“Believe me, I know the save rule and, quite frankly, it doesn’t carry much weight with me. I like the win rule a little better.”
Buck Showalter spoke those words following the Orioles’ August 3, 2010 win over the Angels. Buck let Mike Gonzalez pitch the final 1.2 innings of that game in a save situation even though he was not the closer.
At the time, it was so refreshing to hear that from Buck. It seemed that Buck would do his own thinking rather than simply push buttons at the end of games when making bullpen decisions. Buck appeared to be an outside the box, free thinker, and for a guy like me who despises set ideas and lazy-thinking managers, I was excited to have him in Baltimore.
When the Orioles signed Kevin Gregg prior to the 2011 season, I was a bit puzzled. A big reason why the Orioles had so much success under Buck in the second half of 2010 was because Koji Uehara was made the closer. He would go on to convert 13 of 15 save chances, and Koji finished 2010 with a 2.43 ERA, .81 WHIP, and 55 K’s in 44 innings while issuing only 5 walks all season.
I understood that Koji was a huge injury risk, and was unlikely to make it through 2011 without making at least one trip to the disabled list. However, if both pitchers are healthy, there is no doubt that Koji Uehara is the better pitcher. To me, that means Koji should pitch in the most critical, highest leverage situations.
Keep in mind, that doesn’t always mean the 9th inning. If the Orioles are playing against Boston with Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ortiz due up in the 8th inning, then I would likely summon Koji to get through the 8th, and if he could not go another inning, I would then go to Gregg in the 9th for the save.
I said the same thing when the Orioles flip-flopped B.J. Ryan and Jorge Julio in 2005. So often, it would be a close game in the 7th or 8th, only to see Julio blow the game open in the most crucial situations all because Lee Mazzilli was saving his closer, B.J. Ryan, for the 9th.
Back to Kevin Gregg…This guy has racked up the saves throughout his career, but other than that, he has been the definition of an average to slightly above average reliever. He has a career ERA of 3.99 and WHIP of 1.34, compared to Koji’s career 3.33 ERA and 1.06 WHIP (which is inflated from when he was a starter in 2009).
Yes, including 2011, Gregg has saved 133 games the past five seasons, but he has also blown 30 save opportunities over that same time period, which translates to an approximate 77% success rate. Those aren’t very good numbers for a closer, and they clearly aren’t good enough numbers to make him the clear choice in the 9th over Koji.
One thing I will concede is that if both Koji and Gregg are going to pitch in a close game, it doesn’t make that big of a difference what inning they pitch in. If Gregg is going to suck on any given night, he is likely going to suck whether he pitches the 8th or 9th inning.
However, when both of them are available in the 9th inning of a save situation, there is no reason why Buck Showalter should choose Kevin Gregg over Koji Uehara.
He did last Saturday against Tampa Bay when the Orioles were one inning away from taking the series against the Rays, while also getting back to the treasured .500 mark. They were both available, and Buck chose Gregg, even with his dreadful WHIP and walk numbers thus far in 2011. Gregg blew the game, and the loss started a four game slide for the O’s.