While the Orioles have yet to officially sign and introduce Kevin Gregg as their latest offseason acquisition, it is heavily rumored that Orioles and Gregg have agreed to a 2-year $10 million deal. Editors Note- this move was made official yesterday. This rumored signing is puzzling to me given that rebuilding teams generally shouldn’t spend money of veteran relief pitchers. Over a full relief season of about 80 innings with an average number of closing opportunities Gregg should be worth ~0.75 wins above a replacement (WAR) relief pitcher, or about $3.33 millon over a full season. Given that Gregg’s salary is $10 million over two seasons I don’t see how he will be worth the money the Orioles are paying him.
Despite recording 37 saves last year, Gregg doesn’t have the stuff typically associated with closers. He throws three pitches: a 90-92 mph fastball, a 80-83 mph slider and 86-83 mph cut fastball. Given that relief pitchers have such small sample sizes each season (~70 innings) it is difficult to determine which of these is Gregg’s best pitch. However, it is safe to say that Gregg’s fastball is declining. Since 2007 the value of his fastball has fallen every year. In 2007 it was well above average and throughout the 2008 and 2009 seasons it gradually decreased and finally landed as a below average pitch for the first time in 2010.
Gregg also hasn’t had a full-season xFIP (an advanced era-esque statistic) under 4.00 since 2004; the Major League Baseball (MLB) average xFIP for relief pitchers was 4.25 in 2010. While Gregg is capable of posting above average strike out rates (~ a strikeout per inning since 2007), he also struggles with his control (~ a walk every 2 innings since 2007). When you strip away Gregg’s saves, a measure that is more a function of opportunity than skill, he is a slightly better than average relief pitcher. Unfortunately, he is a slightly better than average relief pitcher who the Orioles are paying $10 million over the next two seasons.
I understand that after trading away David Hernandez, Kam Mickolio, Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey that the Orioles desperately need relief pitchers. However, I do not understand why the Baltimore front office felt the need to overspend on a “brand name” closer to fill the void; especially after the disastrous season Mike Gonzalez had last year ($5.4 million for 0.7 WAR).
This is the first decision the Orioles’ front office has made this offseason that irks me. Obtaining Mark Reynolds, J. J. Hardy and Derrek Lee showcased a strategy where undervalued players where being targeted and obtained at undervalued prices. The signing of Kevin Gregg is exactly the opposite. Here, the Orioles are over paying an over valued player who will be unable to earn his salary in terms of (WAR) because he is only a slightly above average relief pitcher.