First Pitch: It’s Time to Recognize Mark Melancon as an Elite Reliever

Mark Melancon is one of the best relievers in baseball.

That’s not just my opinion. It’s a statistical fact. Just take a look at the numbers over the last two years. Melancon ranks 7th of 139 relievers in xFIP. If you prefer ERA, he drops down to 8th. He’s been an amazing reliever for the Pirates, but he doesn’t get the credit he deserves in Pittsburgh.

I’m always baffled by the reactions towards Melancon. It seems that part of the fan base takes him for granted, assuming that he’s just doing what any good reliever does. He’s set the bar so high that when he actually pitches like a good reliever, instead of an elite reliever, the doom and gloom predictions come out. That’s usually from the other part of the fan base that is just waiting for the other shoe to drop, then predicting his downward spiral after a bad outing.

Even with numbers that show Melancon as one of the top relievers in baseball over the last two years, a lot of people don’t fully appreciate what the Pirates have with him. It’s to the point where there are calls for a closer of the future, or to trade prospects and spend about $10 M on Huston Street for the next year and a half. Since the overall numbers don’t get the appreciation they deserve, I decided to dig deep into Melancon’s stats, and show why all of the arguments against him are incorrect.

He Can’t Pitch in the Ninth

I’ve never believed that a good pitcher needs some sort of special magic to pitch in the ninth inning and close out games. It’s the Proven Closer© theory, which is only proven to be incorrect time and time again. Usually the idea stems from a lack of forgiveness. A bad inning in the eighth is forgotten easier than a bad inning that loses a game, or blows a lead and sends the game to extra innings.

In Melancon’s case, the stats show that he absolutely can pitch in the ninth inning. His numbers by inning:

I Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+
4th inning 1 1.0 0 0.00 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 -100
5th inning 4 3.0 2 6.00 17 13 4 4 1 0 0 0 0 3 2 0.67 .308 .471 .385 .855 5 0 1 0 0 0 0 .364 184
6th inning 10 6.2 4 5.40 27 25 9 6 0 2 1 1 0 2 7 3.50 .240 .296 .520 .816 13 1 0 0 0 0 0 .294 165
7th inning 43 28.0 12 3.86 116 106 16 24 6 0 1 2 0 8 23 2.88 .226 .287 .311 .598 33 3 1 1 0 0 3 .280 97
8th inning 115 105.0 35 3.00 423 387 38 83 12 1 6 3 1 25 103 4.12 .214 .271 .297 .568 115 6 6 1 3 1 2 .274 87
9th inning 114 106.0 32 2.72 443 411 38 99 11 0 8 3 2 26 97 3.73 .241 .293 .326 .619 134 8 4 2 0 5 7 .297 104
Ext inning 18 20.0 8 3.60 82 74 9 18 3 0 2 2 1 6 14 2.33 .243 .305 .365 .670 27 2 1 0 1 1 1 .271 120
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2014.

I prefer xFIP for relievers, although I couldn’t find that available for inning splits. Maybe there’s a reason that’s not available for this particular split, and maybe that reason is because there’s no value in looking at splits by inning.

Oh, and what about just looking at save situations?

I Split W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP BK WP BF WHIP SO9 SO/W
in Sv Situ 3 4 .429 3.10 123 0 56 0 0 53 116.0 109 46 40 7 23 2 119 6 0 12 479 1.138 9.2 5.17
in non-Sv 11 7 .611 3.10 140 0 63 0 0 0 153.2 125 60 53 11 47 5 127 7 0 4 632 1.119 7.4 2.70
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2014.

Identical results. And not far off from where everyone’s favorite trade deadline upgrade, Huston Street, stands in his career in save situations.

He’s Getting Figured Out

One thing that is said most often is that hitters are starting to figure Melancon out. When I say that this is mentioned “often”, what I mean is “about once a month for the last two years, people start predicting that Melancon will turn into a pumpkin at midnight because he had a rare bad outing”. Unfortunately there is no actual statistical evidence to support this. In fact, the stats say otherwise.

Last year Melancon had a .511 OPS against opponents, which is ridiculous. This year? A .500 OPS. Typically when hitters figure a pitcher out, that pitcher’s ridiculous OPS against those hitters doesn’t go down lower.

It’s actually not hard to figure out Melancon. He has thrown his cutter about half the time over the last two years. He throws his curve about 20 percent of the time. On average, you’ll see the cutter every other pitch, and the curve is his off-speed pitch. You know what is coming. So it should be easy to hit him, right?

Well that’s not the case either. I looked at all of the pitchers this year who had 30+ innings, and used their cutter 30% of the time or more (there were 18 of them). I wanted to see who had the best OPS against in their career, just off that pitch. As it turned out, Melancon ranked second, and ranked third this year.

