down the all time saves leaderboard at save conversion percentages:

Mariano Rivera (89%)
Trevor Hoffman (89%)
Lee Smith (82%)
John Franco (81%)
Billy Wagner (86%)
Francisco Rodriguez (86%)
Dennis Eckersley (85%)
Joe Nathan (89%)
Jeff Reardon (78%)
Jonathan Papelbon (88%)
Troy Percival (86%)

I think you get the idea there.  Even Craig Kimbrel, already one of the most dominant relievers in recent (at least) history, has "only" converted 90% of his save opportunities...and (spoiler alert!) that number is likely going to go down as he ages, too.

Before we get too much further, this piece was written before AJ Hinch stated yesterday that he'd likely ease Gregerson out of the ninth inning role for a while and give other guys a look.  The feeling still stands for this writer, though, so here we are.

Now, I'm on record saying that the "save" stat is silly, and that the position of "closer" is too.  I stand by that.  But if we're worried over five blown saves specifically, I thought it made sense to at least take a look at save conversion rates.  Luke Gregerson's save conversion percentage is 81.4% over a season and change with the Astros, by the way.  It was 86% last season, and will likely be somewhere in that vicinity after this season.  Yes, despite the cold streak right now.

Why do I feel that way?

Well, because Luke Gregerson is a pretty dang good reliever.  His FIP is 3.16 and his xFIP is 3.09 this year.  His K/9 and BB/9 are both better so far this year even than they were last year.  His BABIP is in a normal range, if not even a little bit higher than his career BABIP...and higher than his 2015 BABIP.  And stats are always trying to correct themselves over the course of a season.  Daniel Murphy probably isn't going to continue to hit .380 this year, and Gregerson probably isn't going to continue blowing 28% of his save opportunities.

Also, the pitch he threw that Lowrie homered on?  It's circled in red in this picture:

Gregerson to Lowrie www.brooksbaseball.net


That is a pretty decent pitch, folks.  And Lowrie skied it, with a launch angle of 42 degrees.  At 43 degrees, or maybe even at 42.5 degrees, it's a loud, scary out to end the game.  As it was, Lowrie's fly ball crawled into the first or second row of seats.

That's baseball.

Don't get me wrong, Luke needs to tighten up.  But there's every reason to expect he will.  He blew 5 saves in 36 chances last year, and has 5 blown saves in half as many chances this year.

You might see a likely outcome of five more blown saves for him this season.  Because ratios.

I see a stat-correcting run of dominance coming our way, where Luke could rattle off ten or fifteen or twenty saves in a row without blowing one.  Because he does that occasionally.   Even if he does blow, say, 8 games out of 45 save opportunities this year...that's an 82% ratio.  That would place outside the elite "closers" in the sport this year, but it wouldn't be THAT bad.  And if he rattles off fifteen or twenty saves in a row to finish the year, he'd finish between 85% and 87% for the season.  Which is a pretty solid mean with his performance last year, and not far fetched at all, from where I'm sitting.

Hell, lots of relievers have rough patches early and then pitch dominantly the rest of the season.  Mariano Rivera blew each of the first two saves of the season in 2005 - to the Red Sox, no less - and the national sports media exploded.  Fans in the Bronx were booing him, the whole nine yards.  And then he only blew two more games the entire rest of that season.

Now, sure.  Gregerson is not Mo.  Not saying he is.  But relievers are volatile, as we know, and volatility is a blade that cuts in two directions...which it seems we forget when we're emotional after a blown save.

Why, just look at Will Harris - a ridiculously awesome hot streak to start this season.  The only run charged to him this year has come thanks to Ken Giles coming in behind him and allowing an inherited runner to score.  Which is pretty similar to how Harris started 2015, if you recall.  And down the stretch, he faded some...culminating in the 2015 ALDS game which shall not otherwise be mentioned.

When I look at Will Harris' 2016, I see a really enjoyable hot streak that's getting to be about due for negative regression.  Which translates to blown saves if he's moved to the "closer" role...and isn't the desire to avoid those the reason we're having this conversation in the first place?

So, please forgive me if I want to keep Luke Gregerson - and all the other relievers - pretty much right where they are.  It's a long season, and it ebbs and flows.  Gregerson is cold today, Harris might be cold tomorrow.  I'll take my lumps with Gregerson in the "closer" role, getting the "save" stats that are important to him personally while Harris, Giles, Feliz, and others keep pitching in the high leverage situations to get the ball to the end of the game with a lead.