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Entries in Joel Hanrahan (2)

Friday
Dec282012

Bucs' Melancon Poised to Bounce Back

Mark Melancon's first and only season in Boston was brutal. The former Astro closer's combination of Ks and grounders intrigued the Red Sox enough for the club to surrender shortstop Jed Lowrie in trade last December, but Melancon gave up as many homers in early April (five) as he did during the entire 2011 season. He was banished to Triple-A Pawtucket by the middle of the month and finished the year with a 6.20 ERA, highest among all American League relievers tossing at least 45 innings. A few days ago, Melancon was shipped to the Pirates as part of a six-player deal that netted the Sox a new closer in Joel Hanrahan.

Ugly ERA and early homer woes aside, Melancon could be a steal for Pittsburgh. The 27-year-old righty showed better command upon returning from his stint with the PawSox in June, no longer throwing as many of the middle-of-the-plate cookies that crushed him in April and curbing home runs like he did during his Astros days.

In April, Melancon was an unmitigated disaster. Check out his pitch location during his first four outings with Boston:

Melancon's pitch location, April 2012

Melancon put the ball on a tee for hitters, throwing a major league-high 35% of his pitches to the horizontal middle of the strike zone. For comparison's sake, the average for relief pitchers last year was 24%. Pitchers who leave the ball over the middle get their heads handed to them -- batters slugged .492 against those offerings in 2012 -- and Melancon was no exception. All five of the April homers he surrendered came on middle-of-the-plate pitches.

The Sox demoted Melancon after his no-out, six-run, three homer pummeling against the Rangers on April 17. He turned things around in Triple-A, however, compiling a 27-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and serving up nary a home run in 21.1 innings with Pawtucket. When he returned to the majors in June, Melancon did a better job of avoiding the middle of the zone:

Melancon's pitch location, June-September 2012

Melancon threw slightly under 29% of his pitches to the middle of the plate, not far off his 27% mark during his stellar 2011 season in Houston. With sharper command, he allowed just three home runs in 43 innings and posted a 40-to-10 K-to-BB ratio.

In two ghastly April innings, Melancon had a 49.50 ERA. In 43 innings following his Triple-A stint, he had a 4.19 ERA. Melancon has typically thrown a few more meatballs than the average reliever, but he showed command similar to his halcyon days with Houston from June on and continued to rack up strikeouts and grounders. If Melancon can bury those April memories, the Bucs might have landed a low-cost closer who won't hit free agency until after the 2016 season.

Thursday
Aug182011

Jonny Venters' Dominant Slider

Jonny Venters has thrown 191 sliders this season, and opposing hitters have swung at 103 of those sliders.  Yet, of those 103 swings, they have hit nothing but air 70.9% of the time.  That leads all major league pitchers throwing sliders.  Sergei Santos of the Chicago White Sox comes in second with 64.9%, and there are only five other pitchers who have produced a Miss% rate on sliders greater than 50% this season.

(Click image to enlarge)

You can see that he keeps the slider away from lefties, missing the strike zone the majority of the time, while keeping it on the bottom of the zone to righties.  Venters has gotten opposing hitters to swing at his sliders located out of the zone 51.5% of the time.  In fact, Lefties have chased 61% of sliders he's thrown out of the zone, which ranks 3rd best in the league behind Jaime Garcia and Joel Hanrahan.

Last season, Venters was getting hitters to swing and miss at 63.7% of his sliders and chase 41.5%.  While both are still excellent overall (his Miss% also led the league in 2010), his current slider has gone above and beyond.  Lefties are hitting just .115 against, while righties have yet to get a hit in 35 plate appearances decided on a slider.  In fact, in the 61 PA in which a Jonny Venters slider was the deciding pitch, 51 have been strike outs (47 swinging, 4 looking).  The fact that he can throw his slider effectively to both righties and lefties is a major reason he hasn't allowed an earned run since June 29th.