The past few years have been excellent for Pittsburgh Pirates closer Jason Grilli. The 37-year-old is truly a great story. After being drafted fourth overall in the 1997 MLB Draft, Grilli struggled mightily before he finally found himself playing for the Pirates starting in 2011. In his four seasons with the Bucs, Grilli has a 2.91 ERA with 12.9 K/9 in 159 innings.
Unfortunately, all good stories eventually come to an end, and Grilli’s case is no different. The 2014 season has been a horrible one for the veteran closer. In 18.2 innings, he has a 4.34 ERA with just 8.2 K/9. I honestly don’t know what the more disturbing trend is for Grilli in 2014, his 4.82 BB/9 or his ground ball percentage of just 24.5. Obviously, home runs will come when a pitcher is only getting one-fourth of the balls put in play against him to be hit on the ground, but Grilli’s 1.93 HR/9 is pathetic.
The odd thing about Grilli’s situation is that his velocity on both his fastball and slider are down, but not by much. Grilli’s average fastball velocity is down by just 0.6 miles per hour and his slider is down just 0.4 miles per hour compared to 2013. Grilli’s problem isn’t his velocity — it’s his command. When he isn’t serving up home runs, he’s generally giving batters good pitches to hit. He should probably consider himself lucky that he is only giving up 1.93 HR/9.
Moving forward, people shouldn’t expect Grilli to improve much. In fact, according to his 4.92 xFIP and 5.83 FIP, a decline seems more probable. I’m not saying the Pirates should make a drastic change like designating Grilli for assignment, but he does need to be moved into lower-leverage roles for the immediate future. After a few weeks in low-leverage appearances, the Pirates can then evaluate what the proper roster move is involving the one they call “Grilled Cheese.”
Current setup man Mark Melancon should be used as the Pirates’ closer for the time being. When — if — Grilli starts to show progress, he can be given the role of closer back. If he continues to regress, then the Pirates shouldn’t hesitate to cut ties with him. Something needs to be done soon however, because right now, the Grilled Cheese is toast.