Atlanta Braves fans were understandably a little worried on the night of April 5 when their front office traded away the best closer in baseball, but two weeks into the regular season, it’s making general manager John Hart look like a genius.
Once the initial shock wore off that the team really did trade away one of the city’s favorite players on the eve of Opening Day, most fans began to realize it was a great deal. They were shipping an awful contract away – you know, that one that Melvin Upton Jr. was collecting while helplessly swatting at the baseball and missing as often as I looked away during his at-bats?
But somehow, in trading away Craig Kimbrel, the Braves remain at the top of the league in saves, thanks to Jason Grilli.
The 38-year-old has been lights-out in nearly every save opportunity, doing exactly what a closer should: throwing strikes, and throwing hard. Grilli is a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities, and he has only allowed 1 run and 2 hits.
He’s tied for first in saves in the majors, and he’s not tied with Kimbrel, either. It’s Jeurys Familia of the New York Mets that has equaled Grilli’s save total.
Grilli’s style is very much like that of a prototypical closer. He has wild, long hair that’s always sweaty by the time he enters the game. There’s no shortage of facial hair, either. And when something goes according to plan, you’ll know it, because Grilli isn’t coming off that mound without at least one of the most intense fist-pumps you’re ever going to see.
Nobody has been more excited to see this experiment succeed than Grilli himself, but Braves fans are a very close second place.
As for Kimbrel? He’s still tied for third place in the league with 4 saves, but his outings haven’t been as clean or stress-free. In 7 appearances, Kimbrel has allowed a run on 6 hits, and he also has a loss to his name. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 7 to 3, while Grilli’s is 10 to 2.
Who could have predicted the Braves would trade Kimbrel and replace him with a 38-year-old who’s even more dominant?
Now, this isn’t to say that Kimbrel is losing his dominance as a closer long-term, or to say that Grilli is the better pitcher of the two. At the end of the day, it’s a long season, and Grilli is nearing the end of his career. If he can stay healthy and give the Braves 6 months of decent pitching in the ninth inning, that’s all this rebuilding franchise can ask for.
But as so many predicted, this Braves team will be in a lot of close games this season, and as long as Grilli stays dominant, Atlanta will stay relevant.
Image: AP/Kevin Liles