John Grabow Gets Paid

According to Paul Sullivan, the Cubs will announce later today that they have re-signed John Grabow to a two-year contract. Previous reports have put the value of the deal at $7.5 million.

Once again, we’re witness to the power of ERA as a negotiating tool. Over the last two seasons, Grabow’s thrown nearly 150 innings and posted an ERA of 3.09, giving the impression that he’s a high quality LH reliever. Yet again, ERA misleads.

Grabow’s FIP the last two years? 4.37, thanks to an atrociously high walk total. The entirety of his low ERA over the last two years is driven by an 82 percent rate of stranding runners, which is just not sustainable. He’s succeeded by putting men on base and then wiggling out of jams, but that’s not the same thing as pitching well.

It would be one thing if Grabow had developed this knack for stranding runners by elevating his strikeout rate, but he’s not any different now than he has been for his entire career.

1848_P_season_blog_3_20091006

Instead, he’s just posted artificially low BABIPs the last two years, and by not giving up hits, he was able to keep the guys he walked on the bases. That’s not a recipe for success.

Grabow is a generic left-handed middle reliever, the kind of guy you’re fine having for the league minimum but that you don’t really want to pay any real money to. He’s eminently replaceable, but the Cubs have decided to commit real money to him over multiple years because he has a low ERA.

The Cubs have money, and $3.75 million isn’t going to drastically alter their budget, but this is just a waste of cash. Betting on reliever ERA is a great way to get burned, and given Grabow’s actual talent levels, the Cubs are unlikely to be very happy with how this deal turns out for them.



Print This Post



Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
LeeTro
Member
Member
LeeTro
6 years 9 months ago

This would be a bigger waste of money if they use him as a LOOGY, because his best pitch is his changeup. It’s an overpay, but it’s always nice to have a lefty that can get both sides of hitters out.

drew
Guest
drew
6 years 9 months ago

Hendry needs to be fired now. Or Ricketts needs to get someone in the front office who has even the slightest bit of a stats background. This is ridiculous.

TheUnrepentantGunner
Guest
TheUnrepentantGunner
6 years 9 months ago

No, no, no, by not getting Cuban in, MLB has purposefully ensured the Cubs would not get a forward thinking owner, and ensure that their 100+ years of futility continues for the next… 15 years at least, allowing other teams in the National League to keep winning pennants, often on smaller budgets…

/tin foil hatted…

Samuel
Guest
Samuel
6 years 9 months ago

Maybe it’s all part of the Cubs’ strategy; their now-secure position as the most cursed team in baseball affords them an undervalued boost in popularity due to attractiveness of playing the pitiable “lovable loser” role. Were they to win a World Series, the Cubs would lose what makes them uniquely special and they would simply be, just another franchise.

Perhaps, for a team like the Cubs, the value of each win decreases as they get close to the threshold of making the playoffs, and as such, when they have a decent core group of players as they do right now, it makes financial sense for them to pay a bit extra for mediocrity – they need to add just the right amount of talent to fail as close as they can possibly get. There are only a limited number of guys who can provide such consistent mediocrity, and you don’t want to go with a farm hand who might have a breakout year and tip the scales too far forward. Missing the playoffs by a win or two increases the value of the Cubs brand more than actually winning ever would!

Richard
Guest
Richard
6 years 9 months ago

So the Cubs didn’t listen to the nerds about john grabow??

well i’m in shock.

dan
Guest
dan
6 years 9 months ago

So, last season was his highest walk rate and lowest strikeout rate. And its not like he’s a groundball pitcher getting out of jams by inducing double plays. He did post his lowest HR/9 last season, which is probably a decent chunk of why his ERA was so low, but that’s largely out of his hands anyhow. This seems like a pretty lousy deal.

TheUnrepentantGunner
Guest
TheUnrepentantGunner
6 years 9 months ago

I can think of 3 reasons that the ERA is lower than the FIP

1) Luck/Small sample sizes (duh, and obviously a healthy piece of it, but may not be 100%?)

