Jason Grilli wanted to be a Pirate. I think that’s what I’ll remember more than anything. He’s been a bad pitcher this year and by all accounts his book seems ridiculous and it recasts the light that I view him in just a little bit, but that still won’t make me forget a weird tweet from a guy with a “Grilled Cheese” twitter handle that read something along the lines of, “black and yellow black and yellow PITTSBURGH HERE I COME!”
Let’s be honest: the Pirates were playing well when they acquired Grill in July of 2011, but none of us knew then that it was really the beginning of a new era of Pirate baseball. That Pirate team was playing over their heads and their eventual collapse seemed inevitable, but it was still deflating. It was deflating because there was no guarantee at that point that the 2012 team would actually be improved enough to make an even more incredible collapse and there was absolutely no reason at all to think that the 2013 or 2014 Pirates were anything more than pie-in-the-sky contenders at that point. The Pirates were getting better, but there was still no timeline.
Jason Grilli needed a break in July of 2011, though, and the Pirates gave it to him. For two years, the Pirates and Grilli were a perfect match for each other. Obviously, things have gone south since his elbow injury last year, but I wanted to take a minute with this post to remember just how good things were with Jason Grilli from 2011-2013. 146 appearances, 141 1/3 innings, 201 strikeouts, 50 walks, 43 earned runs, 36 saves. For a while there, Jason Grilli was as good at slamming the door on a baseball game as anyone. It didn’t last, but what does?
All of this being said, Jason Grilli has been a really awful pitcher in 2014, and it’s almost shocking to me that they were able to get anything at all for him in a trade. Ernesto Frieri seems like a pretty typical Neal Huntington trade target; he had some really excellent years out of the bullpen for the Padres and Angels before tanking this year, but even with his awful surface stats (I’m talking about the 6.39 ERA, of course), he’s got a great strikeout rate and the best walk rate of his career. That’s being weighed down by an insane 21.1% HR/FB rate (career: 10%), which is why his ERA is so bad. I don’t know enough about Frieri to comment on his actual struggles this year and I don’t want to start counting chickens early, but it seems ludicrous to me that any team would consider trading a pitcher with solid strikeout/walk numbers and a flukey looking home run rate like Frieri for a pitcher that seems to be fundamentally broken like Grilli is. These are the sorts of trades that result in the Pirates have a bullpen like the one that they had last year, and getting back to that point in time would be a huge lift for the Pirates in the second half of 2014 . They’re much more likely to get there with Ernesto Frieri than they are with Jason Grilli.