Fan Foils By The Numbers: John Grabow

Memories... - Greg Fiume

Exhibit A for why you don't spend money on middle relievers.

Today's Fan Foil is going with some lower stakes. As with last week's edition, it's not necessarily that the player did anything "wrong" or was a bad guy. His "Foilness" is more related to a front office overvaluing "old school" principles.

John Grabow was, by all accounts, a perfectly useful major-league relief pitcher. He had a career ERA+ of 99. That he threw with his left hand certainly extended his career to the nine years it lasted. Grabow's career had one rather unusual element in that he only played for two teams: the Pittsburgh Pirates and our Cubs. Relievers, particularly middle relievers, tend to travel from club to club a bit more.

2009 was the last season the Cubs were even remotely competitive. The team was in first place on July 30, 2009 when Jim Hendry made a trade for reinforcements. After making a nice trade a few years earlier to acquire Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez from the Pirates, the Cubs' GM went back to the well in Pittsburgh. He acquired Tom Gorzelanny and Grabow in exchange for Jose Ascanio, Josh Harrison, and Kevin Hart. That's another trade win for Hendry as he bolstered the pitching staff. Of course, the Cubs went in the toilet the rest of the season, going 29-32 to miss the playoffs.

Adding arms for a playoff run is perfectly understandable. Overpaying middle relievers? Not so much.

Hendry re-signed Grabow to a two-year, $7.5 million contract to keep the lefty around for the 2010-11 seasons. The contract included a $4.8 million salary for 2011. Good grief. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs predicted the contract was pointless and it was easy to see that prediction come to fruition.

The Cubs in their old-school ways saw Grabow as pitching a pretty decent 25 innings in 2009, compiling a 3.24 ERA. Of course, stats for relievers, advanced or not, don't do a great job of telling the whole story, thanks to small sample sizes and the impact one or two bad outings can have.

Grabow rewarded Hendry and the Cubs with an injury-shortened and completely ineffective 2010 season. In just 25⅔ IP, he surrendered 38 baserunners and 21 earned runs. The following year, Grabow was healthy, but still bad and now even more overpaid. In what turned out to be his last big league action, he threw 62⅓ innings and allowed 96 baserunners and 33 earned runs. These seasons were "worth" -0.3 and -0.5 WAR, respectively.

Of course, as a lefty, Grabow's specialty was supposed to be getting tough lefthanded batters out.

2010 vs. LHB: 8 IP, 17 baserunners, 4 earned runs

2011 vs. LHB: 23⅔ IP, 29 baserunners, 12 earned runs

Really, all Grabow did against lefties was to walk fewer guys. The rest of his numbers were about equal.

The "need" to sign Grabow highlights one of the "wrong ways" the Cubs tried to build a team. Hopefully the new front office's emphasis on having a home grown bullpen minimizes the need to sign silly contracts like the one for Grabow.

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