2) Pitchers behind him? (say grabow has a tough outing and has allowed runners at 1st and 2nd thanks to a single and a walk). He gets yanked after 1/3rd of an inning. In comes Mariano Rivera’s secret twin brother, who is actually better than Mariano with double mariano’s strikeout rate. No runs stranded! In this case a low home run rate, and low hit rate compensate for a high walk rate, because on days he “doesn’t have it”, he gets pulled for strikeout machines.

Obviously grabow doesn’t have mariano’s twin brother behind him. but Marmol, for all his failings (JUSSSSSST a Bit Outside!), does strike out alot of batters… So maybe in outings that he is pulled maybe a higher percentage of batters strand than one might expect?

3) The breakdown of his FIP. I would need about 16 hours that I dont have right now to really test this, but maybe at the extremes…

high walk rate + low strikeout rate + high groundball rate and thus (low homer rate)

is better than

same walk rate + high strikeout rate + low groundball rate

meaning after you walk someone, you would rather have someone that gets groundballs 100% of the time versus someone that gets a K 40% of the time and yields a FB (homer or otherwise) 60%?

I dont know.

I still say you are right Dave, and luck is over 60% of it. I wonder if factors 2 and 3 matter at all though.

Your comments back are welcome.

TheUnrepentantGunner
Guest
TheUnrepentantGunner
6 years 9 months ago

on second thought, this might not be true.

I am playing with a sample FIP of 4.5, and the inputs it would take to get there.

Lets take a bb/9 of 8 and a FIP of 4.5

Now lets give one pitcher a gb rate of 50% and the other of 30%, again keeping bb/9 and FIP fixed.

and… ill have to get back to you on the rest. i am doubting my own initial thesis hard on #3 (#2 i maintain as still valid)

Ciston Carsulli
Guest
Ciston Carsulli
6 years 9 months ago

Maybe Grabow has dirt on Hendry.

Al Dimond
Guest
Al Dimond
6 years 9 months ago

The Neifi Perez Collection of Compromising Photographs of Cubs Management strikes again!

H
Guest
H
6 years 9 months ago

Do Bradley, Soriano, et al have dirt on Hendry too?

PhD Brian
Guest
PhD Brian
6 years 9 months ago

Maybe Grabow has other benefits to the organization they are willing to compensate. Or perhaps the market for John Grabows is more expensive this year than an average year. Lastly, maybe the Cubs see a higher probability for improvement from Grabow than most guys with his numbers. Salary should also consider potential improvement/weakness than just his numbers in 2009.

In other words, there is far more to what drives someones compensation than pure numbers and without that information this article has little power. You can say he is overpriced in your analysis, but to say the Cubs are clueless (or even likely to be unhappy) is ridiculous without more information.

Ted Lehman
Guest
Ted Lehman
6 years 9 months ago

‘Maybe Grabow has other benefits to the organization they are willing to compensate.”

What, is he a pilates instructor or something? Is he a computer technician that doubles as an IT expert for the organization in the offseason? Is he a heart surgeon that the Cubs outsource to medical institutions? I have no idea what you could possibly mean.

Phil H
Guest
Phil H
6 years 9 months ago

Maybe they should have just kept Mike Wuetz?

Phil H
Guest
Phil H
6 years 9 months ago

Mike Wuertz, that is.

Rodney King
Guest
Rodney King
6 years 9 months ago

lou-“Wuertz walks too many guys!”
Just when you think the Cubs cannot make a worse move than the one before, Jim Hendry manages to outdo himself. Great job Hendry! Given the Type A status, this deal might be worse than the Aaron Miles deal! ok that is impossible, but it’s mighty close. terrible.
I don’t think anyone else would have signed him for the league minimum until the Type A compensation deadline passes.

If anyone knows Tom Ricketts’ email, or anyone moderately high in the organization who does not report to Hendry, I would love to get ahold of it so I can send a strongly worded piece along with a compendium of sources such as this article backing up the fact that Hendry basically just flushed $5MM down the toilet, and didn’t even bother to wipe his ass with it first.

mb21
Guest
mb21
6 years 9 months ago

This isn’t a bad contract. It’s not a good one either. $7.5 million over 2 years is paying for about 1.4 wins. He was worth 1.6 over the last 2 years.

