Monday, August 3, 2009

On Cubs bullpen shakeup says Lou, "Why should I?"

Over at ESPN Chicago, Nick Friedell blogs about Kevin Gregg's weekend long meltdown in Miami in which he was awarded the win (I could not hate the wins stat any more) after blowing the save on Saturday, and then getting a well deserved loss yesterday giving up back-to-back jacks to Dan Uggla and Cody Ross.

Now, believe me, I hated the Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg trade, in fact Hendry's trades in general have made less and less sense lately. I've recently given Hendry the benefit of the doubt for some of his more questionable moves after he brought us Aramis Ramirez for a used jock strap and landed Derrek Lee for Hee Sop Choi. But what's up with trading away DeRosa for peanuts and giving up a valuable trade chip in Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg? Dime-a-dozen Kevin Gregg? Guys like Gregg grow on trees down in the minors; this season though Gregg has actually looked like the closer he was advertised as.

Up until this past weekend.

A closer look at the numbers, however, suggests that Gregg has had his share of bad luck leading to overall "blah" numbers. Preventing home runs is one stat a pitcher is said to have some sort of control over, along with walks and strikeouts. With a career HR/9 innings a solid 0.9, Kevin Gregg's current HR/9 of 1.8 seems way out of line. For the past five years, here are what his numbers look like:

HR/9 Innings
2005: 1.1
2006: 1.1
2007: 0.8
2008: 0.4
2009: 1.8

It's not exactly "Where's Waldo?" trying to spot the outlier. Digging deeper, one finds that part of the reason for the 1.8 HR/9 is an abnormal home runs given up per fly ball of 15.7% this season. Roughly one out of every seven fly balls given up by Gregg has gone for a home run. Compare that number to a HR/FB of 4.9% in 2008 and 7% in 2007 and the evidence suggests at least part of Gregg's struggles have been a little dose of bad luck. In other words, we should expect a less rocky road ahead.

Nick Friedell disagrees,

"Kevin Gregg's back-to-back blown saves haven't just put a damper on the Cubs' recent hot streak. They've also proved that the team's biggest weakness continues to be its shaky bullpen."

Hold up here, shaky bullpen? Granted, it's not the league's best pen, but every pitcher sitting on those lawn chairs down the left field line knows his role and that's not something a bullpen can take for granted. In the ninth, Gregg still has a respectable, albeit not good, ERA of 4.17 and a very solid 9.2 K/9. As the setup man, Marmol, despite his struggles has been dominant with an opponent's batting average of .159 and has a more than healthy 10.6 K/9. In the seventh, Guzman has arguably been the best reliever of them all, with a 2.36 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 45 innings.

Friedell though, loves to dismiss him immediately from the closer discussion,

"Angel Guzman is another possibility, but he has yet to show that he can stay healthy for an entire season, not to mention that he came into this season with a career ERA above 4.00."

Um...ok, but he's healthy now and his 4.83 career ERA obviously doesn't reflect the level he is currently pitching at. Guzman's stuff is lights out and his 2.36 ERA is legitimate. If the conversation is whether or not Angel Guzman should be a starter, then concerns over staying healthy could be brought up. What is clear is that Guzman could step right into the closer's role if necessary. Carlos Marmol sure would be a bit perturbed, to put it lightly, but that's another story.

Add into the bullpen mix an invaluable Sean Marshall (1.23 ERA out of the pen) and a surprisingly effective Jeff Stevens (2.84 ERA in 6.1 innings, yes tiny sample size), along with The Shark and Aaron Heilman as 6th inning/mop-up duty guys and what you get is a bullpen that has been and will continue to be much more reliable than they've received credit for lately.

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