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NEWSFLASH!óDanny Graves Does Something Obscene Off the Field
2005-05-24 09:23
by Mike Carminati
What do I owe you, Paulie?!? What do I owe you?
—Yo Adrian in "Rocky, Episode 4—A New Hope"

Danny Graves actually managed to come up with something more obscene than his stats (7.36 ERA, 2.29 WHIP, .357 opponents' batting average, and 3.93 strikeouts per nine innings) on Sunday. After giving up five ninth-inning runs and being chased from an interleague "game" with the Indians, the putative Reds closer got into a fracas with one vociferous fan and then gave him the one-finger salute—you know, "read between the lines".

Finally, Graves did something that the Reds organization could figure out was wrong, as if the 2003 season wasn't enough (4-15, 5.33 ERA his only year as a starter). The Reds designated their nine-year vet for assignment yesterday.

Said GM an O'Brien, with a straight face yet:

"His performance has been unsatisfactory and unacceptable. It hasn't been up to the standards we've come to expect for the Cincinnati Reds organization. We appreciate Danny's contributions to the organization, and we hope he finds an opportunity with another major league club."

Of course, the first two sentences of O'Brien's explanation are completely contradictory. I thought the Reds standards were performing unsatisfactorily and unacceptably.

Graves took the high road and blamed his troubles on a 169-inning stint in the rotation in 2003. Somehow the stress of pitching every fifth day is what caused his already mislabeled fastball to more closely resemble an eephus pitch:

"I changed roles and probably ruined my career. I don't know. I don't have the answers. I felt like I've been given up on. It's a shock to me. If I can recall, I'm not the only closer that has struggled."

Of course, there was no word from Graves on why his 111-inning stint out of the bullpen in 1999 helped him establish himself as a closer. One would think that the 1999 performance would be more stressful than the 2003 one, but when asked Graves just responded, "Spin on this!" with his middle finger extended.

Team leader/albatross Sean Casey came to Graves' aid:

"This is not his fault. We stink. For us to be 15-28 has nothing to do with Danny Graves. That's the frustrating part for me.

"I know I'm a little emotional right now, but I think the Cincinnati Reds as an organization owe a lot more to Danny Graves for the eight years he stepped up every year. They owe him more than to just release him like this. I just disagree with it."

Howard Johnson is right! Of course, Casey overlooked two big items in all this: Graves' and his contracts. Even if Graves gets picked up by another club, he will still continue to be paid by the Reds. They owe him $6.25 M in the last year of a three-year, $17.25 M contract. All the Reds can hope to save is the prorated, major-league minimum salary if Graves finds another employer. Casey is enjoying a $7.8 M salary in 2005 and just had his $8.5 M 2006 option picked up in the offseason. This comes after a career year for Casey (.915 OPS), who in 2005 projects to 7 HRs, 77 RBI, and a .779 OPS. Maybe he shouldn't be so critical of the Reds management. People in glass houses, yudda yudda.

Looking at Graves career numbers—182 saves with a 3.98 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and 4.81 strikeouts per nine innings—I have to wonder how the hex Graves can think he can do anything but kiss the Reds' feet for the charity. Graves last decent year was 2002 (138 ERA+), but he had only two very good to great seasons as a closer were in 1999 (147 ERA+ in 111 innings) and 2000 (192 ERA+). His most similar pitchers list in Baseball Reference is a who's who of mediocre closers:

Jason Isringhausen (954)

Ron Taylor (945)

Ron Davis (945)

Mel Rojas (942)

Antonio Alfonseca (942)

Mark Wohlers (941)

Donnie Moore (937)

Tim Stoddard (935)

Bobby Thigpen (935)

Xavier Hernandez (934)

Xavier Hernandez and Mel Rojas? Now, that's an achievement!

Actually, I might offer Graves as the worst closer of all time. His high ERA and WHIP and low strikeouts per nine may be without precedent. Usually if a closer doesn't strikeout that many men, he's more of a junkballer type or has an unusual delivery—Dan Quisenberry comes to mind—but then his ERA will be low. If his ERA is high, it's usually offset with lots of Ks. Graves may be the only closer with no real skills. No wonder they moved him to the rotation in 2003—he really had no business ever being a closer.

