MARK MELANCON, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: March 28, 1985
Drafted: 9th Round, 284th overall pick, 2006 (Yankees)
How Acquired: Trade from Red Sox
College: University of Arizona
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Melancon went into 2003 as a potential first round pick, but was overworked when his college team was short on pitching and having a tough year, and he ended up with an elbow strain. The Yankees picked him in the ninth round and paid him well over slot to sign. At the time, he threw a 92-95 mph fastball and a 12-to-6 power curve that served as his out pitch. As a pro, he’s been strictly a reliever. He throws a four-seamer and a cutter, both of which average a little under 93 and top out at 95-96. He’s come to rely more heavily on the cutter in recent seasons, but still throws curves over 20% of the time. He throws a changeup very occasionally. He’s a strong groundball pitcher, with a 56.5% groundball rate for his career. Probably thanks to the cutter, he’s been slightly better against left-handed batters than right-handed over his career. He throws with a high-effort delivery that’s led to elbow issues. The Pirates acquired him, along with Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel and Ivan De Jesus for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt.
Melancon gave up a lot of hits in his debut, but had excellent walk and K rates. After the season, he went to the Hawaii Winter Baseball League and injured his elbow after four outings. He ended up having Tommy John surgery.
Melancon missed the entire season following the elbow surgery. Despite that, Baseball America rated him the Yankees’ 11th best prospect after the season, due in part to a good showing in instructional league.
On his return from Tommy John, Melancon advanced rapidly through the Yankees’ system, pitching better at each level.
Melancon continued to pitch well in AAA. The Yankees called him up several times during the season, but he never stayed long. He had some problems locating his fastball and falling behind in counts.
The Yankees left Melancon in AAA for most of the first four months and he didn’t pitch well, struggling with his control and allowing more than a hit per inning. New York finally sent him to Houston in a deadline deal for Lance Berkman. After the trade, Melancon spent most of his time in the majors and pitched much better, with a high K rate, although he continued to walk too many.
Melancon had a strong season for last-place Houston, taking over as closer about a month into the season when Brandon Lyon got hurt. The Astros traded him to Boston after the season for Jed Lowrie, which shows that the Red Sox valued him highly as Lowrie was a good trade piece.
Melancon got off to a miserable start for the Red Sox, posting a 49.50 ERA in four April outings. The Sox, playing as they do under intense scrutiny from their fans and the media, sent him to AAA late in the month. He dominated there and returned to Boston in mid-June, spending the rest of the season mainly in a mop up role as Boston’s season went south in a hurry. He finished with a dismal ERA, although it was just 4.19 after his recall. All of his other numbers were about the same as 2011, though, except for his HR rate, which nearly tripled. Five of the eight he allowed came in those first four games, including three in the last inning he pitched before being sent to the minors. His xFIP on the season was 3.45.
Even before the trade with Boston was completed, part of the Pirates’ fandom and certain muckraking elements of the Pittsburgh media were already blasting the acquisition of Melancon due to his ERA. Never mind, of course, that Hanrahan had an ERA of 7.71 when the Pirates acquired him. As it turned out, Melancon was one of baseball’s best relievers in 2013. For most of the season, he served as the setup man for Jason Grilli. Melancon increased his reliance on his cutter, largely at the expense of his changeup throwing the former 61% of the time, up from 41% the year before. He used his four-seamer and curve as his other primary pitches. Even though his average velocity was down slightly from the previous year, he got outstanding results, as hitters chased far more pitches outside the strike zone. He increased his groundball rate to 60% and allowed only one HR in the regular season. He produced a WHIP below 1.00 despite a batting average on balls in play of .296, which was higher than the MLB average and higher than the team figure of .285. Probably due to the cutter, left-handed hitters batted an anemic 148/168/189 against him, compared to 286/312/327 by right-handed hitters.
Melancon was almost infallible through the first four months, allowing a WHIP of just 0.82, and through August his highest monthly opponents’ OPS was .554. In late July, Grilli went out with a forearm strain. Melancon took over the closer role and continued to pitch outstanding ball until near the end of the season. He blew two saves during the team’s final home stand, effectively ending the team’s chances of winning the division. It’s possible he was tiring, and it’s also possible that he simply ran into bad luck, as he was hurt by bad defense (all of the three runs he allowed in one of the blow saves were unearned) and by weakly hit balls that simply found holes. Even in September, his supposedly “bad” month, his opponents’ OPS was .686.
Melancon inherited the closer role for good when Jason Grilli first got hurt in late April, and then was ineffective when he returned. If anything, Melancon was even better than in 2013, lowering his WHIP and limiting opponents to a 195/236/238 line. He allowed opponents only seven extra-base hits in 261 at-bats, maintained a high groundball rate of 57.4%, and held left-handed batters to a pitiful 164/202/213 line.
Melancon had a remarkable season, all the more so because he got off to a shaky start. He gave up three runs in his third game and three again in his seventh. More alarming was the fact that his velocity was down to the upper-80s, leading many panic-stricken fans to call for the Pirates to remove him from the closer role. The team never considered doing so, however, and Melancon ended up leading the majors in saves and setting a franchise record. After a blown save in his third opportunity, he saved 35 straight, then blew a second, then saved his final 14. His velocity bounced back to about 91 mph on average for the season, although that was still about one mph below his career norms. His groundball percentage remained very high at 57.5% and he produced GIDPs at an even higher rate than groundball specialist Jared Hughes, 19% to 18%. Melancon and Tony Watson were the most effective 8th/9th inning reliever combination in baseball and a major reason for the Pirates’ MLB-best 36-17 record in one-run games. Melancon probably wasn’t as effective as the previous two years, as shown by his 3.07 xFIP, but he held opposing hitters to a 207/250/291 line. His K/9 was way down in the first half, to 6.5, but increased to 8.3 in the second half, including 11.9 in Sept/Oct.
Melancon and Watson have been a major ingredient in the Pirates’ recent success, which will leave the Pirates in a tough position. Melancon was be eligible for arbitration for the third time and received a very large raise when the parties settled on a $9.65M salary. The Pirates were widely expected to trade Melancon during the off-season, but they said they wouldn’t do so just to trade him and they didn’t. He’ll be a vital part of the team’s increasingly bullpen-oriented run-prevention strategy.
|Signing Bonus: $600,000
MiLB Debut: 2006
MLB Debut: 4/26/2009
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2017
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 4/25/09
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2009, 2010, 2012)
MLB Service Time: 5.098
|June 4, 2003: Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 30th round, 901st overall pick.
June 6, 2006: Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 9th round, 284th overall pick; signed on August 9.
April 25, 2009: Contract purchased by the New York Yankees.
July 31, 2010: Traded by the New York Yankees with Jimmy Paredes to the Houston Astros for Lance Berkman and cash.
December 14, 2011: Traded by the Houston Astros to the Boston Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.
December 26, 2012: Traded by the Boston Red Sox with Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel and Ivan De Jesus to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt.