Daniel Moroz: Johnson’s new role can’t save O’s from ill-advised signing of Gregg

Jim Johnson now has as many saves in the last week as Kevin Gregg has since the beginning of August. That gives me a great excuse to bring out two of my favorite hobby horses: Despite what many people say (including some allusions by the Orioles themselves), Johnson is perfectly capable of being the team’s closer, and signing Gregg was not a good move.

Johnson once blew a save (or two), which resulted in some people deciding that he didn’t have the mentality of a closer, or something like that. His career numbers in saves are sparkling: an 0.79 ERA, a 2.8 strikeout to walk ratio and a .175/.221/.200 batting line against (batters are hitting .162/.205/.201 against Mariano Rivera in saves in his career). That’s only 16 games, though. Let’s expand out and look at all save situations versus non-save situations:

Save situations: 2.91 ERA, 114 1/3 innings pitched, 5.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.55 HR/9, Fielding Independent Pitching of 3.59

Non-save situations: 3.28 ERA, 134 1/3 innings pitched, 6.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.54 HR/9, Fielding Independent Pitching of 3.53

More strikeouts in non-save situations, but also more walks; he’s pretty much the same guy overall (check out those FIPs). Batters are hitting .252/.304/.340 against him in save situations and .253/.318/.348 in non-save situations. Johnson can close if the team wants him to - he’d be fine at it. The point might be moot if Johnson moves into the starting rotation, but that’s a relatively higher-risk proposition, so lack of success there could find him back in the ‘pen, where the ninth inning could be waiting.

This brings us to the notion that signing Gregg was not a good move. It was fairly obvious at the time to some, and has gained pretty wide acceptance by this point. Now Gregg probably isn’t quite as bad a pitcher as his 2011 would indicate, but there wasn’t really a great chance of his contract working out well (especially with the vesting option for 2013; I don’t even understand how the O’s could have given him with a clear head). The reasonable best-case scenario was that Gregg would just about earn his salary - and coming out even if things go really right isn’t where a team should want to be when going after a free agent.

Gregg is walking people left and right this season - his 6.3 BB/9 is the third-worst in the majors for any reliever with at least 50 innings pitched - but it’s not as if that was an area of strength for him before (also, four of his 38 walks have been intentional, so it’s not that bad). The lowest walk rate he had posted in the past four seasons was 3.9 BB/9, and his total rate for 2007 to 2010 was 4.4 BB/9 (which is pretty bad already). He’s missing fewer bats than he used to, as well, with hitters not feeling little need to event to bat the bat on the ball given that there’s a fair chance Gregg won’t be able to throw strikes anyway. Those factors have combined to drop his strikeout rate to 7.9 K/9. Gregg’s 4.45 ERA is bad, but his FIP of 4.89 is even worse. It’s just been an ugly, ugly season.

At this point though, there’s not much to be done. Gregg’s signing was an unforced error - much like the Mike Gonzalez signing, which similarly blew up in the team’s face (but from which it’s unclear if they learned anything) - but now it’s just a sunk cost. Having Gregg pitching high-leverage innings isn’t going to be helpful, but it’s likely that he’s still a better pitcher than some Triple-A journeyman (or, at least, just as good). That means cutting him and having to eat the remainder of his salary - while making many fans feel better - won’t really do any good unless the O’s upgrade their bullpen to the point that a 4.50 ERA pitcher isn’t going to have a job at all, which is unlikely.

In the end, 2011 won’t have been a lost season because of Gregg. But he certainly hasn’t helped, and the decision to bring him aboard was an example of how the team was gotten to where they are.

Daniel Moroz blogs about the Orioles for Camden Crazies and joins MASNsports.com as part of our season-long initiative to welcome guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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