The bigger issue with this contract is that the Cubs have very little money to spend and are intent on making their team worse by trading Milton Bradley. They don’t have money to give to setup men.

Ciston Carsulli
Guest
Ciston Carsulli
6 years 9 months ago

StatCorner seems to be using the same baseline for all pitchers. Lowering it by a run to account for his being a reliever would knock him back down to replacement level, where FanGraphs has him.

mb21
Guest
mb21
6 years 9 months ago

There’s a link in there on the “1.6 over the last 2 years” part.

Bill
Guest
Bill
6 years 9 months ago

Grabow made $2.1 million in 2009. Had the Cubs offered arbitration I doubt any team was going to give up a first round pick for him as a Type A FA. How much would he get in arbitration for a year? There’s no way it goes as high as $3.75 million. I’m not even sure that it would hit $3 million.

drew
Guest
drew
6 years 9 months ago

MB21- The only reason he was “worh 1.6 over the last 2 years” was because of his unsustainable ERA. What would he have actually been worth if his ERA was what his skills say it should have been? Much worse.

I agree with you on Milton Bradley, Cubs should keep him if they are just going to give him away for nothing and also have to pay $ for the privelege to do so. That is asinine…although sadly it is predictable coming from Hendry.

Bobby Boden
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

IMO, milton bradley, and his issues with the cubs fans transcends statistics. From a statistical standpoint it makes sense to keep him, yes. But stats don’t account for the way his antics influence the club house, and the fan’s attitude towards the club (and likely hood to purchase tickets).

Wells
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

82 percent rate of stranding runners, which is just not sustainable

Really? He sustained it for two years. And they signed him to a two-year contract. What’s your argument?

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 9 months ago

He pitched 148.1 innings over those two years. If a starter had that high of a strand rate over 150 innings, any reasonable person would write it off as a fluke, especially if there was nothing in his arsenal at all to suggest an ability to strand runners. The relevant sample size is innings, not years.

What’s your argument?

Wells
Guest
Wells
6 years 9 months ago

He’s not a starter. He’s a reliever, who will throw a similar number of innings. Given that he had an 82% strand rate over 148 innings over two years, it seems silly to say he cannot sustain an 82% strand rate over two years.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 9 months ago

No, it doesn’t. His role doesn’t change the sample size. If a starter had a high strand rate over one year, it doesn’t demonstrate he has any ability to sustain it for another year, just as a reliever having a high strand rate over two years doesn’t mean it’s indicative of any ability of his. Thus, we would reasonably expect him to revert to the league-average strand rate (or thereabouts).

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 9 months ago

So Grabow’s 82% strand rate is sustainable?
http://www.fangraphs.com/careerleaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&type=1&min=1000

He must be one of the greatest pitchers ever.

Orangeman94
Guest
Orangeman94
6 years 9 months ago

@ Joe R.
Or he’s comparable to Papelbon, Takashi Saito, Chad Cordero, Billy Wagner, and a little better than Armando Benitez, if you set the number to 200 IP. Seriously, we’re not concerned with career numbers. We’re talking about a two year period. And how many relievers pitch 1000 innings in their career?

Fire away with a sample size argument if you like, but relief pitchers can sustain rates similar to this for at least a few years.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
6 years 9 months ago

This makes a few hilarious points
1) That because he did it in 08-09, that we ignore his previous three years where he was pretty much around the league average of 70-71% (btw a lot of his high strand rate since 2008 was from 2008)
2) That Grabow (1.91 career K/BB) belongs in the same discussion as Papelbon (4.49), Wagner (3.93) and Saito (3.86). And Cordero, well, how did he do in 2009?

Sure, Grabow can strike some guys out. He was still only 78th of 138 relievers w/ 50+ IP. Also 17th in walks. And his HR/FB rate of 5.7%, well, that’s just not sustainable given that the rest of his marks are in the 10%-15% range.

So let’s say a pitcher in a few game gives up 100 balls in play. 20 liners, 40 grounders, 40 fly balls. Pretty standard. 70 go for outs. Also pretty standard, so 30 of those are hits. Pretty standard.

