Luke, I Am Your Blogger

OK, I can’t actually start this post without confirming my Star Wars credentials.  I know that the line that this post title is a takeoff on doesn’t actually exist.  I can quote you the scene from The Empire Strikes Back with the surrounding context.  I know Vader says, “No, I am your father.”  However, it’s a paraphrase that, like “Play it again, Sam” from Casablanca–another line that doesn’t exist–has entered our collective consciousness.  I know you don’t expect much from this site, but you do expect accuracy when it comes to a galaxy far, far away and I want you to know that trust is not misplaced.  (Also, while we are here, The Last Jedi looks amazing, doesn’t it?)

Now that the geek card has been played, we can move on to the baseball.  Last night, probably in response to this tweet, the Cardinals signed relief pitcher Luke Gregerson to a two-year deal.  Gregerson, who most fans know went to San Diego with Mark Worrell from the Cardinal minor league system in the deal for Khalil Greene, has been a solid relief presence for most of his career before stumbling last season with the Astros.  Of course, he also has a nice new World Series ring to bring into the clubhouse, just like last year’s signing, Dexter Fowler, did.  You wonder if this is John Mozeliak’s subtle way of letting the players know this is what they should be striving for.

Anyway, I saw some folks I respect, most notably Zach Gifford and Joe Schwarz, aren’t enthused at all about this signing.  I’m sure they’ll have an article up at Birds on the Black later today to explain why and it will make a lot of sense.  I’m not smart enough to look at heat maps and exit velocity and things like that, so my admittedly amateur eye looks at the stat lines.  I know that’s not the best way to look at things always, but it’s what I’ve got and what makes sense to me.  Gregerson’s had a very good career up until last year, his first major stumble.  He’s still a guy that has struck out over 10 per nine innings four times in his career–including the last two seasons–and often has a FIP under 3.00.

What stands out to me, like most anyone, is that last year he gave up 13 home runs, which was almost double his previous career high.  It was more than he gave up in 2015 and 2016 combined.  If that home run total is more like 6-7, and moving to Busch from Minute Maid should help that, that ERA and WHIP is going to drop.  (I know, reliever ERA is worth about as much as paper in a paperless office, but let’s go with it.)  Gregerson also gave up about two hits per nine more last year than he ever had before, another number that might have been inflated.  His batting average on balls in play last year was .308, which was significantly more than most of his seasons.  There are reasons for me to think that he could get back to being a solid piece in a bullpen where many folks have claimed that the Cardinals should throw arms at the problem.

There’s also the Mike Maddux factor to take into account.  He’s not necessarily a pitcher whisperer like we think of Dave Duncan being, but he’s obviously got a strong reputation as a coach.  It would seem a decent possibility that if Gregerson’s issues last year were mechanical, Maddux would find the flaw this winter and get him to correct it.  Of course, we don’t know if that was the problem or not.

Now, Gregerson is also going into his Age 34 season.  It’s possible that last year was not a blip but the beginning of a trend.  That’s a fair approach to take at this.  I’m also not enamored with the idea of a two-year deal, because so many of the multiple year contracts that the Cardinals have had over the past few years, whether they’ve been signings, extensions, or acquired in a deal, have been a bust, usually because the pitcher winds up spending part of the deal injured.  Gregerson has appeared in 60 games every year but 2016 (when he was in 59) so he’s been fairly durable.  With Mo’s luck, that will catch up to him sometime soon.

There was a notable tweet that indicated, as the Cubs also signed Brandon Morrow yesterday, that both teams had found their closer.  That was quickly derided by a lot of Cardinal fans, because there’s no indication that Gregerson will be used that way.  Sure, he had 46 saves in ’15 and ’16 combined, but he’s not been a closer much of his career.  It would seem more like he’s a replacement for Kevin Siegrist in the seventh inning, letting the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons take the eighth and whatever closer is acquired the ninth.

So what does the bullpen look like right now?  Assuming that the Cardinals can’t shake Mike Matheny from his 13 man pitching staff, currently it is probably:

Matthew Bowman
John Brebbia
Brett Cecil
Gregerson
Lyons
Alex Reyes (?)
Ryan Sherriff
Sam Tuivailala

If Reyes isn’t ready to go for the beginning of the season, it would probably be Josh Lucas or John Gant until he was cleared to return to action.  That’s a staff that still doesn’t have an obvious closer (as we mentioned above) and it’s not Matheny’s strength to mix and match and be creative.  It would seem some more work needs to be done but there are going to be some names that will either be moved or cut in the shuffle.  Brebbia and Sherriff do have the option of returning to Memphis, which could help, but the 40-man is getting crowded.

The winter meetings kick off today in Orlando.  By Wednesday, this roster should look a lot different (should being the operative word).  It could be fun to see what they’ll do!

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