Player

2014

Career
Kenley Jansen

0.737

0.528

Mark Melancon

0.560

0.586

Jarred Cosart

0.563

0.603

Adam Wainwright

0.498

0.648

Jamey Wright

0.555

0.652

Josh Collmenter

0.655

0.653

Joakim Soria

0.769

0.681

Travis Wood

0.747

0.685

David Robertson

0.854

0.694

Bryan Shaw

0.695

0.705

Jesse Chavez

0.653

0.716

Carlos Torres

0.681

0.728

Dan Haren

0.769

0.737

Samuel Deduno

0.690

0.765

Danny Farquhar

0.782

0.774

Scott Feldman

0.735

0.790

Andre Rienzo

0.984

0.967

Mike Bolsinger

1.061

1.061

Hitters know what is coming, yet they can’t do anything about it. Melancon has one of the best cutters in the game, and that’s even after the fact that he’s established that he’s throwing it every other pitch. It’s the same with the curveball. Here is the same study, only this time looking at everyone who threw their curve 20% of the time or more. I also included the knuckle curve. That’s what Melancon’s curve is classified as, although when I spoke to him during Spring Training, he said it was just a regular spike curveball.

Player

2014

Career
Dellin Betances

0.197

0.208

Yoervis Medina

0.291

0.271

Cody Allen

0.275

0.275

Mark Melancon

0.349

0.314

Collin McHugh

0.239

0.322

Jose Fernandez

0.321

0.334

Craig Kimbrel

0.334

0.334

A.J. Ramos

0.363

0.343

Drew Pomeranz

0.354

0.354

Sonny Gray

0.438

0.365

Jamey Wright

0.440

0.366

Gio Gonzalez

0.368

0.401

Roenis Elias

0.410

0.410

Charlie Morton

0.341

0.420

A.J. Burnett

0.437

0.439

Tom Koehler

0.451

0.451

David Robertson

0.319

0.457

Jesse Hahn

0.464

0.464

Yusmeiro Petit

0.611

0.465

Alex Wood

0.461

0.468

Brad Hand

0.477

0.488

Brett Oberholtzer

0.422

0.503

Andre Rienzo

0.596

0.503

Tyler Skaggs

0.606

0.504

Josh Beckett

0.362

0.508

Juan Gutierrez

0.426

0.512

Donn Roach

0.530

0.530

Jeremy Affeldt

0.686

0.536

Joba Chamberlain

0.364

0.547

Sam LeCure

0.734

0.550

Brandon Workman

0.492

0.552

Samuel Deduno

0.479

0.555

Danny Duffy

0.400

0.557

Zach Duke

0.325

0.574

Anthony Varvaro

0.500

0.576

Edinson Volquez

0.469

0.577

Tommy Hunter

0.516

0.595

Jose Quintana

0.425

0.605

Carlos Martinez

0.673

0.608

Scott Feldman

0.817

0.609

Ryan Vogelsong

0.678

0.610

Erik Bedard

0.928

0.624

Mike Bolsinger

0.642

0.642

Justin Grimm

0.672

0.644

Adam Wainwright

0.498

0.648

Brandon McCarthy

0.750

0.652

Joel Peralta

0.654

0.684

Josh Fields

0.415

0.698

Jarred Cosart

0.734

0.702

Anthony Swarzak

0.586

0.711

Fernando Abad

0.865

0.739

J.J. Hoover

0.874

0.801

Once again, Melancon ranks high on the list, coming in at fourth in career OPS with the pitch, only this time it was out of 52 pitchers.

I would have done the same with the fastball, but his .465 OPS this year suggests that’s not really a big problem. The point here is that anyone who takes five seconds to check out FanGraphs will see that Melancon mostly works off a cutter/curve combo. Despite the knowledge of what is coming in advance, batters can’t hit those two pitches. If someone has figured out Melancon, they’re not telling MLB teams about it.

What About the Singles Through the Right Side of the Infield?

There was a weird stretch last year where Melancon gave up several well-placed hits through the right side of the infield in the span of a week, blowing a few games in the process. This leads to a theory that batters can just hit the ball through the right side to get to Melancon. That assumes that all batters have the skill to just hit the ball at the exact spot where a fielder isn’t standing, which is why batting averages are at a low point these days.

Let’s just assume that batters do have the ability to do this, and it is a weakness for Melancon. If that’s true, then his OPS on ground balls would go up. His BABIP on grounders would also go up, since batters would be finding the hole on the right side of the infield. Here are those numbers for 2013 and 2014.