Let's see where Graves ranks—and I do mean rank—in these dubious categories. I took a look at all pitchers with at least 100 saves to caste a wide net. Here are the pitchers in this group with the highest ERAs (through 2005). Graves is in a virtual tie for ninth with Tom Gordon:

NameSv ERA WHIP Kper9IP
Jose Jimenez110 4.92 1.454 5.507
Mike Williams144 4.45 1.441 6.841
Eddie Guardado145 4.35 1.307 7.875
Jose Mesa305 4.27 1.465 6.147
Billy Taylor100 4.21 1.377 8.510
Ron Davis130 4.05 1.386 7.196
Todd Jones193 4.00 1.441 7.874
Tom Gordon114 3.98 1.368 8.206
Danny Graves182 3.98 1.380 4.814
Mark Wohlers119 3.97 1.377 9.060
Ricky Bottalico116 3.94 1.392 8.301
Billy Koch163 3.89 1.399 7.888
Antonio Alfonseca121 3.87 1.459 6.112
Mike Fetters100 3.86 1.465 6.505
Mel Rojas126 3.82 1.267 7.583

As for WHIP, he's just 17th:

NameSv ERA WHIP Kper9IP
Mitch Williams192 3.65 1.564 8.592
Mike Fetters100 3.86 1.465 6.505
Jose Mesa305 4.27 1.465 6.147
Antonio Alfonseca121 3.87 1.459 6.112
Jose Jimenez110 4.92 1.454 5.507
Todd Jones193 4.00 1.441 7.874
Mike Williams144 4.45 1.441 6.841
Bob Wickman182 3.69 1.413 6.653
Billy Koch163 3.89 1.399 7.888
Ted Abernathy148 3.46 1.396 5.999
Ricky Bottalico116 3.94 1.392 8.301
Tippy Martinez115 3.45 1.387 6.820
Ron Davis130 4.05 1.386 7.196
Roger McDowell159 3.30 1.386 4.491
Greg Minton150 3.10 1.384 3.813
Gregg Olson217 3.46 1.381 7.875
Danny Graves182 3.98 1.380 4.814
Mark Wohlers119 3.97 1.377 9.060
Billy Taylor100 4.21 1.377 8.510
John Wyatt103 3.47 1.376 7.071

But strikeouts per nine innings is where Graves really sets himself apart. No closer in the last 15 years has sustained such low strikeout numbers as Graves:

NameSv ERA WHIP Kper9IP
Johnny Murphy107 3.50 1.367 3.256
Dan Quisenberry244 2.76 1.175 3.269
Firpo Marberry101 3.63 1.323 3.579
Bob Stanley132 3.64 1.364 3.654
Greg Minton150 3.10 1.384 3.813
Frank Linzy111 2.85 1.313 3.945
Tom Burgmeier102 3.23 1.283 4.176
Wayne Granger108 3.14 1.304 4.270
Ron Kline108 3.75 1.369 4.283
Roger McDowell159 3.30 1.386 4.491
Clay Carroll143 2.94 1.284 4.529
Ellis Kinder102 3.43 1.325 4.556
Danny Graves182 3.98 1.380 4.814
Jack Aker123 3.28 1.277 4.874
Kent Tekulve184 2.85 1.250 4.881

Comparing Graves to the others in the list is like playing "One of these things is not like the others". His ERA is the highest in the low-strikeout group and his Ks per 9IP is much lower than almost any else's in the high-ERA/WHIP lists (except for Roger McDowell in the high-WHIP list).

So how out of whack are Graves strikeouts and earned runs numbers? Here are the 100-save pitchers with the lowest strikeouts per nine innings to ERA/WHIP ratios (i.e., Ratio= Kper9IP/(ERA*WHIP):

NameSVERAWHIPKper9IPRatioFinal Season
Johnny Murphy107 3.50 1.367 3.256 0.681 1947
Bob Stanley132 3.64 1.364 3.654 0.736 1989
Firpo Marberry101 3.63 1.323 3.579 0.745 1936
Jose Jimenez110 4.92 1.454 5.507 0.770 2004
Ron Kline108 3.75 1.369 4.283 0.834 1970
Danny Graves182 3.98 1.380 4.814 0.877 2005
Greg Minton150 3.10 1.384 3.813 0.890 1990
Roger McDowell159 3.30 1.386 4.491 0.982 1996
Jose Mesa305 4.27 1.465 6.147 0.983 2005
Ellis Kinder102 3.43 1.325 4.556 1.003 1957

Looking at just the era in which saves were an official stat, Graves is third worst on the list behind Bob "Stanley Steamer" Stanley and "My Name is" Jose Jimenez. So is Graves the worst closer of all time? I would say he ranks among the top handful. Who knows—if someone looking for cheap saves picks him up, maybe he'll be able to push his way up to the number-one spot. The jury's still out.

