There are two big contingencies for closers. Don’t give up walks and don’t give up home runs. A walk in a high leverage situation is too detrimental, as putting the tying run on base is going to lead to too much trouble. Home runs in high leverage situations are also unforgivable. Pitchers like Joaquin Benoit just cannot succeed in a closer role, as the walks and home runs would blow too many leads to maintain the role.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Joel Hanrahan away, they knew they were improving in these regards. Though Jason Grilli has substantially improved later in his career, his entire career rates for walks and home runs are superior to those of Hanrahan. Grilli has continued the trend allowing about two walks per nine innings and no home runs at all in 2013. These factors have contributed to Grilli’s 22 saves, 1.01 ERA, and 14.51 K/9.
While Grilli’s ability to limit walks is a true skill, allowing zero home runs involves a great amount of luck. According to Fan Graphs, Grilli has allowed 24.5% line drives, 26.5% groundballs and 49.0% fly balls. For his career, Grilli has allowed 7.6% of his fly balls to be home runs. This means that Grilli should have allowed about two home runs already this season. While all of these 2013 numbers are subject to large amounts of variance — as Grilli has only pitched 26.2 innings — this is enlightening. No one expects Grilli to keep his ERA at 1 for the entire season. Due to the leverage of his outings, the extra runs that Grilli allows could be the difference between a few wins and losses for the Pirates in the second half.
Gabe Isaacson is a RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeisaacson.