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.
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 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.