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Position Battles: Orioles Closer

Over the next several weeks, I'll be taking a closer look at some of the more intriguing position battles that are likely to take place in Spring Training. I have identified over 50 position battles over at MLBDepthCharts.com with a short analysis on each. You'll get an extended breakdown of the competitions here at RotoAuthority, beginning with the battle for the closer's gig in Baltimore.

Koji Uehara vs Kevin Gregg vs Mike Gonzalez

Tale of the Tape

Uehara: 35 years old, $3MM salary in 2011 2010 stats: 2.86 ERA, 44 IP, 37 H, 5 BB, 55 K, 13 Sv in 15 chances, 6 holds 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with Gregg

Even with Gregg agreeing to a two-year, $10MM deal last week, Uehara’s 2010 performance gives him just as good of a shot at the closer’s job in 2011. He did blow two saves in September but was nearly flawless otherwise. Most spectacular was the 11.25 K/9 and 1.02 BB/9 that he posted over his 43 relief appearances. After the All-Star break, the right-hander walked only one batter while striking out 45. Amazing numbers considering his fastball averaged just 88.1 MPH, according to FanGraphs. It’s his repertoire of pitches, mainly a change up and splitter, that kept hitters off balance. He’s endured multiple injuries (two hamstring injuries, two elbow injuries) and four DL trips over his two seasons since arriving in the big leagues from Japan so durability is a concern.

Gregg: 32 years old, est. $4-5MM salary 2010 stats: 2-6, 3.51 ERA, 59 IP, 52 H, 30 BB, 58 K, 37 Sv in 43 chances 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with Uehara

Unlike Uehara, staying healthy hasn’t been a problem for Gregg. He’s averaged 70 relief appearances over the past four seasons with 121 saves over that span. The right-hander also has an array of pitches that he utilizes (92 MPH fastball, cutter, slider, splitter) to get batters out. While his reputation is that of a fearless workhorse, his overall numbers aren’t as impressive as the top relievers in the game. He puts a lot of batters on base (52 H, 30 BB in 58 IP) and has blown 22 saves over the past three seasons. His durability and experience, however, might give him a slight edge. 

Gonzalez: 32 years old, $6MM salary 2010 stats: 1-3, 4.01 ERA, 24.2 IP, 18 H, 14 BB, 31 K, 10 holds 2011 Outlook: Underdog. More likely for 7th-8th inning setup duty

The lefty is behind Uehara and Gregg in the race but don’t forget that he signed a $12MM deal before the 2010 season to become the team’s closer for the next two seasons. An early-season shoulder injury robbed Gonzalez of his effectiveness and eventually landed him on the DL after two blown saves in three appearances. He did return to form when he was activated in late July, posting a 2.78 ERA with 28 Ks and 10 holds in his last 26 relief appearances. If healthy, don’t completely rule him out for save chances throughout the year. His fastball-slider combination can be nasty as evidenced by the career .209 BA opponents have managed against him throughout his career.

Final Word

The biggest question might be, "How many opportunities is the Orioles’ closer going to get this season playing in an always tough AL East"? The offense should be better with the addition of veterans Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds and the group of middle relievers (Jim Johnson, Jason Berken, Jeremy Accardo) and setup men (two of Uehara, Gregg, and Gonzalez) appear to be improved. If the starting rotation can offer its share of quality starts, I can see a big year from whichever pitcher ends up getting the majority of saves for this team.  To follow every development, follow @closernews on Twitter.  Voice your opinion on the best fantasy pick out of the Orioles bullpen by taking the poll below.

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