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John Grabow
Chicago Cubs — No. 43
Relief pitcher
Born: November 4, 1978 (1978-11-04) (age 31)
Arcadia, California
Bats: Left Throws: Left 
MLB debut
September 14, 2003 for the Pittsburgh Pirates
Career statistics
(through 2009 season)
Win-Loss     20–15
Earned run average     4.03
Strikeouts     342
Games     420

John William Grabow, nicknamed "Grabes"[1] (born November 4, 1978, in Arcadia, California), is a Major League Baseball left-handed reliever for the Chicago Cubs.

Through 2009, he held opposing batters to a .218 batting average and a .293 slugging percentage when there were runners in scoring position.[2] Also, from 2004–08, no lefty reliever in the National League made more appearances than Grabow. His 340 outings in that span ranked fourth in the majors.[1]


Early life

Grabow grew up a Giants and Dodgers fan, playing first base and emulating Will Clark.[3] He graduated from San Gabriel High School in California in 1997, where he pitched and was a 3-year letterman in baseball and named all-CIF (California Interscholastic Federation), as well as the league's MVP as a senior. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 3rd round of the 1997 amateur draft.

Baseball career


Minor leagues

In 1998, Grabow suffered his most unusual injury when he went on the disabled list after being hit on the ear by a foul ball. He was sitting in the dugout and had just told somebody else, 'Heads up,' because the guy who was pitching "was throwing, like, 100 mph and it was a little, slappy leadoff hitter. Sure enough, the next pitch, he hit one into the dugout."[1]

In 1999 Grabow led Hickory (A) in victories, starts, and innings pitched, and ranked third in the South Atlantic League in strikeouts with 164, in 156 innings.[4]

In the summer of 2003 he made six appearances with Team USA in the Olympic qualifying team trials.[5][6]

Grabow matched the Altoona Curve record for career wins, with 24.[7] Until 2003, he had pitched only 10 times in relief as a pro.[8] That season Altoona manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Jeff Andrews asked Grabow to make the switch, suggesting it might be a good career move.[8] "I didn't know if it was a step backwards," Grabow said.[8] But Grabow was then promoted to Class AAA Nashville in July, and pitched exclusively as a relief pitcher there before joining the Pirates for the final weeks of the year.[8]

After spending several seasons in the lower levels of the minor leagues, Grabow steadily moved up through the organization's ranks and was ranked the Pirates' 9th-best prospect by Baseball America in 2001. Through 2003, he averaged 7.6 strikeouts per 9 innings in the minor leagues, striking out 9.5 batters per 9 innings at the AAA level.

Major leagues

Pittsburgh Pirates (2003–09)


Toward the end of the 2003 season, Grabow was called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates after 6 years in the minors. It was the most memorable moment of his life.[3] He led the majors in strikeouts per nine innings, with a 16.20 average.[9]

As a rookie reliever for the Pirates in 2004, Grabow appeared in 68 games. He established a Pittsburgh rookie record for appearances by a left-hander.[10] Used both in short stints and long ones, Grabow said: "That stuff where there are guys in certain roles, yeah, there are some guys who have roles set, but I don't think I'm one of them. I just pitch when they tell me to. Whether it's one or two innings, or to one batter, it doesn't matter to me."[8]

On the light side, for his rookie hazing he had to wear a Tweety Bird backpack during batting practice and carring all the snacks to the bullpen, go through an airport wearing a cheerleader outfit that was two sizes too small, and serve drinks on the plane.[3][11]


In February 2005 Grabow signed a contract pursuant to which he would make $327,000 in the majors, but $240,000 if he pitched at Class AAA Indianapolis.[12] He was a workhorse in the Pittsburgh bullpen in 2005 as Pittsburgh's main left-handed set-up man, appearing in 63 games in his second full major league season. He held opposing batters to a .186 batting average and a .186 slugging percentage when there were runners in scoring position.[13] He stranded a major-league best 89.7% of his inherited runners, allowing just 4 of 39 inherited runners to score.[14]


In 2006, he appeared in 72 games. He held opposing batters to a .217 batting average when there were runners in scoring position. Grabow stranded an NL-best 82.5% of the runners he inherited.[15]


In February 2007, Grabow and the Pirates avoided arbitration, and agreed to a 1-year contract for $832,500. Grabow was also in a position to make $10,00 to $70,000 in incentive bonuses if he finished 20–35 games, but wasn't able to cash in as he only finished 14 games. He was also in a position to make an additional $10,000 to $45,000 in incentive bonuses if he made 75–85 appearances, but again was not able to cash in as he made only 63 appearances.[16]

Grabow suffered a left elbow injury in spring training in 2007, and started the season on the disabled list. He was activated in mid-April, and began a rehab stint with the Indianapolis Indians. Grabow had a 2.25 ERA in 4 appearances for Indianapolis, and was recalled in late April.

Grabow was 3–2 with the Pirates, with a 4.53 ERA. He had held batters to a .215 batting average and a .231 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, while leading the team by only allowing 5.3% of batters he faced to get extra base hits.

Shortly after the 2007 season ended, Grabow initially planned to have minor surgery to remove bone chips in his left elbow. The procedure would not have caused him to miss any part of the 2008 season, including spring training.[17] But in late September, in the wake of a cortisone shot, he reconsidered. "I've been symptom-free for the past few weeks," Grabow said. "I want to see what my options are. I don't think I'll really need to have surgery. Maybe I can manage it, and pitch through it."[18] He had his left elbow examined by Los Angeles Angels orthopedist Lewis Yocum, who suggested that rest would be an effective alternative to arthroscopic surgery.[19][20] Grabow then decided against surgery, and instead followed a program of rest and rehabilitation,[21] extending his period of rest from three to eight weeks, and concentrating his workouts more on strengthening his legs and shoulders.[22]


Grabow earned $1.135 million in 2008. He also had the potential to earn an additional $75,000 based on appearances.[23]

On September 26, Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit attempted to throw out Willie Harris trying to steal 2nd base, but instead plunked Grabow; see video.[24]

In 2008 he had the third-lowest ERA of all NL left-handed relievers (2.84), and stranded all but 8 of his 33 inherited runners (76%).[25] Batters hit only .215 against him (and only .146 with runners in scoring position), and he struck out a team-best 19.3% of all batters he faced, while leading the team by only allowing 5.6% of batters he faced to get extra base hits. He also pitched in a career-high 74 games, 4 shy of the club record for a lefty (Scott Sauerbeck, 2002).[1]

According to WXRL, a statistical metric developed by Baseball Prospectus to measure the effectiveness of relief pitchers, which takes into account the difficulty of the situations in which they pitch, Grabow ranked fifth in the NL behind the Philadelphia Phillies' Brad Lidge, Chicago Cubs' Carlos Marmol, Colorado Rockies' Brian Fuentes, and San Francisco Giants' Brian Wilson.[26]

Grabow edged Minnesota’s Craig Breslow for the 2008 Barney Pelty Award for Jewish Pitcher of the Year.[27]


Grabow agreed to a one-year deal for $2.3 million, with an additional $75,000 possible in incentives, in early January.[28] Going into the 2009 season Grabow had the longest tenure of any player in the organization.[26] Despite Grabow being eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season, the Pirates did not engage in contract talks beyond 2008, suggesting that Pittsburgh might shop him as the trade deadline approached if the team was out of contention.[29]

Grabow accepted an invitation to play for Team USA in 2009 in the second World Baseball Classic.[30] He was the first member of the Pirates to represent the US in the WBC. "It's just a thrill, a real honor," he said. "When I got the call, I couldn't believe it. Hopefully, I can help them win some games."[30] He tied for the WBC lead in games pitched (with six), and had a 2.08 ERA, helping Team USA reach the semi-finals.[31]

On July 20 Grabow became the all-time appearances leader at PNC Park with his 189th, and was tied for ninth all-time on the Pirates' appearance list (385) with Rip Sewell.[32]