Stat: 2013 / 2014

OPS on GB: .387 / .358

BABIP on GB: .185 / .179

Once again, the numbers have gone down this year. That’s not something that happens when opponents have you figured out. I will note that his numbers against right-handers who go opposite field are horrible this year, with a .500 average and an OPS over 1.000. However, two points on that.

1. We’re talking about a sample size of 20 plate appearances.

2. We’re talking about a sample size of 20 plate appearances!

Even if you trust a sample of 20 plate appearances, it ignores the fact that right-handers rarely pull off this accomplishment. And his numbers against right-handers have gone down, from a .638 OPS last year to a .580 OPS this year. So clearly this approach isn’t helping right-handers.

Melancon is one of the best relievers in baseball

Here is a recap of a few things Melancon has going for him:

1. He posts some of the best numbers in the game among relief pitchers.

2. He throws a cutter half the time, and despite the fact that people know it is coming, the pitch rates as one of the best in terms of OPS against.

3. His curve is his big out pitch, and just like the cutter, it ranks as one of the top curves in terms of OPS against.

4. Almost all of his numbers have gotten better in 2014, showing that people are doing the opposite of figuring him out.

5. There has been no difference in his career between save situations and non-save situations, and his numbers in the 9th inning are slightly better than the 8th inning numbers.

Here are some things Melancon doesn’t have going for him:

1. He doesn’t have crazy facial hair, or a weird hair cut.

2. He always looks very serious.

3. He doesn’t have a signature celebration when he gets his final out.

4. He doesn’t throw upper 90s with his fastball.

5. He hasn’t had a full season of success as a closer, which makes it impossible for him to ever have success as a closer. Don’t ask me how all of those other closers got to their role.

Despite these short-comings, I think that Melancon should be recognized as one of the best relievers in the game. The Pirates don’t need a late inning guy or a closer, because they have him. I could do another post talking about how great Tony Watson has been, but I’ll save that and just say that the late innings look fine with those two in charge. And by those two, I mean those two clean-cut, serious guys who go about their job like it’s routine, and just continue to put up some of the best numbers in baseball.

Links and Notes

**Why the Pirates Will Be Fine if They Don’t Make a Big Addition to the Bullpen

**Prospect Watch: JaCoby Jones Hits 15th Homer of the Year

**The New Draft Rules Are Backfiring

**Prospect Highlights: Some Productive Plate Appearances From Tito Polo

**Minor League Schedule: Glasnow and Creasy Go For Bradenton Tonight

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.

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  • @BuccoSharkTank

    This article should be required reading for all Pirates fans, I have to regurgitate Melancon’s outstanding numbers nearly every game on twitter. I believe Melancon to be the most underrated member of the Pittsburgh Pirates in recent history.

    At $5.5MM per fWAR, Melancon has provided the Pirates w $18.15MM of value since his arrival to the Pirates bullpen. Last year he made $521K, this year he’ll make $2.595MM.

    I’m all for getting another late inning reliever if the deal is right, but don’t expect another Melancon.

  • http://twitter.com/TSweeneyG7 TSweeneyG7

    I’m not disagreeing with you about Melancon being a tremendous reliever. However, I still believe Watson should be the closer. I still think he’s the best reliever on this team, which is what who the closer should be, IMO.

    I also think the Pirates need to make a deal for a reliever. Not a proven closer, but a mid leverage guy.

    Once again, I think Melancon is very under appreciated, but I’d still give the ball to Watson in the 9th.

    • Mike C.

      I’m just curious why u think so. What exactly about watson makes him the better “closer” than melancon in your views?

      Personally, I’d do a lefty/righty closer by committee if it were my choice. But wth do i know.

      • Tyler Sweeney

        Also, who doesn’t want to yell “Elementary for Watson!” to end a game?

    • moose7195

      There is no difference between the ninth and eighth inning. This team has blown games in both innings at various times this year. The order you pitch them shouldn’t matter, each pitcher will get their fair share of tough hitters in either role.

      And why would they need to deal for such a reliever, Mazzaro has that experience with this team.

  • Mike C.

    For the people out there who keep saying “he doesn’t look like an elite closer”,”i have no faith in him to close out big games”, or “he doesn’t pass the EYE test”
    It’s not the data that’s incorrect, it’s your eyes.
    Always connsider your opinions could be wrong first b4 questioning the data.

  • @BuccoSharkTank

    I want to add that I hate that a save is even a statistic…I want my best relievers pitching in the highest leverage situations possible, regardless of what inning it is.

    Where have you gone Goose Gossage?

    • Mike C.

      Agree 100% but we all know it’s never gonna happen in our lifetimes.