In Grabow’s case, strike out 8 per 9 innings, then you have 19 of those balls a game going for outs, and about 8.14 for hits. Add his walk rate of 4.15 per 9, get 12.29 WH per 9, or 1.365 per 9 innings. That’s a guy whose contemporaries are Jesse Chaves, Clay Zavada, and D.J. Carrasco.

For Grabow, it’s more like 19/46/35 distribution, so out of 100 batted balls, 35 are fly balls. You would expect 4 of them to leave the yard. You’d expect 69 to go for outs, and 27 more to go as non-HR hits. And you’d expect 19 batted out per 9, or 8.54 hits per 9. Last year in MLB, 49,117 bases were taken as a result of non HR hits, out of 38,482 hits that weren’t a result of HR. So what we can expect from Grabow is a (8.54)/(8.54+27) = .240 BA against. And for bases against, you’d have 27(49117/38482)+4(4) = 50.4618 bases per 100 batted balls. If Grabow gives up 27.54 batted balls per 9 innings, that’s 13.625 bases / 27 outs. 13.625/(8.54+27) = .383 SLG. His 1.365 WHIP yields a (1.365)/4.365 = .313 OBP.

So .240/.313/.383 OBP against is reasonable (and probably lowballing his BA and OBP). That probably works out to about a 3.80-3.90 ERA.

Steve
Guest
Steve
6 years 9 months ago

sure, but the two years they signed him to are 2010-11, not 2008-09.

MattB
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

At least he has those bone chips in his elbow.

Complainer
Guest
Complainer
6 years 9 months ago

I thinks it’s a great signing. Paul Sullivan also reports that Hendry is close to signing the batboy to a 5yr/120mil contract.

Bobby Boden
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Urgh!, I’m in agreement with this article, I wish the cubs would hire ME to help educate them.

Pete
Guest
Pete
6 years 9 months ago

This kind of move has to be written into the Cubs Charter. They carry at least one overpaid underperforming reliever every year. In 2008 it was Bob Howry, then Gregg last year, and now Grabow. Wouldn’t be a Cubs game without the obligitory 8th and 9th inning nailbiter.

Oil Can Void
Guest
Oil Can Void
6 years 9 months ago

You’re forgetting that rather ridiculous deal that Scott Eyre got at the beginning of ’07.

Steve-o
Guest
Steve-o
6 years 9 months ago

Way to show YOUR maturity :/

Trenchtown
Guest
Trenchtown
6 years 9 months ago

This is why we can’t have nice things

CubsCrazy
Member
6 years 9 months ago

I guess this is Jim Hendry’s idea of donating to charity…

Lou
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Excellent stats, Dave, and your point is well taken. Even if it’s not likely that he’ll sustain stranding all these runners I still think it’s a good signing. Most other top-tier teams have paid well for relief pitching for the last 15 years. The Cubs in general haven’t, so when they do I’m not going to let it embitter me.

Tim
Guest
Tim
6 years 9 months ago

Wow. How did the Yahoo Sports comment section get transferred to FanGraphs?

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 9 months ago

Has fangraphs ever banned people before? If not, this might be a good time to get Appleman on it.

Lou
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Agreed with Tim & Kevin. It took a lot not to reference Hire Jim Essian in my above comment.

neuter_your_dogma
Guest
neuter_your_dogma
6 years 9 months ago

Phillies fan here with a humble request. I love this site, but seeing the Game 6 WS graph is killing me. Any chance of having it removed?

TheUnrepentantGunner
Member
TheUnrepentantGunner
6 years 9 months ago

Yes, except for it probably makes all the new yorkers happy, at the expense of us. How many games do you get out to see Dogma? I was thinking if we could rope in Seidman maybe tailgate a few of them next year? The draft for the season tickets that i split is in february usually and I might draft accordingly.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 9 months ago

Didn’t the game graph of the ’08 clincher stay up all of last season? Be quiet. :P

hmm
Guest
hmm
6 years 9 months ago

Once again, we’re witness to the power of Cameron not knowing how to properly value a player. Explain to me why a player should be devalued because he he puts a man on base to get to a high percentage matchup and wins that battle more often than you are willing to acknowledge is sustainable.

