John William Grabow
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 2", Weight 185 lb.
- High School San Gabriel High School
- Debut September 14, 2003
- Final Game September 20, 2011
- Born November 4, 1978 in Arcadia, CA USA
Early life and family background
Grabow's maternal grandmother was a Lebanese Jew from Beirut. Much of the family moved to Israel while others settled in Brooklyn, NY or California. His aunt's family is Orthodox and his mother and grandmother keep kosher. John attended Sunday school as a child. Baseball drew him away from religion, though, and his parents did not try to force their beliefs on the young baseball fan. He states that even if he wanted to be more religious, it would be difficult to keep kosher as a baseball player traveling a lot.
Grabow was an effective pitcher in high school and was taken in the third round of the 1997 amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ten years later, he has arguably been their top pick from that draft, with Mike Gonzalez being the other candidate.
1997-2002: Slowly climbing the minor league ladder
Grabow debuted with the 1997 GCL Pirates, going 2-7 with a 4.57 ERA for a club that otherwise played .500 ball. He tied two other hurlers for the Gulf Coast League lead in losses. In 1998, Grabow went 6-3 for the Augusta GreenJackets but with a 5.78 ERA. His WHIP was 1.64. In the final playoff game, though, he hurled 8 shutout innings.
In 1999, Grabow began to show promise, leading Pirates minor leaguers with 164 strikeouts (in 156 1/3 IP). He walked only 32. He had a 9-10, 3.80 record that season for the Hickory Crawdads. Grabow made his AA debut in 2000 with the Altoona Curve, going 8-7 with a 4.33 ERA. He walked 65 and struck out 109 in 145 1/3 IP. Baseball America rated him as the club's 9th-best prospect.
Grabow's career then began to stall. He battled injuries in 2001 and split time between the Curve (2-5, 3.38, only a .175 average allowed, but 39 BB in 50 2/3 IP), Lynchburg Hillcats (1-3, 6.38, 26 BB in 36 2/3 IP) and the GCL Pirates (0-1, 3.75). Back in the Altoona rotation for a third year, Grabow had a 8-13, 5.47 record in 2002. He allowed a .307 average, though his control returned (47 BB in 146 1/3 IP). He tied four other hurlers for the Eastern League lead in losses and had the most balks (5).
Grabow joined the US National team that off-season. They played 12 games in the Arizona Fall League, in which he had a 1.69 ERA in 5 relief appearances.
In his 4th year with Altoona, Grabow was converted into a reliever during the season. With the Curve, had had a 6-1, 3.36 record with one save, allowing a .280 average but with a K:BB ratio of 3.84:1. Moving up to the Nashville Sounds, the 25-year-old had a 0-2, 4.74 mark in 17 games. Grabow was a September call-up to the majors. With the 2003 Pirates, he had a 3.60 ERA in 5 games, striking out 9 and walking none in 5 innings.
Grabow made the 2004 Pirates out of spring training and was one of three rookie left-handed pitchers to see significant time for the club. Gonzalez had overcome injury problems to establish himself as the team's top reliever and Mike Johnston saw regular action. Grabow had the worst performance of the three, but would be the only one left on the club three years ;ater. In his first year in the majors, Grabow went 2-5 with one save and a 5.11 ERA. Opponents hit .323 against him, but did he average over a strikeout per inning, something he had not even done regularly in the minors.
In 2005, Grabow improved to 2-3, 4.85, though his ERA+ remained under 90. He allowed 46 hits in 52 innings, but walked 25. Used as a LOOGY, he pitched 63 games. With Gonzalez moving to the closer's role, Grabow became Pittsburgh's main left-handed set-up man. John had a 4-2, 4.13 record for the Pirates in 2006, appearing in 72 games.
John suffered a left elbow injury in spring training in 2007 and started the season on the Disabled List. He opted to be on the team bench rather than at one of the Passover seders that year, even though he would be unable to play and this is a very personal choice. Grabow was activated in mid-April and begun a rehab stint with the Indianapolis Indians. John had a 2.25 ERA in four appearances for Indianapolis and was recalled in late April.
Sources: 1998-2007 Baseball Almanacs, unofficial Pirates e-mail list, "Grabow chooses bullpen over seder table" by Lee Chotiner in the 3/29/07 edition of the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh