Earlier today, Max Fogle wrote about the struggles that Jason Grilli has been having this year, breaking down some of the key problems that might be leading to the poor results. It was actually an article that Max had written before today’s game, and was originally set to go up tomorrow morning. However, with the blown save this afternoon, it seemed like an appropriate topic to discuss sooner, rather than later.
Grilli isn’t looking good right now, no matter how you look at things. You can take the simple approach of looking at blown saves and ERA, or you can dig deeper and look at his strikeouts, walks, and advanced metrics. No matter what, this isn’t the Jason Grilli that was a dominant closer last year, and was a dominant reliever the year before.
One thing to consider here is that we’re only looking at a sample size of 18.2 innings. It was only about a week ago that Grilli had a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings this season, with a 17:7 K/BB ratio. The numbers get even better if you remove the two games right before his injury, which might have led to the poor results in those games. Then again, with his recent struggles, it gets harder to believe the “he might have only struggled because of an injury” theory.
Small sample sizes are a way of life for relievers. Even in a full season, a relief pitcher isn’t going to get a large enough sample size to remove the impact of a few horrible outings. Take Mark Melancon as a prime example. He had a 6.20 ERA in 2012 with the Red Sox. Most of that was due to his first four outings. After going down to Triple-A for a bit, Melancon returned and had a 4.19 ERA in 43 innings for the remainder of the season. But those first four appearances were enough to hide this.
In Grilli’s case, you don’t want to do something permanent like releasing him based on a few bad outings. However, that doesn’t mean that he needs to remain in the closer’s role. The Pirates have better options right now, with Melancon and Tony Watson leading the way for the late inning duties. Grilli could move to a lower pressure role for the short-term. If the current issues are only mental, or just a bad stretch, then the lower pressure role will give him a better chance to bounce back. If it’s a bigger issue, like a sudden decline for the 37-year-old, then he won’t be in a position to blow leads late in the game.
Grilli is only under team control through the end of the season. He doesn’t have any trade value right now, as is the case with any reliever posting his numbers and making $4 M. He’s not going to get the Pirates any compensation at the end of the year. His success in the past is appreciated, but it’s not going to help now. So there’s no reason to keep Grilli on as the closer.
It actually makes more sense to switch to Melancon. He still has two years of team control remaining, which means he could take over as the closer in future years if he works out this year. He’d be a better option in the short-term, since he has been putting up much better numbers than Grilli, both standard and advanced metrics. And if the Pirates wanted to consider trading Melancon in the future for help at another position, they’d get more value if he was established as a closer.
Grilli should stay on the team, but at this point there’s no reason to keep him as the closer. Meanwhile, there are multiple reasons to make the switch to Melancon. That’s a move that makes sense for the Pirates in the short-term, and in the long-term.
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