First Pitch: Mark Melancon and Remembering When Joel Hanrahan Was a Throw In

There seems to be some debate over whether relief pitcher Mark Melancon is involved in the pending Joel Hanrahan trade. A few outlets are reporting that Melancon is in the deal, although other outlets are saying that Melancon himself hasn’t been told anything. The Hanrahan trade will be delayed until after Christmas, so like most of this deal we’re analyzing aspects of the trade without even knowing all of the details. In this case, we don’t even know whether Melancon is involved. That hasn’t stopped Pirates fans from debating whether he would be a good addition.

I thought Charlie at Bucs Dugout had a great write-up on why Melancon would be a great addition for the Pirates. I’ll let his article do the talking, but there was one part that stood out to me.

Hanrahan himself actually presents a great case study. When the Pirates traded for him in 2009, he had a 7.71 ERA. Oh noes! What was Neal Huntington doing? He doesn’t know anything!

I thought the last part was funny, mostly because I’ve seen those same reactions for Melancon. I find it ironic to suggest that we can’t trust Huntington in this situation with acquiring Melancon in a Hanrahan deal, when Huntington was the guy who added Hanrahan in the first place. Maybe you can question whether Jerry Sands or Stolmy Pimentel will work out. But if there’s one area where Huntington gets a free pass, it’s the bullpen. Sometimes the moves don’t work (Chad Qualls, Hisanori Takahashi as recent examples), but he has a lot of success stories of either adding relievers on the cheap, or turning non-prospects into solid relievers (Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, Chris Resop, Chris Leroux, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson).

Hanrahan and Melancon are in similar situations, which Charlie pointed out. Hanrahan had a strong season in 2008 and entered the 2009 season as Washington’s closer. He struggled in the role, with a 7.71 ERA in 32.2 innings, along with a 9.6 K/9 and a 3.9 BB/9 ratio. He was considered unlucky with a .431 BABIP. His numbers immediately turned around once he arrived in Pittsburgh, and he’s looked like a steal ever since.

Melancon put up a 2.78 ERA in 74.1 innings in 2011. He had a 7.99 K/9 and a 3.15 BB/9 ratio. His advanced metrics supported the ERA, with a 3.14 xFIP. He was traded to the Red Sox, where he struggled in 2012. The right-hander had a 6.20 ERA in 45 innings, with an 8.2 K/9, and a 2.4 BB/9. His strikeouts improved and his walks declined, which were both good signs. His big issue was a 22.2% HR/FB ratio. On average, pitchers tend to give up a homer in 10% of their fly balls. Melancon’s 22.2% was unsustainable and can be chalked up to bad luck. He gave up five in his first four outings, then just three the rest of the year after a demotion to Triple-A, so it looks like his numbers might have already turned around. His xFIP, which normalizes the HR/FB ratio to the league average, was a 3.45.

They’re different pitchers, but Hanrahan and Melancon are in similar situations. They both had dominant years, then had horrible ERAs the following season. Their ERAs were the result of bad luck. We saw that to be true with Hanrahan. We may have already seen it with Melancon and his drop in homers.

The comparison prompted me to take a look at what was said about Hanrahan back when he was acquired by the Pirates. At the time, Hanrahan was a throw-in. The Pirates and Nationals were swapping Nyjer Morgan and Lastings Milledge. The Pirates also sent Sean Burnett for Hanrahan, in a move that was supposed to even up the trade for Washington. Hanrahan ended up being the best from the deal, even though he had the lowest value at the time.

Charlie had a similar take on Hanrahan back then as he does with Melancon now. He pointed out the .451 BABIP and said you can dismiss the high ERA.

Keith Law called it an easy win for the Pirates, especially with Hanrahan in the deal.

The Washington Post noted Hanrahan’s disappointing season, then didn’t mention him until the end of the article, where they had a quote and a comment that he’d join the Pirates’ bullpen.

ESPN just noted that Hanrahan struggled, was demoted from the closer’s role, and would join the Pirates’ bullpen.

Dave Cameron called Hanrahan a nice buy-low candidate, and a better bet for the future than Burnett, although he said relievers are easy to come by.

Here was my take on the deal, noting Hanrahan as a buy-low candidate, and noting his .451 BABIP.

Most of the articles focused on Milledge and Morgan. The mentions of Hanrahan were brief. They either mentioned that he struggled, or they mentioned that but pointed out that he could bounce back. He wasn’t a big addition at the time, but all of the signs pointed to him being a buy-low option. That looks like Melancon’s situation, if he is indeed involved in the trade. He wouldn’t look like a big addition, but the signs are there for a bounce back season. He could provide a lot of value if that HR/FB rate normalizes next year, and could fill in as a strong set-up man to Jason Grilli.

The highlight of the links above was what Dave Cameron said. He noted that relievers are easy to come by, which is something I believe. Teams will trade multiple players for an established closer, or they’ll sign a top set-up guy to a $6 M per year salary, but all of that seems foolish. Every year top relievers emerge from nowhere. Jason Grilli was one of those relievers in the summer of 2011. He was with Philadelphia’s Triple-A team, and was basically free for anyone who wanted him. All they had to do was offer him a major league deal, and if the Phillies declined to match it, the new team would get Grilli. That’s what the Pirates did. That’s another interesting situation to look back on. Here are some of the reactions from that move, which came two weeks before the trade deadline when the Pirates were looking for relief pitching.

Jenifer Langosch said that Grilli might not fill the late-inning bullpen role the team was looking for.

Ken Rosenthal pointed out that the Pirates were looking for an established eighth-inning reliever, and that Grilli didn’t fit that description.

Charlie noted that Grilli added depth, but said he might not be an upgrade over Chris Leroux (who was optioned to make room).

I had a similar reaction, noting that the deal didn’t make sense for the Pirates, that Grilli was depth, and that Leroux was pitching well. Leroux had 5.2 shutout innings at the time, with seven strikeouts and no walks. That was after strong numbers in Double-A and Triple-A earlier in the year.

The reactions to Grilli were largely the same. The Pirates needed bullpen help. Established bullpen help. Grilli wasn’t established, so he didn’t fit their need. However, he ended up with some dominant numbers in 2011, had an amazing season in 2012, and parlayed that into a two-year, $6.75 M deal with the Pirates this off-season, along with the closer’s role once Hanrahan is dealt.

This is why I’ve always been all for dealing Hanrahan. It’s why adding someone like Melancon as the third piece in a Hanrahan deal would be a great idea. Too much value is placed on the perception that surrounds relievers. Relievers get value for experience in late innings. They lose value if they don’t have that experience. If they have one bad year, their value plummets. If they have one amazing year, their value soars. There’s some debate over whether this value is truly valid. I’m not a believer that pitching in the ninth inning is a skill. If a guy puts up great numbers in the seventh inning, he can do it in the 8th or 9th inning. Some disagree with that, and a lot of this thinking is what leads to relievers being over-valued in my book.

Hanrahan is a great reliever, but he’s replaceable. If you look past the faux-value with relievers, you’ll see that finding a replacement for Hanrahan shouldn’t be hard to do. The Pirates added Hanrahan as a throw-in, similar to the rumored inclusion of Melancon in this deal. Hanrahan and Melancon aren’t the exact same relievers, but the outcomes they can produce are similar. I would bet that a bullpen with Grilli/Melancon would be just as good as a bullpen with Hanrahan/Grilli. It’s only when you add that faux-value that you start to view Hanrahan as someone who is irreplaceable and Melancon as a total long-shot to turn things around. But that’s based on comfort, not skill. It’s based on being more comfortable with Hanrahan because he’s had two good years as a closer, and not being comfortable with Melancon coming off a bad year. When teams look past the comfort factor, they free themselves up to building strong bullpens without trading prospects or spending big dollars to get there. That saves the prospects and money for positions that are harder to fill.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!

