Mark Melancon: the snow-flecked road ends here. As I discussed yesterday, the Commissioner of Holiday-Themed Baseball Rankings demanded that I add an additional pitcher to my Twelve Days of Relief Pitchers, following Trevor May’s disqualification. Rather than the series ending with the year, as I had so carefully planned, we’ll be starting the new year with the Twelfth-and-a-Half / Thirteenth Day of the Twelve Days of Relief Pitchers.
On the one hand, I’m not sure this seems overly auspicious, somewhat like Friday the thirteenth falling on a Wednesday this month.* And Mark Melancon is not who I’d have imagined playing the part of the New Year’s Baby. No, nobody photoshop that. Please.
*This is a reference to a mid-century comic strip called “Pogo” that I grew up reading because I did not have a TV, and now I am the weirdo responsible for this mess (gestures to paragraphs above and below)
On the other hand, we get to start out the new year talking about more pitchers, which is a plus. And could 2021 really be much worse? No, no. Nobody photoshop that, either.
If you haven’t been with us the whole time on this non-denominational holiday journey, catch yourself up on my true love’s gift-giving proclivities:
- A brief review of some advanced metrics I cite
- First Day of RPs: Liam Hendriks
- Second Day of RPs: Brad Hand
- Third Day of RPs: Trevor Rosenthal
- Fourth Day of RPs: Kirby Yates
- Fifth Day of RPs: Trevor May
- Sixth Day of RPs: Joakim Soria
- Seventh Day of RPs: Blake Treinen
- Eighth Day of RPs: Alex Colome
- Ninth Day of RPs: Keone Kela
- Tenth Day of RPs: Justin Wilson
- Eleventh Day of RPs: Jake McGee
- Twelfth Day of RPs: Archie Bradley
- Twelfth and a half Day of RPs:
And yet, even after the Commissioner’s ruling, I had a debate as to whom to place in the all-important number-twelve-on-the-thirteenth day position. (Every pitcher after May moves up a position, but, naturally, the days themselves have slipped into the unalterable past.) Obviously, you have seen the end result of this debate, having clicked on the link. And having seen the title, opening paragraph, and above header.
The 12.5 and 12.75 Days of Free Agent Relief Pitchers
But I truly weighed which of the Braves’ departing late-inning relievers to round out this list with: Mark Melancon or Shane Greene. Both relievers sported good ERAs this year, 2.78 for Melancon and 2.60 for Greene, but in both cases, these ERAs out-performed their xERAs and FIPs, higher by about a run.
And their strikeout numbers explain FIPs of 3.72 (Melancon) and 3.81 (Greene). On the one hand, Greene’s unimpressive 19.3% strikeout rate in 2020 was better than Melancon’s embarrassing 14.7%, which was in the bottom 6% of the league. But over his career, Melancon’s K% of 22.2% edges Greene’s by half a point.
And crucially, Greene doesn’t have the sometimes-elite ground ball rate that Melancon commands, which hit 62% last year, and was only 2 points lower this year. Melancon generates the lowest launch angles with his curveball, which is his secondary pitch, but using his cutter as an establishing pitch helps keep the ball on the ground. (His splitter and fastball are essentially show-me pitches over the past two seasons.)
This explains, at least in part, why Melancon has better expected numbers, like xSLG and xwOBA, over the parts of these two pitchers’ careers for which Baseball Savant gives us data.
The Proven Closer ™ Track Record
And, yes, Mark Melancon also has the Proven Closer ™ track record. I hope I have shown, over my Twelve/Thirteen Days of RPs, that I have not sorted by career saves. But the fact that Melancon, with 205, is second on this list only to Joakim Soria (who is fourth on the overall active list with 223), will probably mean that he gets a better contract than Greene does.
I also haven’t been ranking by conjectured contract, but it helped me sway the tide to put Melancon’s name at the top of this article. FanGraphs’ crowd sourcing guesses one year contracts for each, with $8 million for Melancon and $5 million for Greene. This is despite Melancon being the crustier of the two vets, as it will be his age 36 season, and Greene is four years younger.
But Melancon served ably as the closer for the Braves, no matter how much everyone seemed certain that someone else would take the job. It had been since his time with the Pirates, of course, that Melancon had reliably finished games, though he was a superstar closer at the time. He led the majors with 51 saves in 2015, garnering him National League Reliever of the Year. But in 2017, his four-year contract with the Giants began inauspiciously, speaking of Friday the 13th coming on a Tuesday, with an Opening Day blown save. When a forearm injury sent him to the then-DL, Sam Dyson took over as closer. Though he underwent surgery the following offseason, Melancon is quoted as saying that he didn’t feel “100%” until 2019.
Sound, Analytical Logic
It also must be mentioned, in terms of soft factors, that Melancon just did this very nice thing to round out a tough year with some baseball love:
I deeply appreciate this. It’s the kind of good will we need to bring this series to a close.
But my favorite reason to round out this series with Melancon, the reason he makes such an excellent final gift from my true love—who has really, we have to agree, gone all out—is far more real, hard-hitting, and crucial. Namely: the two different, but both delightful, ways in which Melancon caught Ozzie Albies’ home runs from the bullpen during this year’s NLCS.
The first time, he takes a break from a warm-up toss. He easily transfers the ball he’s throwing to his right hand, and puts his arms out, parallel to the ground, in the universal sign for “sweet heaven, this ball is headed straight for me,” or maybe “this gesture will have an appropriately-religious resonance for a holiday-themed ranking of relief pitchers that will no doubt happen this offseason.”
And then he reaches up with the nonchalance of an analytically-positioned fielder.
It is beautiful and it brings me joy every time I see it.
The second time, realizing that history is possible, he ranges out to catch the ball, and, upon snagging it, does a jig/run hybrid that is also highly pleasing. And also, obviously, foresees that he will need to pay homage to eleven ladies dancing and twelve lords a-leaping, come winter. He’s a prescient man, Mark Melancon.
I have a slight preference for the ease and spontaneity of the first catch, but I’m glad they both exist.
And so, I’m ranking Mark Melancon twelfth and a half slash thirteenth. Maybe…maybe this was the analysis we wanted all along.
Happy new year, friends.
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