  • Bryan Graham

    I’m sure the biggest part of it is that due to the fact the Pirates have blown a fair amount of games late this year that when Melancon does, it can get blown out of proportion. That being said, I would have no problem with Houston Street coming on board along with a couple other bullpen pieces. The pen has definitely been a weakness this year, now I’m just hoping Watson’s last 2 outings were only a fluke. Hopefully the Frieri experiment is about over.

  • moose7195

    Yeah, I think you might of just won the argument from yesterday’s article. The idea that a guy can be a setup man but not a closer is ridiculous. He has been beyond exceptional these last two years in any role, and single-handedly won the Hanrahan trade. It seems as though some fans have been spoiled from the good bullpen play we’ve had these last few years, which is sad and not an unusual reaction from sports fans in this town.

  • wvbuccos

    I came to the realization after reading this that I become frustrated with Melancon when he gives up the opposite field hits to right handers; I assumed that this was becoming a problem and maybe hitters were figuring him out. But based on the numbers cited here, I think it’s just that the worst damage against Melancon comes from RH going oppo, but it rarely happens. So perhaps RH hitters know trying to use the opposite field is the way to go, but they haven’t exactly had great success doing it. I would guess that most fans are as guilty as I am: I take for granted all the times Melancon goes 1-2-3 in 10 pitches or less and his game is quickly over, but I freak out over the rare times he struggles and only remember the bad.

    • bucsws2014

      I’ll plead guilty as well since most of this article was in direct response to things I posted yesterday. OK Tim, you win.

      Also, I was glad to see Jim Caples awarded the MEP to Watson for his ASG appearance. One pitch. One out.

      I’ll also note that if anyone watched the MILB ASG, you couldn’t have been all that impressed with Andy Oliver’s performance. Lucky for him he got a DP that didn’t let the PCL get back in the game. But his pitches were all over the place.

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

        Between discussing this on Twitter over the last week, a few comments here, and other typical comments, this was a direct response to a lot of things that I’ve noticed aren’t backed up by stats.

        One of them is the “hits to RF by RHH”. That has happened 10 times this year. Only 20 balls have been hit to RF by right-handers. Obviously it’s not something that people can do on a regular occasion.

  • Mike C.

    Melancon needs a cool nick name like grilled cheese. He also needs a fist pump or bow & arrow move, anything he can call his signiture finisher move. Like a pro wrestler. Maybe he can do a jig. or maybe the Melancon Death Stare.
    Anything.
    Maybe then the fans will finally start to notice he’s a great “closer”
    Cause right now the quiet “polite handshake” just ain’t cutting it.

    • Lee Young

      I always thought Teke was too ugly and skinny to be a good closer.

      :)

    • bucsws2014

      I always had the feeling Russell HATED Grilli’s three punches to the chest protector.

      I imagine “No Neck” is not a great closer nickname, but Melancon really doesn’t have much of a neck.

    • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

      His nickname is the shark. Lean and clean and all business. A little snarl every once in a while is all he needs.

      Nice job breaking it down Tim. I hear you loud and clear, however I still want a Hanrahan type. Do not underestimate fear. That’s a part of it in the 9th IMO. Gossage, Dibble, Kimbrel… nasty boys. Mark is little more like Eck was, nibbler and obviously effective.

      I’d rather see Mark and Tony setting up and getting through a rough patch and then having a dominant 9th guy wipe it out. that’s just me though.

      • moose7195

        Then I don’t think you understood the point of the article. Melancon has been that dominant closer for the most part. It seems like you just want a bigger name to say you have a Bigger name

      • leowalter

        Do you mean striking fear like Rivera did ? Come on. You are talking about MLB, not Little League.

  • Scott Kliesen

    Good data to support your stance on Melancon. He is not the issue. Any reasonable person must agree with you after reading this article.

    The problem is CH rarely deviating from the modern day Managers RP usage playbook. Seems he would rather win the press conference than the game sometimes.

    In his defense, he is doing what every other Manager does.

  • jaygray007

    Thank you. Maybe fans just under rate him because he is a ginger? What else could it really be?

    • Lee Young

      Jay……what is a ‘ginger’ referencing?

      • stickyweb

        Lee, you’ve seriously never heard redheads called “gingers” before? I thought that was pretty universal

        • emjayinTN

          Count me in that number also – never heard it, That trade of Joel Hanrahan for Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimental, and others has to be one of the most one sided trades in the history of MLB. I am glad that Holt is doing well, but he is a utility guy at best and the Red Sox are showing their weaknesses in the OF.

          • http://batman-news.com NMR

            That is quite a bit of hyperbole.

