It’s been only a few months since John Hart assumed the job as “dude in charge” for the Atlanta Braves and the moves so far have been fairly uneven. Trade Jason Heyward, sign Nick Markakis. Ship out Tommy La Stella, add Alberto Callaspo. Send Justin Upton packing, ink…Jason Grilli? What’s next? Trading Mike Minor to bring back Aaron Harang?
Grilli is the latest addition to the remade Atlanta Braves, signed to a $8M contract over the next two seasons with an option for 2017…the amazing wonderful year where it will all make sense. This is probably too much snark for Christmas Eve, but Hart made me do it.
The former Pirates closer joins a bullpen that already included the dominating Craig Kimbrel, arbitration-eligible arms like David Carpenter and James Russell, newly minted Jim Johnson, reacquired Arodys Vizcaino, holdover Luis Avilan, and a list of young guys looking to establish themselves: Shae Simmons, Chasen Shreve, Ian Thomas, and Juan Jaime. Oh, and David Hale.
That would appear to signal a pending trade including at least one reliever to clear things up a little. But even with that trade, this signing is just odd. After all, if a trade took away one of the known guys (Kimbrel, Carp, Russell, Johnson), you would still have a lot of names working their way into the picture. Course, you could have it be even more complicated if you still had Anthony Varvaro, but luckily, he’s a Red Sox now. Dodged that bullet (?).
And why the Braves had to sink $8M and two years into Grilli is also a conundrum. Coincidentally, the Cardinals just signed our old buddy Jordan Walden to a 2 year, $6.6M, but I’ll give you that the comparison between the two is moot because Walden was still arbitration-eligible. As far as multiple year contracts go, Grilli’s is the third cheapest contract given out on the free agent market so far. But that’s also the rub. Guys like Grilli typically don’t get, coming off an unimpressive 2014, a contract with multiple seasons guaranteed.
With that said, who is Grilli? Well, you can always buy his book and figure it out. Or if you want to save yourself the brain aneurysm, you can read the tremendous review of said book from Bucs Dugout. I can’t stress this enough. Do the latter.
Oh, wait, what kind of pitcher is he? A former first round pick, Grilli has struggled to stay healthy and even when he was, he hasn’t been all that effective until landing in Pittsburgh. His success culminated into a dominant 2013 where he posted a 1.97 FIP with a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 5. That is pretty damn good. That should get you excited. A two-pitch pitcher, Grilli relies on a well-spotted 92-95 mph fastball to set up his out pitch, a slider that he shelved his big breaking curveball around 2007.
Why did he go from All-Star in 2013 to traded away for pennies the next year? He wasn’t controlling the count. In the two years preceding 2014, 14.4% of his strikes were swinging strikes. Obviously, that is an example of sick stuff and good counts. Only eight relievers were better, including Kimbrel. This led to the 12th best O-Swing%, or the percentage of total swings that were on balls outside the strikezone. When Joe Simpson goes to the cliche pantry and pulls out “swinging at a pitcher’s pitch,” that’s what he’s talking about (provided Simpson is lucid and not on his painkillers again). Those marks that were so good in 2012-13 saw significant drops in 2014, leading to a higher contact rate, fewer strikeouts, and the Pirates shuffling him off to Los Angeles to play in Anaheim with the Angels. That team name is still stupid.
Now, this doesn’t mean Grilli stopped being a quality pitcher. The great thing about being awesome at any point is when you lose something, you’re still good. So, compared to his previous seasons, Grilli was crap. Compared to a lesser pitcher, Grilli holds his own. Still gets a K an inning, still keeps his FIP relatively low (3.37 last year and much lower with the Angels), and his velocity was pretty stable.
All told, Atlanta got a quality pitcher at a reasonable sum. You’re sensing a “but,” aren’t you?
However, it’s still a rather confusing signing. The Braves, who have known weaknesses and holes to deal with added to what could be at worst classified as adequate and as best, a strength. In addition, they did it over two years while adding a guy for his age-38 and age-39 seasons. This gets us back to the point that concerned me earlier this winter. Are we rebuilding or doing the “well, we still got a some good guys so let’s try to sneak into the playoffs” thing? There’s probably a better way of saying that, but hopefully you get the jist because the second one annoys me. Commit to one thing. You’ve spent all winter badmouthing the former general manager and talking about the state of the franchise in his aftermath. Yet, you talk about how close the team really is and how you are gearing up to compete. The inconsistency would drive Joe Morgan mad. The longest rebuild comes form the franchise that refuses to commit to a philosophy.
But hey, if this is just to buy time for the youngsters because you can find a team willing to pay a premium for Kimbrel, great move, Hart!