We've heard a lot over the past few weeks about Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli's workloads this year, and how they're not sustainable. Pitchers are fragile, and concern about their health is rarely completely misplaced. Who knows -- maybe one of them will fall apart completely. They're relievers. It happens. But in my opinion, the talk about Melancon and Grilli's workloads has been overblown.
Math! Well, arithmetic.
The Pirates have completed 29 percent of the season so far. Melancon has pitched 25 innings. Project that over a 162-game season, and Melancon will throw 86 innings. That sounds like a lot. But Melancon has only thrown 338 pitches so far this season, about 13.5 per inning. As of 2010, the average pitches per inning was over 16. Melancon has been more efficient than most pitchers, so it stands to reason that he should be able to pitch more innings than we might expect. He's on pace for 1,165 pitches this season, barely more than he had in 2011 with the Astros, when he threw 1,118 pitches over 74.1 innings. Essentially, Melancon's workload should not be a major source of concern right now. His pitch total should be sustainable.
Grilli has pitched 21.2 innings so far this year, which projects to 73 innings over the season. He's on pace for 1,241 pitches on the season. It's hard to know where Grilli's limit is -- he threw 998 pitches in 2012. He threw 1,376 in 2007 and 1,300 in 2008 as a reliever for the Tigers, but that was five years and a major knee injury ago. In any case, there's no reason to think a modest increase over his 998 pitches in 2012 isn't possible. If the Pirates need to limit his workload, which I'm not sure is certain at all, a simple way to do it that would have very limited effect on games won would be to keep him out of games when the Pirates have a three-run lead. I'm not sure if Clint Hurdle would actually do that, but that's what I'd suggest. In any case, though, Grilli's workload this year has not been exorbitant.
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The Pirates have a .617 winning percentage, which projects to 100 wins on the year. (Yes, really.) No one thinks they're that good, and so of course some elements of their performance so far are unsustainable. Grilli has 19 saves, which leads the majors. Over the course of the season, the Pirates will likely simply have fewer leads than they've had so far, and Melancon and Grilli's usage will naturally be limited a little bit that way, anyway. There are plenty of reasons not to expect the Pirates to win 100 games this year. (I think most fans can live with that.) But Melancon and Grilli's workloads really aren't among the top 10 reasons why.