The first thing that comes to mind when idealizing a relief pitcher is power stuff unleashed from a simple pitch mix.
Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen are frequently cited among the best relievers of their generation. For Kimbrel, it’s always been his high-octane fastball and power-breaking ball that make for a career 2.18 ERA (188 ERA+) and career 14.7 K/9 in parts of 12 seasons. And for Jansen, it’s been the cut fastball—a pitch he’s thrown 81.9 percent of the time over the course of his 12-season stretch with the Dodgers—that makes him and his career 2.37 ERA (164) Mariano Rivera-lite in the senior circuit. Both are available this offseason via trade and free agency, respectively.
And then you have Mark Melancon, whose three-pitch mix (and formerly four-pitch mix) have made him almost alien to the preconceived notions that surround relievers.
Like Kimbrel and Jansen, though, Melancon’s consistency makes him so compelling, even if he doesn’t earn as many style points as them on the mound.
Since the start of 2010, Melancon’s 144 ERA+ is tied with Steve Cishek for 8th among pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched out of the bullpen. Melancon has thrown 654 1⁄3 innings in that span, 12th among all relievers.
With San Francisco in 2017, Melancon struggled somewhat with injuries and run prevention (96 ERA+ in 30.0 IP). However, he has rebounded by stringing together four seasons with a cumulative 139 ERA+ and a 0.5 HR/9 ratio. This past 2021 campaign in particular, he led the major leagues in saves en route to earning his fourth career All-Star selection. By Baseball-Reference’s calculations, Melancon was worth 2.1 wins above replacement.
Naaaaaasty knuckle curve from Mark Melancon pic.twitter.com/rFExh7uTJC— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) July 14, 2021
Now a free agent ahead of his age-37 season, teams clamoring to secure the veteran’s services should be expected to pony up a multi-year offer. For reference, Aaron Loup received a $17 million guaranteed from the Angels and Kendall Graveman got $24 million from the White Sox in recent days.
The Miami Marlins finished 7th this season in FanGraphs WAR among relievers (5.0). Melancon could make an already formidable bullpen even better while helping to solve their inconsistency in high-leverage situations.
What Melancon lacks in fastball velocity—finishing in MLB’s 29th percentile in 2021—and swing-and-miss potential, he makes up for in generating weak contact. He rated in the 88th percentile in average exit velocity and rarely gets barreled up.
The concerns that lie with Melancon’s inability to strike hitters out are warranted, though, and one may question the ensuing duration of his resurgence based on his most recent 3.39 FIP, more than a full run higher than his ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP. Regardless, Miami would most certainly benefit from Melancon’s clubhouse presence alone.
If you were Kim Ng, would you sign Mark Melancon?