RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: November 11, 1976
Height: 6′ 5″
Drafted: 1st Round, 4th Overall, 1997
How Acquired: Signed as a free agent
College: Seton Hall University
Agent: Gary Sheffield
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Grilli is a veteran reliever who had limited success at the major league level before the Pirates acquired him in 2011. Ironically, what success he’d had prior to that time came primarily when he played for Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle in Colorado. Up through 2011, he threw a 92-93 mph fastball and a slider that served as his out pitch. He also throws the occasional change, but it’s not an effective pitch. Like many fastball/slider pitchers, Grilli was considered a prospect originally as a starter but had to convert to relief. He’s more effective against right-handed batters, although not dramatically so; they have an OPS against him of .702 over his career, compared to .756 for left-handed batters.
Not surprisingly, given that he was the 4th overall pick in the 1997 draft, Grilli ranked 54th on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list in 1998. He went straight to AA and pitched well there at age 21. He did less well in eight AAA starts, partly a result of allowing a HR every six innings.
BA rated Grilli 44th on the top 100 list in 1999, but he didn’t have a good year in AAA. He got hit hard and had a lot of trouble with HRs, allowing 29 in 141.2 IP. The Giants traded him in a deadline deal to Florida for Livan Hernandez.
Grilli struggled badly in AAA over eight starts, but still reached the majors for one start in May. He missed most of the year, though, with elbow problems.
Grilli opened the season with Florida and pitched well in his first three starts, then got hit hard twice and went out with more elbow problems. He eventually went through a rehab and returned to the majors for one relief appearance in September, but then he had Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2002.
Missed the season and was removed from the 40-man roster.
Grilli had his recovery year in 2003, pitching reasonably well in the minors. After the season, he was selected by the White Sox in the December 2003 Rule 5 draft.
The White Sox evidently reached some sort of deal with the Marlins, because they optioned Grilli to AAA at the start of the season. Still a starter, he didn’t pitch well there, giving up a lot of hits, not fanning many and allowing a HR every seven innings. The Sox brought him up in late August and he made eight starts in the majors, getting hammered in most of them. He allowed a HR every four innings.
Grilli moved on to Detroit as a minor league free agent and spent most of the season with the Tigers’ AAA affiliate. He made modest improvements in every area, still pitching as a starter. The Tigers called Grilli in mid-September and he pitched well in three games, including two starts, although he hardly struck out anybody.
The Tigers moved Grilli to the bullpen and he made 51 appearances. He pitched decently, although with an extremely low K rate. He made a lot of progress with his gopher ball problem, allowing one every ten innings.
Grilli had a similar season to 2006, pitching just decently, although he did greatly increase his K rate and reduce his HR rate a little further.
The Tigers traded Grilli to Colorado early in the season and he had his best major league season prior to 2011. Despite the good ERA, though, he pitched only a little better than in 2006-07. He didn’t get hit as hard and allowed only two HRs all year, and he increased his K rate again, but he walked a lot more than previously.
Got off to terrible start with Rockies and was traded to Texas in June. He pitched better there than the ERA indicates. His walk rate continued higher than it had been early in his career, but he posted a career-high K rate.
Missed the entire season with a knee injury.
Signed minor league deal with the Phillies and went to AAA, where he put up good numbers across the board. His contract allowed him to request a release if another team offered him a major league deal and Phillies did not promote him to the majors. When the Pirates made such an offer, the Phillies granted his release. He did probably the best pitching of his career, usually coming into difficult situations in the 7th and 8th innings. About half his pitching was done in what Baseball Reference classifies as high-leverage situations and he allowed just a .525 OPS in those situations. He was deadly against right-handed batters, holding them to a .508 OPS, compared to .766 by left-handed batters. He had an extremely high K rate and improved his walk rate over 2008-09, although it remained high. He was helped by a batting average on balls in play (.268) and a strand rate (82.1%) that were both unrealistic, but not drastically so. His walk and K rates show he was a better pitcher than before the knee injury and his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was 3.30.
Grilli was eligible for arbitration in the off-season, but the Pirates signed him to a one-year contract for $1.1M. He then had a career year at age 35. His average fastball velocity increased by over one mph, from 92.4 to 93.6, and he produced significantly more swings and misses. The result was the 4th highest K rate in MLB among pitchers who threw 50 innings or more. Grilli served as the Pirates’ 8th inning pitcher all year and largely dominated until September, when he fell apart with the rest of the bullpen. That month he got lit up for a .941 OPS and 6.52 ERA. Oddly, he was nearly unhittable against left-handed batters, who managed just a .485 OPS against him. Right-handed hitters had an OPS of .767. He allowed dramatically fewer groundballs than in the past.
Grilli became a free agent after the 2012 season, but signed a two-year deal, worth a reported $6.75M, to return to Pittsburgh. In doing so, he reportedly passed up more money elsewhere. He took over as closer for the traded Joel Hanrahan and for nearly four months was one of the better stories in baseball. In April and May he held opponents to OPS figures of .390 and .358, respectively. Through June 18, he had an ERA of 0.85 and was perfect in 25 save opportunities. He finally blew a save the next day and had two more rough outings before the All-Star break. He followed that with four scoreless outings, but had to leave a July 22 outing, after giving up two runs, with a forearm strain. He went on the disabled list until the end of August, when he was able to get in two rehab outings before the Pirates activated him. He struggled in his first few outings, pitching mostly in setup roles. His stuff hadn’t rebounded at that point; his velocity was down to 91-92 after sitting around 94 pre-injury, and his slider wasn’t as sharp. He returned to the closer role at the end of the season and recorded saves in his last three games. In the playoffs, his velocity returned close to where it had been.
On the season, Grilli maintained the extremely high K rate he’d had in 2012. He gets the strikeouts partly with his slider but also partly with high fastballs, which shows why his velocity is important. He also remained a flyball pitcher, with a groundball rate of just 33%. Unlike a lot of Pirates pitchers, he had a high batting average on balls in play (.327) and an xFIP (2.21) that was lower than his ERA.
Grilli will return as the Pirates’ closer in 2014. He’ll spend the season at age 37 and, if the last two seasons are any indication, may be a little fragile for a 162-game season. The Pirates have said they will be cautious in managing his workload in light of the developments in the latter part of 2013.
2013: $2,250,000 ($500,000 signing bonus)
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 1998
MLB Debut: 5/11/2000
MiLB FA Eligible: Eligible
MLB FA Eligible: 2013
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible
Added to 40-Man: 2000
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2000, 2001, 2004)
MLB Service Time: 7.016
|June 2, 1994: Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 24th round, 675th overall.
June 3, 1997: Drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 1st round, 4th overall; signed on July 25, 1997.
July 25, 1999: Traded by the San Francisco Giants with Nate Bump to the Florida Marlins for Livan Hernandez.
December 15, 2003: Drafted by the Chicago White Sox from the Florida Marlins in the Rule 5 draft.
January 27, 2005: Released by the Chicago White Sox.
February 10, 2005: Signed by the Detroit Tigers as a minor league free agent.
September 15, 2005: Contract purchased by the Detroit Tigers.
April 30, 2008: Traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Colorado Rockies for Zach Simons.
June 9, 2009: Purchased by the Texas Rangers from the Colorado Rockies.
October 22, 2009: Outrighted by the Texas Rangers and elected free agency.
November 28, 2009: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Cleveland Indians.
November 6, 2010: Became a free agent.
January 31, 2011: Signed as a minor league free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies.
July 20, 2011: Released by the Philadelphia Phillies.
July 20, 2011: Signed as a free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
December 10, 2012: Signed as a free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates.