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.