2020 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Mark Melancon

I don’t want to resort to name-calling, but there is only one thing you can call Mark Melancon: a Proven Closer. And I know it’s been a long decade, but can you remember a time where one pitcher provided this long of a run of closing games? I wouldn’t say Arodys Vizcaino did the job. Certainly wouldn’t say AJ Minter did. Jim Johnson had a decent run in 2016. You’d probably say that the last time you had as much confidence in the guy holding the ball in the 9th inning was all the way back to Jason Grilli in 2015.

That’s what we had with the season and a half from Mark Melancon. In this COVID-shortened season, Melancon was everything we’d hoped he’d be. He led the team in Win Probability Added, which you’d hope your closer would do. He did so appearing in the 5th-most amount of games amongst relievers. Snitker used him almost exclusively as a closer, while everyone else seemed to move around the pecking order. There’s something to be said about plugging in an older fella — Melancon will be 36-years old next year — and letting him dominate in a defined role.

There are some troubling things about Melancon that may give you pause about bringing him back. While it was only a 22 inning sample, his strike out rate plummeted. After striking out almost 8 per 9 innings in his career to date, he was only striking out about 5.5 per 9 this year. It got a little better in the postseason (7 per 9), but still a troubling trend from an aging reliever. He also might have gotten a little lucky: his BABIP was about 50 points lower than where it had been over the last three seasons. It does match his change in approach; he relied much more heavily on his curveball than his fastball this year, which should create some weaker contact at the expense of punch outs.

I’m not sure how the free agent market will shape up this year, so it’d be hard to speculate on what Melancon might get on the free agent market. But I would certainly be willing to bring him back as a veteran anchor in the bullpen next year. It doesn’t mean he has to close, and he will certainly not make anywhere close to the money San Francisco agreed to pay him in the Great Reliever Overpay Rush of the 2017 offseason. But you have to spend the money somewhere, and maybe he’s more interested in chasing rings and take a big paycut.

30 thoughts on “2020 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Mark Melancon”

  1. He regularly made things interesting, but he sure didn’t suck and I’d welcome him back.

  2. It would seem contradictory to bring back Melancon for more money than O’Day, but I could see it happening.

  3. Brett Gardner’s option declined. He’s definitely not Joc, but if Braves want a platoon with Duvall, they could do much worse than Gardner.

    Unfortunately, I’m not even sure they pay Duvall anymore.

  4. IMO, I’d have chosen O’Day over Melancon. Yes, he’s a proven closer, but his peripherals and strikeout rates are not good, he’s old, and old players tend to fall off cliffs.

    If Matzek isn’t going to be a starter, which I don’t know if that’s in the cards, I’d make him the closer.

    Matzek is cheaper and probably better. Plus, if a regular off season and some increased familiarity could fix Will Smith, that’s another option.

    I doubt they pay Duvall, also. He’s a one tool player. That one tool is borderline elite though. Dude’s power is legitimate.

  5. Perusing Fangraph’s 2021 Top 50 Free Agents list (https://blogs.fangraphs.com/2021-top-50-free-agents/)… man, not a lot of good top-end talent out there. I suspect that we’ll be heavily involved on Ozuna but if he’s intent on taking the highest offer then odds are slim he’ll be a Brave in 2021.

    As far as pitching is concerned – I bet AA is a kicking the tires on Corey Kluber as a Veteran Presents pickup.

  6. @6 Yes – Matzek for closer. I can see bringing back Melancon if he’s available reasonably priced and move him around the bullpen order incl. closing if needed on days Matzek is not available.
    I really enjoyed MM in the postseason, he was a badass on the mound (and in the post-game interview).

  7. I was always partial to blow away closers like Smoltz and Wagner until I saw a year and a half of weak ground balls off Melancon. Unless his ask is outrageous, he’s one of the keys to a ring. Bring him back – certainly over Greene.

  8. I thought it was interesting that when we traded for Melancon, Greene and Martin in 2019 that Melancon was appointed the closer. Greene at that point was having an all-star season with Detroit as their closer. Then we picked up Smith who was already closing games for SF when Melancon was in their pen. Smith saved 34 games in 2019 with a K/9 rate of 13.2. I think his early troubles this year were covid related (getting well/ramping up/etc.)

