The Pittsburgh Pirates Closer Options


Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 in twelve innings Thursday at a rainy PNC Park. The story of the day was closer Jason Grilli blowing a save for the fourth time this season. However, this blown save did not end up hurting the Pirates like it surely could have.

Starter Jeff Locke gave the Pirates six strong innings while allowing just two runs on three hits. He has made three starts since being promoted from AAA Indianapolis an in each start he has allowed two runs or less and has pitched for at least six innings.

Unfortunately for Locke, he is still winless due to an imploding bullpen that has failed to afford him a win, despite him delivering them a lead in each of the last two games. No one more responsible for each of the last two no decisions than closer Jason Grilli.

It is time to remove Grilli from the role as closer. Although, designating him for assignment would be a poor decision, one that would likely hurt his book sales significantly. Joking aside though, it is worth giving him another chance in the bullpen as a reliever to see if he can figure his game out without the pressure of being the closer.

The Pirates bullpen has been underperforming lately and he has played a part in that. Designating Girlli for assignment is not the right call.

Who should the Pirates tap to be the new closer? The fan favorite for the position Tony Watson? The experienced Mark Melancon? Or how about someone else from the bullpen, say Jared Hughes?

The case for Mark Melancon:

Melancon has had his ups and downs this season, however, the 29 year-old boasts an impressive 1.95 ERA. Melancon has allowed just one earned run in his last 10 appearances and has recorded 10 saves thus far this season. He has played the role of closer for parts of the last two seasons and he has performed fairly well in doing so.

The case for Tony Watson:

Watson has been by far the best pitcher in the Pirates bullpen. You would have to look back to April 22, 22.1 innings of pitching ago to find the last time that Watson surrendered an earned run. With a 0.84 ERA Watson has provided consistent stellar pitching as the Pirates transition from their starting pitcher to Melancon/Grilli. It only makes sense to put your best reliever at the back off your bullpen to tie things up in the ninth inning right?

The case for Jared Hughes:

Hughes is the owner of an impressive 1.95 ERA and has been a stabilizing force in the bullpen. It is tough to explain what makes Hughes worthy of the closer role but it seems that he comes into high pressure situations frequently and usually gets the job done. In a closer you sort-of want a guy who has that “crazy” factor about him and Hughes certainly has it during his windup. No this really is not a valid reason to give him the closing nod.

This is really a two horse race between Watson and Melancon, Hughes most likely will not be selected. Both Watson and Melancon have three blown saves this season, one less than Grilli, both have blemishes.

Mark Melancon should earn the promotion to closer. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I think if you remove Grilli from the role of closer, Melancon is the logical decision. Yes an unpopular decision but it is a good baseball decision. Watson is having an All Star type of season as a reliever and you do not want to do anything to alter that. So much of being a closer is mental and rhythm. If Watson were to fail at closer it could be costly for the Pirates, he may never return to the form that he is in now.

If there is one thing that you do not mess with it is a pitcher’s psyche. Melancon has closer experience and would be able to make the transition easily. With 10 saves already, Melancon has proved himself capable of filling the closing role.

Although, Watson’s three blown saves are tricky to assess, the most recent of them occurring in the eighth inning of the loss to the Marlins on Sunday. It is not a fair assessment of his pitching abilities. He really has no experience in save situations and it may be wise to keep it that way for the time being.

Move Watson to the setup spot and Melancon to the closing spot for the time being. It is the right baseball decision although it is unpopular.