Kevin Gregg was unable to find a taker this offseason and remains unsigned, but 35-year-old right-hander has not retired and in fact told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times that he’s “ready to go” and “just waiting for an opportunity.”
Gregg saved 33 games for the Cubs last season and certainly thinks he could help their bullpen again this year, telling Wittenmyer he’d be willing to sign an incentive-laden contract and start out as a setup man. There are certainly plenty of worse relievers than Gregg with big-league jobs right now, some of them even in high-leverage roles.
However, being critical of the team’s management at the end of last season surely didn’t help his chances of returning to the Cubs this year. Oh, and Gregg also took a shot at people who don’t believe in the supposed aura surrounding the closer role:
A lot of guys think anybody can pitch the ninth–especially sabermetrics guys who come up with a stat for everything. They think everybody can pitch the ninth inning, but, for some reason, those last three outs aren’t the same.
Of course, “sabermetrics guys” would use Gregg’s career as an example of how “those last three outs” are basically the same. He has 177 career saves despite a 4.07 ERA and was repeatedly given closing gigs despite no one ever really thinking he was a closer-caliber pitcher. More so than just about any other pitcher in baseball history Kevin Gregg is what “sabermetrics guys” talk about when they say the closer mystique is overstated.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.