    Would I like to have Melancon back? Sure. Guy seems a bulldog out there. Is it worth it with other holes needing to be filled? Depends on the money, especially when we already have in house options to close (yes, indeed Matzek or Smith who has done it before.)

  9. @10
    That wasn’t what happened. Greene was the first of the 3 to get the shot at closer after the trade deadline. He immediately blew 2 saves on August 3rd and 4th, then had another poor outing (non-save situation) on August 6th, then Melancon took over as closer on August 7th.

    So, being leery of his personality doesn’t fit the narrative either. He was given the opportunity, blew it, then Melancon took over and only blew 1 save for the rest of the year.

  10. @12 – I remember it well. I thought it was odd that Greene wasn’t given more chances having been a recent closer (not that Melancon did not have that on his resume.) That’s what I mean when I say appointed. For whatever reason, Greene did not transition well, but his stuff (as this year proved) was still working. Snit just went with the hot hand.

    And a moot point since neither is likely to be back next year (and once Snit finds something, he sticks with it.)

  11. Even counting the playoffs, Melancon has appeared in 56 games for the Braves and has pitched all of 53 innings, many of which were terrifying, even if ultimately successful. I’m not convinced. Add to that the fact that I do suspect high-priced closers are really in a bad negotiating position in the current circumstances, I’d talk to him seriously, but I wouldn’t be at all concerned if someone offered him more. Indeed, he stands as proof that you can address bullpen problems last, which has been a Braves methodology long before AA.

  12. COMPLETELY off topic but nonetheless, public service announcement for anyone who likes metal even a tiny little bit: today, Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou released their collaboration May Our Chambers Be Full, and it rules.

    https://thou.bandcamp.com/album/may-our-chambers-be-full

    Emma Ruth Rundle is an amazing singer-songwriter whose music could maybe be described as metal-adjacent dark folk; Thou is an eminant and seriously powerful doom metal band. Check them both out if you’re into distorted guitars.

  13. Looking back at this piece (https://bravesjournal.us/2020/10/20/where-do-we-go-from-here-part-1-braves-payroll/) and after the O’Day news, here are my thoughts:
    •Newk, Luke, and Camargo ain’t getting offered arb.
    •Duvall either signs for less than his estimated $7MM through arb or Braves walk. His up and down history isn’t worth the risk at 7 MM, but could be for $4.5.

    All in all, it creates more holes but add ons could come really cheap for the next few years.

  14. Braves let Culberson walk. He’s now a free agent. They also signed Abraham Almonte to a non-guaranteed MLB contract. Had a huge power surge against RHP in MILB in 2019 (in case you need a silver lining).

  15. Just from the recent news in the last couple of days, it looks like a league wide concentration on getting lean. This offseason will definitely be an interesting one that’s for sure!

  16. On the whole, I think everyone is correct: it’ll be a bad year to be a free agent. But I’m not sure the Rays not picking up a $15M option when Glasnow took the next step this year is a market indicator. The Rays have been declining $15M options since before it was cool.

    I wonder if teams themselves don’t know just how this will all play out, so for any discretionary ways to trim out payroll and send everybody into the marketplace, they’re doing it. And then they’ll just see the chips fall where they may. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t know if these 4-5 free agent/option decisions tell us yet where the market is heading. I do think it’ll be like 2 years ago where the elite players get their money but everyone short of that gets 50-60% of what they would have made historically. And that’s pretty crazy, and great for the Braves.

  17. There are going to be a lot of good players that sign for $5MM or less. IMO, Braves are going to let a lot of arb guys walk.

  18. 29 teams just had a chance to grab a top 10 reliever in the game for $10MM without giving up anything and all of them passed. Man, I don’t even know what to say about that.

  19. A quick history check…. Only 95 pitchers have made as many as 10 starts at age 39. (31 of them are in the Hall of Fame.) Only 61 of them managed ERA+ of over 100. 7 of them were knuckleballers. But Dazzy Vance had quite a year in 1930.

    https://stathead.com/tiny/LY0cw

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