Being a small market team means you have to be thrifty in certain areas. One area in which Pirates GM Neil Huntington has excelled in both controlling costs and getting value is the constuction of the bullpen. Much of the teams success last year was their ability to close out tight games. The Pirates have made great use of advanced metrics to see value in guys that fell out of favor with other teams. Ignoring stats like ERA and focusing on k rates and xfip has found them many diamonds in the rough.
At some point I will touch base on all these guys (Wilson, Watson and Melancon) because they all have had very interesting paths to the big leagues and the Pirates, but none more than Jason Grilli. Once a former first round pick, Grilli became the quintessential journeyman. He balanced around the league as a journeyman bullpen piece. After a subpar 2009 season Grilli found himself out of the major leagues in 2010. In 2011 Grilli was pitching for the Phillies AAA squad and was released in the summer. The very next day the Pirates signed Grilli and the rest is history.
Grilli embraced his second chance with the Bucs. After finishing strong in 2011 Grilli would setup closer Joel Hanrahan in 2012. He was unhittable most of the season. Grilli mastered a wipeout slider and was among the league leaders in k's per 9 innings at over 13.
With a season and half of success behind him Grilli became a free agent and was a sought after target. Thankfully he felt obligated to give back to the city of Pittsburgh and signed a 2 year 6.75 million deal. He said he felt comfortable in Pittsburgh and was thankful for his second chance.
2012 proved not to be a fluke as Grilli put together another stellar year in 2013 as the primary closer. He was a key part in the Buccos ending the two decades worth of losing and misery. He earned his first All Star appearance and became a fan favorite as the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years.
The card above is from the 2013 Topps Update set. It is numbered out of /25. I was a huge fan of last years Update set as it had many All Star themed cards of Pirates.