Boy. Talk about worrying about the wrong problem. From Chris De Luca in the Chicago Times:
- Manager Lou Piniella didn't realize the Cubs had blown 11 saves in 26 chances entering Wednesday, putting their save percentage at 58 -- third-worst in the National League. What he did notice was the six home runs allowed by closer Kevin Gregg, the most by a Cubs full-time reliever.
"One thing about this young man, he gives up a lot of home runs in the closer spot," Piniella said before the game against the Detroit Tigers -- a day after Gregg blew his third save by serving up a two-run, walkoff home run to pinch-hitter Ryan Raburn. "Look, you don't like to see that out of your closer too much, I'm going to be honest with you. Usually when you give up home runs late like that, they end games."
Gregg edging out Carlos Marmol for the closer's job has been a hot topic since the decision was made late in spring training. So Piniella was quick to stress there is no closer controversy -- yet.
1. Gregg's not all that young.
2. He's not giving up a lot of home runs. He has given up a lot of home runs, this season. Sort of.
Gregg has given up six home runs in 32 innings, which does seem like a lot. Per nine innings, he's given up roughly twice as many homers this season as in his career as a whole. But you know what the difference is, in terms of actual home runs?
We're talking about three more long fly balls over the course of nearly three months. That's nothing, and otherwise Gregg's stats are fine. He's walking slightly fewer batters than he did last year, and he's striking out plenty. Gregg's never been a great pitcher and I was one of those who thought Marmol should have been the closer this season, but a) Marmol's walked a batter per inning, and b) even if Marmol's fundamentally better than Gregg, as long as he's getting his innings it doesn't matter much whether they're eighth innings or ninth innings.
Overall, the Cubs' relievers have been decent this season. Their 4.12 ERA ranks just 12th in the National League, but a bunch of teams are clustered between 3.90 and 4.15, so being 12th is little different from being sixth or seventh. The Cubs are seventh in strikeouts and second in batting average allowed (though thanks to Marmol, they're 14th in walks).
Point being, the bullpen isn't the problem. The Cubs are 13th in the league in scoring. Last year they were first. Until they close that gap, it's not going to matter much how many fly balls Gregg gives up.