Mark Melancon Pirates

A Realistic View of Mark Melancon’s “Struggles” as the Closer

Mark Melancon Pirates

Mark Melancon gave up runs last night, proving he’s human. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The playoff race brings out strange emotions. One of those emotions is the tendency to magnify a bad outing into something more than just a bad outing. It’s normal to forget the good performances and remember the bad performances. But when it comes to late September in a close playoff race, those bad performances get elevated into something more than just one bad outing.

Last night the reaction I received on Twitter was surprising following Mark Melancon blowing the save. Here was the situation:

**Charlie Morton gave up one run in eight innings and was at 99 pitches. He had only gone more than 99 pitches twice this year, topping out at 104. Keep in mind that he’s returning from Tommy John surgery.

**The Pirates had a one run lead, and they turned to Mark Melancon, who entered the game with a 1.07 ERA.

That’s the right move, no matter the outcome. Anyone second guessing the decision to put Melancon in is operating with 100% hindsight. There are a lot of pitching moves where it’s fair to criticize Clint Hurdle, and I often make those criticisms, but putting one of the best relievers in the league in to close out a one run game for a pitcher who is pretty much at his season high in pitch counts and coming off Tommy John surgery? That’s a no brainer.

It just didn’t work.

I’m not going to discuss the second guessing any more than that. What I am going to discuss is the idea that Melancon has struggled lately. I got a surprising amount of comments alluding to the fact that Melancon hasn’t had it as the closer, and that every appearance has been a nail biter. All it took was a quick look at his game logs to see that he’s coming off two straight 1-2-3 inning saves. But let’s dig a little deeper, looking at all of his save opportunities over the last month.

September 18th: Melancon entered with a one run lead. He gave up a first pitch single on the outside edge that Jed Gyorko took the other way. After two outs, he started giving up singles. He gave up an opposite field single to Chris Denorfia on the first pitch. Then Logan Forsythe went downstairs and sent a pitch opposite field that was located in the following location:

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 2.19.19 AM (2)

That’s not on Melancon. That’s just good hitting, and it tied the game. Rene Rivera gave the Padres the lead on another single on an outside pitch taken the opposite way. This time it was a golf wedge shot down the first base line.

September 15th: Melancon came on to close out a one run game. He retired the side in order.

September 14th: Melancon closed out a one run lead with three outs. The only eventful moment here was that he struck out the second batter, allowed that batter to reach on a wild pitch, then got a double play to end the game.

September 12th: He had a two run lead. He struck out the leadoff batter, but that batter reached on a wild pitch. A single to center put runners on first and second with no outs. Melancon was bailed out with a bunt popped foul by Donnie Murphy. He then got two outs to end it. He got four outs in the inning, but it was only eventful because of the wild pitch (which happened again two nights later).

September 10th: This is the moment everyone remembers. Melancon came in with a three run lead. He struck out the first two batters, then gave up four straight singles and two runs before getting his third strikeout of the inning.

September 9th: Melancon got two quick groundouts, followed by a single, then a first pitch ground out to close out the one run game. He needed eight pitches to get through the Rangers 2-3-4 part of the order.

September 3rd: With a one run lead, Melancon got two quick ground outs, then gave up a double to Scooter Gennett. He struck out his next batter to end the game.

September 2nd: He had a three run lead, struck out the first two batters, gave up a two out single, then got a ground out to end the game.

August 23rd: A two run lead where Melancon only gave up a one out infield single.

August 19th: Melancon had a three run lead. He gave up a one out single, got a strikeout for out number two, then let a run score on a double. A wild pitch put the runner at third, but he struck out the final batter for the save.

Melancon did have one non-save situation in this time period. That came on August 30th when he entered with a five run lead, gave up two hits, and didn’t allow a run to close out the game.

Looking over these appearances, Melancon didn’t exactly struggle. He had a bad outing against Texas, but got away with the win. He only struggled against the Cubs two nights later because of a wild pitch, which was more of a passed ball on a slider in the dirt that five holed Russell Martin. Then there was last night, where Melancon just had a bad outing fueled by good opposite field hitting by the Padres.

The important thing here is perspective. Mark Melancon is only struggling by the standards Mark Melancon has set this season. For most of the year we’ve gotten used to Melancon being automatic. Up until that game against Texas, he had an ERA under 1. The only other significant stretch where his ERA was over 1 for a long period was in early-to-mid June, following one run in 0.1 innings against the Braves.