  • spotswoode

    “That’s usually from the other part of the fan base that is just waiting for the other shoe to drop, then predicting his downward spiral after a bad outing.” That’s spot on. The criticism is irrational. That same part of the fan base is now criticizing Polanco for his “struggles” recently. The Pirates are a good team that will continue to get better. Perhaps it’s time for that “other part of the fan base” to accept that fact and abandon the sky is falling attitude.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Polanco looks like a blind dog at the plate lately. Its not about struggles, its about looking BAD. Luckily, he’s a rookie and he will get his timing back and be fine.

  • Lee Young

    I have no problem with Watson, Melancon or even Hughes. Its the rest of our guys.

    I still wouldn’t mind bringing back Chad Qualls

    • Y2JGQ2

      Is Doug Bair available?

  • stickyweb

    I think the elephant in the room is the K rate. Nobody cares about a .500 OPS against if he’s not striking out 2 hitters an inning. Closers strike people out. If yours isn’t striking people out, overpay in prospects and cash to get one that STRIKES HITTERS OUT!

    • Y2JGQ2

      hard for pedro to make an error or for a hitter to get ding and dunk hits if he can’t hit the ball at all

  • John

    I agree with this statement on Melancon from Brian Cartwright at Bucs Dugout. “Now, if you know that Melancon is a ground ball pitcher (low, short flies) and is the hardest guy in MLB
    for a righty to pull, then it would be best for Polanco to be play
    shallower than usual in RF, not playing “no doubles” on the warning
    track. Melancon has allowed a higher hit rate with a lead in the 9th
    inning than he has with a lead in the 8th – I believe this is likely
    because of “no doubles”, not a lack of clutchness on Mark’s part.” Now if he is pitching in a one run game I believe you have to play no doubles, but I would like to see them move Polanco in a few steps with a two or three run lead. His cutter breaks away from right handed hitters and a lot of the hits to right are the hitter protecting the plate more than anything else.

  • leadoff

    I don’t see any stats about how he pitches against the NL. Central this year that give me faith. I don’t care about the rest of the league, the Pirates have to find a way to close out games in their own division. The above stats don’t show me anything that makes me think we have the advantage when Melancon pitches the ninth over say Chapman, Rodriguiz or Rosenthal. No one is saying Melancon is not a good pitcher, I never read that or heard that, I only hear and read that he is a better set-up man, which I still think is true. Since we are going total stats, these stats don’t break it down far enough, last year Melancon pitched the 8th inning against better hitters than Grilli pitched against in the ninth many times, stats have to break down who he is pitching against, teams he is pitching against, general averages don’t count much for me in the 8th and 9th innings. Pitching in the 8th or the 9th is not always a high leverage situations, show me how he did in high and low leverage situations.

    If you go by general stats, they don’t need anyone, if you go much deeper, you come to the realization that they are blowing too many games late, in their own division. No one is asking that they trade or move Melancon.

    • jaygray007

      welp there are only 15 games left vs the good NL Central teams left. So if there is some sort of hex that is put on Melancon when they are playing the NL Central, then it’s not that big a deal anymore because they don’t play the Reds, Cards, and Brewers that much more.

      Remember that a lot of the late inning problems have been Grilli, Wilson, and Frieri, with that bad 8th by watson the other day. Melancon has had… what?… like 2 bad outings this year?

    • stickyweb

      This year against STL, in 4 appearances he’s 2 for 2 in saves, 1 for 1 in holds, 4IP, 0 R, 0.50 WHIP, 3Ks; against CIN 5 appearances, no save chances, 2 for 2 in holds, 5IP, 0 R, 0.80 WHIP, 3Ks; against MIL 6 appearances, 1 for 2 in saves, 2 for 2 in holds, 5IP, 3 ER, 1.40 WHIP, 4Ks.
      So in total, 14 IP, 2.38 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 10Ks, 3 for 4 in saves, 5 for 5 in holds. Needless to say there are problems bigger than Melancon against the NL Central big boys.

      • Y2JGQ2

        The fact that we can’t hold a lead long enough (or have one at all vs. those teams) for Melancon to potentially blow it is what messes up the argument i guess, lol

  • MIfan

    I think part of the problem is that I don’t watch baseball analytically. I’m not sitting in my chair in the 9th inning thinking about xFIP. I’m basically having a heart attack anyway cause the game is close and we.need.those.last.three.outs. I did see the games last year where he gave up those hits to right and I guess they stuck in my mind. It’s all part of the fun and sometimes we just react emotinally, not statistically!

    • http://batman-news.com NMR

      +++

  • kevinapps

    Saves and Blown Saves are not enough for a guy that spent a lot of time as a setup man.
    It should be (Saves + Holds) vs Blown Saves.

