Jason Grilli was drafted as a starting pitcher. From 2000 to 2011, he had one season with a WAR of 1.0 — earning less in every other season. Entering the 2013 season, he had five career saves. With a strong 2012 campaign as a setup guy for Joel Hanrahan, the Pittsburgh Pirates named Jason Grilli their closer for the 2013 season.
He leads baseball with 19 saves, and has now cemented himself strongly in the closer role for the surprising contender Pirates.
The Pirates, however, now how fluid the closer position is. They got over 20 saves from Matt Capps in 2008 and 2009, from Octavio Dotel in 2010 and from Hanrahan in 2011 and 2012. With Grilli pushing 20 saves before the end of May, he is the newest in a sustained run of bullpen success.
The team has not made big trades or acquisitions for closers, but rather just developed cheap relievers into the closer role. Though some teams overpay and overvalue the concept of an established closer, the Pirates have shown that good pitching can have success in any inning of the game, including the ninth.
There have been numerous studies that have shown the volatility of relief pitchers, especially closers, from one season to the next. Yet, teams have paid high prices in terms of trades and in free agency for closers, notably the Boston Red Sox trading for Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, and the paydays that Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Soriano got.
The Pirates setup man Mark Melancon has been as good, if not better, than Grilli. With many contending teams facing shaky bullpen situations, the Pirates should test the waters of Grilli’s value.
Gabe Isaacson is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeisaacson.