Pig To Pirate: The Improbable Case of Pittsburgh Pirates Closer Jason Grilli


Jason Grilli stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night. This morning he is tied for the Major League lead in saves with Mariano Rivera.

The story of Jason Grilli is certainly filled with ups and downs… mainly downs.  Last year, Grilli did something historic and it led to the biggest payday of his baseball life.  Right now, Grilli is doing everything a professional closer is known to do.  Well, except screw up now and then.

Grilli has been nothing but dominant this season in getting the final three outs of the game, and now is tied for the ML lead with 16 saves.  It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2011, Grilli was pitching for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs as a 34-year old.  Yeah, he was putting up some nice strikeout numbers, but to think he would continue that at the big league level was wishful thinking.

But someone knew Grilli would help the Bucs.  It’s hard to imagine anyone dreamed anything quite like this.

After a dominant season like Grilli had last year, it seemed hard to believe the Bucs would be able to bring him back from the highly competitive free agent market.  Somehow, it happened.  And the Bucs added a great setup man, Mark Melancon, in front of Grilli–a replacement who is trying to match the tremendous effort of Grilli.  So far, so good.

Perhaps the Thank You cards should be addressed to Grilli’s agent Gary Sheffield.  Everyone needs to thank Sheff for being the worst salesman in the history of salesmen.

Lord knows we gave him enough shit this offseason.  It’s almost mind-boggling to think that Grilli could have gone to the highest bidder, but after what seemed – at least to us – as little interest from around baseball, Grilli returned to Pittsburgh.

And the success has continued at a tremendous rate for Grilli.  It’s hard to believe the Philadelphia Phillies couldn’t find a spot on their roster for him.  Well, it’s actually rather amusing, because Grilli has done nothing but deal since arriving in Pittsburgh.

Grilli was once a Rule V pick (at least we think he was, because it was so damn long ago.)

The 6’4″ right-hander had played all over the country, and had never been as impressive as he was in black and yellow in 2012 – and now in the closer role in 2013.  Of course, here’s the kicker…. he was in his mid-30′s.

When he was in the minors early in his career, he could sit down hitters, but after Tommy John surgery, the strikeouts fell off. The finesse followed and the strikeouts diminished.

Here’s where it gets weird: upon his arrival in the Burgh, Grilli sat down hitters faster than a Yinzer polishes off Iron Cities at dollar draft night. After striking out 10.2 batters per game in 2011, Grilli followed up with an historic 13.8 last season. In 2006, when he was converted to a reliever, he didn’t come close to the numbers he put up six years later–three times as many strikeouts at the age of 35.   The Fangraphs numbers for 2013 are insane.

It’s great to see the whiffs.  The strikeouts.  The Twitter timeline eruptions.  #SACK. #WIRED. #cheese!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  The fist pumps as the bad guy walks back to the dugout with his head down–just another number in the amazing strikeout total of one of the most dominant closers in baseball.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a big time closer.

And it’s a phenomenal story to watch, let alone comprehend.