  • piraddict

    Melancon seems to have added a pitch that breaks down and in the a RH batter, a two seamer maybe? That’s what he needs to make him even more effective. When St Louis hit him in the playoffs last year it was because he threw cutter after cutter to the outside low corner, daring them to hit it into right field, which they did. You have to go with results though. and #8 is great and appropriate for the 8th best team in baseball, a position for which the Pirates are in position to contend.

  • johndw28

    In 2014 his OPS is almost double in the 9th from what it is in the 8th. .634 vs .343

    • jaygray007

      less fantastic does not equal un-fantastic

  • piraddict

    I think I would approach the Pirates pitching situation in an entirely unorthodox way. What they have in overabundance is guys who have #3 starter potential, and they also have a relatively weak bottom half of the pen. I would go with a scheduled double up of starters on four days rest. So rather than using five guys to go hopefully 6 through 8 innings every fifth day I would use eight guys to go through 3 to 5 innings each every fourth day. The doubled up rotation might look like this:

    Morton/Wilson
    Cole/Sadler
    Locke/Cumpton
    Worley/Pimental

    This assumes Liriano and Volquez are already traded for return before the deadline. The bullpen would be:

    Melancon
    Watson
    Hughes
    Gomez
    Frieri

    Kingham could be worked into the eight man rotation later in the year after more AAA starts.

    This would have the following advantages:

    No “starter” would be likely to go through an opponents lineup more than twice, decreasing the problematic third time through the lineup.

    The load on the core starters arms would be reduced to about 5/8 their expected load now, helping prevent injuries and dead arms.

    More pitchers are getting MLB exposure, better preparing the Pirates for 2015.

    Back in the day pitching on four days rest was the norm, but you were expected to go the distance if possible. So a four day routine could be learned.

    This approach would better utilize a Pirates’ strength and reduce a weakness, reducing a need to trade for an upgraded pen.

    • Andrew

      The Rockies tried this in 2012, I think they had like a .400 winning percentage at the time. Getting a bullpen upgrade is about reducing uncertainty, this idea is the polar opposite. Additionally a trade is a much easier concept to implement than this plan.

      • piraddict

        Was it the system or the players that were deficient in Colorado? This about getting more of the best players in your organization on the field. If the players aren’t any good no system will be successful.

        • Andrew

          The entire thought process is wrong, in order to remove the need for a trade, you completely blow up the established routine of all of your pitchers on a contending team mid-season. Baseball is filled with so much uncertainty and this plan only multiplies it. I think it is likely that the current five man rotation with 7 relievers could be improved, but this is not something that is implemented over the All-Star break

          You haven’t really reduced the workload. Currently Pirates starters average six innings and about 90 pitches per outing. Assuming they average four innings, 60 pitches under the new plan. Over 40 starts that is 600 pitches/pitcher as opposed to 720 pitches/pitcher before. You reduced the workload by 17%, but have decreased days rest by 20%.

          Additionally, distributing Cole/Morton/Locke’s, pitches numbered 61-90 to Pimental/Sadler/Wilson’s pitches 31-60 is highly unlikely to be an improvement.

          • Y2JGQ2

            freshness vs. talent is a age old debate

          • piraddict

            The purpose of the suggestion is to get more MLB ready players on the field and provide significant rest to pitchers who we would want to be strong for the playoffs. Has nothing to do with avoiding a trade. I don’t agree that playing more players of generally equal ability adds more uncertainty.

            I think that the wear and tear on pitchers arms is more related to number of pitches thrown than to four or five day rest. Consider relief pitchers who go two days on, one day off and pitch an inning per game. This results in about 400 pitches over a 40 game period with rest every third day, and they probably throw more warm up pitches as well. So I don’t buy into your second paragraph.

            Regarding your third paragraph, maybe, maybe not. Pimental, Wilson and Sadler have been used so infrequently at the MLB level it’s hard to say what they might be able to do when pitching regularly.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Well i don’t think this could work without an entire organization committing to it long term from bottom to top. Yes, it could work, but the issue with 3rd time through the lineup is just as problematic as pitchers who tend to get hit hard early in their outings. I really don’t think its a terrible idea in theory, just 1) would never happen and 2) can’t be rolled out in a pinch and expected to work

    • Mike C.

      No, sorry just no. The Rockies were ridiculed by the saber community AND the “old school” experts.
      When even these 2 groups are agreeing on something, something has gone terribly terribly wrong

  • http://batman-news.com NMR

    Using xFIP to judge past performance doesn’t make much sense, but by FIP standards Melancon has been even better, ranking 5th.
    .
    FWIW, they do calculate FIP by leverage situation. Melancon ranks 18th in high leverage spots and has struck out 16% of hitters he’s faced.

    • jaygray007

      “using xFIP to judge”

      huh? isn’t that precisely what xFIP is used for?

      And i’m pretty sure leverage has nothing to do with it. it’s a function of fly balls, league avg HR rate, BB, HBP, K, and IP.

      Either way, good to know melancon has a pretty good rating by whatever high leverage metric you were looking at.

      • Andrew

        I think he means FIP is better when looking at past performance because it is actual home runs given up, and I think he is referring to the ERA/FIP/xFIP splits based upon leverage, not that leverage is work into the number.

        • http://batman-news.com NMR

          Yes.

          • jaygray007

            got ya.

      • http://batman-news.com NMR

        @jay – xFIP can be useful for projecting future performance since it neutralizes home run rate. It should never be used to judge past performance, as homeruns are one of three things a pitcher can control according to DIPS theory. This is why FIP – and not xFIP – is used to calculate WAR.

  • smurph

    First of all, I am not one of the people calling for Huston Street. I would like to have him, but with his $7 million salary, I wouldn’t trade anything of value for him. I think the argument to add Street or another top reliever is more about having more late inning options. Last year, the Pirates had Melancon and Grilli – two closers. Now with Grilli gone, they have only one. If you include Watson, then you have to also include him for 2013, so you are still short one guy who you can put in there from last season. It is a fact the bullpen is not as good as last year. Adding a top arm would be nice, if it doesn’t cost much.
    As for Melancon being an “elite” reliever, do you base it on the last 1 1/2 years, or the last 3 1/2 years? Were Hanrahan and Grilli elite relievers? In the short-term, yes they were. It appeared at the end of last season and beginning of this season, hitters had figured out Melancon a little bit. It now appears he has made the adjustment, pitching differently based on the hitter he is facing. I give Searage and Martin some of the credit for that. I will let you know if I think he is an “elite” reliever after this season ends.

    • Y2JGQ2

      has he been elite since the beginning of 2013- yes. Is he “an elite relief pitcher” not yet. Just like- Is josh Harrison an all-star player…..no, but he is having an all star year.

  • Mike C.

    Wow just wow. No offense, really, but i thought this line of thinking was extinct, at least in the population who can use the internets.
    I really hope this was a sarcastic post.

  • dr dng

    I like the Melancon and I know Tim know lots more about baseball than me,
    but as long as St. Louis and the Reds continue to try to (and successfully) hit
    the slider to right field, I’m not buying the title of the article. I worry that
    other teams will also try this technique.
    -

    • jaygray007

      when did melancon have all this trouble against the Cards and Reds though??

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

      Melancon vs the Cardinals and Reds this year: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K.

      • jaygray007

        lol

    • Y2JGQ2

      I thought melancon throws a cutter and a curveball……

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

    “rather than look at the two most basic measurements that matter for a reliever, i.e., Saves and Blown Saves”

    This is where you lost me.

    • Y2JGQ2

      replace reliever with closer……then it makes more sense. I agree with him. Throw away advanced stats and look at is as a check mark or an X. Results are what matters, he gets the job done, or he doesn’t. Hold/no hold for a set up guy, and save/blown saves for a closer. Does it matter if a closer gives up a solo homerun everytime he has a 3 run lead? No, but in advanced metrics, that solo homerun is equal if it was hit in a one run game in the 9th inning, that is why advanced stats should only be used to “explain reasons for failure or success” not define it.

  • moose7195

    But the stats he keeps bringing up are clearly more accurate than your justification. It’s all related. Hits make up runs which make up blown saves which relate to losses. You can’t ignore the first two parts to argue the second two, especially when blown saves are as much a function of timing as much as skill. Nobody is going to be perfect, and the ratio youre using is very easily skewed. Essentially, one bad pitch can move a player down several spots in your ranking. And the non save situations can’t be ignored either. The 9th and 8th innings are not very different, and it could very easily be a statistical anamoly hurting Melancon in your assessment, especially when you consider things like park dimensions and your sample sizes

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

    Summary: if you only focus on the bad stretches Melancon has had, then he’s not really that good.

  • IC Bob

    Clay Dog I agree with you. Some on this board like to avoid simplicity and grind everything down. Melancon is an elite pitcher but I believe there is a difference between being an elite pitcher and an elite closer. I do chuckle that when the numbers used to justify Melancons ability we somehow leave out his numbers from his time in Boston. If you added that year in it might make Melancon look a bit different. That said I think he is really good just not great.

