When the Astros traded a nice package to the Phillies for Ken Giles it was expected that he would be the closer. Nope. At last not now. Manager A.J. Hinch announced this morning that Luke Gregerson would start the season handling ninth inning duties.
Gregerson was the closer last year, of course, and saved 31 games. Between that level of comfort Hinch has with him and with Giles’ struggles this spring — he allowed seven runs in nine games — the Astros manager had a decent basis for his decision. He also, however, works for an organization which does not place as much value on highly-defined roles to begin with, so the notion that Hinch could switch to Giles or use some other, matchup-based system for closing duties is not out of the question.
At the moment, though, I wonder if gut more than anything entered into this choice. The smart kids talk about bullpen roles and spring training stats and high-leverage situations and the oddity of the saves stat driving pitcher usage, but baseball still lends itself to instinct and comfort and the role of the closer is no different. This is not a criticism, by the way. If anything, it shows that any absolutes anyone wants to put on these sorts of decisions overstate things. Hinch is human. His pitchers are too.