When Gary Sheffield made Jason Grilli a superstar

Justin K. Aller

I think I'm close to supporting Gary Sheffield's Hall of Fame candidacy, and every time Jason Grilli saves another game, I get a little closer.

No, seriously. Bear with me here.

Gary Sheffield's now a businessman. Among his businesses: a sports agency. His sports agency's only client: Jason Grilli. A few weeks, I reviewed Grilli's unlikely career but was left to merely wonder how Grilli went from journeyman to ace reliever in the space of about three (geological) seconds.

It was Gary Sheffield. From Tyler Kepner's piece in the Times:

As a middle reliever in Detroit, Grilli had used sinkers and curveballs to minimize his pitch count and save the rest of the bullpen.

Sheffield did not approve. As with everything, he was blunt in his assessment of his client.

"I told Jason my honest opinion of his pitching style, and he knew I didn’t like it," Sheffield said. "I let him know, ‘Your stuff and your results don’t match up.’ He’s a big guy with a hard sinker and filthy slider, and when I see that, I think that’s closer stuff — he just had to believe it. Just because someone tells you you’re not that type of pitcher, that don’t mean anything to you."

Grilli’s strikeout rate rose with the Pirates as he scrapped the curveball and concentrated on the fastball-slider mix.

The rest is history. Well, some history with more to come. If the Pirates wind up in the playoffs -- a pretty damned good bet, by this measure anyway -- Grilli's going to deserve a bunch of the credit ... and by extension, why not some credit for the great hitter who believed Grilli could become a great pitcher? And convinced him to try?

There's a larger point here, which is: Relief pitchers. Sheesh.

As Kepner points out, Grilli signed a new deal with the Pirates last winter: two years, $6.75 million.


Other teams acted rashly on the reliever market, notably the Los Angeles Dodgers, who signed Brandon League for three years and $22.5 million, and the Reds, who signed Jonathan Broxton for three years and $21 million.

League's got a 5.08 ERA and lost his job as the Dodgers' closer. Broxton's ERA isn't as lousy and he hasn't exactly lost his job, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio has tumbled badly; essentially, he's become Just Another Guy (except well-paid through 2015).

I don't know if the Pirates' record in 2013 should really influence one's opinion about Gary Sheffield's Hall of Fame candidacy. I do know I wouldn't have committed three times as much money to Jonathan Broxton than Jason Grilli last winter.

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