    • moose7195

      There is no difference between an elite pitcher and an elite closer. They are the same thing

      • Y2JGQ2

        That is a truly false statement moose and shows a blatant disregard for logic. There are at least 4 dozen extremely good relief pitchers in the majors right now who excel in their roles, and many of them would NOT be good closers

        • moose7195

          What do you mean, my comment is based entirely on logic. A closer is a pitcher, so an elite closer is always an elite pitcher. And an elite pitcher is clearly a player that can get outs, which is the sole criteria of an elite closer. They are the same

  • jaygray007

    I feel like a lot of people are fabricating memories about Melancon.

    Let’s hope Melancon’s salary arbitrators have the same issue.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Tim- the info and analysis is great as always. But……who are you debating with. I’m pretty active on this forum and I don’t see much Melancon bashing from anyone who is a regular contributor. I am amongst the people who wouldn’t mind adding Street in theory, not because we have some nefarios plot to overthrow Melancon, but because our bullpen was more effective with another hammer in the back. This is about replacing Grilli, not Melancon. I think Melancon is equally as useful in the 8th or 9th….more or less. Acquiring a shutdown closer adds depth to the bullpen, inevitably forces us to get rid of one of our pieces of dead weight, and giving us a better close percentage from the 7th inning on, which is what we had with watson, melancon, grilli at the end. we NEED that to really be a force in the playoffs and against our own division. I don’t like watson pitching the 8th every night, and i don’t like that we have no other setup options that are reliable, so i’d prefer melancon in that role, and huston in the 9th.

    • jaygray007

      check out the comments to this thread. there are definitely people who have fabricated bad memories of Melancon. That’s who Tim is debating with.

      I’m with you. Getting a RHP for the bullpen isn’t about overthrowing Melancon. It’s about “hey. let’s upgrade our team. if bullpen is the biggest upgrade we can make for the lowest cost, then let’s do it.”

      • Y2JGQ2

        Well i understand that some people aren’t comfortable with him closing because he has difficulty putting hitters away…….but he is effective. people just prefer him in the 8th. I don’t think there’s a single person who thinks he is anything less than a really solid relief pitcher

    • Y2JGQ2

      So i’d be just as interested in adding a top set up man as i would someone like street, whichever is cheaper is fine with me….but we really do “need” one, not to be competitive, or close to making a wild card birth, but to GET anywhere in the playoffs

      • csnumber23

        I agree with you that we need help in the bullpen but we don’t need a closer. I have debated on this site many time with people about Melancon. I see people complaining about him all the time. Shoot, Greg Goenatti (who is clueless) was crying and whining on the Fan morning show the other day about how we desperately need a closer. Tim is exactly right. Melancon gets devalued in this town big time. Simple reason, he isn’t flashy and doesn’t throw 100 so people think he isn’t dominant.

  • bucsws2014

    Laugh if you want, but I did like having Chris Resop in 2011. He was the anti-Bryan Morris and more like Hughes. Resop was not a good overall reliever – and like Hughes, was often an adventure if you started him in a clean inning – but he usually got better the worse the situation became.

    I do believe there is something to being able to find and throw the right pitch at the right time under pressure that makes the difference between an elite reliever and an OK one. xFIP and SIERA be damned.

    That, and he was the only guy who spoke up when Chapman hit Cutch, noting he was hoping to get into that game and just hit someone, lol.

  • http://www.acme-tv.com LongJohnSilver

    Tim, excellent article, but stats can tell both sides of a story. What makes it nice here is that the innings pitched are almost identical, so it makes comparison easier.

    The reason that some of us believe that Melancon is better in the 8th then the 9th are proven out by the stats you provided. Here is what I see (or the eye test that is so put down by many):

    Comparing the 8th and 9th inning stats, you will see that with almost the same innings pitched, Melancon is much better in the 8th then the 9th. Melancon’s PA and AB are higher which means he has to face more hitters to get out of the inning. His SO are down and the most telling stats are that his BA/OBP/SLG/OPS and TB are significantly higher in the 9th.

    So what I see in the eye test is confirmed by his stats. In the 8th he seems to mow them down and make a quick clean inning of it. But come the 9th, we are watching from the edge of our seats as he seems to have an adventure out there when I want to see that 8th inning version of him. So yes, I am one of those who are of the opinion that there is a certain mind set that a closer needs and Melancon really doesn’t have it. And it has nothing to do with facial hair, hair style, angle of the ball cap, snarls, or tattoos. Just look at his stats.

  • csnumber23

    Tim, outstanding article!!! I have been arguing with people on here for months about Melancon. Because he doesn’t throw 100 MPH people don’t want to think of him as a closer. The guy gets hit so rarely that when he does people talk about it for weeks.

    It’s about time people realize just how good Melancon is!!