Late-bloomer Jason Grilli Ready For First Season In Closer’s Chair With Pittsburgh Pirates
4.50, 7.00, 8.28, 9.66, 10.19, 13.81.
Those numbers might just be an arbitrary upward progression for most, but for Jason Grilli of the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s a representation of exactly how the career journeyman came to be one of MLB‘s best relievers.
More accurately, they’re Grilli’s K/9 rates over the last six years, starting from when he was just a middling 29-year old reliever with the Detroit Tigers in 2006, and ending with 2012, when only three relief pitchers – Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Antonio Bastardo – struck batters out at a higher rate than the 36-year old righty.
Now, after putting up his best-ever numbers 10 seasons into his 11-year (he missed 2010 due to injury), Grilli is ready for another first: his new role as the Pirates’ closer in 2013.
It was a role that had previously belonged to Joel Hanrahan, but the off-season trade that sent him to the Boston Red Sox changed that, and the Pirates simply passed the torch down to the set-up man.
That’s not to say that Grilli doesn’t deserve the role, though. In fact, it may well be because of Grilli’s progress at he reached his mid-30s that gave the Pirates an impetus to move their All-Star closer over the last two seasons. Grilli walked fewer batters than Hanrahan in 2012 (3.38 BB/9 to 5.42) while also striking them at at a considerably higher rate (13.81 K/9 to 10.11), and gave up fewer home runs (1.07 HR/9 to 1.21) to boot.
Grilli was simply the better pitcher across the board than the All-Star with 36 saves, and he costs the Pirates less money over two years ($6.75 million) than what Hanrahan will make in one ($7.04 million) with the Red Sox.
So, maybe the Pirates weren’t just making a move for the sake of saving money after all – they felt they had a better arm, too.
Their faith in Grilli will likely be rewarded. Unlike most pitchers headed into their age-36 seasons, the right-hander’s numbers have been trending upwards for years. That includes his velocity, which has seen a three-year increase up to a 93.6 mph average on his fastballs in 2012, tying a career-high from 2007.
At this rate, that fastball might just propel Grilli to a place among the best closers in the league in 2013.
That’s not too shabby of a place to be, especially for an unheralded 36-year old who has bounced around nine different organizations over his career.
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