Pirates using Grilli, Hanrahan poorly

The Pirates lost to the San Diego Padres 7-5 on Tuesday night when Chase Headley launched a two-run, 10th inning home run.

In the bottom of the eighth, with the Bucs trailing 4-3 and facing one last chance to tie the game, Clint Hurdle sent Chad Qualls to the mound. Qualls entered the game with a 5.28 ERA on the season. After warming up alongside Qualls the previous inning, Jason Grilli and his 2.38 ERA watched from the bullpen. Qualls quickly allowed a leadoff double to Will Venable, who then moved to third on a ground out. The situation screamed for a strikeout, but Hurdle stuck with Qualls. Qualls has struck out 12.1% of the batters he has faced this year, while Grilli has struck out 38.5% of opposing hitters. Carlos Quentin lifted a fly ball to left and the Padres extended their lead to 5-3.

In the bottom of the 10th inning, with the score tied and the Padres’ 2-3-4 hitters due up, Hurdle went with the recently recalled Daniel McCutchen while closer Joel Hanrahan watched from the bullpen. Venable walked, stole second and came around on Headley’s game-winning blast.

In both of these situations, Hurdle went with an inferior pitcher while better options were available in the bullpen. This led me to research something I had been wanting to research for weeks. Here is Hurdle’s usage of Grilli and Hanrahan this season, based on the score of the game when each pitcher took the mound.

Jason Grilli

Situation Appearances
Leading by 3+ runs 10
Leading by 1-2 runs 25
Tied 7
Losing by 1-2 runs 5
Losing by 3+ runs


Joel Hanrahan

Situation Appearances
Leading by 3+ runs 17
Leading by 1-2 runs 26
Tied 5
Losing by 1-2 runs 0
Losing by 3+ runs 2


I have spent much of this season trying not to criticize major league managers each time they make a pitching change. I have told myself time and time again that they are working with far more information than I am (see this excellent article written by Russell Carleton). However, this is a disturbing trend. It is pretty clear that Hurdle only feels comfortable using his two best relievers when the Pirates are winning, even when they are leading by a comfortable margin. In total, 78 of their 100 appearances have come while the Pirates were leading. Far too many of those have come with the Pirates ahead by three or more runs, while both pitchers have become merely afterthoughts when the score is tied or the Pirates trail by a run or two. Those are very important innings that are being pitched by lesser relievers.

The Pirates are not using their bullpen efficiently, and the issue is becoming more glaring the deeper the team gets into a pennant race.

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About Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.
  • buccotime57

    This why hurdle was a hitting coach…i feel he has no idea how to manage pitchers

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    I agree, agree, agree, agree. He’s doing the same thing TERRIBLE manager John Russell did. Using Qualls and Daniel McCutchen in that game was dopey. He hadn’t used McCutchen in 3 different times, yet suddenly had to then? Bad choice, at best.

  • signid kooks

    sorry me as a fan of pirates the, skipper is lost most game s /in game that has to win,if u don t have ?but u have relievers

    • Lee Young


    • yepbobknepper

      Sage advice from a skilled writer. Signid kooks – please comment more often. :)

  • Lee Young

    Good points….however, until our STARTERs quit allowing 1st inn runs, our chances of running of a winning streak are low!

  • leadoff

    IMO, Hurtle is a poor field manager, great for the overall organization, but he makes decisions that are blatently wrong. Everytime he goes to the magic double switch, I need resusitated. You “never” double switch if the double switch requires removal of a 4 or 5 hitter, especially in the 4th or 5th inning.
    He has no bench and he pinch runs Harrison yesterday when he could of used a pitcher, like JMac to run and kept Harrison to pinch hit later, he does dumb moves like that one all the time! He is clearly are not using the best talent he has in key situations. McCutheon should have been used for only mop up duty IMO instead of a key situation like the 10th inning and since he did get himself into trouble right away, he should have been taken out when it was clear, clear to me anyway that he had nothing.
    One thing that is very clear to me is that Hurtle has his favorties, like Burnett, he is not going to take that guy out until he is tied or behind in any game.
    McCutcheon clearly needs a blow, he could have sat him on Wed. that would have given him two days off in a row, even if he hits on Wed, the rest he needs is more important to me.
    Qualls was really a bad choice when he had Grilly in the wings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    Agreed. I think the concept of, “are the relievers being used in appropriate situations?” is only relevant whenever the game is relevant up until that point. That being said, I’m definitely one of those people who believes there should be a more advanced utilization of relief pitchers other than the classic; 7th, 8th, 9th inning guy. It’s just not that simple.

  • Lee Young

    Well I am obviously older than you, because I remember when 7, 8, 9 inn relievers WASN’T classic. I grew up in the CG era of Marichal, Gibson, etc.

  • Lee Young

    Who is this “Hurtle” guy? However, I agree he’s a great clubhouse mgr, but lousy in game manager (and roster mgr?)
    :) :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    Lol, yeah, after I wrote that I realized that concept is still relatively new. Lets say then, the contemporary view of those roles and what they mean. I’ll be 25 here in a month, please forgive me.