In Absence Of Grilli, Pirates Should Abandon Typical Bullpen Roles


Jul 22, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) congratulates relief pitcher Vin Mazzaro (32) after recording the final out against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Since Jason Grilli went down with an apparent forearm injury on Monday night, there’s been a lot of discussion on what the Pirates need to do to get by in his absence. So far, the Pirates have called up Vic Black, after placing Grilli on the fifteen day DL. Mark Melancon is the presumed de facto closer going forward during Grilli’s injury, so who will take over the eighth inning set up role?

The answer should be either “nobody” or “everybody”. Every inning (including the ninth) should be given to the pitcher who will give his team the best chance to win the game. Rather than determining who pitches what innings based off of pre-conceived roles for the bullpen, management ought to pitch whoever best fits the situation.

When it comes down to it, the best man for the situation should be pitching, regardless of roles such as closer or set up man. If the heart of the opposing order is up in the eighth, with only a one or two run lead, the best available reliever (currently Mark Melancon) should be the one pitching the eighth.

If there’s a high leverage situation in the ninth inning with a couple of lefty hitters coming up, why not go to Justin Wilson? Closing a game isn’t just the job of one pitcher, it’s the job of a whole bullpen, and it’s the job of a whole team. Every member of that team should be used for it’s most effective purpose. You don’t take a foot, and try to make it be a hand to fit an arbitrary label, you use the foot for what it’s designed for.

In order to make the most effective use of the bullpen, the Pirates ought to abandon specific bullpen roles such as “closer”, “setup man” and the like. They’re nice for the ego of the players who get placed in those roles, but not helpful for the good of the team.

Before the save became an official statistic, the game wasn’t dealt with by just one closer, it was dealt with by a bullpen based off who the most effective available pitcher was. That’s the route the Pirates need to take going forward, rather than misusing their bullpen, based off a series of arbitrary labels.