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It’s no secret or unfair criticism to say that John Grabow was brutal last year. He was able to pitch only intermittently, and when he did, he was as useful as a tee-ball tee.

But now he’s much more healthy, and determined to be a valuable component of the Cubs’ bullpen in 2011.

Grabow’s case is different but the same. He needs to be mentally sure his left knee has healed from nearly yearlong soreness that ended his season June 28, and he needs to regain the confidence of an organization that gave him a two-year, $7.5 million contract.

“I never really had an injury before, and it came right after I signed the contract,” Grabow said, “so I’m looking to redeem myself.”

Instead of having surgery for a torn ligament, he opted for rehab. And while he has passed all tests, including throwing off a mound, it has been done while wearing a brace.

“I’m going to throw in the brace until I feel comfortable where it’s not an issue,” he said. “But if I have to wear it all season, I will because this could be a real special year for our team.”

Grabow hopes to regain his role as main setup man, although Sean Marshall basically won it while Grabow was away. Chicago Tribune.

As frustrated as I was with Jim Hendry’s decision to re-sign Grabow (after trading for him and Tom Gorzelanny mid-season in 2009), and as apoplectic as I was at Hendry’s decision to give Grabow two years and $7.5 million, it is unfair to take out that frustration and anger on Grabow, himself. This is clearly a guy who wants to pitch well for a team that rewarded him so handsomely. If he didn’t, he would have opted for surgery, and rehabbed on the Cubs’ dime. Given that he’s under contract for just the 2011 season now, the fact that he’s decided to try and rehab instead demonstrates that he’s trying to be as effective as possible as soon as possible – rather than thinking about his next free agent contract.

Maybe I’m giving him too much credit, but I think Grabow could be a useful – if not more – piece in the Cubs’ bullpen. The salary is spent, and the roster spot is assured. We can do nothing more than hope, as Grabow does, that he pitches well with the opportunity and cash he’s been given. I think he will.

  • BT

    Grabow was borderline useful at worst for virtually his entire career, until last year’s debacle. There is no reason to think he can’t be a reasonably effective option out of the pen if he is truly healthy this year.

  • well…

    yeah, what he said – but the exact opposite.

    2005 – 7.27 K/9, 4.33 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9, .272 BABIP, 4.46 FIP, 4.22 xFIP
    2006 – 8.53 K/9, 3.88 BB/9, 0.90 HR/9, .310 BABIP, 3.98 FIP, 3.95 xFIP
    2007 – 7.32 K/9, 3.31 BB/9, 1.05 HR/9, .313 BABIP, 4.28 FIP, 4.15 xFIP
    2008 – 7.34 K/9, 4.38 BB/9, 1.07 HR/9, .239 BABIP, 4.54 FIP, 4.55 xFIP
    2009 – 7.09 K/9, 4.98 BB/9, 0.62 HR/9, .279 BABIP, 4.20 FIP, 4.96 xFIP
    2010 – 7.01 K/9, 4.56 BB/9, 1.75 HR/9, .345 BABIP, 5.69 FIP, 4.96 xFIP

    A 4.0+ FIP/xFIP is NL average-ish at best. So he’s only been useful as a “average-ish cheap, controlled late inning option on a bad team” – but for the Cubs he was no longer controlled so now isnt cheap, they dont want to be a bad team, and they have better then his career-best average-ish production in-house already.

    If he made somewhere around 1M and played for a club like the Nationals, he would be useful. Making nearly 5 million and playing for a club hoping to be a playoff contender, he is both a waste of money and roster spot.

