Welcome to the Bench: Jason Grilli
Born: 11/11/1976 (39 years old) Royal Oak, Michigan, United States
Drafted: 1st round (4th overall) in 1997 by San Fransisco Giants
High School: Baker HS (Baldwinsville, NY)
College: Seton Hall University Pirates (South Orange, NJ)
Teams: Florida Marlins (2000-2001), Chicago White Sox (2004), Detroit Tigers (2005-2008), Colorado Rockies (2008-2009), Texas Rangers (2009), Pittsburgh Pirates (2011-2014), Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2014), Atlanta Braves (2015-2016) Toronto Blue Jays (2016)
Weight: 235 lbs
Twitter Handle: GrillCheese49
May 31, 2016 the Toronto Blue Jays acquire relief pitcher Jason Grilli and cash from the Atlanta Braves for Sean Ratcliffe.
What he brings to the team
As it stands today the Toronto Blue Jays are 29-26, which is good for third in the American League East. That leaves them just two games out of a Wild Card spot. While that is a perfectly fine record, with more than enough time to catch the pitching-challenged Red Sox and Orioles, the overwhelming consensus seems to be that it just is not enough.
Much has been made of their underwhelming offense (at least compared to last year) which is currently ranked 13th in the MLB in runs scored. Counter to that narrative, it has really been the bullpen that has held the team back thus far. Toronto ranks 18th in the MLB in bullpen WAR and the relievers sport an unflattering FIP of 4.23. God only knows where they’d be without 21 year old closer Roberto Osuna. Based on Fangraphs’ WAR measure, he has been the 7th most valuable reliever in the MLB at this point in the season. Their main issue seems to be bridging the gap between the starting pitchers and Osuna. Chavez has been bad. Cecil has been uncharacteristically bad. Storen has been flat out awful. With Cecil as their only significant injury so far, the Jays use of 14 different relievers is definitely a troubling trend.
This late game futility is what makes the Grilli trade an absolutely necessary one. Sean Ratcliffe will be hard-pressed to ever have an impact, making it a very low cost for the Jays to take a flyer on a reliever with some previous success.
As a former 4th overall pick, injuries have limited Grilli’s career to one of a journeyman bullpen arm. His 2011-13 seasons in Pittsburgh were by far his most effective years as he boasted an impressive 2.74 ERA across three seasons, his peak being 2013 in which he was the Pirates primary closer and made is first and only All Star team. While he had a rough 2014–partly due to his gruesome ACL tear–he rebounded nicely last season to the tune of a 2.94 ERA.
Grilli primarily throws a fastball that averages 91.8 MPH with a slow 80.3 MPH slider as his off-speed pitch. At age 39, it clearly isn’t surprising that he doesn’t hit 95 MPH anymore, but 91 MPH can certainly be playable with good location and a strong slider to keep hitters honest. Gibbons has likened his role in this bullpen to past 40 year-old relief arms Darren Oliver and LaTroy Hawkins. There is certainly precedent of effective late career bullpen arms making this a no-risk move with reasonable upside.
Why he’s on the bench
39 years old with a 5.19 ERA and a low 90’s fastball. Please forgive me if I haven’t celebrated too hard. The experts who are fully behind the move cite his high strikeout rate as the main reason for optimism and an indicator of future success. The counter to that is that he is also walking batters at a higher rate than ever as he currently owns a 6.8 walks per 9 innings this season.Not to mention in righty vs. righty matchups, his soft contact rate is a miniscule 11.1%. Essentially when Grilli isn’t striking out or walking opposing batters, they are crushing his pitches.
That being said, we’ve got to give this guy a shot, just out of pure necessity for consistency. Expectations just need to be tempered. Things will have to get really ugly–or maybe Grilli shocks the world and dominates–for us to see Grill Cheese “taking” Storen’s job as the right-handed set-up man. Best case scenario is that Grilli will settle in nicely as an effective middle relief right-hander.
At the very least he is happy just to be here.