Searching For Saves: Pittsburgh Pirates: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon & A Deep Sleeper

In light of the trade sending Joel Hanrahan to Boston (where he sends Andrew Bailey into a setup role), the Pittsburgh Pirates are left looking for a new closer. While we all know who is going to enter the season with the job, is he really the best option? Do we really think he can thrive in the role?

Lets take a look at how things currently shake out in the Pittsburgh pen:

Jason Grilli
He is going to get the first shot at closing and he has posted an ERA of 3.00 or better in three of the past four seasons. He also has seen his strikeout rate improve and walk rate decrease each of the past three seasons (strikeout rate // walk rate):

2010 – 9.66 // 5.32
2011 – 10.19 // 4.13
2012 – 13.81 // 3.38

They were highly impressive numbers in 2012, but it is hard to believe in a total transformation for a 35-year old (he will be 36 to start the 2013 campaign). Throw in the fact that he is consistently hit hard (over 22% line drive rate in three of the past four years including 24.4% in ’12), could easily see his control regress and the Pirates need a long-term solution at closer, and this experiment could easily implode.

It is only going to take one or two poor outings early to lead to a change and, while they could never come (see Fernando Rodney in 2012), fantasy owners are going to want to be cautious.  Given how strong he has been in a setup role, the Pirates could quickly conclude that he’s better suited for that role.

Mark Melancon
Part of the four player return for Hanrahan, Melancon’s one season in Boston was a nightmare. Was it the pressures of Boston? Was it issues with Bobby Valentine? Did he simply have a down year? Whatever it was, a 6.20 ERA is ugly.

That said, the inflated number came due to poor luck (59.4% strand rate, 22.2% HR/FB) more than anything. He had never had home run issues pitching in Houston, and when coupled with a still solid 1.27 WHIP it is easy to see the upside.

His fastball averaged 93.3 mph and he still showed the impressive control (2.40 BB/9). He has more experience closing than Grilli (Melancon had 20 saves in 2011) and will be 28-years old at the start of the year. I would bet that its only a matter of time before he gets his opportunity.

Tony Watson
He as put up some solid numbers for the Pirates, with a 3.63 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over the past two years. However, the southpaw fills a niche in the bullpen and I don’t see the team shifting him into the ninth. Could e pick up a handful of saves if there are a slew of left-handed hitters due up? Absolutely, but that’s of something we want to bank on.

Deep Sleeper
Justin Wilson
Another lefty, he has impressive power stuff (7 K in his first 4.2 innings in the Majors) and is just learning how to come out of the bullpen after working as a starter in the minor leagues. He did a tremendous job at Triple-A in 2012, holding lefties to a .129 average (he was also impressive against righties, who hit .214) even with the majority of his appearances come as part of the starting rotation.

Could he be a power lefty closer? Absolutely, but he needs to learn to control his pitches. He has never posted a BB/9 below 4.27 at any stop and, while strikeout stuff can help overcome that, he needs to improve at least a little bit before he gets considered. Maybe coming out of the bullpen will help (4.1 relief innings at Triple-A he had 8 K vs. 1 BB), but time will tell.

If you are looking for a sleeper who could emerge as the long-term solution, here is a choice worth stashing if you have the room. If nothing else, keep a close eye on him. It won’t be surprising to see him emerge as early as mid-year 2013 as a candidate, assuming he avoids issuing walks.

What are your thoughts of the Pirates bullpen?  Do you think Grilli can excel in the role?  Who do you see taking over if he fails?

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Make sure to check out all of our extremely early 2013 rankings:


  1. GT says:

    Grilli in 2013 profiles very similarly to Hanrahan in 2011 (k%, bb%, ld%, pitch selection, velocity). I’m trusting the talent evaluators in PIT with Grilli.

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      It’s fair, and maybe he thrives in the role, though it is hard to have too much faith in evaluators for a team that hasn’t won in so long.

      I think Grilli could thrive, but one or two blown saves early could have him ticketed back to a setup role. Just make sure to protect yourself if you decide to invest in him.

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