    Making it worse, trying to get back to the average-ish production he provided from 2005-2007 is almost certainly a pipe-dream, and instead the bottom-1/4 ability he has provided from 2008-2010 is extremely likely unless major adjustments are made. Here is why

    2005 – 1.44 GB/FB, 46.9 GB%, 32.7 FB%
    2006 – 1.46 GB/FB, 49.0 GB%, 33.5 FB%
    2007 – 1.50 GB/FB, 49.7 GB%, 33.1 FB%

    2008 – 0.98 GB/FB, 39.6 GB%, 40.6 FB%
    2009 – 1.05 GB/FB, 43.3 GB%, 41.4 FB%
    2010 – 1.09 GB/FB, 42.0 GB%, 38.6 FB%

    That is what makes an average-ish at-best GB-tendencies reliever prior to 2007 into piss-poor, toss-and-pray reliever (with merely BAbip and HR/9 luck keeping him in the game) from 2008 onward. Unless he somehow finds a way to correct the now-lost GB tendencies, a 4.50-5.00 Run Average should be expected from here on out.

    Rankings from 2008-2010:
    1.54 K/BB (129th lowest of 148)
    1.42 WHIP (106th highest of 148 – with a rather lucky .272 BAbip)
    4.57 FIP (125th highest of 148 ~ to give idea, Howry was 130th Highest)
    4.77 xFIP (135th highest of 148 ~ again, Howry was 129th Highest)

    Besides, really, who other then Hendry can honestly expect anything less then a 4.5-5.0 Run Average from a now FlyBall-Pitcher with only average K rates who allows a consistent 12.7+ Base-runners per 9 IP the last 6 years?

    • Ace

      Thanks for the very thorough statifying. None of it is particularly surprising – unfortunately (and is always the case), the best we have is hope. He’s locked into a spot in the bullpen, and the salary is sunk. Hope, hope, hope.

      • well…

        no problem – hope it was easy enough to follow.

        But yeah, the Grabow contract was pretty much the move which proved without doubt that Hendry has absolutely no understanding of BABIP or other advanced metrics. The absolute only stat he could have given the contract on is ERA, as that is the only real positive result Grabow had shown leading up to it. And thats scary.

        So we can hope and pray for a another fluke BAbip, and otherwise just know we have seen as bad of relievers countless times in the past so at least we should be somewhat used to it…

    • BT

      Hey, I know I don’t know what I’m talking about, but here’s the problem. While a 1.4 WHIP is not exactly ideal, from 2004-2009 it was pretty much league average, whereas a 4.5 to 5.00 ERA is fairly bad and would put anyone in the bottom third of the league (going by team ERA’s).

      Also, when his flyball tendencies went up, his ERA went down (excepting his awful 2010) so while it’s logical to assume his ERA would go up, it didn’t.

      So I guess anyone could honestly expect less than a 4.5-5.0 ERA with a 1.4 WHIP.

      I’m not saying Grabow was awesome, and I’m not saying a flyball pitcher is ideal in Wrigley, but I do think 2010 is skewing your 2008-2010 averages.

      • well…

        While the WHIP might reach average, if your posting it you are 1) not getting many innings 2) playing on a bad team 3) allowing a lot of IBB 4) pitching mop-up 5) some combination of the above. And you almost certainly dont keep a good job on a good team if you continue it for multiple years in a row (which Grabow had consistently done leading up to the Hendry contract)

        But the Grabow ERA drop you mention is because of this:

        2008 – exclusively a result of the extreme fluke .239 BABIP. His FIP/xFIP shows this – 4.54/4.55 respectively.

        2009 – combination between low .273 BABIP and fluke low 0.62 HR/9, as the FIP/xFIP points out again. The 4.20 FIP (which doesnt account for HR percentage flukes) shows exclusively the BABIP side of it while the 4.95 xFIP (which does take into account HR flukes) shows what a normal BABIP and HR rate would have produced

        That is why you see this
        2008 – 4.55 xFIP
        2009 – 4.95 xFIP
        2010 – 4.95 xFIP
        With normal BABIP and HR rates, that is what is to be expected from him – that is his true talent base. The only thing one can do is hope and pray he has a low-side BABIP like he did in 2009 – which would put him into a 4.25 range (another fluke HR drop should never be expected though, especially from a now-FB pitcher)

        2010 is no more an outlier then 2008 and 2009 though – all three were extremely similar years when luck is removed; and he experienced a ton of it each of the three seasons. (extreme luck BABIP, extreme luck HR% + lucky BABIP and extreme unlucky BABIP respectively over the three)

