Seven-and-a-half million dollars is a lot of money to pay to a relief pitcher who walked a career-high 4.98 batters per nine innings in the previous season.
That is especially true if the reliever in question also struck out a career-low 7.09 strikeouts per nine innings in that season.
Yet general manager Jim Hendry and the Chicago Cubs made just such an investment this winter when they inked left-handed hurler John Grabow to a two-year pact.
It is easy to see what Hendry and his team see in Grabow: Indeed, Grabow's surface-level numbers are stellar. His 148.1 innings over the past two seasons rank ninth among relief pitchers during that span, and his 3.09 ERA puts him 31st of 117 qualifying relievers.
He also stayed healthy and consistent, appearing in 149 games in 2008 and 2009, sixth-most in the league.
All of Grabow's advanced and peripheral numbers, however, scream overrated. In strikeout-to-walk ratio, Grabow is 105th out of 117 over the last two years. His strand rate is 81.9 percent during the span, 12th-highest in the league, which demonstrates that relievers to whom Grabow has bequeathed runners during the past two seasons have been more than usually adept at bailing him out of those jams.
Grabow's fielder-independent pitching statistic, scaled to ERA, registers at 4.36, 1.26 runs higher than his actual ERA. Only four of the aforementioned 117 qualifying pitchers have a larger discrepancy in this respect, which shows how misleading Grabow's traditional stats really are.
The news, however, is not all bad. In fact, there are highly encouraging numbers to be found.
Win Probability Added (WPA) is calculated with the run and win values of the situation in which each plate appearance takes place in mind. In that respect, it shows which pitchers truly contribute the most to wins and losses by their performance. Grabow is sixth in the Majors over the past two seasons in WPA, at 4.19.
Better still, Grabow is at his best in high-pressure situations. His Clutch index, which measures how much better (or worse) a player performs in high-leverage situations relative to normal circumstances, is an astronomical 2.16 over the past two seasons, the second-best mark of the 117 qualifying relievers. The third best number during that span, belonging to Jeremy Affeldt, is 1.64.
Grabow will have a solid chance to set up closer Carlos Marmol this season and may unfortunately have the role to himself if right-handed relief ace Angel Guzman continues to struggle with injuries. Here are the numbers I project for him this year:
* 74 games, all in relief
* 70.1 innings pitched
* 59 strikeouts
* 36 walks
* 1.40 WHIP
* 3.96 ERA
* 4.11 FIP
With Guzman shelved temporarily with shoulder soreness and no apparent help on the way in the Cubs' pen, Grabow will need to shoulder a heavy load for the team this season. Manager Lou Piniella rides left-handed hurlers hard, especially penmen, so Grabow will need to work hard in spring training to condition himself for the long haul.
Watch for the rest of my 2010 Cubs profiles, which I'll continue to do throughout the rest of the offseason.
Here is a selection of those already done, and a few on the way soon.