**Joel Hanrahan News: Sunday.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Johnson Pitches Team to Playoffs.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Share This Post On
  • emjayinTN

    Tim: A nice case for Melancon and the trade. Melancon also has 4 years of control, and at the end of 2012 was averaging 94/95 and hitting 97 mph on his fastball. But, we started out looking for a Shortstop for the post-Barmes years, and seem to be further away from that goal than ever before. The best, IMO, trading partner if we are thinking that we might need a Shortstop is Seattle who have Carlos Triunfel, 23, at the MLB level, and Nick Franklin, 21, who played well at AA/AAA in 2012. Their Shortstop for 2014 is Brad Miller who was at Hi A/AA last year, so Triunfel or Franklin should be trade bait.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I mentioned this the other day. I don’t think the Pirates ever had a shot at getting a shortstop for Hanrahan. Young shortstops come with a premium value. They’re not the players you get when dealing a closer with one year of control.

      We heard one rumor that the Pirates were looking at shortstops. That doesn’t mean it would have ever been realistic to land a shortstop in this deal.

      • buster09

        Tim,they might have been looking at Shortstops from all that I have seen and heard,but the only ones they were going to get were those like Iglesias or Dee Gordon that had very little ceiling offensively,or i
        even in the case of Gordon,were challenged a bit defiensively.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          I agree. Both guys being mentioned had drawbacks. However, even with the drawbacks, they still would have commanded a high price since a two-way shortstop is hard to find.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Tim…I agree with this article. Relievers, for the most part, ARE up and down!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Merry Christmas to Tim, Kevin, WTM and everyone else who writes for this site.

    Save me some eggnog and cookies!

  • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

    I’m happy that Hammer turned out to be a nice pick up. But the Pirates got the short end of that deal in terms of WAR (Fangraphs). Hammer was 3.5 for his time in PIT. Milledge was 1.2. Burnett was 2.0 and Morgan was 8.3 (4.0 with the Nats). .

    Hopefully the return on this trade will be better.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Morgan is a bit misleading. He had a 3.0 WAR in 2009 after the trade. In 2010 he had a 1.0 WAR with the Nationals over the entire season. He was then traded for a guy who is 23 and hasn’t made it out of low-A. So the Nationals didn’t get good value for him. They got a lot of production in 2009, but neither the Pirates nor the Nationals were contending that year.

      Morgan did have a great year in 2011 with the Brewers, but went back to being more of a bench player in 2012.

      Hanrahan had a 0.5 WAR in 2009 after the trade. In 2010 and 2011 he combined for a 3.4 WAR, then had a -0.4 fWAR in 2012. He also has pretty decent trade value, and will probably end up fetching more than Morgan or Burnett landed Washington.

      Overall Hanrahan has been very consistent. Burnett has been a good reliever, but a bit inconsistent with a bad 2011 season. Milledge didn’t work out at all. Morgan had a great year in 2009, and another one in 2011, but he seems very hit or miss and doesn’t look like a starting candidate.

      Based on WAR, the trade looks like a win for Washington. But considering most of that WAR for Washington came in a meaningless 2009 season, and considering the player with the best value today is Hanrahan, I’d say the Pirates clearly won that deal.

      • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

        We can’t discount a players value because it came in a meaningless season. If we do that then pretty much every trade Huntington has made has to be discounted accordingly.

        Agreed that Hammer has the most present day value. But I disagree that this is a deal the Pirates ‘clearly won’.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          For the purposes of this discussion we’re talking about who the best player in the trade was. Hanrahan is clearly the best player in this deal. And the Pirates were much better off in this deal than the Nationals. The Nationals ended up with a good reliever, a good half season from Morgan, and a non-prospect when they dealt him. The Pirates didn’t get much from Milledge, but got their closer for two years, a strong reliever for one, and whatever will come in this trade.

          • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

            Based on WAR, the best player in the trade was Nyjer Morgan. Hanrahan was second. Burnett (in third) is closer to Hammer than Hammer is to Tony Plush in terms of post-trade accumulated WAR.