        To better put that into perspective though:

        taking just the “good-looking” 2008-2009 years:
        4.22 FIP – 162 highest of 246 relievers with 50 IP (again, doesnt account for HR%)
        4.74 xFIP – 188th highest of 246 relievers with 50 IP
        (-)1.28 ERA-FIP – 14th of 246 relievers with 50 IP (and it would be even more drastic if done for xFIP and HR% was adjusted

        That should really show you just how fluky those seasons were. He was a bottom 1/4 reliever ability-wise in each of the past three seasons.

        • Ace

          I love reading this shit, but I have to take a road tour: anyone else not a fan of FIP? I love it conceptually (because I think so much of a pitcher’s traditional stats are skewed by the team behind him and are not reflective of his ability), but the formula strikes me as … too thin. Homers, walks, Ks and innings pitched. That’s it. Seems to me that a pitcher is also responsible for *some* of the hits he gives up. When a dude is serving up meatballs, they aren’t all homers, but the line drives that find holes are more his fault than his defense’s (or luck’s). In other words, I’ve never bought the contention that the result of ALL balls in play, outside of homers, is the product of chance.

          • well…

            Well, while I understand the skepticism, history is not on your side there. In fact, throughout the entire history of the game, I believe BABIP is the most consistent stat you’ll find and by far the most reliable way to predict future production.

            But how else do you explain something like Grabow having two almost perfect mirror-image seasons in 2009 and 2010 without luck factoring into their dramatically different results? If he didnt have the same ability in 2010 for whatever reason, then how was he getting the same exact results outside BABIP and HR/9? Same K%, same BB%, same GB%, extremely close FB%, same GB/FB, same swing%, same swinging strike%, very close zone%, same speed on his pitches… BABIP and HR% are the absolute only two real differences between the two seasons (outside the obvious scoring results BABIP and HR% would alter).

            One resulted in a fluke-low HR and low-BABIP, one was fluke high on both – otherwise almost 100% exactly the same ability shown two years in a row that find a way to even themselves out to a still slightly low 0.92 HR/9/8.3 HR/FB% but otherwise pretty normal .294 BABIP leaving us with a 4.41 ERA, that matches pretty closely the expected 4.59 FIP, 4.95 xFIP and 4.54 tERA the actual production rate should produce according to the law of averages we like to use.

            Grabow is fun also in that he now sports a perfect 4.25 xFIP, 4.28 FIP and 4.24 ERA with a .304 BABIP for his career. Gotta love that!

            • Ace

              Let me put it this way. If I walked out there and pitched a season, I’m confident that the BABIP off of me would be much higher than average. Why? Because the hitters would be drilling line drives (when they weren’t hitting homers), which are more likely to result in hits.

              If you buy that premise – and I do – then you have to concede that, at some level (however small it may be), pitchers can also control BABIP. I have no doubt that luck plays a *greater* part in it than the pitcher, but the pitcher is involved as well.

              No one is discounting luck and random chance. It’s just that I’m also not ready to discount performance.

              • well…

                You dont make the majors, so your expected BABIP is a non-factor.

                Thats the thing though, only the best of the best make the majors, with thousands of prospects never getting there. And if you do make it with inferior ability, you likely wont get a full years worth of playing time. But look at someone like Looper. Non-K guy with poor stuff who pitches to contact and is easily hittable. BABIP marks? .304, .309, .276, .302, .277, .292, .284 the last 7 years.

                But again, I think we have to go back to Grabow because he is ironically the perfect example here. What is the difference in his ability from 2009 to 2010 which shows up in no stats other then BABIP and HR%? His stats are exactly the same across the board, yet the results are so drastically different. If he was easier to hit, wouldnt he also be getting fewer K’s, fewer Swinging-Strikes and probably more swings with higher contact? And the pitch values show the real drop was a huge run differential on his FB, but speed and percentage thrown are the same.

