Earlier this week the Braves parted ways with reliever Cory Gearrin, dropping the occupied portion of the 40 man roster to 36.
Gearrin was an effective closer at Mercer University here in Georgia, and was a fairly high draft pick, going 138th overall (4th round) in the 2007 draft. He signed quickly and played rookie ball in Danville that summer, flashing excellent K ability with weak control – a trait that would pretty much stick through his minor league career.
2008 saw more of the same – 46 innings spread pretty evenly between low-A Rome and A+ Myrtle Beach. He struck out 72 and walked 36.
In 2009 Gearrin’s control drastically improved as Myrtle Beach’s closer. He saved 17 games with a 1.84 ERA (2.46 FIP) and a 32:3 K/BB ratio over 29.1 innings. It earned Cory a trip to the high minors, and he continued his excellent relief work at AA Mississippi – 2.84 (3.84), 20:8.
Gearrin spent the entire 2010 season at AAA Gwinnett, where, unfortunately, the strikeouts regressed and the walk rate crept back north. In 2011, Gearrin got an early call-up to the bigs, making his debut in late April. He showed some long relief ability, going over an inning in nearly 25% of his appearances. Due to some control problems, the Braves preferred Gearrin to mostly handle mop-up duty – nearly half his 18 appearances were in extremely low-leverage situations. After those 18 games, and a 7.85 ERA, Gearrin was sent back to Gwinnett to finish the year. The ERA was inflated and due for a turnaround – his FIP was a healthy 2.59 – but the Braves didn’t have the patience for regression to the mean to take its course.
In 2012 Gearrin started at AAA and found his way back down I-85 in June. Even moreso than in 2011, Fredi Gonzalez earmarked Gearrin for innings and pitches that weren’t particularly important to the team. Gearrin would appear in 22 games that season, and a whopping 12 came with a leverage index, LI, under 0.50 (1 is an average pressure situation, above 1 is above average pressure, and 0 involves no pressure). It was unfortunate, as Gearrin really pitched quite well in ’12, posting a 1.80 ERA (2.79 FIP) and a healthy 4.00 K/BB ratio. The sample size was again small, but is any relief sample really all that large?
In 2013, sadly, Gearrin began to justify his usage – his K rate plummeted, the walk rate doubled, and both his ERA (3.77) and FIP (4.34) suffered for it. Gonzalez continued to keep Gearrin away from any sort of important moments, as 30 of his 37 appearances were below-average according to LI. More than half were under 0.50. However, there might have been a reason behind his collapse. Through his first 26 games, Gearrin sported a 0.86 ERA and a 62% strike rate. 2 days later against the Mets Gearrin had a rough outing, throwing 20 pitches and allowing 3 runs in a blown save appearance. Whether that game got into Gearrin’s head or just got into his shoulder, I don’t know, but he was a different pitcher from that moment on – a 9.90 ERA, a 55% strike rate, a walk per inning, and a .366/.509/.512 line. He was shut down in the first week of July with a right shoulder strain. The shoulder issue is a reasonable explanation for his sudden turnaround for the worse.
As he attempted to come back from the shoulder injury in 2014, Gearrin got too close to Kris Medlen and caught the strangely contagious BEES (Braves Exploding Elbow Syndrome). By the end of spring training, his Braves career was over. The release makes sense – the Braves could use the roster flexibility and Gearrin isn’t likely to contribute much in 2015.
It wasn’t a star-studded tenure in Atlanta, but it was a mostly helpful one, probably moreso than some fans want to give him credit for. Somebody has to pitch those meaningless innings, and Cory Gearrin pitched them well, even well enough where he probably should have escaped the role a time or two.
Once he’s recovered from TJ Surgery, I expect Gearrin to latch on with another MLB team and continue to provide low-leverage relief work from a sidearm position. In today’s age of defense and strikeouts, his sinker/slider combination will be easily put to use somewhere.
We at Outfield Fly Rule wish Cory Gearrin the best of luck.