Who will be the closer? Koji or Kevin?

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In 2010, the Orioles spent the first part of the season using a lot of different pitchers in the closers role (due to injury and ineptitude).  Then they took former started Koji Uehara and gave him a try as the closer. This turned out to be a great move – and a large part of the reason for their second-half success. Koji converted 13 out of 15 save opportunities, with a 2.86 ERA. It turned out that in short-inning situations Koji had what you want – great control. In 44 innings pitched, he allowed only 5 walks (while striking out 55 batters). Watching Koji pitch was lights out – and a pleasure for us fans. When the Orioles were able to re-sign Koji in the off-season, it felt like we finally had our closer locked up.

Then the O’s went out and signed free-agent closer Kevin Gregg from the Toronto Blue Jays. Say what?  Well, I try and be open-minded in these situations. So I decided to take a look at Kevin to see exactly what we got.  Last year he had 37 saves out of 43 opportunities. Not too bad (in fact, it was fourth best in the American League). Check.  His ERA was 3.51 – higher than Koji’s – and pretty high for a closer, but still in the acceptable range. Check. But what about control. Ah-ha. This is where we may have issues. In 59 innings pitched, Kevin walked 30 batters (and struck out 58).  His whip (walk + hits / innings pitched) was 1.39 (which was the highest of any AL pitcher with 20 or more saves). Koji’s 2010 whip was 0.95.

The one thing that you want in a closer is control. With the young staff that that the Orioles have, chances are the closer will be coming into the game with a lot of one-run leads.  There will be no luxory for walks. Walks will lead to blown saves (and blown wins) – something a team trying to finally make its mark in a tough division can ill afford.

Spring training is a time to see if players can work through their weaknesses and build on their strengths. It’s quite possible that Kevin Gregg will get a handle on his control issues.  But I don’t think this should be an “open” competition. I think the Orioles should have named Koji the closer and see if Kevin could overtake him with his performance in Spring Training. Koji has earned that much from the O’s. What do you think?

Read a nice review of  the “predicatively unpredictable”  2010 season of Kevin Gregg  by Thomas Pinzone on the Bleacher Report