Blue Jays closer battle has Chicago flavor

The Blue Jays closer battle is all about the Cubs.

Kevin Gregg signed with Toronto months after being deposed by Cubs wild thing Carlos Marmol. Jason Frasor, who looks like his main competition, has been mentioned as a possible set-up man for Marmol. Frasor is a Chicagoan. Option three is former Cub Scott Downs, who is also a former Expo. Downs was with Montreal to the very end, jumping to Toronto when the club crossed the border and changed names.

Could a former Cub do the current Cubs a favor? If Frasor doesn’t close for Toronto, does that free him to set up in Chicago?

Jason Frasor
{exp:list_maker}Fastball (95)
Fosh (87)
Slider (84) {/exp:list_maker}
Despite being 5-foot-9, Frasor is a power pitcher. His “fosh” is a modified splitter. Frasor puts his pinky and ring finger on the outside of the ball to make up for his small hands. His slider is average looking, but the other hard stuff helps that.

He needs to join the Cubs for one reason—so Ron Santo’s back-up, Dave Otto, can say “fosh” as often as possible.

Kevin Gregg
{exp:list_maker}Fastball (93)
Slider (82)
Splitter (85)
Sinker (93)
Cutter (88) {/exp:list_maker}
Gregg struggled in Chicago, eventually dropping his splitter and throwing a cutter in its place. Eventually, he mixed the splitter back in, but at that point Gregg was setting up Marmol and on his way out of Chicago. Gregg has a good fastball with a so-so slider. He doesn’t throw many sinkers.

Scott Downs
{exp:list_maker}Sinker (90)
Fastball (91)
Curveball (76)
Change-up (82)
Slider (82) {/exp:list_maker}
The least powerful of the group, Downs is the lone lefty. He’s primarily a sinker/curveball artist, with an arm slot that produces a 2-to-8 movement on his curve and plenty of sinking action on his two-seam fastball. He’ll throw his share of four-seam fastballs, but seems to have all but eliminated his slider and change-up. Neither off-speed offering was used much in 2007 or 2008, but there was scarcely a whiff of either once the frost was off the ground in 2009.

Who looks like a closer?

The term “high-leverage reliever” is catching on, but I still expect major league clubs to look for closers as conventional wisdom has dictated since Jerome Holtzman’s contribution to baseball lore, the save—for better or for worse. Experience seems to count too much, but I usually don’t quibble with the theory of a hard thrower with a nasty secondary pitch.

Gregg’s biggest shortcoming as a high-leverage reliever is his lack of a consistent secondary pitch. His fastball is good enough, but not so great he can get away with mediocrity elsewhere. But that’s what he gives you with his splitter, slider or cutter. Frasor, who has an even better fastball than Gregg, also comes at batters with two quality off-speed pitches. This past season was the year of the Fosh, with Frasor giving it more work than in previous years, but the slider was still a key weapon against right-handed batters. Downs is an extreme ground ball pitcher who misses a lot of bats. Despite his lack of power, and his heavy use of a sinker, he actually has the highest whiff rate of the group.

Pitching data from 2007-2009

Pitcher Pitches Whiff SLGCON In Zone Ground balls
Frasor 2396 .218 .444 .552 .373
Gregg 2831 .227 .500 .487 .398
Downs 2231 .238 .438 .500 .610

Downs and Frasor have been pitching in the AL East, Gregg in the NL East and NL Central, which is baseball’s weakest division. For my money, he’s not a high leverage reliever in either league and certainly not the caliber of pitcher you’d like working in close games against the likes of Boston, New York and Tampa. Frasor should get the nod, given these numbers. Best stuff, most strikes, tough to hit hard. Downs is not a slouch, but, in the modern bullpen, he may be most appealing when the offense has men on already, as opposed to a clean-slate with no outs.

References & Resources
Pitch classifications by the author, based on PITCHf/x data from MLBAM and Sportvision

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

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Lucas A.
14 years ago

Wow, those splits on Downs are impressive.

14 years ago

I suspect there will be durability issues, since all three had injuries last year. It really looks like it’ll be Gaston going with the hot hand to me, since they paid a lot for Gregg to just set up games unless he really doesn’t look good enough. You mention Frasor to the Cubs, and Downs has trade value too, but they’re kind of old to be set as long-term closers for a rebuilding club, Gregg could just as easily be the placeholder if you deal one or both of the others who are probably at the height of their value. There’s still Janssen and Tallet as lefties in the bullpen for Toronto if Downs goes. They certainly aren’t shy about dealing pitchers anymore.

Jacob Rothberg
14 years ago

It would be nice if the club could figure out that Downs is their best reliever, hands down, and then use one of those other guys as a closer and reserve Downs for the highest leverage situations. Unfortunately it looks like they lack the creativity or understanding from the head coaching spot to do something that sensible. Closer on a rebuilding team is nothing but a spot for trade bait, but Downs has been so consistently excellent for the Jays that I hope he stays out of the role, lowering his superficial value and maybe making it possible for the team to keep him after this season.

14 years ago

I think that Jannsen is a righty and that Carlson was the name mockcarr was looking for.

Gregg and his lack of control will certainly lead to blown saves in the AL East.  Downs was great until he hurt is toe and then rushed back too soon.  I would prefer to see Downs close games in Toronto but fully expect Gregg will have the first chance to prove the GM wrong.

Jacob Rothberg
14 years ago

There was a rumour that they signed Gregg following complaints that the team wasn’t spending enough of their revenue-sharing money on player payroll. The only real reason to give Gregg the job is that maybe you can get a Sherrill-type package out of somebody around the deadline.