Before the middle of last November, the main thing most Cubs fans knew Kevin Gregg for was that he was the guy who gave up probably the most unlikely home run of the 2008 Cubs season to Daryle Ward, because I think that may have been the only hit Ward got all of last year.
Then, the rec-spec’ed one was dealt to the Cubs for pitching prospect José Ceda on November 13, 2008. His acquisition was immediately significant to Cubs fans because it unofficially closed the door on Kerry Wood’s eleven year career with the Cubs.
There was a lot of emotion surrounding Wood’s departure, and Kevin Gregg was closely associated with it, but it’s Spring Training now, and it’s time for Kevin Gregg to make his own name as a Cub.
Gregg turns 31 this year, and he is coming off two seasons for the Florida Marlins that were by far his best as a professional. He was drafted back in 1996 out of high school in Corvallis, Oregon by the Oakland A’s.
He was then signed by the Angels in 2002 and spent four mediocre years in LA/Anaheim as a middle reliever in one of the best bullpens in the game.
After the 2006 season, the Angels moved him to the Florida Marlins for Chris Resop. Gregg wasted no time winning the closer role in Miami, saving 32 games in 36 opportunities, including 15 in a row to start the season.
Last year, Gregg was slightly less reliable, saving 29 games in 38 chances. His nine blown saves tied for the league lead with Manny Corpas of the Rockies. He also had 15 decisions on the season (7-8), which led Major League relievers (compare that with 12 decisions last year for starter Rich Harden).
Kevin Gregg was brought to Chicago to compete with dynamic young righty Carlos Marmol for the closer role.
He’s the only guy on the Cubs roster who has held a closing role for more than a couple weeks at a time, so his experience will be valuable. I do not think that he will beat out Marmol for the right to end games, but he functions as an insurance policy if Marmol struggles.
There’s a chance Marmol will be better suited for the fireman role he has filled so well the last two years, and I don’t think Lou Piniella will hesitate to make the switch.
Gregg throws four pitches. His straight fastball generally comes in the low to mid 90s. His main off speed pitch is his splitter that he’s not always sure what will do. Sometimes it dives, sometimes it doesn’t. He also shows a downward breaking slider and a straight change.
Gregg has consistently shown a solid strikeout rate throughout his career, striking out a little over eight batters per nine innings. During his years with the Angels, he also showed pretty solid control, walking about three batters per nine innings.
His walk rate increased pretty substantially when he moved into the closer role, walking over 4.5 batters per nine innings the past two seasons, which is troublesome. Does pitching in higher pressure situations impact his control?
If so, pitching in front of a sellout crowd in Wrigley every day for a team with very high expectations entails a bit more pressure and that rate could continue to climb.
Frankly, I’m worried about how Gregg will perform this year, whether it’s in the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning. He finished last year with a career-low ERA of 3.41 (compared with 3.55 the previous year), but his walk rate increased, his K rate decreased, and his WHIP increased.
If not giving up a career low three home runs, he could have had a much worse season. The nine blown saves are also a huge concern, because the troubles that established set-up guys seem to have while being paid big bucks by the Cubs (Scott Eyre, Bob Howry, and USA pitcher in the WBC LaTroy Hawkins).
The way I see it, Carlos Marmol is going to step up and grab the closer role in a big way, which leaves Kevin Gregg to pitch as a set-up man. I’m not expecting big things out of Gregg, but I do think he’ll get outs.
Here are his career stats and my projections for 2009: