The Kevin Gregg Trade

Two trades in MLB today – Matthew will tackle the ridiculous Nick Swisher trade a little later on tonight, so for now, let’s focus on the less absurd Kevin Gregg deal.

The Marlins continue to dump anyone who will make more than minimum wage next year, sending their closer to the Cubs for minor league arm Jose Ceda. Gregg is the epitome of the “closers are made, not born” philosophy – he’s a decent enough reliever with a good fastball/slider combination and lousy command, who succeeded in the 9th inning because pitching one inning with a three run lead isn’t all that hard.

However, after two years as a successful closer, he’s going to get between $3 and $4 million in arbitration, thanks to his 61 saves in the last two years. Above all, that one statistic still does more to determine a reliever’s paycheck than any other number – if Gregg had pitched exactly the same way in the 8th inning, racking up holds instead of saves, he’d be looking at a fraction of the pay day. Such is the privileged life of the anointed closer.

For the Cubs, however, they acquired Gregg as a replacement for Kerry Wood, and odds are he’ll be slotted into the closer role in Chicago. The idea that Gregg is a suitable replacement and they won’t take a hit in terms of effectiveness is a bit laughable. Here are their 2008 performances:

BB/9: Wood, 2.44 – Gregg, 4.85
K/9: Wood, 11.40 – Gregg, 7.60
HR/9: Wood, 0.41 – Gregg, 0.39

FIP: Wood, 2.32 – Gregg, 3.84

Now, Wood is certainly something of a significant health risk, and there’s a decent case to be made that giving him a multi-year contract wouldn’t have been a great idea. But the Cubs are taking a huge step back in terms of quality of pitcher they’ll be using in the 9th inning by going from Wood to Gregg. Wood was, on a per inning basis, one of the game’s best relievers, blowing hitters away with his overpowering stuff. Gregg is just a guy, a fungible reliever who won’t kill you but isn’t a huge asset either.

Considering the leverage that closers get, it’s fair to say that the difference between Wood and Gregg could be 1-2 wins in 2009. I’m not sure the Cubs are in a position to be giving away wins like that. For a contending team with a big payroll, they should have done a lot better for their new relief ace.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

18 Responses to “The Kevin Gregg Trade”

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  1. Goose says:

    Do you really think that Gregg closes over Marmol? I am shocked you failed to mention the young RP phenom once in this article. You know, the All Star? No chance Gregg gets more save opportunities this season than Marmol.

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  2. Kevin says:

    Obviously, Gregg would set up Marmol.

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  3. Could still end up being 1-2 wins depending on the situations. A lot of setup men tend to pitch in similar, albeit, slightly less leveraged situations even if it’s not the 9th.

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  4. ajwalsh says:

    Do we really expect Wood to get four years? Until he signs a different contract, I’m holding out hope that Wood could be back.

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  5. Colin Wyers says:

    I’m not sure I see Wood repeating his performance from last year – you’d have to expect at least some regression to the mean there. And he IS a health risk.

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  6. Jeremy Weaver says:

    I’m curious as to many how many projected wins the cubs will pick up when they spend the money they’ll save by not re-singing wood on a left-handed right fielder.

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  7. Isaac says:

    Colin, the point is not so much that the Cubs made a poor choice in not re-upping Wood. What he is saying is that the Cubs are not bringing in an adequate replacement. Thats fairly simple and absolutely true.

    What surprises me is that Dave didn’t spend even one line discussing Jose Ceda. Ceda is a very solid prospect and was the third best prospect in the Cubs’ farm system. Now when you consider how weak their minor league system is that might be damning him with faint price, but the kid is still a big talent and had a great stint at AA. He appeared to be very close to the majors and could even start there with the Marlins. I can’t understand for the life of me why Jim Hendry traded away six cost controlled years of a potential stud closer for one year(possibly two) for a slightly above average reliever mislabeled as a closer. One could argue that Ceda may already be as good as Gregg, therefore making him the better, and cheaper, option for now AND down the road.

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  8. Colin Wyers says:

    Yes, Issac, and that’s the exact sort of thing you can’t predict from one year’s worth of stats, especially from a relief pitcher. Ideally we’d look at 3 or more years of stats with some regression, a la Marcels.

    And using Marcels (and BaseRuns to estimate ERA) gives me estimates of 4.26 ERA for Wood, and 4.31 for Gregg. How much is that difference worth?

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  9. Isaac says:

    Colin, I meant that the Cubs didn’t bring in an adequate replacement for the Wood of the 2008 season. Whatever he does next year is irrelevant. The Cubs are filling a position which produced 1.17 WPA/LI, 84K and a measly eighteen walks(in the games that Wood pitched) last season with a pitcher that will be lucky to come even close to that number. The fact that Gregg might be the equal of Wood next year is irrelevant. Hendry needs to find someone that can be, in 2009, as good as the 2008 version of Wood. That person is most likely not Kevin Gregg.