            I agree that Hammer is the most valuable current player. And I agree that if the Pirates trade him for pieces that eventually surpass the value given up to get Hanrahan, that you can call the Hanraha/Milledge for Burnett/Morgan swap a win for the Pirates. But until that happens, this deal, IMHO, is one the Pirates didn’t win and I don’t think it is accurate to state its a trade the Pirates clearly won.

            • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

              Looking only at the WAR is extremely poor analysis. That can be a starting point, but you have to dig deeper. In this case when you dig deeper you see that the Pirates won the deal. I haven’t seen many people, if any, say that the Pirates didn’t win this deal.

              The Nationals’ GM even regrets the trade:

              http://www.masnsports.com/nationals_pastime/2012/07/the-henry-rodriguez-dilemma.html

              This seems like a really ridiculous point to argue.

              • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

                I think looking at WAR is considerably stronger than throwing out WAR (as you attempted) based on the stats coming in a meaningless season.

                I also think you are overstating how much regret Rizzo actually had over the deal. The context of the quote was in response to ‘worst trade you’ve made’

                Full quote; Maybe the most compelling question came when Rizzo was asked for his worst trade as Nationals GM. If he had one to do over, he said, it would be closer Joel Hanrahan, whom he traded to the Pirates along with Lastings Milledge for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. “He was a guy we probably gave up on too soon,” Rizzo said. At the time, Hanrahan was out of minor league options and “was struggling mightily,” Rizzo said.

                “At least we got a really good mainstay for our bullpen,” Rizzo said, referring to Burnett.

                http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/post/mike-rizzo-at-the-national-press-club-celebrating-scouts-promoting-the-nationals-and-boycotting-moneyball/2012/05/05/gIQA3ToW3T_blog.html

                So, sure, it’s the trade Rizzo regrets the most. That speaks more to what a great job Rizzo has done versus how good this trade is for the Pirates.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

    Here is another reason to believe that Melancon’s long-ball problem was a mirage of bad luck: He had a well-above league average groundball rate of 50%. That was consistent with his career numbers and suggests that his 1.6/9 HR rate of last year will easily come back down to his slightly better than average career HR numbers.

    If the trade were Hanrahan for Sands, Pimentel, and Melancon, it would be a steal for the Pirates. They would essentially be getting Sands and Pimentel for nothing. My guess is that Gaby Sanchez will be playing in Boston next year.

  • IC Bob

    Reports I hear are Melancon is a 91-92 pitcher not a 94-95. Throws a sinker that when its not sinking sails out of the park. his stuff doesn’t translate into anything more then a fine reliever when he is on. Hanarahan came to Pittsburgh with a 100 MPH fastball. If harnessed he clearly had an opportunity to be the player he is.

    My issue with this trade and other trades is we are at a point in PGH that we can’t even keep a guy to FA now. We have to trade him before hand. Teams like the Sox and the Yanks get draft picks when guys leave. In Pittsburgh we will never know because we have never let a player walk except D Lee and he retired. Why is that?

    One last think I find it interesting that every trade NH makes seems to bring in prospects that use to be rated really high by BA but for whatever reason stink now.

    This trade its Pimental and Sands
    Other trades pr FA is Snider, Crosby, Laroche, Wood, Sanchez, Anderson Etc. Etc. Finding lightning in bottle is a good idea but when you become entirely focused on it, then expect a disaster.

    • meatygettingsaucy

      Melancon is listed as having a mid 90’s fastball that he mixes in with a high 80’s sinker. By the end of the season, it was reported by several outlets Melancon was throwing 3 MPH faster than he was at the start of the season, into the high 90’s. On a side note, if a sinker doesn’t sink, naturally it is going to be hit very hard, it doesn’t matter who throws it.

      2009-2010 Hanrahan averaged 95 on his fastball, never 100. The uptick occurred during the 2011 season when he was averaging 97.2. It wasn’t until he was with the Pirates did his velocity increase for whatever reason.

