Goatriders of the Apocalypse

More on Gregg

Typically on GROTA we like to wax the baseball philisophical, but we do from time to time have the ability to actually use statistics to prove points.  With that in mind, let's revisit the Kevin Gregg saga one last time.

At this point, the majority of Gregg haters appear to be reactionary fans and pundits.  I don't blame the pundits so much for that -- guys like Kaplan have to shout into a microphone for hours at a time in an attempt to break through to an audience that tunes in and out every few minutes.  In other words, they are bound to express really stupid opinions, they are doomed to find themselves defending really bad ideas, and they will often find themselves under the microscope of fans who can exercise critical thought.  Still, that's why we're here.

The argument against Gregg can be surmised as follows:
-He's not elite
-He gives up too many homeruns to be a closer
-His stuff is not overwhelming
-He hasn't earned it
-I hates him!  I hates him forever!

Taking a closer look at Gregg and the other closers in baseball, we find the following:

He is indeed "average."  His 21 saves put him at 15th in the majors, and his 81% save conversion rate is in the lower half of the top 30 closers, along with his ERA.  However, we've never denied that Gregg isn't elite.  The problem is that elite closers are really, really rare.  I'm talking about the ones who save 90% of their games, who throw lightning rather than fastballs.  But the question is, do teams need that to win the World Series?

Let's take a look at the last 7 teams to win the Series, and their closers.
2008 - Phillies, Brad Lidge (41 saves, 0 blown, 9 homeruns surrendered, 1.95 ERA)
2007 - Red Sox, Jon Papelbon (37 saves, 3 blown, 5 homeruns surrendered, 1.85 ERA, 93% save rate) 
2006 - Cardinals, Jason Isringhausen (33 saves, 10 blown, 10 homeruns surrendered, 3.55 ERA, 77% save rate)
2005 - White Sox, Dustin Hermanson (34 saves, 5 blown, 4 homeruns surrendered, 2.04 ERA, 87% save rate)
2004 - Red Sox, Keith Foulke (32 saves, 7 blown, 8 homeruns surrendered, 2.17 ERA, 82% save rate)
2003 - Marlins, Braden Looper (28 saves, 6 blown, 4 homeruns surrendered, 3.68 ERA, 82% save rate)
2002 - Angels, Troy Percival (40 saves, 4 blown, 5 homeruns surrendered, 1.92 ERA, 91% save rate)

On the surface, we've got some elites in that crowd (Lidge, Pap, Percival) and some duds (Ishringhausen, Looper).  Teams do not need an elite closer to reach the playoffs, or even to win a World Series.

Furthermore, this "he gives up too many homeruns" nonsense is just that - nonsense.  It's true that Gregg has certainly served up an awful lot of homeruns this year, but from Brad Lidge and his 0 blown saves (despite the 9 homeruns he allowed) to Jason Isringhausen and his 10 surrendered longballs to Keith Foulke, who gave up 8-or-more homeruns in a season as a reliever/closer 7 times in his career, it is not the end-all be-all proof that Gregg's not reliable.  In fact, it all comes back to the conversion rate.

As of today, that rate is hovering at 81%.  Before the two ugly Florida games, he was at 88%.  Chances are, he'll finish the year closer to 85% than to 80%, and unless Lou misuses him (see: calling him to pitch the day after a 40 pitch effort) he'll probably have an ERA closer to 3.50 than to 4.00. 

So, again, Gregg is not exactly a world beater.  He won't follow the trail of Gagne toward Cy Young glory.  In fact, if Marmol is too wild to be effective in the 9th, which now appears to be the case, Gregg's tenure as the Cubs closer should probably only last this season assuming they have a shot at upgrading in the winter.  But for now, all things considered, Gregg is the best option the Cubs have.  Despite the ass-kicking dealt to him by the Marlins this past weekend, he's done nothing to lose the job and his work the previous three months was impeccable.  And even if he's "merely average," there is a precedent of teams winning championships with closers worse than he. 

Therefore, sorry FroDog, apologies Kap, but you're wrong if you want him booted and you're wrong if you think he'd be the reason the Cubs might not win it all.  Gregg isn't a problem, but his use by Piniella may become one.

Wasnt Bobby Jenks closing

Wasnt Bobby Jenks closing games for the White Sox by the time the playoffs rolled around in 2005? If so, what were his numbers?

He probably was, but he

He probably was, but he would've been an unknown at that point. He only saved 6 during the regular season, while blowing 2 (a 75% save rate) while, in the playoffs, he saved 4 and blew 1 (coincidentally hitting the 80% mark).

That "warm fuzzy feeling"

What people are saying is that Gregg doesn't give them that level of confidence to just shut off the radio or TV and walk away smiling when he comes into the game. OK, so he's not Bruce Sutter in his prime. But Gregg's ERA is elevated, in part, because he's being asked to pitch in games with a 3-4 run lead, and many closers don't maintain focus all that well when the game doesn't hang on EVERY pitch --- and they don't get their focus back until they've coughed up a few runs. Plus, he started the year hurt, and he still might not be completely right.
That said ... sure, it would be great to have a "lights-out" closer, like Mariano Rivera --- but how many have there been that are that good year after year? If the Cubs don't make the Playoffs this year, he's not likely to be the main reason ... there's a bunch of other guys that need to look at their paychecks, and then look in the mirror.


If you ask me, ERA is a meaningless stat for a closer. If your closer loads up the bases everytime he enters a game, and somehow manages to wiggle his way out of trouble about eight times out of ten because the next batter lines hard at an infielder who doubles a baserunner off base, and his gold glove outfielder robs the next batter of a homer by bringing it back over the wall, should he be considered an above average closer because his ERA is say, around 2.00 and his Saves % is .800? Gregg is what he is. His WHIP this season is exactly what his career WHIP is, a mediocre at best 1.32. His .234 BAA (.241 career) is fair if it weren't for the fact that he issues too many BB's giving him a .313 OBP this year (.319 career). And he's given up enough long balls to compile a .426 SLG (.374 career) and .739 OPS (.692 career). In his 53 outings, he's given up at least one BB or hit in 38 of them. He's retired the side without giving up a hit or BB in the other 15 outings, and he worked less than a full inning in four of those 15 games. Even the save % is influenced by how many of those save chances come with a three-run lead and the bottom of the opponents lineup versus those with a single-run lead and the heart of the opponents lineup. And while it's true that teams have won the WS without having a "lights-out closer", it could be because the rest of that team was made up of all stars. A team could have a SS and CF'er hitting .200 if the other six regulars are clones of Pujols and their rotation is made up of Halladay, Haren, Lincecum, Santana, and Beckett. We could sub a bunch of other similar names in there, but the point is that while the Cubs could win a WS with Gregg as their closer, Zambrano as their "ace" and Fontenot starting at 2B, their chances of that happening would be much better if their closer was Heath Bell or Rafael Soriano, their ace was Roy Halladay, and Chase Utley was manning 2B.

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