In July 2009 the New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Florida Marlins, and Los Angeles Dodgers had all expressed interest in trading for Grabow.[33][34][35][36] Asked about the possibility of the Pirates trading him, Grabow, failing to stifle a grin, responded "I'm untouchable, dude. No way they're trading me."[37] On July 30, Grabow was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with fellow left-handed pitcher Tom Gorzelanny for right-handed pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio and minor league third baseman Josh Harrison.[38]

Chicago Cubs (2009– )


Grabow began his Cubs career with 16 consecutive scoreless appearances (over 13.0 innings), and stranded his first 11 inherited runners.

He pitched 30 games for the Cubs, ending the season with a career-high 75 games pitched. His 72.1 innings pitched tied for third-most among left-handed relievers, and his career-high 23 holds ranked ninth among NL pitchers. He held left-handed batters to a .222 batting average and one home run over 81 at bats. Grabow stranded 176 of 236 inherited runners through 2009, and his 74.6% success rate ranked fifth-best among active left-handed pitchers (minimum 200 inherited runners). His 149 relief appearances since the start of the 2008 season were third-most among left-handed pitchers, behind only Pedro Feliciano (174) and Dennys Reyes (150).[39]

On November 20, 2009, he signed a two-year extension with the Cubs worth $7.5 million.[40] General Manager Jim Hendry said: "It was really imperative we re-sign Grabow, because he's not only our kind of guy and very successful, but has some experience and some savvy to him and can pitch seventh, eighth, ninth, matchups, righties, lefties. It doesn't matter."[41] Grabow said he had no preference as to how he was used: "If it's the sixth inning or if it's the ninth inning, it doesn't matter. Your job is to go in there and get guys out."[42]

Pitching style

Grabow has a 94 mph fastball that runs inside on left-handed hitters, a sharp, hard, late-breaking slider, "one of the best changeups in the game," "the bottom falling out of it," which confounds right-handers,[17][43][44] and is equally adept at getting both right and left-handed batters out.

Grabow holds runners well and has a good pickoff move. He also fields his position soundly, and is quick off the mound.[citation needed]


Grabow is Jewish.[45][46] His maternal grandmother was a Lebanese Jew from Beirut. Much of the family moved to Israel, while others settled in Brooklyn or California.[47] His 345 games pitched through 2008 placed him 7th on the all-time list for Jewish major league pitchers, directly behind Sandy Koufax.[48] Grabow was one of three Jewish ballplayers on the Team USA 2009 World Baseball Classic team, joining Ryan Braun and Kevin Youkilis.[49] Grabow was recognized in January 2009 with the Barney Pelty Award as the Jewish pitcher of the year. There were 13 Jewish players in the majors in 2008, including Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun, Jason Marquis, and Ian Kinsler.[50]

