Bullpens are famously the most volatile and fungible unit in baseball, but it was still jarring to see Edwin Díaz, Álex Colomé, Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, and Nick Vincent all get shipped out this winter. 2019 will be a year of transition, and this year’s relief corps will be full of new faces aside from Chasen Bradford. Some of those spots have since been patched via free agency - Hunter Strickland will likely be the club’s Opening Day closer and Zac Rosscup is an attractive lefty option if healthy. Young arms such as Matt Festa, Gerson Bautista, and Brandon Brennan will also all get their chance to show they can stick in a big league ‘pen.
Cory Gearrin falls in the former category. Officially signed on January 10th with Tim Beckham, the soon-to-be 33-year-old broke in with the Braves after being taken in the fourth round all the way back in the 2007 draft, cracking the bigs for the first time in 2011. He worked to a solid 3.43 FIP over 69.1 innings with Atlanta from 2011-13, and was poised to grab an Opening Day spot in 2014 before being stricken by Tommy John surgery that spring. Cut loose by the Braves after season’s end, Gearrin latched on with the Giants, and became a fixture in San Francisco’s bullpen from 2016-18, highlighted by a 2017 in which he put up a shiny 1.99 ERA in the face of more pedestrian peripherals over 68 innings. He also bounced around a bit last year, heading from the Giants to the Rangers to the A’s in the span of a little under two months, earning his journeyman stripes.
Gearrin’s repertoire is headlined by a sinker-slider pairing, with the sinker hanging around 91-92 MPH and the slider sitting between 83-85. He’ll mix in a changeup against lefties, and on rare occasions sprinkle in a four-seam, but the sinker and slider are his bread and butter, especially against right-handed hitters. His career K% of 22.6% isn’t spectacular in today’s game, but he’s always posted strong ground ball marks; in the big leagues, Gearrin has put up a GB% of 50.1%. His 41.5% mark last year was by far the lowest of his career, though that number is skewed by an uncharacteristically low 33.7% GB% with the Giants - he swung back to his regular tendencies upon moving to the American League. After last year’s Mariner bullpen ranked just 24th in the league in ground-ball rate, Gearrin could be a valuable weapon in situations when Seattle needs to coax a double play out of their opponents. Durability is another recent strength of his, as he’s thrown at least 45 pro innings each season since coming back from Tommy John.
He also features a funky delivery, slinging the ball at a three-quarters arm angle with not much slide-step. Here he is ringing up Padres prospect Austin Allen in Saturday’s contest with good bite on a sinker:
Gearrin has handled right-handed hitters effectively over the years, holding them to a .225/.309/.331 slash line in 672 plate appearances. Unfortunately, as is fairly common with sidearming relievers, opposite-handed batters can give him fits - lefties have worked to a .248/.358/.408 line against him in 369 trips to the plate. Gearrin has always struggled a bit with free passes regardless of opponents’ handedness, posting an even 10% walk rate over 246.2 career innings, but lefty batters have taken the lion’s share of credit, working to a 13.3% BB% - five points higher than righties. He hasn’t been able to offset the walks with punchouts, either, putting up a career K%-BB% of just 2.4% against southpaws. Shielding him against a lefty-heavy portion of a lineup is almost certainly good strategy, even if his ground ball tendencies remain the same regardless of what kind of hitter he faces.
Brought aboard on a one-year deal, there’s very little risk with Cory Gearrin. If he struggles in the first couple months, it’s easy to cut bait with him. If he strings together a good few months, he could be an alright trade chip come July. Regardless of what happens, though, he should see plenty of action in middle relief this season, and could be summoned as a ground-ball specialist in a high-leverage situation every so often.