      A guy like Hanrahan is a dime a dozen and he has some serious red flags. His walk rate shot up to 5.4 per 9, most of his saves were of the heart attack variety, and he is owed almost $7 million. For a team like the Pirates, $7 million is WAY TOO MUCH to be paying a guy to pitch one inning. In addition, at the end of the season, in order to receive a compensatory draft pick, Hanrahan would have to be offered something close to $12.5 a year and then decline it. The Red Sox will not receive a pick for him.

      We don’t know the other two players in this trade and there is nothing to suggest Sands “stinks now” as you put it. Until last year, Pimental had been progressing nicely. Looking at the other players you listed, Blue Jays fans were screaming foul when they traded Snider and are still upset about the trade, Crosby was a FA signing, LaRoche was considered a top prospect when acquired, Brandon Wood was a waiver wire claim, Gaby Sanchez was acquired by trading Gorkys Hernandez and was coming from the fiasco that was the Ozzie Guillen run Miami Marlins, who is Anderson?

      Coming back to Hanrahan, you trade relievers when they are at peak value. If the Pirates were one piece away from winning the World Series then I would be a bit miffed about losing the closer. However, Grilli showed he is more than capable to close games, Hanrahan is showing signs he will not be the reliever he was in 2011, and there are younger, cheaper and probably just as talented pitchers who can fill in for Hanrahan on the market and in AAA right now (Black and Morris). If anything, we should be upset Hanrahan wasn’t traded after 2011.

      • buster09

        @meaty : just wanted to let you know that there is at least one reader out here who couldn’t agree with you more.

        • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

          Two readers

      • swartnp7

        Maybe he meant Tim Alderson?

        Agreed w/ Tim, NH gets a pass on bullpen from me. Many want to moan just to moan. Hanny’s irreplaceable/ too valuable! No, we got him as a throw in. We are dumping salary! and yet no one gives kuddos that they just spent $30 mill on a starter & catcher. And no one gives NH credit for seeing in Hanny what no one else did. He got grilli for nothing, turned dotel into McDonald. He saw in AJ what no one else did. He took Wandy from a guy who usually owns us, to a guy that is helping. He understands bullpens. Get off his back about bullpen stuff.

        If you want to get on his case, do it w/ his inability to evaluate hitters. NH does struggle w/ bats though. I can’t blame him for trying to find a buy low guy like sands. He did the same w/ GJones and I think that got him hooked on that lightning in a bottle stuff.

        I’m fascinated by those that complain we didn’t get a two way SS. Really? You thought that was gonna happen? Or for those that are always Kings of Hindsight and say we shoulda traded Hanny two years ago. No crap, but there was NO way that was happening at the time.
        Chill. Out. Our Christmas gifts of Cole, Taillon, Hanson, Palonco, and Marte will be arriving soon. (Which I’m sure no one will credit NH for)

        in the meantime, ho ho ho and have a lovely and safe holiday with all your families. And Tim, thanks for doing a truly amazing job!

      • IC Bob

        Laroche had already shown signs of his inability to handle ML pitching . He was part of a trade where had we kept Bay we would have received far more in return from his bat and from the pick we would have received. Pimintal has two years of poor play behind him at this time.

        NH has done a fantastic job of finding relievers off the scrap heap. He has also wasted some serious money on guys no one wanted like Gomez, Hinske, Overpay, Bedard (actually like the effort here), Crosby, Mcgloth, Vazquez, Qualls, etc etc.. We are in a cycle that never ends.I am not questioning that we don’t want to spend 10% on a closer but 7 million really is not that out of line here for a good closer. Hannys struggles occurred when he was pitching once every week in non save situations the final few months. HE IS A GOOD CLOSER!!