                But the better question is this, if he were to throw the same exact season for a third year in a row, what would you expect the results to be? Probably the average the last two produced, correct? Well when correcting for the HR% differential remaining from 09 the average is the 4.5-5.0 I have been stating. His talent level over that time has pointed to that, and ironically if you add them, you get within that talent level (outside the still fluke-side low HR% likely due to playing time difference) so it seems illogical to argue against what he has not only shown, but also provided – does it not?

                You arent completely incorrect though, performance can alter it sometimes. The thing is, it just doesnt usually last very long unless you throw a trick pitch. Look at a guy like Zambrano. .276, .286, .274, .252, .252, .269, .270, .300, .300 – in 2006/2007 you were likely one of those saying his 4.0 ERA was a fluke and/or he shouldnt be expected to see rising BABIP rates because “he can control it”, right? How did that work out though? And going forward, I think you would agree that something in the 4.0 range is now reasonable – which is what the FIP/xFIP marks were telling us all along…

                • Ace

                  I may be misunderstanding (much of this is a newer language to me), but are you suggesting that Z’s consistently sub .280 BABIP in the first 7 years of his career was just luck, and his regression the last two years was just reverting to the mean? Obviously that can’t be the case; so doesn’t Z’s career cut strongly in favor of my point? The fact that he sported an average BABIP the last two years, to me, simply suggests that whatever made him exceptionally difficult to hit line drives off of in the preceding 7 years is in decline. The fact that the decline is expected to continue next year is unremarkable.

                  • well…

                    No, saying the few pitchers who have seemingly shown the ability to control it generally cant keep it up over long periods of time. From 2005-06 he seemed to show a real ability to keep it really low; but alas, that is all it lasted and instead he reverted back to a more normal range.

                    • Ace

                      It looks, to me, like you’re really cherry-picking those numbers. Z was WELL better than average every single season until the last two. How long does a period have to be for it to be considered a long period of time? Without having looked at the stats, I’m going to make a bold prediction: I could find several great pitchers whose BABIP against is consistently better than average “over long periods of time.”

                    • well…

                      Hardly cherry-picking stats. A big-time Ground Ball, True-Ace pitcher relying heavily on a hugely successful Fastball in his prime of his career with one of the better infield defenses behind him posting BABIP marks in the .270-.280 range is hardly unrealistic at all. Shoot, the Average Cub starter over that time was .280-.290. The two .250 seasons were the only ones really out of whack – seasons which were pointed to by non-stats guys as some type of ability he just wasnt able to duplicate over time.

                    • Ace

                      Ok, I think I got you now. So are you saying megalow numbers like .250/.255 are unsustainable, but that better than average is sustainable?

                      If that’s what you’re saying, then it sounds like we are in complete agreement, because that’s all I’m saying. That is: BABIP is not *entirely* about luck.

        • BT

          I understand your premise, but don’t see how your stats have proved me wrong. You are posting a vast number of stats which clearly show how bad he SHOULD have been. That does nothing to prove how he actually pitched.

          The stats you cite would be perfect for an argument concerning whether Hendry should have signed Grabow, but they don’t really prove he wasn’t borderline effective. Whether it was because of skill or luck, and whether or not he should have been effective, given his skill set, is rather beside the point (as a side note, I’m not arguing 2010 should be discarded because he was unlucky. I’m arguing that it appears he was hurt).

          Put another way, you can argue that Brady Anderson never should have hit 50 home runs, given his skill set, his history, and his statistical accomplishments before 1996. You could argue he was very lucky that year, or you could argue he was on steroids. All of these arguments would have merit. What you CANNOT argue is that he didn’t actually hit 50 home runs in 1996. Because whether he deserved to or not, he did.

  • marc

    Reading both of ur postings is fun and all, but constantly checking Google to understand your acronyms is giving me a bloody headache….

    • Ace

      Ha. What can I say; our SASJQ (statistical and sabermetric jargon quotient) is through the roof. And mine is usually much higher on the road.

      • marc

        thank you for not making me check google once again…..

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