C'mon, everybody! Let's hate Kevin Gregg!
Does anybody else remember the gut-blow we took back in December when we found out that not only was Kerry Wood not coming back to close but the player tapped to assume the role was the glasses-wearing Marlins dork Kevin Gregg?
Like so many new Cubs, Gregg's debut in Chicago was less-than-thrilling. He began the year looking mediocre-at-best after barely winning the closer's gig from Carlos Marmol in the Spring. Even still, a lot of us assumed he wouldn't keep the job all year long and his early struggles confirmed our worst concerns.
Then, he started to turn it around. In fact he's been pretty reliable since April 20th, assuming you ignore his outing against the Astros in which he surrendered 4 earned without making a single out. If baseball allowed us to take away that one, terrible performance, Gregg would have an ERA of 1.99. Even with that awful outing, his ERA is a middle-of-the-road 3.57.
So here's the question: should Kevin Gregg lose the gig after last night's wretched blown save? Meh. I guess it depends on your expectations. Somebody in the ShoutBox said that a closer should flat out not blow more than three saves a year or else he's not doing his job. With all due respect to that Goat Reader, that's a pretty crazy expectation to have on any closer.
Looking back the past 5 years, there have been 77 closers to save 30 games or more. Of those 77, only 15 blew 3 or less saves. Also let's take a look at the past 5 World Champions, the '04 Red Sox, '05 White Sox, '06 Cardinals, '07 Red Sox, and '08 Phillies. Of that bunch, only the '07 Red Sox and '08 Phillies had closers you could call "elite" based on the 3 blown saves or less condition. And the '06 Cardinals had 10 blown with Jason Ishringhausen.
I think we'd agree that there are different levels of competency when it comes to closing, as well as the fact that teams who win the Series do not always -- or even often, necessarily -- have an elite 9th inning pitcher.
But there are the elite closers who dominate -- the Hoffmans (91% success rate since 2002), Riveras (91%), and Wagners (88%) of the world.* Then there are the reliable, competent closers who will regularly get the save, post ERAs below 4 but above 3, and occupy the rosters of most teams in baseball. There are also the LaTroys, who just plain suck, but thankfully they don't get to close for too long before losing their gigs.
(*Note: if the average "great" closer manages about a 90% success rate, assuming he gets 45 chances a year he's still going to blow 4 or 5 games. The "3 or less" rule is simply unrealistic to the nth degree)
Randy Myers -- a pretty good closer himself back in the day -- used to say that a good closer will save 80% or more of all opportunities. Kevin Gregg this year is at about 78%. In other words, he's competent, he'll probably save 30 this year, and then in the playoffs he'll leave us at the edge of the couch, white-knuckled and nervous. But the Cubs could upgrade at other places that would help them more, so I don't expect the closer's position to be a target of improvement in July this year -- and if it happens, it should happen from within.