Comments
2005-05-24 10:32:02
1.   Cliff Corcoran
Aaarg! Those lists of crappy closers are burning my eyes!!!
2005-05-24 12:54:00
2.   rbj
Thanks for the info Mike. I was thinking the Reds had ruined his career by moving him to the rotation for a year. Now it just looks like he was a crappy pitcher. A rich, crappy pitcher.
2005-05-24 14:15:22
3.   rory b bellows
I think you are being kind of harsh on Graves. Granted, I think now he's proven that he might be done as he's been horrible this year and was mediocre last year -- maybe it has something to do with his weight as he does look a hell of lot fatter than 4 or 5 years ago. However, in 1999 and 2000 he had great years, especially 2000 (2nd in RSAA, 6th in VORP). He was crappy in 2001 and then good again in 2002. In 2003 he was a starter and was a disaster and that has followed him since.
2005-05-24 17:48:31
4.   Pinski
He got lucky in 2000, heck I think he got lucky every year. But how else do you explain having a 1.26 k/bb (and a walk rate of .5 bb/9) while somehow having an era of 2.65 . All of his rate stats, except for ERA and the year of his starting, are basically the same over his entire carrer. Maybe 2000 was the only season where he was unlucky (but I doubt it). I think overall he was an extremely lucky pitcher (and I wonder how much of that is because he is a ground ball pitcher).

I also think that VORP and RSAA only make relative comparisons. Just because the league in general sucked does not mean Danny was any good.

2005-05-24 17:59:27
5.   Mike Carminati
Cliff,

To quote another Jerseyite, "But, Mama, that's where the fun is."

RBJ,

Yep, the Reds need to ride out these bloated contracts and then re-group. It reminds me of where the Phils will be in a year or two. That's what a new stadium will do for you.

RBB,

Yes, I said 1999-2000 were very good. 2000 was the better of the two. What made 1999 special were the innings. 1998 & 2002 were OK. Again the innings helped--higher than most closers--the bad ratios hurt though (WHIP, Kper9IP, K:BB ratio). But really he's had one good season since 2000. A league average ERA is unacceptable for a closer...period.

If I have been a bit rough, anyone who records 100 saves is a pretty good pitcher. Anyone who can keep a job as a closer for that long is pretty good. That said, Graves is one of the worst of those pretty good pitchers. And he got paid a ton to do it.

2005-05-24 18:04:36
6.   Mike Carminati
Pinski,

I don't know if it was all luck. He was pretty good in 2000. I think his main asset was in racking up innings. His ratios are awful. He seemed to build to 2000, to mature. Maybe that was his peak. Maybe he was overused in the pen early in his career. Maybe it was luck. Whatever, he hasn't been much of a pitcher since 2000, 2002 notwithstanding.

2005-05-24 22:25:42
7.   Red Oriole
If it were only that easy to dismiss Danny Graves based on stats and hard numbers alone. There are many intangibles to be considered. To paraphrase a wiser man than all of us, "There is more to being a good closer than can be explained with just statistics, Horatio" (Mike C.) Your certainty in laying out Danny Graves smacks of narrow-mindedness and a callous meanness that is only justified to attract readers to this site. In my humble opinion you are dead wrong about Danny Graves.
2005-05-25 05:37:55
8.   Mike Carminati
Red Oriole,

Yeah, I write about the 1890 Louisville Colonels to attract readers, too. It seems odd that you have so much compassion for Graves but none for me--"narrow-mindedness and a callous meanness". I gotta get me some of what you're smokin'.

OK, so my analysis based on his stats missed "many intangibles". So what are they? You make no argument: you just try to tear mine done with my own words. So make your argument. I'm waiting to be bowled over. I'm rapt like Randy Jackson before Bo Bice's next awful, I mean awesome, performance.

2005-05-25 05:58:39
9.   Pinski
Intangibles.

What could they be?

Grace under pressure.
Winner.
Good guy in the community.
Good teammate.
First Vietnamese born player in the majors.
Am I missing some?

Intangibles Red Oriole, unlike stats, don't usaully change. Graves has shown no grace under pressure this year, or last year for that matter. He is not a winner (take a look at his career record). Maybe he is a good guy in the community, but how does that help the ball club win? Plus once you flip off your fans how much good can you still do in the community? Good teammate, well I guess that is the one you are talking about. If that tangible is enough to save him then why do good teammate players ever retire, or just not make the majors?

2005-05-25 07:41:09
10.   Tom
I means seriously, Mike, hating on Bo Bice? If you are ever feeling blue, just say "Bo Bice" fast three times and a smile will appear. Bo Bice. Bo Bice. Bo Bice. Ladies and gentlemen, Bo Bice, CEO of bobice.com.

See now wasn't that fun?

clears throat

I think too often fans think that criticizing a person's play is saying something about that person intrinsically as a human being.

You can suck as a player and be a nice guy. If I were a player I would suck, but I wouldn't be (too much of a)jerk. Maybe then people would say I had good intangibles. Or call me a "clubhouse" guy. If I were a catcher who couldn't hit, I'd be able to "call a good game."

So, maybe intangibles just means that he isn't worthless as a human being. Unlike La Troy Hawkins, who no one accuses of having good intangibles.

2005-05-25 07:53:05
11.   Mike Carminati
Tom,

That was fun. Now, try the banana song with "Bo Bice". Now, "LaTroy"?

2005-05-25 10:07:35
12.   rbj
As Yogi might say, I can't put my finger on what's an intangible.

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