Luke Gregerson was activated by the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday. He will now take his role in the redbird bullpen. But what is that role?
John Mozeliak signed the 9 year veteran to a 2-year, $11-million contract in the offseason in hopes to add a reliable arm to a bullpen that had some uncertainty. Mozeliak then shocked Cardinal nation by saying that he saw the Cardinals going into the 2018 season with Gregerson as the teams closer. While Gregerson has been an effective reliever during his tenure he had not seen much time as a full time closer, his most time spent as a closer was in 2015 with the Astros where he recorded 31 of his 66 career saves. His signing was not the impact the fanbase was looking for in the offseason. As the season drew near Gregerson’s closer role still set, an unfortunate hamstring strain caused management to call an audible in their bullpen play. Feeling as if the injury caused a need in the back end, the Cardinals brought in 2017 NL saves leader Greg Holland as well as gave opportunities to other relievers.
With the signing of Holland, the emergence of rookie Jordan Hicks and and the steadiness of early season “Closer” Bud Norris, Gregerson’s role doesn’t seem clear. Gregerson is going to have to take on a role that most wouldn’t be accustomed to in traditional baseball circles. He must be the guy Mike Matheny goes to against tough lefties in middle inning situations. Injuries to 2017 free agent signee Brett Cecil and young lefty Ryan Sheriff have left the Cardinals with a uncertain options in their bullpen. Tyler Lyons currently is the only left handed pitcher in the Cardinals bullpen and frankly he has not be effective in that role. Lefties are currently hitting over .300 against Lyons. While the Cardinals wait for another left handed pitcher to step up they have to find a way to handle current left handed bats. Gregerson has the ability to get those outs as well as not put Lyons in a situation to lose confidence or have him be the left handed version of Matt Bowman.
Gregerson Splits (2015-Current)
Cardinals fans will want to see a power arm like Jordan Hicks take on powerful left handed hitters, but it will be important for Matheny to fight the urge to use the young fireballer in those situations. While Hicks has the stuff to handle any hitter he currently is still learning his new role in the pen. Keep his confidence high while he develops into what could be a cornerstone piece in the Cardinals pitching staff for years to come.
During Gregerson’s most successful season as a closer in 2015 he held left handed hitters to a .233 BA, while slugging .325 and only allowing 1 home run. Gregerson during that time was exposed to batters much more. Gregerson’s effectiveness against lefties will be depended on his slider movement. He has the ability to fool left handed batters with the movement he brings from an awkward angle. His 3 different sliders feature movement from all different angles. Each one can be effective against left handed hitters.
The Cardinals will be faced with another situation where they have to ease a player into a role. While he can be a featured player at the end of games, Gregerson right now has to fill a need for his ball club. The clubs biggest hole is a left handed reliever, while technically he doesn’t fill that role, he does have the numbers against some of the premier left handed hitters that the Cardinals will be facing during the season.
Anthony Rizzo 0 for 4
Joey Votto 0 for 5
Corey Dickerson 1 for 4, no homeruns
Carlos Gonzalez 2 for 11
Brandon Belt 0 for 9
Charlie Blackmon 1 for 5
Jay Bruce 0 for 4
It will be hard for Mike Matheny to get away from the classic lefty vs. lefty matchup but with the lack of choices that he has it is time to try put a veteran in this role. Gregerson showed that he still has the ability in high leverage situations during the World Baseball Classic closing for a team of All- Stars. The 2017 MLB season may not have reflected that ability, but now he moves to a much more pitcher friendly National League park. While Cardinals fans wait for their other left handed relievers to recover this role could be the most beneficial role that Luke Gregerson can play. Mozilak and Matheny may have seen him as a stable force at the end of games but baseball is about day by day adjustments. This is the right move for the team and for the success of the pitcher.