Sausage King of the ‘pen

So I’m in the middle of writing a post about Toronto’s three candidates for closer when I decide to take a gander at Twitter. I was greeted by the above tweet. If you’re the type of person who believes a team’s best reliever should be the team’s closer, then you might have to say that Cito is doing something right here. The explanation (or what I had written before I saw this tweet) follows:

A few days ago I slapped together a post about why I don’t think it’s so bad if Kevin Gregg becomes Toronto’s closer. I wrote it in such a way that assumed all 4 of my readers can read my mind. A commenter (Cole!) called me out and I briefly tried to explain myself in the comments. In the process of calling me out, Cole did raise another good question that made me stop and think:

Are Scott Downs and Jason Frasor actually better pitchers than Gregg?

Seems like everyone (myself included) is just assuming that Gregg’s the pits. I don’t feel like assuming things right now, so let’s take a look at some stats.

Career numbers:

ERA IP K/BB WHIP FIP
Frasor 3.78 355 2.13 1.28 3.8
Downs 3.92 509.1 2.05 1.4 4.23
Gregg 4.10 476.1 2.26 1.32 4.00

Over their careers, the three seem to be fairly even, although I’d put Frasor ahead slightly based on his WHIP and his FIP. But what a pitcher did years ago doesn’t really factor into how he’s pitching now, so let’s take a look at last year’s numbers.

2009:

ERA IP K/BB WHIP FIP
Frasor 2.50 57.2 3.5 1.02 2.99
Downs 3.09 46.2 3.31 1.26 3.33
Gregg 4.72 68.2 2.37 1.31 4.93

Frasor’s clearly got the best numbers of the three and Gregg’s clearly got the worst. Add in the fact the Frasor and Downs pitched in the A.L. East and Gregg got eaten up in the N.L. Central and the difference in the numbers seems even worse.

Based on the above, I’d say Frasor’s definitely the best of the three. But since the fireman/closer debate figured so prominently in the debate, let’s take a look at how they fared in high leverage situations.

Before I get to this, let me say that I’m no sabermetrician, so if I’m making a mistake with the stats here or using them in an inappropriate way, don’t be surprised. Basically what I’ve done is look at each pitchers’ WPA and how high the leverage of the situation was when they entered games*. I chose game leverage because to me, a fireman/closer/whatever should be entering at high leverage situations. If he does his job properly, the leverage should go down after that (right?).

Anyway, I took those stats and then I did some division.

Career:

WPA gmLI WPA/gmLI
Frasor 5.77 1.19 4.849
Downs 1.28 1.27 1.009
Gregg 0 .09 0

Last year:

WPA gmLI WPA/gmLI
Frasor 2.62 1.43 1.832
Downs -0.31 1.55 -0.2
Gregg -1.07 1.45 -0.3

And there you have it. Assuming I’ve handled the numbers correctly, Frasor is by far the best pitcher of the three when thrust into high leverage situations.

I don’t necessarily think that should make him the closer, but that’s just my take on Richmond’s Dilemma. Which I’ll explain later, if you haven’t read the comments on the previous post already.

*I based this on gmLI, which is, according to Tom Tango, “the Leverage Index when the reliever enters the game. Its use is mostly to show a manager perspective, as it indicates the level of fire that the manager wanted his reliever to face.”

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5 thoughts on “Sausage King of the ‘pen

  1. I am another that is guilty of assuming that Gregg sucked. However from what I read he had a very good year, followed by good year, followed by a bad year, followed by a…… very bad year? I think the careers numbers a skewed because of that reason, he had two good (kinda mostly, but you get it) years.

    I think the most interesting question about whoever closes is that Gregg will be on the team, and if he sucks, will it be better to see him suck in the 7th or 8th? or to see him run in with a 1 run lead in the 9th? One has to figure he’s going to pitch somewhere… if his nickname “Moonraker” (is that a DJF original?) maybe his best suited job is tossing for the warm-up to pump the tires.

    Listening to XM the other day, a good point was raised, who cares if you have a good closer if you can’t keep a one run lead in the 7th or 8th. So if he’s going to blow games, where do you put him?

    • If he’s going to blow games, I guess you ideally put him in the unemployment line. But that’s not going to happen, so how about a mop up role? If Cito’s willing to shock everyone by not naming Gregg closer, maybe he’ll take the extra step and use Gregg as he should be used.

  2. Wow, I consider myself a baseball stat nut, but even I must sheepishly admit I have no real idea what some of the stats you used in this post are all about.

  3. these are solid points. And i would deiifntely be more hesitant if there wasn’t a very obvious culprit (no secondary pitch). The problem is now and immediate. Do we keep sending Price out there in the late innings (ok, maybe the 7th inning is OK), or do we hesitate if Price has already faced the other team’s best hitters 2 times? It is indeed a small sample. But, that small sample is telling a story with a reasonable explanation. The question is, how many more times are you willing to risk it, before the pattern is statistically significant?

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