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Giants Review: Year 2 of Mark Melancon brought injury and inconsistency

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Giants Review: Year 2 of Mark Melancon brought injury and inconsistency

SAN FRANCISCO — Baseball people like to say that life is much different when you move from the eighth to the ninth. The same can be said of getting a big contract to pitch the ninth. 

Mark Melancon doesn’t just make closer money, he makes more than all but two closers in MLB history. That kind of contract will always hang over Melancon’s results, and he has quickly become a target for fans. 

On the other hand, Melancon posted a 3.23 ERA in his second season in San Francisco, with a 3.39 FIP. If you ignore the contract, was he actually an effective reliever for the Giants? Let’s look at the good and the bad … 

What Went Right

Sometimes we get caught up in advanced metrics and forget that the name of the game is simply preventing runs, so it should be noted that Melancon did have that 3.23 ERA, which is pretty good, and for a six-week stretch in August and September, it was 1.20 over 16 appearances, with two saves in two opportunities. There were times when he was very effective, even if he no longer is dominant during scoreless stretches. 

By September, Melancon’s cutter was averaging 92.3 MPH, which matched his velocity during his strong 2016 season. His curveball can still be a wipeout pitch at times, and opponents hit just .159 against it in 2018. 

From a health perspective, Melancon bounced back from an early DL stint and was soon cleared to pitch on back-to-back days. He also had a couple of scoreless two-inning outings and handled those just fine. 

What Went Wrong

The peripherals were again ugly. Melancon allowed 11.1 hits per nine for a second straight year and his walk rate soared to 3.2 per nine, as his strikeout rate dipped to 7.2 whiffs per nine. Overall, opponents hit .302 off Melancon, the sixth-highest among NL relievers, and that number was .333 on the road, where Melancon had a 4.58 ERA. Away from pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, he had a 1.87 WHIP.

As much as that curveball was effective, Melancon’s cutter got bashed. He allowed a .330 average on the pitch. That’s his bread-and-butter, a pitch he threw 53 percent of the time, and he no longer can rely on it to consistently get outs. 

Melancon did finish the year healthy, but he started it on the 60-day DL with a flexor strain. He missed the first 56 games of the season, and in the first two years of a massive deal, he has pitched just 73 times. 

Contract Status 

Technically, Melancon can opt out of his contract this offseason. He will not do so, for obvious reasons. He is owed $14 million in 2019 and another $14 million in 2020.

The Future 

The best way to look at Melancon moving forward is to forget that he’s making closer money. He already got paid. It is what it is.

If you’re screaming for a trade or DFA on Twitter or talk radio, you’re wasting your time. The Giants owe him nearly $30 million and he has a full no-trade clause. At this point, they just need to extract as much value out of that deal as they can.

Given the way Will Smith pitched, it’s unlikely that Melancon will return to the ninth, but the Giants hope that he can come back healthy after an offseason of rest and become a real weapon in the seventh and eighth innings. His stuff, at times, is still very good, and reminiscent of the repertoire that made him an All-Star.

If he stays healthy the next two seasons, there’s no reason why he can’t provide value in the late innings, and the staff was intrigued by the fact that he could go multiple innings as a setup man.

Giants' Tyler Beede showing signs of hope despite continued struggles

Giants' Tyler Beede showing signs of hope despite continued struggles

ATLANTA -- There were some close calls in the second half, some postgame media sessions where manager Bruce Bochy indicated that Tyler Beede's rotation spot was in jeopardy. 

But the Giants stuck with their young right-hander, who now is poised to finish the season in the rotation. Two parts of Friday's 6-0 loss to the Braves, who clinched the NL East title, showed why it's so important that they continue to be patient. 

Beede ended the second inning by freezing his college teammate, Dansby Swanson, with a 98 mph fastball. It was the fastest pitch of Beede's season and comes at the end of a long and often trying year -- and it's the kind of pitch that only a select group of right-handed starters have in their arsenal. 

Mike Foltynewicz is one of them, and he's an example of what the Giants hope Beede can become. Foltynewicz has similar stuff and a similar background as a high-end prospect, and he had a very strong 2018 season. 

But Foltynewicz has also struggled with inconsistency, so much so that the Braves optioned him back to Triple-A for six weeks this summer. Since returning, he has a 6-0 record and a sparkling 2.35 ERA. On Friday, he threw eight shutout innings. 

Beede is 26. Foltynewicz turns 28 in a month. There are still plenty of reasons for hope as the Giants move forward. 

This night was a representation of much of Beede's season. His fastball averaged 95.4 mph, his slider hit 88 mph, his changeup darted at times, and he had so much movement on his curveball that at one point Josh Donaldson swung at an 0-2 bender and ended up whipping his bat towards first base. 

But Beede also allowed seven hits, two of which cleared the fence. Ronald Acuña Jr. got a hanging curveball in the fifth and hit a no-doubter to right-center. An inning later, Brian McCann hit a two-run shot on a fastball that was low but center-cut. 

"It's one of those games where you wonder how he gave up six, but (there were) a couple of long balls," Bochy said. "Really good at times, but he just didn't get away with any mistakes."

[RELATED: Mark Melancon excited to face Giants for first time since Braves trade]

The highlight of the night was that tantalizing pitch to Swanson, a friend of Beede's since their Vanderbilt days. 

"I feel great. I'll just continue to learn, learn a lot," Beede said. "I'll go out there and try to compete, fill the zone and go after guys. I hate losing, man. I'm not going to be happy about a start like this, but at the same time I thought it might be better than the results showed."

Mark Melancon excited to face Giants for first time since Braves trade

Mark Melancon excited to face Giants for first time since Braves trade

ATLANTA -- As the Braves' relief pitchers finished their sprints in right field Friday afternoon, a pack of Giants relievers started a jog around the warning track. Mark Melancon walked over and met his former teammates, but the hugs lost a little steam as he made his way through. Eventually, Melancon was standing around with just Will Smith, catching up a few hours before they faced each other. 

"The first half (of the group) I knew all the guys," Melancon said, smiling. "The second half it was all new guys."

The Giants just about have a completely new bullpen since Melancon's last appearance. Melancon has a new situation, too. As the Giants limp to the finish, their former marquee free-agent addition will try to close out a National League East title with the Braves. 

Melancon, mostly a mid-innings man for the Giants this season, is the closer for one of the National League's powerhouses. He's perfect in 11 save opportunities in Atlanta. That may come as a surprise to fans who watched him for two and a half seasons in San Francisco. It does not at all seem out of place for Melancon. 

"That's where I think I'm best," he said of the ninth inning. "I knew that. That was easy for me to see."

Melancon never lost that confidence in San Francisco, even as an arm injury that popped up in his first week with the Giants robbed him of much of his old effectiveness. He had a 3.67 ERA with the Giants but totaled just 15 saves. 

The Giants got out of the final year-plus of a $62 million deal and acquiring two pitching prospects in the minutes before the trade deadline. Melancon ended up being the real winner in the deal. He has found himself closing for a team that can clinch the division Friday night. 

"I'm so impressed with these guys," he said of the Braves. "They're 22-year-olds acting like they're 35 as far as maturity level. It's really impressive."

[RELATED: Giants' Madison Bumgarner's road struggles continue ahead of free agency]

Melancon is excited about heading back to the postseason, although he credited his former team for never losing sight of that goal. He said he appreciated that the Giants never went full rebuild, and he looks back on his time in San Francisco fondly. 

"I had a great time. It's always about the people," he said. "It was a great two and a half years with great people ... that was our home for two and a half years and it was awesome."