Luke Gregerson Should Stop Throwing Batting Practice (Go With the Slider!)

We’ve all seen it. It’s only been 6 games — a super small sample — but it’s been a bad 6 games for Luke Gregerson. He’s allowed 5 ER (7.94 ERA), allowing 12 of 27 batters to reach base while collecting just 2 strikeouts.

After being one of baseball’s most durable and consistent relievers for nearly a decade, Gregerson is pretty much toast. I hate to say that. I was always a fan of his from afar and thought he would be, at worst, a solid 6th-7th inning guy for the Cardinals when they signed him. He’s been none of that.

2018 was not a healthy year. However, there is no indication that health is an issue this year. The team brought him back slowly this year and, physically, he seems fine. His velocity has just completely deteriorated. It would seem that averaging 67 games and 67.1 relief innings per year from 2007 (in Cardinals minor leagues) thru 2017 has taken it’s toll. Add in a 35-year old body and a year’s worth of physical limitations and rehab, and it would seem that Father Time has claimed another victim.

Check the velocity.

During his good career, from 2009-2017, his 3 main pitches — Slider, Sinker, and Four-Seam — went like this:

Pitch 09-17 Avg Velo Single-Year Low Max Deviation 2019 Avg Velo Deviation From Avg
Slider 84.38 81.93 +1.29 / -2.45 78.95 -5.43
Sinker 90.10 89.35 +1.08 / -0.75 87.31 -2.79
4-Seam 90.57 89.91 +1.3 / -0.66 86.76 -3.81

As you can see, he has lost velocity — in an extreme way — across the board. Through his career, his year-to-year velocity was pretty consistent as you can see from the maximum deviations. This year he is throwing at speeds that are not just dramatically slower than his career averages, they are dramatically slower than all of his previous career-low velocities over a full season.

That’s really the biggest difference in his stuff. The horizontal movement on his slider is at 6.92 inches, which is far more movement than any full season of his career. His sinker has -5.57 inches of horizontal movement, in line with his career norms. That is somewhat encouraging.

However, he is taking a counter-intuitive approach to the drop in velocity.

Although his 3rd most used pitch over his carrer, his 4-seamer has mostly been a rarity. From 2011-2017, the highest single-year usage was 7.13%. In 2015-16 he combined to throw just SIX total 4-seamers. In 2011 he threw just 33, in 2014 just 31. This year, in 6 games, he has thrown 26. Rather than relying on the good movement, he is now throwing his 4-seam fastball 25% of the time.

Meanwhile, he is throwing his sinker just 39% of the time and his slider just 26% of the time. In his career, his slider usage has been between 42% and 65%. Why now is he throwing it nearly half as often? I know the slider is sitting at 79mph, but the movement is still there. The same goes for the sinker.

I don’t know why the game plan has been to pump home what is just barely faster than a batting practice fastball 25% of the time. But it is clearly a deliberate change, as it completely deviates from his career norms.

Why on earth would you respond to a huge drop in velocity by cranking up the usage of your straightest pitch? Other than physical limitation, I have no answer.

If there is any hope for Luke to rebound and give the Cardinals some sort of value and production, he has to stop throwing the 4-seamer and pump sinkers and sliders, 95% of the time. The velocity is gone, so he needs to sell-out to the pitches with movement. It’s really all he’s got.

If his arm is physically unable to throw the slider at least 40% of the time, then he shouldn’t be taking the mound in a major league game.

Luke Gregerson has always been a slider-first pitcher. The version of him that isn’t, isn’t an effective pitcher.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks to Brooks-Baseball and FanGraphs for the numbers! Featured Image Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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Last updated: 10/06/2022