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.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.