Jason Grilli is a name familiar to Tigers fans but for all the wrong reasons. He pitched in Detroit from 2005 through the beginning of 2008 – before being traded to the Colorado Rockies for minor league pitcher Zach Simons – and carried the distinction of being the most consistently booed Tiger during his tenure (probably). He left Detroit as a 30 year old reliever with a career ERA in the upper fours. He was a right-handed mop-up man who didn’t strike out many batters, gave up too many walks, and allowed his fair share of home runs.
He was done in baseball.
Except he wasn’t. He began ratcheting up his strikeout totals in 2008 and, after missing 2010 with a knee injury, has come back to post excellent numbers in back-to-back seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not excellent for Jason Grilli, but legitimately very good. Since leaving the Tigers he’s cut his ERA to around 3.40, but it’s been below three each of the last two years. Since 2011 began, Grilli has thrown 91.1 innings with a 2.76 ERA to go with a 12.51 K/9 rate. That strikeout rate ranks him sixth among all major league relievers with 50 or more innings pitched in the last two seasons – only Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Al Alburquerque, and David Robertson punched out batters at a higher rate. Needless to say he’s been a much different pitcher as a 35 year old than he was in Detroit.
Grilli’s history with the Tigers makes me skeptical of his turnaround, but he was legitimately one of the better relievers in all of baseball a season ago. The Tigers are looking for bullpen help, and it’s possible that contemplate bringing him back, something I wouldn’t have been able to fathom four years ago. It looks like he’s completely scrapped the curveball and changeup and now lives completely as a fastball-slider guy.
As with any reliever, Jason Grilli isn’t the type of guy the team would want to commit a large amount of money or a significant number of years to, but – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – he looks like he would be well an Octavio Dotel type deal (one year, $3 million with a club option for a second year). I’m not sure he would want to come back, though, after the way he was abused by the fan base during his final couple of years here.