Grabow is easily worth 7.5 million in this market. All. Day. Long.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 9 months ago

Because even if this were true, the marginal value of getting a better matchup is significantly less than the value lost in putting a player on base.

Steve
Guest
Steve
6 years 9 months ago

well, i’d imagine what he says is *sometimes* true. but i’d be shocked if that is what Grabow is actually doing.

Ted Lehman
Guest
Ted Lehman
6 years 9 months ago

Are you John Grabow’s mother or something?

Baseball Guy
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Very good point , intentional walks count just the same in the statistics and are often not acknowledged by bloggers. Many times there are “unintentional” intentional walks ordered by the dugout as well. These count the same in the end statistics though and may look bad to the naked eye!

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 9 months ago

Intentional walks are almost always bad-percentage plays.

Baseball Guy
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Kevin S.

They may be but that is besides the point.

Also you never know what that hitter may have done if pitched to.

hmm
Guest
hmm
6 years 9 months ago

this group doesn’t understand that an ‘intentional walk’ means one either ordered by the bench after a certain count achieved as well as one where four pitches are thrown out of the batters strike zone to intentionally put him on base. There needs to be a better understanding in here on the philosophy of *some* pitching coaches. Joe Kerrigan and Larry Rothschild are classic examples.

Baseball Guy
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

I just have a few questions for you DAVE regarding how you evaluate players.

1) When you say that him wiggling out of jams is not sustainable… why do you say that?? There are a lot of pitchers in this game who have the ability to “buckle down” and make a pitch in tough situations. Many are criticized by their coaches for “buckling down” at the START of the inning and staying out of the jam in the first place. It’s odd , but some guys just focus better when they absolutely have to.

Jair Jurjjens is a great example of this and I watched him do this in Atlanta time after time this season… when he got into jams everything was suddenly 2-3mph harder and on the black.

2) This batting average on balls in play statistic is interesting but I don’t know how useful it is. You say that Grabow is getting lucky because he didn’t elevate his strikeout rate and he stranded a lot of runners….. Obviously with a low strikeout rate there will be more balls put in play and if pitchers don’t have strikeout stuff , they have to focus on getting bad contact from the hitters.

To make my point I would like to say that if a guy has great stuff (not neccesarily strikeout stuff) and a little deception than he is going to induce a lot of bad/soft contact resulting in a lower batting average in balls in play. Meaning maybe he isn’t a generic lefty and maybe the hitters have a hard time sqauring the ball up against him. The hitters make contact against grabow but it is not good contact.

It’s makes sense to me that a lefty , with 3 pitches , coming in from the bullpen where he won’t be exposed more than once through a line-up would be able to keep hitters just off balance enough to be effective.

I would like you take on this . Thanks.

LeeTro
Member
Member
LeeTro
6 years 9 months ago

Someone finally agrees with me. Wasn’t sure if I was the only one who thought this wasn’t total blasphemy.

Bill
Guest
Bill
6 years 9 months ago

Eric Seidman has a series of articles on BP that in part explore the difference between actual and perceived velocity, which I imagine would qualify as deception.

Baseball Guy
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Above in the first paragraph I meant ” Many are criticized by their coaches for NOT buckling down at the start of the inning”.

My mistake.

vivaelpujols
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

It’s worth pointing out Dave, that relievers (especially LOOGY’s who are in favorable matchups more than average) will generally outperform their FIP’s.

Not David
Guest
Not David
6 years 9 months ago

Nothing about this deal makes sense, especially given his Type A status (the statistical evidence is just icing on the Cubs illogical cake).

Offer him arb. If he accepts, you get him next year for roughly the same amount you were planning to offer him anyway, without the unnecessary guarantee of a 2nd year.

If he declines, maybe someone will be stupid enough to actually sign him, hooray for comp! If no one is willing to sign him, you can bring him back for relative pennies next spring when he has no other options.

Tom Au
Guest
Tom Au
6 years 9 months ago

The pitcher who keeps runners off bases is a lot more valuable than the one who loads them up, and somehow the runs don’t cross the plate.

John Grabow is the latter. The Pirates knew what they were doing when they traded him for Ascanio.

wpDiscuz