2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Gradeout: Mark Melancon
The offseason is unfortunately here and so we are simultaneously tasked with reflecting on the 2015 season and looking forward to next spring. As part of Rumbunter’s off-season coverage, we will be grading out virtually all Pirates who spent substantial time on the team’s 25-man roster over the past season. We will look at their seasons as a whole, show you their relevant stats, and assign a final grade to each player.
At the beginning of the 2015 sason, Pittsburgh Pirates closer Mark Melancon found himself the topic of much water-cooler baseball talk.
And not in a good way.
Melancon came out of the gates without the usual velocity and bite on his trademark cutter, and panic immediately set in. Clint Hurdle himself acknowledged that something was off with Mark the Shark. From MLB.com back on April 14:
"“We’re going to watch, and we’re going to communicate. Concern’s not a word that I’m going to use. Disappointed is not a word that I’m going to use,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I don’t think we need to delve deep into emotions.”"
To translate Hurdlespeak, the skip basically told everyone to give it a bit more time before even acknowledging concern.
To be sure, Melancon’s velocity was down. His trademark cut-fastball averaged 92.82 MPH in 2014. His four-seamer? 93.96. In 2015, those numbers dropped to 91.28 and 92.24. Not such a big drop after all when you see it in print, right?
Hurdle was wise to wait, as Melancon would soon dial himself in, turning in a historical season in many aspects. Blowing by the all-time Pittsburgh Pirates save record in mid-September (he would end with an MLB-leading 51 saves), Melancon was absolutely dominant at times, including two full months (June and July) in which he did not allow an earned run. Here’s his month-by-month splits:
Despite a couple of crooked ERA figures in the last two months of the season, Melancon maintained a reliable option to say the least, recording only one blown save over that time frame. A clear parallel to his early season “troubles” is present, as these perceived struggles did not considerably hurt the team.
The figure-of-speech “Like finding a needle in a haystack” applies when trying to find any fault in Melancon’s 2015 campaign. If one absolutely had to nitpick, split hairs, or [insert preferred cliche here], they could point to his reverse-splits against right handed batters.
Peculiar, isn’t it? Right handed hitters slug a full 200 percentage points better than southpaws against Melancon. Going into the season, many wondered aloud if Hurdle should employ a more intelligent approach to the end of games. Some clamored for Tony Watson to pitch the ninth in certain spots, allowing Melancon to get out better hitters that came up in the eighth. Some just thought Melancon should be demoted purely due to Watson’s left-handedness providing better splits and matchups. How crazy does that talk sound now that the off-season is upon us?
Luckily for Pirates fans, Hurdle knew what he had in Melancon, and knew that he would get right.
Melancon got right quickly, and it was no coincidence that the Pittsburgh Pirates got right at exactly the same time.