Nothing brings a team peace of mind like having a rock-solid closer at the back of its bullpen, and this offseason offers the most talented crop of free-agent closers in recent history.The current record contract for a closer -- the four-year, $50 million contract Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies
Nothing brings a team peace of mind like having a rock-solid closer at the back of its bullpen, and this offseason offers the most talented crop of free-agent closers in recent history.
The current record contract for a closer -- the four-year, $50 million contract Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies in November 2011 -- figures to be shattered in the coming weeks when superstars Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen choose their next clubs. But a third closer, Mark Melancon, has been nearly as dominant since he was traded by the Red Sox to the Pirates prior to the 2013 season.
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Melancon will turn 32 in March and doesn't boast the eye-popping velocity or strikeout totals of Chapman or Jansen, but he presents an extremely cost-effective option for the many clubs -- including contenders such as the Cubs, Giants, Nationals and Yankees -- who figure to be in the market for a closer this offseason.
As part of our continuing series, here are five reasons Melancon should generate plenty of interest on the free-agent market in the coming weeks:
Saving the day, again and again
No reliever -- not even Chapman or Jansen -- has tallied more saves than Melancon's 131 since 2014, the year in which he assumed the Pirates' full-time closer role for good. Melancon has been particularly effective when entering with a lead of at least two runs, as he has blown only four saves while allowing at least two runs over the last three years -- the same total as fellow star closers Cody Allen, Zach Britton, Jansen and Roberto Osuna.
Perhaps no reliever in baseball hurts himself less than Melancon. Since he joined the Pirates in 2013, Melancon has issued the second-fewest walks (45) and posted the second-lowest walk rate (4 percent), while also posting the second-lowest WHIP (0.91) among Major League relievers with a minimum of 240 innings pitched. Unsurprisingly, Melancon's ability to limit baserunners has helped him sport the lowest ERA -- 1.80 -- of any reliever over the last four seasons.
Keeping the ball in the yard
Helped by his pinpoint control, Melancon is also stingy with the big fly, meaning opponents have to string together an extended rally to do any serious damage against him. The right-hander has allowed only 10 home runs over the last four seasons -- the fewest of any reliever with at least 240 innings pitched since 2013 -- and 40 extra-base hits, which trails only Chapman in that span. Only five of the 190 batted balls hit off Melancon in 2016 were barrels, according to Statcast™, and his 25 percent soft contact rate over the last four years -- per FanGraphs -- is the second lowest of all big league relievers behind the Yankees' Dellin Betances.
Slow pulse rate
Need a closer who relishes the big moment? Look no further than Melancon, who has entered into 153 high-leverage situations since 2013 and whose 1.85 average leverage index (in which 1.0 is considered neutral) is the fifth highest among Major League relievers in that span, per Baseball-Reference. So, how did Melancon do in those pressure spots? His 1.68 ERA in high-leverage situations is the third lowest in baseball over the last four years, and his 0.92 WHIP ranks eighth among relievers with at least 100 appearances in those scenarios.
Day in, day out
Since missing the 2007 Minor League season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Melancon has been about as strong a workhorse as any reliever in the game. Over the last four years, Melancon has made 297 appearances -- second only to Cleveland's Bryan Shaw in that span. Melancon and Shaw are also the only two relievers in the Majors who have topped 70 appearances in each of the last four seasons -- including Melancon's 2016 campaign, in which he made 75 appearances for the Pirates and Nationals and finished a Major League-high 67 of those games.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.