Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs traded pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose
Ascanio, as well as minor league infielder Josh Harrison to the
Pirates for pitchers John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. And though the
rumors about Grabow had swirled for weeks, thus leaving the indelible
impression on this trade that it was all about him (i.e., another
lefty for the pen), the trade is perhaps more notable for the
inclusion of his fellow lefty.

Here’s the thing about getting Grabow.

You have to believe the ardent desire to get Grabow was at least as
much about a lack of faith in Carlos Marmol and Aaron Heilman to
reliably set up Kevin Gregg as it was about getting another lefty in
the pen. After all, lefties have hit Grabow much harder this year than
have righties: righties are hitting just .234 against Grabow, whereas
lefties are hitting a much better .275 with an eye-popping .362 OBP.

And when viewed in that light, yes, the addition of Grabow makes more
sense and takes on another level of value beyond being merely “another
lefty.” But he’s a rental, plain and simple. Like such legends as
Steve Trachsel and Matt Lawton before him, Grabow is unlikely to be
the difference between a Cubs playoff run – or better still, a deep
playoff run – and crapping out in September.

So with that in mind, how much better are the Cubs really today, with
Grabow in the pen, than they were yesterday? Kevin Hart was sporting a
2.60 ERA for the big team, and Jose Ascanio had already showed
electric stuff out of the Cubs’ pen. Josh Harrison, 22 and in A ball,
is young, but he’s quite a hitter (for average, at least – not so much
on the power thing).

That’s why Tom Gorzelanny is the key part of this deal.

Before Ted Lilly’s injury, no one seriously contemplated that the Cubs
would go after a starting pitcher, but once he went down, we all had a
moment of pause. Yes, Lilly is supposed to be back in a few weeks.
Yes, the injuries are supposed to be minor. But you’re talking about a
shoulder AND knee surgery. If you didn’t at least secretly hope the
Cubs went out and got another starting pitcher, you weren’t paying

Kevin Hart, though his previous starting efforts were laudible, was
not the answer to Lilly’s absence.

Here I admittedly use a little doublespeak – on the one hand, I posit
that Grabow is not much of an upgrade over the better of Kevin Hart
and Jose Ascanio, but on the other, I suggest that Kevin Hart was not
an acceptable substitute for Ted Lilly. Kevin Hart’s excellent four
starts this year for the Cubs were pulled off, as one friend said,
with smoke and mirrors. First, he managed just 5.5 innings per start.
Second, in those 22 innings, he gave up 20 hits and 13 walks, striking
out just 12. Luck was certainly a factor in his relative success.

And although he’d shown a flicker of hope as a Major League level
middle reliever, there was little reason to believe he could continue
as a great or even good Major League level starter without a dramatic
improvement in his approach and his stuff.

Tom Gorzelanny, on the other hand, has already demonstrated over the
course of multiple years that he can definitely be a good or even
great Major League level starter. He’s lost it a bit, there’s
not doubt about that. And that regard, if we are equating Hart and
Gorzelanny, Hart is the safer play. Lower upside, but also lower
downside. Gorzelanny is a much more attractive player overall because
of that possibility that he could get “it” back.

That is not to say, however, that I think this was a great trade. I
appreciate that, all other things equal, I would probably condone
trading Ascanio and Harrison for Grabow, and then trading Hart for
Gorzelanny. But all other things aren’t equal.

The Chicago Cubs needed another starting pitcher. And not only is the
one that they acquired a very high risk proposition, they dealt
perhaps the next most reliable option.

So this trade, like it’s unlikely centerpiece, is a high risk / high
reward proposition. If Gorzelanny fills in admirably in Ted Lilly’s
absence and John Grabow continues to do what he’s done this year, all
will be well, and no matter the season outcome, the trade was a good
one. But just as I will bestow praise for a high risk move that pays
off, I will criticize one that does not. If Gorzelanny continues to
pull his version of the Rich Hill, and if Ted Lilly doesn’t come back
asap with a magically healed shoulder and knee, leaving the Cubs
scrambling to find a rotation fill-in, the trade was a bad one. And
that’s irrespective of what John Grabow does.