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  10. acerimusdux says:

    For me this hinges on how much Ceda is really worth. If he can be as good as Gregg soon, it’s a bad trade. But, that’s not exactly a sure thing. Looking at his numbers last season. while he had a solid 2.08 ERA in AA, that was with a 2.77 FIP, and in only 30.3 IP. In A+, he hadn’t fared as well before the promotion, with a 3.97 FIP.

    Also, from his splits, it looks like he was very tough on RH hitters (2.04 FIP in AA), but struggled vs. lefties (4.87 FIP in AA). Gregg for his career has been equally effective against both LH and RH bats, so this might be one difference. As for how his performance overall would translate to the majors, however, his MLEs for AA suggest he might be able to survive, translating to a 3.98 FIP with a 1.40 WHIP, a 4.2 BBp and a 9.3 SO9.

    Interestingly, that’s not that far off what Kevin Gregg has done over the last 2 season in Florida–a 3.86 FIP, 1.25 WHIP, 4.5 BB9, and 8.55 SO9.

    The very big difference is that Gregg at this point has a proven record of a similar level of performance over 6 season covering over 400 IP. If you are projecting this for Ceda, it is based on only 30.3 IP at AA last year, after being significantly worse in 54.3 IP at a lower level.

    If Gregg costs the Cubs 1-2 wins vs. an elite closer, I’m not sure that’s a bad trade off. Given the asking price this off season for elite closers, I wonder if they couldn’t perhaps add 1-2 wins elsewhere for less money. If Ceda has much value though, the Cubs could have probably signed a type B reliever of similar abilities to Gregg (say Lyon or Affeldt), for only a $1M-2M more per year, and held on to Ceda.

    So were the Cubs selling high on Ceda, or was he worth spending a bit more to hold onto? Is he really going to be near as good as Gregg any time soon?

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  11. Isaac says:

    acerimusdux, the reason he didn’t do well in A+ is because they tried him as a starter in A+ ball but he then returned to the closer role in AA and in Kevin Goldstien words, dominated.

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  12. Andre Laier says:

    Paleaseeee! If anybody out there believes that the cubs are bringing in Gregg to be closer you don’t follow the cubs. The closer is going to be Marmol. And I would expect the cubs to try and add another setup guy because of the imminent departure of Howry. Seeing Wood leave is definitly sad, but the cubs have much more important areas to address. Hendry’s logic seems sound. Gregg will be one of the setup guys, which he should be able handle. Whoever wrote this article obviously doesn’t follow the cubs closely enough. The fact that he didn’t even mention Marmol is quite startling.

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  13. ajwalsh says:

    The argument about wins added from picking up a free agent left-handed bat is spot on. Kerry Wood was not the Cubs’ best reliever in 2008, but as of now, the best left-handed hitters on the roster are Micah Hoffpauir, Mike Fontenot and Kosuke Fukudome.

    The downgrade from Wood to Gregg should allow for a much more substantial offensive upgrade, in either right field or the middle infield.

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  14. Mark says:

    umm yeah hello there,,,either he is trade bait in the Peavy deal or he sets up for Marmol who will now be the closer….Gregg will not be our closer,,get serious

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  15. Tim T says:

    You missed the boat on this one .
    I think the plan is to have Marmol close and Gregg be his set up man.
    If you looked at this stat of Greggs it makes sense.
    Gregg has stranded 32 of his 36 inherited runners, an 88.9 percent success rate.
    Sounds like he’s better suited for the set up role.
    Part of the plan of letting Wood walk is giving Marmol the shot at the closer role. So this isn’t a bad deal, if Marmol can’t handle the closer role for some reason they have a decent guy to fall back on.

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  16. Isaac says:

    I don’t think he missed the boat. I heard Hendry do 2 different radio shows in which he stated that it will be a competition between the two and Lou also seems to think that Marmol is more valuable as a seventh/eight inning guy. He might be right.

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  17. Andre Laier says:

    Of course that’s what they are going to say in november. You don’t discourage competition. We aren’t talking about the bears here who have a past of doing just that. But reality is that Marmol will close and Gregg will be one of the setup men. I still expect Hendry to go after another middle-reliever after he’s addressed the more important areas of concern: offense and signing Dempster.

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  18. Doc says:

    It’s official, Lou says Gregg will the the Cubs closer. I have to thank all the “cub experts” for driving up the ADP of Marmol, allowing Gregg to fall to a more reasonable spot.
    While the numbers suggest Gregg will be less effective than Wood was, he’s got the job. This will drop Marmol’s value considerably.

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