By Paul Sporer
The Pirates inked 34-year old reliever Jason Grilli to a major league contract today in an effort to solidify the bullpen on the cheap. This is by no means a major move as Grilli has had a pair of average seasons surrounded by several forgettable ones, but he developed some strikeout ability in his last three major league seasons (7.0, 8.3 and 9.7 K/9 from 2007-2009 in 80, 75 and 46 innings, respectively).
After missing all of 2010 due to injury, he has shown the strikeout potential with AAA-Lehigh Valley in the Philadelphia Phillies system striking out 11.8 batters per game across his 33 innings with a 1.93 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. His impact, for better or worse, will be minimal no matter how well he pitches. Consider that the very best relievers post about a 3.0 fWAR in a season which would translate to about a win from now until the end of the season.
As it is unlikely that he will pitch as one of the very best relievers in baseball (think Carlos Marmol in 2010, Jonathan Broxton in 2009 and Mariano Rivera in 2009… or ever since he’s so amazing), his ceiling is probably closer to 0.5 wins the rest of the way. Where he can be most useful is with missing bats. If he can somehow match his 2009 abilities when he notched an 11% swing & miss rate, that would be a team high (Joel Hanrahan, unsurprisingly, leads the way at 10.4%).
I don’t think this move takes Pitt out of the running to acquire a reliever like Koji Uehara who I mentioned the other day, but rather covers for the loss of Evan Meek who was shifted to the 60-day DL today with his injured shoulder. It isn’t a blockbuster move, but it can be significant.
Think back to last year when the Pirates deal Javier Lopez to the San Francisco Giants in what was regarded as a pretty insignificant deadline deal. Lopez went on to deliver 19 big innings (0.6 fWAR worth) down the stretch for the Giants and then another 5.7 spread across nine appearances in the playoffs. He came away with six holds and a win in those playoff games. Small moves can have an impact.