        We talk about Grilli like he was blazing it at the end. He was yakking like the rest of them in Aug and Sept.. I have serious reservations as to whether he can handle the job. If he cannot then we will run through Morris, Hughes, Watson and the rest. We will lament the many blown saves that a fragile team could not afford to have and how the season spiraled out of control. I love the Pirates and like the general idea of what this management team is trying to do with building through the minors and the draft but I have serious reservations about whether they are the management team capable to evaluate the amateur talent, train that talent and get us to that next level.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          “We talk about Grilli like he was blazing it at the end. He was yakking like the rest of them in Aug and Sept.”

          A quick comparison of August/September numbers:

          Grilli: 20 IP, 30 K, 5 BB, 3 HR
          Hanrahan: 18.1 IP, 20 K, 15 BB, 3 HR

          If we’re only going on the numbers in those months, I have more faith in Grilli.

        • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

          Grilli was ‘yakking’ in August?

          He appeared in 12 games…je gave up 4 runs in one regrettable appearance.

          The other 11 were clean.

          Ill take ‘yakking’ like that from ALL my relievers.

          Foo

  • Rebel

    Right on Bob!!

  • Rebel

    Lol another rebel??

    Bob is right though. Neil has claimed so many pitchers off the scrap heap and a few have worked out.

    Has he hit on any free agents?? That money wasted does nothing but show he can’t evaluate ML talent on the free agent market.

    The pirates front office is like that dog you see chasing its own tail. It’s a cycle you can’t win with no end in sight.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Well, when you’re forced to shop at the Walmart of Free Agents, it gets much harder to ‘hit’ on one. You get what you pay for. And, most of those were added as fill ins. We have never been able to buy any of the Big Ones.

      I have a good feeling about Martin….not so much about Liriano.

      Btw, wasn’t Barmes a free agent? He wasn’t bad after his horrible April / May he did fairly well. He hit .271/.267 in Aug/Sept (.258 in the 2nd half, . AND, his defense was VERY good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    I didn’t get my P2 Prospects Guide in time for Christmas. I guess I’ll have to read my “Pearls B4 Swine” treasury instead.

  • buster09

    Gee,I have been visiting this site for quite some time,but from some of the comments the last few days,I think I might have bumped my head and went to the PG or the Trib !

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Hopefully, you’re not comparing PG Plus to the Trib, but maybe Bob Smizik’s site?

      PG Plus is fairly civilized and erudite……except when they’re not!

      Plus Foo

  • Rebel

    Agree Lee on Barmes. And yes when you’re Walmart shopping you get what you pay for. But there are some good quality deals at wal mart.
    It just seems when we get a good player and Neil does deserve credit far more than we all give him. But we have a closer that saves 40 games. We have jones who has been a 20 plus home run type in the line up. Why when we finally get them do why do we end sending them off for pieces that apparently are reclamation projects? Someone above stated he’d rather get one good player as opposed to 3-4 we need to be lucky on. Exactly! Tim has more faith in Grilli than Hanrahan based on aug sept numbers. I have more faith as apparently does Boston and the most of baseball in Hanrahan over Grilli based on the few teams that were bidding on Grilli as the set up reliever. Had anyone thought he was a closer they’d put the money down accordingly. Nobody believes Grilli can close besides Neil and maybe The Tim guy. We need Kristy back giving real accurate ML insight as opposed to the Tim guy. He’s all about WAR Merry Christmas pirate fans!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I dunno….relievers are easy to find. I love Hanny, but I ain’t losing any sleep over him leaving.

  • genealley

    Melancon’s only problem last year was April, when he had an ERA of 49.00 and gave up 5 of the 8 HRs that he allowed in 2012. He was very solid in 2010-2011. This is a good trade if Melancon is included and the Buc to be named isn’t Jones or Snider. Closers are overvalued and it seems like the RedSox are the last to know.

  • Rebel

    Relievers are easy to find?? Tell that to half the league. Have you checked bullpen ERA’s lately??

    • michaelbro8

      Agreed. Every year there are 1 to 3 teams that don’t make the post-season specifically because of their closer’s failure. A successful closer takes a specific mentality that’s hard to find.