Thus, this trade is all on Tom Gorzelanny. And he better be awesome.

  • BT

    Dude. The starter they MAY need is Marshall. If Lilly is bad, and Gorzelanny chokes the bit, they will simply throw Marshall into the rotation. And the reason they can throw Marshall into the rotation is…..John Grabow.

    All things are equal.

    • Ace

      Marshall will take a week plus to get stretched out. By the time Gorzelanny fails, if he does, that’s a week right there. Add another, and you’re into the zone where Lilly is coming back anyway. For this trade to have been worthwhile, Gorzelanny has to plug that gap.

      And you missed the point on Grabow (or I failed to articulate it): he’s not just another lefty in the pen that can replace Marshall. Grabow isn’t better against lefties. That’s the key. He’s just another late inning reliever.

      • BT

        Ace, you are overthinking it. He’s a lefty to bring in against lefties. even if he’s not that good of a lefty. If they guy he is brought in to face isn’t a stud, that guy will be lifted for a righty. So he will face a right handed batter anyway. If he IS a stud, in all likelyhood he will be worse against lefties than righties, so it’s still a bonus.

        It’s a rare manager that will leave a lefty in against a left handed pitcher, just because that pitcher is marginally better against righties than he is against lefties. Grabow is a chess piece, even if the numbers are a bit unusual for his splits.

        • Ace

          BT, you are underthinking it. :)

          Look at how Grabow was used yesterday – there was no situational element to it. He’s just a late-inning, close game reliever. As he should be. If Lou starts using him as a LOOGY type, I will be PISSED.

          • BT

            He was used that way because we still have Marshall in the pen. If that were to change, he will be used in high leverage situations requiring a lefty.

            I’m telling you dude, the BA vs righties and lefties matters alot for starters, as a team can load up the lineup with one side or the other. It’s not as pronounced for guys like grabow, because he is most likely not going to face that many lefties. It’s all about forcing matchups. But if you really want to dig into it, look more closely at his numbers.

            He’s faced about twice as many Rh as Lhs. In that time,

            -His strikeouts per better is MUCH better against lefties
            -his K/bb is much better against lefties.
            -his OOB is better against lefties
            -his OSLG is (very slightly) better against lefties.
            -his bb per batter is much better against lefties.

            His home runs allowed are about even, and the ONLY spot where he really suffers, is his opponents BA against him, which is worse against lefties. However, I’d argue that’s a bit of a fluke as his BABIP is a comically high .350 against lefties (as opposed to .290 vs Righties).

            If you regress his babip against righties to the mean, he really has been better against lefties.

            In short, don’t sweat it.

            • Ace

              Maybe I am overstating it – but weren’t there better LOOGY options available? The answer, of course, is yes. So why Grabow? There are only two reasons, and they’re addressed in the post: (1) he’ll be used as a late-inning reliever, generally, and (2) it allowed the Cubs to get a starting pitcher in the same deal.

              If the Cubs were looking to acquire a LOOGY, they could have done a lot better, is all I’m saying. Arthur Rhodes, for example, was available for rental.

  • nuca playa

    gorzelany is nothing more than the pittsburgh pirates version of rich hill….i dont understand this trade at all, the cubs are in a pennant race, and every game is in important, and you never know how reliable he is gonna be…with that being said, if he loses the 2 starts they give him, and the cubs miss the playoffs by a game, i will be angry…and i dont think its fair for you to call 4 starts, all servicable, luck..granted hart walked alot of guys in his first 2 starts, but not after that…for a guy to come from our bullpen, not be stretched out long enough to throw 120 pitches, and give us the effort he did, i will take it every time…Luck, i assure you, had nothing to do with it…if it did, then soriano’s hot streak is all luck, because if you look at his numbers, he strikes out alot and doesnt walk or get on a base, meaning his hot streak is all luck…over analayze pointless numbers more…wins losses and era, thats all that should matter..its not how you get it done, its IF you get it done, and i hope gorzelany does the job, i mean its not like were talking about out 12 million dollar a year ace…we were talking about a fill in rotation guy untill lilly gets back…