Statistically, Melancon has had a bad stretch. He has a 4.09 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP in the one month span above. But that’s largely fueled by the outing tonight and the outing against the Rangers. Take those out, and he has a 1.00 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in that span. That is in line with his numbers from the previous 57.1 innings before this stretch.

The mistake people make with relievers is that they tend to put too much weight on extremely small sample sizes. Outside of tonight and the bad game against the Rangers, Melancon has been the best reliever in baseball. Even with those outings, he’s still one of the top relievers in baseball. And that’s the perspective that needs to be taken with Melancon. He has pitched like one of the best relievers in the game this year. So when he has a bad outing or two it isn’t a sign that he’s struggling. It’s a sign that he’s human, and that he’s going to actually give up runs and hits every so often.

The problem is that it’s easy to remember those few outings where Melancon gives up runs. It’s harder to remember the many outings where he comes in, gets three quick outs with ten pitches or less, and closes out a win. That only leads to situations where you think Melancon has been unreliable because of two bad outings recently, only forgetting all of the other recent outings where he has been one of the best relievers in the game.

Enjoy this story? Pirates Prospects will be switching to a subscription site on 4/13, so that we can continue bringing you the best Pirates coverage there is. For a very small monthly price, you can continue getting articles like this, along with coverage from every minor league city. Get more information here, and subscribe today!

Share This Article

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.

Trades Were Never Going to Help This Streaky Offense

Next Story »

Five Players Who Could Help the Pirates Win the NL Central

  • johndw28

    Tim great article- I generally agree with you. One concern I do have with bullpen is health of Justin Wilson? Have you heard anything about him? Greg Brown mentioned something alluding to questions about his health.

  • smurph

    One other thing to add to this column. Since he mover to the closer role this is only the 2nd blown save Melancon has had in something like 16 chances. And the other “blown” save was the result of an unearned run. There was a 2-base error, then with two outs, he gave up a run-scoring single.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Lets compare Melancon’s FIP during his time as a closer to Grilli’s FIP in May or June or combined. Grilli was way more dominant. I’m not talking about effective, but when comparing them, i’m sorry Tim, but Grilli was was less of a nailbiter until a couple bad outings in July

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

      Here is the comparison:

      Grilli as closer: 1.60 FIP
      Melancon since Grilli went down: 1.54 FIP

      Also, you can’t dismiss the times Grilli was a nail biter without also dismissing the same from Melancon.

      The fact is, they’re both equally dominant in their own ways. Grilli strikes out a ton. Melancon doesn’t allow home runs or walks, and gets a strikeout per inning.

Latest Analysis

  • Arquimedes Caminero

    Breaking Down the Final Pirates Roster Battles After Today’s Cuts

    15 hours ago

    With less than a week remaining in camp, the Pittsburgh Pirates made their latest round of cuts this morning, sending three relievers to minor league camp, including ...

    Read More
  • Keller Supak Hinsz

    Even With the New Draft Rules, the Pirates Are Still Loading Up on Projectable Pitchers

    2 days ago

    From 2008-2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent a lot of resources on projectable pitchers out of high school. So far, this approach has led to breakout performances from ...

    Read More
  • Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

    Why Should You Care About Prospects?

    4 days ago

    Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, ...

    Read More
  • Gregory Polanco

    Q&A: Trading Prospects For Rentals, Polanco Concerns, Meadows vs Appel

    5 days ago

    I missed the Q&A last week due to a common problem in Spring Training: I forgot what day it was. It was around 6:00 that I was ...

    Read More
  • Nick Kingham f

    Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher

    6 days ago

    With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to ...

    Read More
  • Arquimedes Caminero 3

    The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

    1 week ago

    There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were ...

    Read More
  • Jordan Luplow

    How the Pirates are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve With the New Draft Rules

    1 week ago

    The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought a lot of changes to Major League Baseball. The biggest change for the Pittsburgh Pirates came in the draft. From 2008-2011, ...

    Read More
  • Alen Hanson

    The Key For Alen Hanson to Help the Pirates in the Majors This Year

    1 week ago

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at ...

    Read More
  • Tyler Glasnow 2

    What the Stats Don’t Tell You About Tyler Glasnow

    2 weeks ago

    The stat line for Tyler Glasnow’s start at Pirate City yesterday looked great: 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. The lone run ...

    Read More
  • JaCoby Jones Josh Bell

    JaCoby Jones Did Fine in the Move to Shortstop, But Needs to Cut Down on Strikeouts

    2 weeks ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones as an outfielder in the third round of the 2013 draft, then surprised everyone the following year when they moved him ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles

    More