May 14, 2009

It's likely you've heard the line that baseball is the only sport where executing a task 30 percent of the time -- such as three base hits in 10 at-bats -- is considered successful. Silly as that sounds, have you heard the one about a player getting ripped to shreds for achieving his goal in 83 percent of his opportunities? If you have your pulse on fantasy baseball, it's likely you have.

The shredded one is Kevin Gregg (RP, CHC), and the 83 percent figure is his save percentage dating back to the 2007 season. Yet it seems as though fantasy owners view Gregg with the same sort of disdain they'd have for a $9 beer at the ballpark.

Are fantasy owners justified in beating up on the guy? Was it those his goggles that triggered the hate? What do his prospects look like for the rest of the year?

Time to find out as a second Cubs pitchers gets Deconstructed.

All statistics through May 11.

2008 stats: 29 SV in 38 SVO, 3.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 58 K's in 68 2/3 IP2009 stats: 6 SV in 7 SVO, 4.11 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 18 K's in 15 1/3 IP

Gregg's hold on the Cubs' closer role has seemed tenuous at times, highlighted by an injury story in late April that revealed the guy couldn't even hold a prolonged bullpen warmup without shutting it down.

It seemed as though Carlos Marmol (RP, CHC) might corner a position on the saves market. Yet after four outings in five days from May 3-7, during which he allowed four base runners in 3 2/3 scoreless innings, Gregg seems perfectly healthy. Or as cynical fantasy players would say, healthy enough to break someone's heart.

Indeed, cynicism is a characteristic brought out in many fantasy owners when Gregg's name is mentioned. He could almost be nicknamed "The Heartbreaker" for the supposed devastation he's brought on the fantasy world. But look at his peripheral stats the last two years and one begins to wonder how hyperbolic fantasy nerds can become.

A 3.49 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP the last two years doesn't seem that awful. Not exactly Jonathan Papelbon-like (RP, BOS), but it's not Joe Borowski territory either. The averages are fine, and the typically small amount of appearances a reliever makes during a season can cause one or two or three poor performances to stand out.

The support for Gregg might look unjustified if you were to look at his raw numbers -- a 4.11 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP. As always, a look at the game logs will do wonders for putting a player's season into a more realistic understanding. After allowing four earned runs on six hits and four walks in three frames through his first four outings, he's eased concerns with his work in the last 12 games. During that time, he's allowed just three earned runs on nine hits and six walks in 12 1/3 innings. More importantly, he's struck out 15 batters.

That influx of fanned batters has increased Gregg's K/9 rate to a career-high 10.6 figure -- three strikeouts better than his 2008 rate. He's been stupendous in his last four contests, striking out six, walking one and giving up only one base hit in 3 2/3 innings. That increased ability to whiff batters is indicative of a pitcher who must be feeling more confident in his once-balky left knee.

So what went wrong at the beginning of the season? It's actually quite point blank: His four-seam fastball was tastier to hitters than a bacon cheeseburger is to you and I.

In those first four outings from April 6-12, Gregg threw his four-seamer 37 times, according to Pitch-f/x data on Only twice did a hitter swing and miss. Just four more times did a hitter sit and take a called strike. Three singles, two doubles and a homer were hit off Gregg, spread over each appearance. Here's the complete four-seamer breakdown:

37 pitches

13 balls4 called strikes2 swinging strikes5 fouls3 foul tips2 fly outs1 ground out1 fielder's choice3 singles2 doubles1 homer

What this shows is that batters basically hit 6-for-9 (.667) on his four-seamer when the ball was put into play. But the 13 balls against six strikes show that his control was erratic, perhaps a result of his knee injury at the time. Now take a look at the results of 44 four-seamers Gregg threw in four outings from May 4-10 (lots of 4's, I know):

44 pitches

12 balls10 called strikes9 swinging strikes10 fouls2 fly outs1 ground out

This time, hitters are 0-for-3 off Gregg, but more importantly, he turned that 13 ball-to-six strike ratio from his first four outings to a 12 ball-to-19 strike ratio in his last four. The greater amount of confidence he had in his fastball -- perhaps partially a result of increased confidence in his knee -- also showed in the percentage four-seemers comprised in his overall pitch count.

In his first four outings, Gregg threw 73 pitches, making it just 51 percent of the time that he went with the four-seamer 44 times in his 65 pitches, a 68 percent mark.

If you haven't fallen asleep or ran away for a bacon cheeseburger (or attempted to trade for Gregg), then your patience is appreciated. But the information is clear. Gregg is pitching much more effectively than he was at the beginning of the season.

Injury issues are always tough to predict, sincte most of us don't own a medical degree. Even if we like to play doctor, we know deep down we're screwed by our own predictions. So rather than try to guess what Gregg's knee will do two days or two weeks from now, just take solace in the fact that he recently appeared four times in five days and came out of it virtually hit-free.

Marmol will continue to pick up vulture saves, and he'll be The Man if Gregg goes down. He's a great NL-only league option and a decent deep mixed league reliever. Still, Gregg is the go-to guy as of this writing.

Don't panic if Gregg blows a save, too. Not everybody can be Brad Lidge (SP, PHI). It's in the nature of the situation for a closer to ruin a save opportunity or two, but that doesn't translate into Panic Time. Take a deep breath, have a glass of chocolate milk (or a bacon cheeseburger) and keep Gregg on your roster. If you absolutely must, take a look at that save percentage the last couple years. Even after a unsuccessful save bid, 83 percent will always look good.

Kyle loves bacon cheeseburgers and chocolate milk, but gorges on the meal only 83 percent of the time. The other 17 percent is filled with all the good things in life -- blueberries, almonds, fish and loads and loads of pizza. If you have any questions, comments or suggestion for future players to Deconstruct, send him an e-mail at

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