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Entries in Mark Melancon (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
Apr192012

Melancon Down the Middle

Ever wonder what it would be like if Charlie Brown got called up to the majors? Mark Melancon's first two weeks with the Boston Red Sox are a pretty good approximation. The erstwhile Astro, acquired during the winter for shortstop Jed Lowrie and starter Kyle Weiland, coughed up 10 hits, 11 runs and five home runs in just two innings. That's not exactly what the Sox expected from a power arm who posted a 138 ERA+ and served up five homers total in 74.1 frames last season.  Melancon's gopheritis earned him the boot off Bobby Valentine's roster faster than you can say "Pawtucket."

Valentine told MLB.com's Ian Browne that Melancon must work on hitting the corners while in Triple-A:

"Mark just has to be the pitcher that he is," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He struggled with his command. He's a great command pitcher, and thus far, he hasn't had it. We don't feel that he'd have the opportunity really here to work through it. He was anxious to get an opportunity to work more regularly so that he could get back to where he belongs."

Melancon's command certainly did suffer before his demotion. Check out his pitch location in 2011, and then during his homer-prone 2012:

Melancon's pitch location, 2011

Melancon's pitch location, 2012Thirty-seven percent of Melancon's pitches have been thrown to the horizontal middle of the strike zone in 2012. For comparison, Melancon left about 27% of his offerings belt-high last season, and the average for relievers in 2012 is 25%. All five of Melancon's home runs surrendered came on pitches thrown down the middle.

Despite his "AAAARGH!"-worthy start with Boston, Sox fans shouldn't curse the Lowrie trade just yet. Melancon is 27 years old, has five years of team control left and records lots of Ks and grounders with his fastball/cutter/curve repertoire when he throws quality strikes. If he makes a few tweaks with the PawSox, Melancon should get back to giving opposing batters grief instead of his own fans.