Jason Grilli is no longer the best reliever in the Pirates bullpen.
He’s not the second best reliever either and he hasn’t been for awhile.
Those titles now belong to Tony Watson and Mark Melancon. Arguing about the third best reliever is a bit like debating the best member of the orchestra playing on the deck of the Titanic at the moment. A Pirates bullpen that was outstanding last year and solid just a week ago has imploded over the last four games giving up 14 runs over 13 innings and that includes a scoreless four inning stint by journeyman Jeanmar Gomez.
I don’t think Grilli’s done, but he needs to be moved out of high-leverage roles for the time being. He’s a two-pitch pitcher who’s been effective at times this year. After coming off the disabled list on May 23 he gave up only one run in his next eight appearances. However, Grilli’s struggled two of his last three outings and it’s clear he isn’t the pitcher he was pre his 2013 injury.
The strikeout and walk rates really tell the story. Grilli joined the Bucs in 2011 and from that point through the end of 2013 he made 146 appearances facing 586 batters. He struck out 201 and walked 50, 9 of which were intentional. Excluding the IBBs, he struck out 34.8% of batters faced while walking 7.1%. Just looking at the two most-recent full seasons Grilli’s numbers are even better, striking out 37.1% and walking 7.0%.
In 2014 the drop off is stark. He has struck out just 22.4% and walked 11.8%. While the velocity is down a tick from his pre-injury numbers, the real issue appears to the command of his slider. Using the data from brooksbaseball.net batters are both laying off Grilli’s slider and he’s not throwing it for nearly as many strikes.
From 2012-12013 Grilli got batters to swing at his slider 45.9% of the time. In 2014 Grilli has induced swings on just 39.6% of his sliders. More glaringly, from 2012-2013 Grilli threw his slider for a strike 41.7% of the time and a ball 31.2% of the time. In 2014 those numbers are 33.7% strikes and 42.6% balls.
Last night Grilli entered a tie game against the Cincinnati Reds and missed on two sliders to Todd Frazier. Behind 0-2 he grooved a 94 mph fastball the Frazier bombed off the batters eye in center field. It’s the third game winning home run Grilli has given up in the ninth inning at PNC Park this year.
Now the question is what does manager Clint Hurdle, who loves himself some veterans, do about it.
Ironically there has been some benefit to having the less effective Grilli in the closer role because it has meant that Watson and Melancon have come in during more-meaningful, earlier higher-leveage situations. The problem is now Grilli can’t be trusted in any high-leverage role at the moment.
The Pirates acted quickly when it was apparent Wandy Rodriguez was done. They need to do the same here. They don’t need to DFA Grilli, but they need to take him out of the closer role.
Get it done Clint.