Mark Melancon does not pitch like your typical Major League Baseball closer. Since the Statcast era began, Melancon has never averaged over 92.4 miles per hour on his fastball and has not ever been considered a strikeout artist. He picked up the 246th save of his career on Wednesday night against the Nationals, which ranks fourth among active pitchers –– trailing just Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman.
For the past ten years, Melancon has been one of baseball’s best relievers, yet not enough people are talking about it. Since the start of the 2013 season, Melancon owns a 2.39 ERA/2.69 FIP and a 1.110 WHIP to go with 471 strikeouts in 519.2 innings (8.2 K/9), as well as 225 saves. Outside of an injury-plagued 2017 season, Melancon has been a well-above-average pitcher by ERA+. On a non-contending Diamondbacks team, the 37-year-old continues to make himself one of the more marketable relievers in the game.
From Rock Bottom to All-Star
Melancon was a ninth-round by the Yankees in 2006 out of the University of Arizona. He cracked the big-league roster in 2009 but didn’t receive a lot of reps in pinstripes. In July of 2010, the Yankees sent Melancon along with outfielder Jimmy Paredes to the Astros for Lance Berkman. Melancon had some success in his stint in Houston, racking up 20 saves in 2011 with a 2.78 ERA/3.25 FIP in 74.1 innings for an Astros team that lost an MLB-worst 106 games. The following offseason, the Astros sent Melancon to the Red Sox in exchange for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.
In Boston, Melancon struggled mightily right out of the gate. After an outing in which he allowed six runs without recording an out, the Red Sox sent him to Triple-A, and he didn’t return to the majors for another two months. Overall, Melancon finished 2012 with an ugly 6.20 ERA in 45.1 innings. He was plagued by the home run ball, allowing eight round-trippers (1.6 HR/9). Following the season, Melancon was traded yet again, this time to the Pirates along with Stolmy Pimentel, Ivan De Jesus, and Jerry Sands for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt.
With his fourth organization in two years, the 28-year-old Melancon began to thrive in 2013. He served primarily as the setup man to closer Jason Grilli and assumed the closer’s role when Grilli got injured that summer. Melancon made his first All-Star Game, finishing the season with a 1.39 ERA/1.64 FIP and 0.958 WHIP with 16 saves and 70 strikeouts against just eight walks in 71 innings (8.75 K/BB ratio). Just a year after he allowed home runs at the worst rate of his career, Melancon allowed just one long ball all season. Thanks in part to Melancon, the Pirates had their first winning season since 1992 and made the playoffs,
2013 Wasn’t a Fluke
Melancon began 2014 as a setup man again, but he took over the closer’s role again after Grilli struggled and was eventually traded. While Melancon was snubbed from the All-Star Game, he turned his second straight stellar year. He saved 33 games, turning in a 1.90 ERA/2.09 FIP and a 0.873 WHIP with 71 strikeouts in 71 innings (9.0 K/9). Melancon again excelled at avoiding free passes and keeping the ball in the yard, issuing just 11 walks and surrendering only two homers. He made it back to the All-Star Game and won the Trevor Hoffman Award in 2015, pitching to a 2.23 ERA/2.82 FIP and a 0.926 WHIP with 62 strikeouts in 76.2 innings (7.3 K/9). Melancon also led MLB and set a Pirates franchise record with 51 saves, finishing eighth in Cy Young voting and helping the Pirates reach their third straight postseason.
Melancon pitched well again in 2016, making his third All-Star Game in four years, but the Pirates surprised many and traded him to the Nationals in July for Taylor Hearn and Felipe Vazquez. All told, Melancon finished his time in Pittsburgh with a sparkling 1.80 ERA/2.27 FIP, a 0.926 WHIP, 240 strikeouts (against just 42 walks), and 130 saves in 260.1 innings. Melancon continued to excel in the District of Columbia, finishing the year with a cumulative 1.64 ERA/2.42 FIP and a 0.897 WHIP along with 65 strikeouts in 71.1 innings (8.2 K/9) and 47 saves. Melancon was strong in the National League Division Series, but the Nationals lost to the Dodgers in five games, ending his time in Washington.
San Francisco and Atlanta: Still Effective in “Down” Years
Following the 2016 season, Melancon signed a four-year, $60 million contract with the Giants. For a brief period of time, that contract stood as the largest ever given to a reliever. Melancon battled injuries in 2017, putting up his worst season since 2012, which resulted in him losing the closer’s role. While he wouldn’t ever regain the role in San Francisco, Melancon was solid in 2018 and 2019. Even with the below-average first season, Melancon pitched to a 3.67 ERA/3.32 FIP and only allowed eight homers in 115.2 innings (0.6 HR/9) in the Bay Area. At the trade deadline in 2019, the Giants sent Melancon to the Braves for Tristan Beck and Dan Winkler.
Melancon took over the closer’s role in Atlanta, finishing the season with 11 saves and a 3.86 ERA/1.83 FIP with 24 strikeouts against just two walks in his final 21 innings (10.3 K/9). He kept his role in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, saving 11 games and registering a 2.78 ERA/3.72 FIP in 22.2 innings. While his strikeout rate dropped, Melancon allowed just two homers during his time with the Braves and his opponent’s average exit velocity fell to 86.5 MPH in 2020, down from 89.2 in 2019. Melancon performed well in the postseason for Atlanta, but they fell in the NLCS to the Dodgers, ending his time with the team.
Resurgence in San Diego
In February of 2021, Melancon signed a one-year contract with the Padres worth two million dollars. After winning the closer’s role in spring training, the 36-year-old Melancon came out of the gate hot and won NL Reliever of the Month in May. He made his fourth All-Star Game and his first since 2016, finishing the year with a 2.23 ERA/3.36 FIP, a 1.222 WHIP, and 59 strikeouts in 64.2 innings (8.2 K/9). Melancon only allowed four homers (0.6 HR/9) and led MLB in saves for the second time in his career with 39. Thanks to this season, Melancon signed a two-year, $14 million contract with the Diamondbacks shortly before the lockout.
Melancon is off to a solid start in 2022, having allowed just one earned run in six innings thus far. With the D-Backs likely to be a nonfactor for the postseason, Melancon could very well get traded to a contender this summer. Should he play out the rest of his contract, Melancon has a chance to reach the 300-save plateau, which is especially impressive for someone who teams played “hot potato” with during the early part of his career. While Melancon has played for nine different teams and may not be a Hall of Famer, his work as one of the game’s premier relievers shouldn’t be overlooked.
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