Sunday, March 8, 2015

Random Ex-Brave: Kevin Gryboski

Funny little factoid about Kevin Gryboski, today's Random Ex-Brave. He was drafted in back-to-back years in the 16th round out of Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA. I don't have a lot of other unique things to mention so I figured I'd get it out of the way real quick.

Gryboski in 2004 (Scott Cunningham |
Getty Images Spor
Born a week-and-a-half before Thanksgiving 1973, Gryboski also grew up in the Wilkes-Barre area. After saying "thanks, but no thanks" to the Reds after the 1994 draft, he joined the Mariners organization the following year. Like many relievers, he tried the starting gig - but it didn't last. At the age of 27, he had nailed down 22 saves for the Tacoma Rainiers, but the big league club hadn't brought him to the majors to see what he was capable of. A month before pitchers were to report to camp ahead of the 2002 season, Seattle sent Gryboski packing to the Braves for Elvis Perez. So, I guess Elvis left the building.

(I hate myself)

Gryboski had a nice camp, but was not kept on the roster when the season began. However, circumstances forced Gryboski into his first taste of the bigs a week or two into the season. He made his debut as the losing pitcher in a 5-4 extra innings game played in Miami. It wouldn't be long until he became one of Bobby Cox's guys. Gryboski was often expected to be a rally killer who, especially when you needed a groundball, he could get one. It was a reasonable expectation for a guy who finished his career with a 57% groundball rate that was as high as 61% with the Braves.

And guess what...Cox was, more or less, right on Gryboski getting double plays. After getting just five doubles plays in 2002, Gryboski induced eleven of them in 2003. But hitters also reached base against him at a .369 clip...which made it infuriating for Braves fans to see Gryboski trotted out 64 times. Ten more double plays in 2004, but he also surrendered a .356 OBP. Cox was right in that Gryboski had a tendancy to get grounders, even ones that turned into two outs. What was lost on Cox was that too often, when Gryboski wasn't getting a grounder to an infielder, players were reaching base at an alarming rate.

Fangraphs has a statistic for relievers called "Shutdowns" and "Meltdowns." It's an attempt to replace the concept of saves and blown saves with a simpler idea. Did the pitcher make his team more likely to win or lose? For instance, in Jonny Venters' ridiculous 2011 season, he had 47 shutdowns and just 6 meltdowns. I bet you know where I'm going with this. In a three-year run with the Braves to open his major league career, Gryboski had 38 shutdowns and 37 metldowns. He was just as likely to play a part in his team winning as he was in them losing. But, in Cox's eyes, he was Groundball Gryboski - the Rally Killer! That should be a shirt.

In Gryboski's defense, though...he may have had no stuff to work with, but he didn't really care about that. His confidence, while maybe not based in reality, is the difference between Gryboski and Chris Reitsma. The latter had some good pitches, especially his change-up, but Reistma thought too much on the mound. He was ready for it to blow up. Gryboski thought, "I wonder what I'm going to eat tonight at Waffle House." Thinking too much can be bad, folks.

Even though Cox loved Gryboski, his 2005 season made even the Braves think that something was amiss. He had a nice and tidy 2.95 ERA, but in 21.1 ING, he had given up 24 hits and walked 12 to just eight K's. The Braves eventually shipped him off to the Rangers where he would absolutely blow up in a bad way. He would appear in six ugly-ass games for the Nationals in 2006 while spending most of the year in New Orleans for the Zephyrs. Grysboski spent 2007 and 2008 playing AAA ball for the Pirates and Giants, but he never got back to the majors. The 34 year-old hung 'em up after 52 games and a 6.54 ERA with Fresno in 2008.

Since retiring, Gryboski has worked with his alma mater Wilkes University for their yearly baseball clinics. He also branched out into coaching, notably landing a pitching coach gig with the Washington Wild Things of the Frontier League. His biggest moment with the Wild Things came last August 24th when Wild Things pitcher Matt Sergey threw a Perfect Game, the first of its kind in the Frontier League. He posted his scoring card after the game. Before landing the professional job, he was the Thomas Jefferson High School baseball coach out of Jefferson Hills, PA for one year before being let go because of a "personal matter." That probably means absolutely nothing.

More Random Ex-Braves
Brian Jordan (1999-2001, 2005-06)
Tom Thobe (1995-96)
Mike Cather (1997-98)

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