Mark Melancon should not be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer anymore. It’s not solely because he’s given up six runs over 6.1 innings this season, although he only gave up 11 earned runs all of 2013 and 15 all of 2014. It’s this, combined with his decreased velocity and the alteration to his release point (as was analyzed in this article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). He’s coming off an outing in which he blew a two-run lead without registering an out first. The three runs Melancon has given up on two separate occasions this season were the first outings he’s given up at least three runs during the regular season since he was a member of the Boston Red Sox. He hasn’t give up three runs in an entire month before this year since June of last season. He routinely failed to hit the 90s yet again with his pitches, which is something an effective closer needs to be able to do (especially one that relies on a cutter). The Pirates need to make a change at closer, and fast.
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Last season, the Pirates waited until Jason Grilli was routinely blowing saves to trade him. He cost the team games that could have meant the difference between winning the division and the wild card. By the time they traded him, all the team could muster in return was struggling Angels pitcher Ernesto Frieri. Frieri didn’t work out and was eventually designated for assignment. The Pirates don’t have to trade Melancon, but it’s definitely an option to consider. If the team keeps him in the closer role and he doesn’t progress, his value will go down, and the return for him in a trade may be next to nothing.
What the Pirates need to do is give Melancon time off from high pressure situations. The team has other, more-than-capable bullpen options to take over for a few games. Tony Watson had an all-star 2014 and seems like the most logical option as Melancon’s replacement. Arquimedes Caminero has a 100-mph heater and is coming off of a great spring training. He strikes men out at a high rate, even though he’s given up four runs this year already. John Holdzkom is waiting in the minors, coming off nine innings in 2014 where he struck out 14 batters and gave up just two runs. This season, he was the victim of having minor league options; on most other teams, he would have made the 25-man roster.
The Pirates don’t have to trade Melancon, but it’s definitely an option to consider. If the team keeps him in the closer role and he doesn’t progress, his value will go down, and the return for him in a trade may be next to nothing.
Jared Hughes had a sub-two ERA in 2014 and has a 1.13 ERA so far this year. Radhames Liz can touch 98 with his fastball, although he may not be an ideal choice for a high pressure situation t this point in time. The point is, the Pirates have a deep enough bullpen this year to replace a struggling Mark Melancon. Maybe the change in his release point is the reason his velocity is down. Pitching coach Ray Searage and company are masters at fixing mechanical issues to bring out the best in players, as they did with Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and many others.
For the time being, the Pirates need a change at closer. Mark Melancon can’t consistently hit the 90s like he has so often over his last two dominant seasons. The longer he stays in, the more his confidence drops, the lower his trade value gets, and the more games the Pirates lose. The team can’t wait any longer; the time is now to make a change at closer.