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.