Melancon likely candidate for NL Reliever of Year
Bucs' dependable righty notched 51 saves in 2015
The Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award and the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award presented by The Hartford will be handed out on Wednesday before Game 2 of the World Series in a Major League Baseball pregame press event, and Pirates closer Mark Melancon figures to be in the running for the former award after shattering the club record with 51 saves this season.
Whether he does receive MLB's highest honor for bullpen work in that now-annual ceremony remains to be seen. But either way, his manager Clint Hurdle, after all of those trips out to the mound in 2015 to bring Melancon in, said Friday that he is "as complete a game-ender as I've ever had."
"He's a guy who has worked hard to continue to evolve every year he's been involved in our bullpen," Hurdle told MLB.com in a call. "Whether it be different zones to attack, different pitch sequences, adding or subtracting pitches, working on his fielding -- one of his goals was to win a Gold Glove -- or his ability to control the running game, he continues to evolve and grow.
"He pays attention to everything. And I don't think anybody outside of the people who play with him every day understand his demeanor on the mound. He is a businessman. If the ball was a knife, he'd cut you. He is as intense a competitor on the mound as I've had."
Although there are no official "nominees" for these awards, likely candidates could include Melancon, along with Aroldis Chapman of the Reds, Jeurys Familia of the Mets and Trevor Rosenthal of the Cardinals in the NL, and Cody Allen of the Indians, Zach Britton of the Orioles, Wade Davis of the Royals and Andrew Miller of the Yankees in the AL.
The awards are voted on by a nine-member panel comprised of Hoffman and Rivera, as well as fellow legendary closers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner. The group represents the four living relief pitchers in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and is inclusive of the top six all-time saves leaders.
As part of the balloting process, all nine voters will pick three relievers from each league based solely on regular-season performance; selections are not restricted to closers. From there, a 5-3-1 weighted point system is used to determine the winners.
"That's a great way to keep those guys engaged, because they understand," Hurdle said.
No. 35 out of the bullpen was near-automatic success in the Bucs' 98-win season, converting all but two of his 53 save opportunities. On Sept. 24 at Colorado, Melancon became the seventh pitcher in NL history to record 50 or more saves in a season. The next night at Wrigley Field, he added one more to produce what would be his final season total -- tops in the Majors.
"It shows what kind of a team we have," Melancon said with characteristic humility. "The bullpen has been terrific. The guys ahead of me, you can't say enough about them."
Melancon set a career high with 78 appearances, and his 0.93 WHIP ranked sixth among NL relievers. Pittsburgh posted a Major League-leading 36-17 (.680) record in one-run games in 2015, and having Melancon at the back end of games was a key reason why. He converted a club-record 35 consecutive save opportunities from April 23 through Aug. 15.
"This guy, he's a complete team player," Hurdle said. "He understands the value of people who pitched before him in a game, because he's been that guy as well. Those guys have to work hard to get the ball to the closer in the ninth, and he's been one of those guys."
Melancon came to the Pirates from the Red Sox in a six-player deal after the 2012 season, and in his three years with Pittsburgh he has appeared in 220 games and gone from 16 to 33 to 51 saves. In that time, he has 100 saves and a 1.85 ERA. That ERA ranks second among NL relief pitchers (minimum 120 innings), behind Craig Kimbrel (1.77).
"My goal is to not give up runs," Melancon said. "However that gets done, that's the way I want to get it done."
In 2015, he was selected to his second All-Star Game in the last three years, pitching to four batters in the eighth inning of the NL's loss this July at Cincinnati.
Hurdle was asked what it was like to see those 50th and 51st saves from his vantage point.
"You have to live within it, because even on teams that don't play well, your closer's gonna get 36," he said. "When it gets to 50 -- and it wasn't like we were just trying to pick up the 50 -- he pitched more than a handful of times to stay on track in non-save situations where maybe he didn't pitch the third day and we pitched him the fourth day to keep him working. He has not wavered in any role he has had. His demeanor and preparation has always been the same.
"Some closers struggle with that, need to pitch that day in a non-save situation, but there's never a change with Mark. There was never a change of attitude when he was finished."
The Hartford awards were instituted last year as a replacement for MLB's "Delivery Man of the Year Award," which was presented to one winner in all of MLB from 2005-13, and it continues a longstanding baseball tradition of honoring the game's top relief pitchers. Kimbrel won the first one in the NL and Greg Holland won it in the AL.