Pittsburgh Pirates: Two relievers ranked in Top 10 by MLB Network
By Jake Misener
For the last several seasons, one of the biggest strengths of the Pittsburgh Pirates has been the dominant bullpen, which compiled a 3.14 earned run average – coming in as the ninth-best mark amongst all 30 big league clubs.
A big part of the relief corps’ success is credit to pitching coach Ray Searage – who has emerged as not only one of the best mentors in the National League Central, but in all of baseball. After former closer Jason Grilli lost his job and subsequently left town, his former setup man Mark Melancon assumed the reigns and hasn’t missed a beat as the team’s ninth-inning answer.
Melancon joined teammate Tony Watson on MLB Network’s recent special, detailing the top relievers in Major League Baseball heading into 2015 – according to the network’s computer analysis system, known as “The Shredder.”
Last season, Melancon, a former ninth-round pick of the New York Yankees, followed up a career-best 1.39 ERA from 2013 with a still-dominant 1.90 mark. Over the past two seasons, the right-hander has racked up 49 saves while finishing 72 games for the Pirates – while keeping his WHIP under 1.000 in each campaign.
According to “The Shredder,” the Pittsburgh Pirates closer ranks as the seventh-best reliever in all of Major League Baseball, trailing the likes of: Wade Davis and Greg Holland of the Kansas City Royals, Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves, Dellin Betances of the New York Yankees, the San Diego Padres’ Joaquin Benoit and fellow NL Central closer Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds.
This isn’t overly surprising when you break down the numbers – and take into account that Melancon has been a truly dominant reliever for just the last two seasons (although he was still pretty solid as a member of the 2011 Houston Astros).
In 2014, Melancon ranked 14th amongst big league relievers with 34 saves – while compiling 72 appearances for the second-consecutive season. Both host Brian Kenny and former big league reliever Dan Plesac left both Melancon and his left-handed counterpart off their respective top 10 lists – which is a bit of a head-scratcher.
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Watson closed the list, ranked as the 10th-best relief option in the bigs – giving Pittsburgh a pair of names on the program – something only the reigning American League pennant-winning Kansas City Royals can boast. Just 29 years old and with two more years of team control left – the southpaw is one of the more attractive pieces in the bullpen moving forward.
Last season, the Grimes, Iowa native matched Melancon blow-for-blow, amassing a staggering 78 relief appearances for Pittsburgh. His 1.63 ERA was one of the best marks in all of baseball – but his 2.69 FIP showed that he benefited from outstanding defense behind him.
Earning his first career All-Star selection, Watson took a big step forward from an already-impressive 2013 campaign in which he made 67 appearances, finishing 14 games for the Pirates, pitching to a 2.39 ERA and 0.879 WHIP. Last year, he improved that earned run average to 1.63 – while seeing his WHIP rise to 1.022 in the process.
In all, it’s no surprise that Watson is ranked amongst the league’s best. Over the course of the past two seasons, he has compiled a 13-3 record across 145 appearances with a 179 ERA+, 0.953 WHIP and 1.99 ERA. For someone who doesn’t even have the ninth-inning duties, those are some pretty eye-catching numbers.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates to make a run at the first division crown since the early 1990s, both Mark Melancon and Tony Watson will need to be on-form for the entire season. If they are, then Clint Hurdle will once again possess one of the most dominant back-ends in all of baseball.
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