The Curious Choice Facing Pittsburgh Pirates Closer Jason Grilli


The past few seasons when the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen door has opened for the ninth inning it’s been Joel Hanrahan who ran onto the field.  The Hammer had a great entrance song by Slipknot— his boys from Iowa.

But Hanrahan was so damn effective, the Hanranator priced himself out of the ‘Burgh.  So this season, the Grammy Award winning ‘Before I Forget,’ will be blasting at Fenway Park.

Back at PNC, Jason Grilli will be running out of that bullpen door to close out games for the Bucs.  The lasting memory of Grilli–the setup man was his awful finish as he allowed seven earned runs in September and October.  It was hard to watch because Grilli had allowed just twelve earned runs the entire season coming into September.

The Pirates leadership has made a point to stress that Grilli faced the heart of the opposing teams order often times in 2012.  It’s notable that the 6’5″ right hander pitched in 18.1 high leverage innings.  It was during those nail biting innings where the bad guys did their most damage.

[click to embiggen Grillis 2012 splits from FanGraphs]

Grilli relied on his fastball and high strikeout rate, but failed to excel in stranding runners.  Often times those runners reached base via a free pass which has been a weakness for the Pirates new closer.  In high leverage situations, Grilli stranded just just 65 percent.  But in medium leverage situations it was 98 percent and 90 percent in low leverage situations.  Opponents hit .239 in high and .228 in medium leverage.

Contrast those with Hanrahan whose walk rate increased in 2012, but Hammer stranded 84 percent and the opposition hit a paltry .190 in high leverage situations.  In medium leverage the Hanranator was perfect stranding 100 percent of the bad guys while limiting them to a .120 average.    Hammer threw 23.1 high leverage innings and 14.2 medium leverage innings in 2012.

The memory I am going into the 2013 season with is this one:  Grilli was outstanding when the Bucs were piling up wins.   The guy who will play for Italy in the World Baseball Classic seemingly struckout everyone in sight.   He fired 30.2 innings in May, June and July and gave up only 19 hits, smoked 45 strikeouts while walking 16.

But enough will all the numbers.

We have a much more important question to ponder.  What will the music be when the new closer makes his first entrance to the PNC Park mound?

According to Wiki, when Grilli was with the Tigers his music was ‘Welcome to the Jungle.’   Man, that’s an F for originality.  So with another opportunity, Grilli let the Pirates beatwriters know that it will be Pearl Jam blaring from the speakers at PNC Park when the bullpen door opens.

But which Pearl Jam song will it be?  The Rolling Stone had a best Pearl Jam songs of all time post, but it was of little help to us.  One of those top ten songs surely won’t be it, at least that’s what we think.

Not being a fan of Pearl Jam for a few years, we knew that they had a channel on satellite radio somewhere near the Grateful Dead, Elvis and Jimmy Buffet.  Unfortuntately after listening for a few hours, we still have no clue to what the song will be.  Just. So. Many. Choices.

We remember the album Ten and the song Why Go Home?  Maybe that will be it?  It could be a subliminal message of sorts to those Pirates fans trying to beat the traffic?  Stick around, watch Grilli whiff these tools.

What the prelude to an over-rated statistic will be for the Pirates new six-million dollar man is top secret.  Pearl Jam has quite a few songs and the harder we looked, we came to realize we have no idea , but we do know this.

As the Bucs closer, the fourth overall selection from the 1997 draft will be counted on to carry the load in more high leverage situations in 2013.  Let’s trust a 36-year old ‘rookie’ closer continues to throw his fastball for strikes, improves in the high leverage situations or those ninth innings might just turn into extra innings, or worse.

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