Grabow married in November 2008.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d "Five Questions: Pitcher John Grabow". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. March 1, 2009. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  2. ^ "John Grabow 2003 Pitching Splits". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  3. ^ a b c Eagle, Ed (May 25, 2006). "Batting Around with John Grabow: Questions and answers with Bucs lefty middle reliever". Retrieved July 18, 2009. 
  4. ^ "John Grabow: Biography and Career Highlights". September 14, 2003. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  5. ^ "USA Baseball Adds John Grabow to Roster," Baseball America, 9/30/03, accessed 7/23/09
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ "Curve Bounce Baysox," The Tribune-Democrat, 5/24/06, accessed 7/19/09
  8. ^ a b c d e Rutter, Joe (May 4, 2004). "Lefties bolster Bucs' bullpen". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved July 19, 2009. 
  9. ^ "MLB Baseball Pitching Statistics and League Leaders". ESPN. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  10. ^ "John Grabow: Biography and Career Highlights". September 14, 2003. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ Rutter, John, "Notebook: Perez cleared to return," Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 2/27/05, accessed 7/19/09
  13. ^ "John Grabow 2005 Pitching Splits". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  14. ^ "John Grabow: Biography and Career Highlights". September 14, 2003. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  15. ^ Eagle, Ed (December 21, 2006). "Bucs' rotation will be key in '07". Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  16. ^, 2/2/07
  17. ^ a b c "Pirates Notebook: Grabow planning offseason surgery". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. August 21, 2007. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  18. ^ "Fantasy Baseball Breaking News". Rotoworld. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  19. ^ "MLB Insiders – Pittsburgh Pirates". 10/8/07. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  20. ^ "Grabow, other Pirates healing nicely," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  21. ^ "MLB Insiders—Pittsburgh Pirates". January 1, 2008. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  22. ^ Krise, Todd, "Grabow gaining experience, wisdom: Reliever reaping the rewards of intense preparation,", 9/19/08, accessed 7/19/09
  23. ^ Langosch, Jenifer. "Notes: Nady, Grabow avoid arbitration". Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  24. ^ "Baseball Video Highlights & Clips | Doumit hits Grabow with throw – Video". September 26, 2008. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  25. ^ "Pirates 2008 players' report card, salary status". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 30, 2008. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  26. ^ a b Perrotto, John (April 4, 2009). "Grabow solid in Bucs bullpen". Tribune-Democrat. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  27. ^ "Youkilis, Grabow, Kapler named best Jewish Major Leaguers". New Jersey Jewish News. January 1, 2009. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  28. ^ Langosch, Jenifer (January 20, 2009). "Bucs avoid arbitration with four players". Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  29. ^ Langosch, Jenifer (March 25, 2009). "Grabow welcomed back from Classic". Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  30. ^ a b "Grabow gets call from U.S. for Classic". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 3, 2009. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  31. ^ "World Baseball Classic: Statistics". Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  32. ^ Adamski, Chris, "Fun with PIrates news and notes!," Pittsburgh Pirates Examiner, 7/20/09, accessed 7/23/09
  33. ^ Russo, Frank, "Rumor Mill: Wang, Halladay, Wells, Cliff Lee, and Others," NY Baseball Digest, 7/16/09, accessed 7/23/09
  34. ^ [3]
  35. ^ [4]
  36. ^ [5]
  37. ^ "On the Pirates: No Avoiding the Middlemen," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/5/09, accessed 7/23/09
  38. ^ Kovacevic, Dejan, "Grabow, Gorzelanny traded to Cubs," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/30/09, accessed 8/16/09
  39. ^ "Chicago Cubs, Left-Handed Pitcher John Grabow Agree to Terms on Two-Year Contract," Press Release, November 23, 2009, accessed December 14, 2009
  40. ^ [6]
  41. ^ Miles, Bruce, "Williams gets busy at winter meetings", Chicago Daily Herald, December 9, 2009, accessed December 14, 2009
  42. ^ Gano, Rick, "Grabow gets $7.5 million, 2-year deal from Cubs", Associated Press, November 20, 2009, accessed December 14, 2009
  43. ^ "Pirates' Grabow learns about Erie winters". January 29, 2009. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  44. ^ Rutter, Joe, "Grabow bright spot in bullpen," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 7/26/06, accessed 7/19/09
  45. ^ Rosen, Harvey, "Warming up for the Jewish boys of summer," The Jewish Ledger, 3/5/08, accessed 7/19/09
  46. ^ Chottiner, Lee, "Pittsburgh's Jewish Pirates: MOTs playing ball in ’Burgh for 127 years," The Jewish Chronicle, accessed 7/19/09
  47. ^ [7]
  48. ^ "Career Batting Leaders through 2008," Jewish Major, accessed 7/23/09
  49. ^ "Editorial: Anti-semitism in Venezuela; There is No Joy in Caracas, 3/19/09, accessed 3/19/09". St. Louis Jewish Light. Retrieved 5/3/09. 
  50. ^ Kovacevic, Dejan, "On the Pirates: Youth? Not the problem," The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/10/09, accessed 7/19/09

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