Mark Melancon is an acceptable relief pitcher. He lives somewhere in that purgatory between Closer™ and solid setup guy. Acquired in the flurry of activity at the deadline along with Chris “Get Somebody Ready During Warmup Pitches” Martin (that’s unfair, but I’m still not quite myself) and Shane Greene, the process by which he became the Closer™ for the last two months is, quite frankly, bizarre, but it says a lot more about Snitker than it says it about him: Snit threw those three guys out there for two weeks in various roles; Melancon got a save at the end of week 2 and that was it. He was the Closer™ until he screwed it up, and he never screwed it up, even while he consistently failed to do the thing a Closer™ is actually supposed to do: give you confidence when he comes in that the game is over. If we know nothing else about Snitker, he is Manager as Casting Director. He gives guys roles, and by jiminy you keep your role until hell freezes over or you prove manifestly incapable of performing at it. In the case of Closer™, a sample size of two weeks was about all anybody could possibly need, right?
The Journey of Melancon
Melancon has pitched on seven teams in 11 years in MLB. His longest stay was with Pittsburgh, for whom it really doesn’t matter whether you can close or not – you’re still finishing under .500. He made a fair number of All Star Game appearances for them, but has never sniffed that level with a good team. He has appeared in 583 games and pitched the last inning in 334 of them, exactly what you’d expect of a guy who is adequate. He put up just under 1 WAR last year, 0.3 for us. He’s going to make $14 million next year in the last year of his current contract. Is that money that could be better spent? Absolutely, even as it is possible that he will perform next year at a level that will make him worth $14 million. But his $14MM is sunk. If he performs well, he isn’t going anywhere. If he performs badly, we’re eating his salary even if we get rid of him. We have other closers now, all of whom make less. I include Luke Jackson in that group, but I understand many of you disagree. But there’s no reason to think Shane Greene can’t close, or Martin. Or maybe even Sobotka. And Minter’s always worth another shot, right? And, more to the point, if you can acquire three closers at the deadline for essentially nothing, that ought to tell you something about the real value of closers. As Ryan said last week: “There’s always a need for relief pitchers and I cannot fathom that all of Braves 2020 relievers are in-house right now.” We already have the example of a team that has stumbled around all season to make its bullpen work and is now in the World Series.
That’s Good, Right?
He didn’t blow a save in 2019. His last blown save was July 22, 2018. On the other hand, his 1.322 WHIP will make you nervous. He gave up runs in 4 of 20 last-inning appearances for Atlanta, and threw clean innings only half the time.
Once Melancon got his role for the playoffs, it was his role. His playoff performance was poor in game 1, fine in games 2 and 3 and unused in games 4 and 5. This is of course the problem with leverage: replace that game 1 performance with a good performance and we might still be playing. On the other hand, he held leads in games 2 and 3: without those, game 5 doesn’t happen either. (By the way: he pitched really well for the Nationals against the Dodgers in the playoffs in 2015. That might have been a minor factor in acquiring him.)
How you feel about Melancon depends, I think, on how you feel about having an adequate relief pitcher who has the psychological makeup to close. In general, that’s a worthwhile piece every team should have. On the other hand, it’s not a piece you get excited about, particularly when you have alternatives who are cheaper and younger. Barring injury, I’m pretty sure Melancon will get the Braves’ first save of 2020. I would give his chance of being the Braves’ closer in September at about 20 percent.