Diamondbacks: Mark Melancon is Elite at Saves, not tied ballgames
As anyone that has watched multiple Arizona Diamondbacks games in the past couple of weeks can attest, the Diamondbacks bullpen is vastly improved but still scary. That is definitely true when you consider the fact that since May 7th, Melancon has had a blown save and 2 losses. However, he does have 3 saves during that time period. For the whole season, he has 9 saves. So, let's investigate Mark Melancon's season so far and how secure a closer he is. As for the other bullpen arms like Ian Kennedy and JB Wendelken, those are other articles for other days.
On the surface, Mark Melancon's stats are ugly. In 16 games, he's pitched 14.1 innings and has given up 22 hits, 16 runs, 12 earned runs, 5 walks, and has only struck out 7. He has a 0-5 record, 7.53 ERA, 4.67 FIP, a massive WHIP of 1.88, and has given the team -0.1 WAR. Opponents are hitting .348 off of him. Basically, this F.A. signing is looking like a disaster, or is it? The 37-year-old and 11+ year vet in the MLB has proven himself to be a reliable closer/late-inning pitcher.
Is Mark Melancon losing his grip as a late-inning reliever, unlucky, or are the Diamondbacks failing him?
Mark Melancon is definitely not losing his grip as a late-inning reliever and how do I know that? Let's go to the stats. Melancon is currently 9 for 10 in save chances this year with the only blown save coming May 7th when he failed to secure a 1-run lead against the Rockies. Let's dive into the stats in his save chances. He's pitched 9 innings in those save chances, in which he's given up 10 hits, 5 runs, 4 ERs, 1 walk, 7 Ks, and has done that in 9 games. However, in that massive blow-up May 7th game, he gave up 5 hits, 4 runs, and 4 ERs.
Therefore, in the 9 other save chances, which he completed, he gave up 5 hits, 1 run, 0 ERs, 0 walks, and has struck out 7. Those are legitimately good numbers. Overall, during his save opportunities, Melancon has recorded a 4.00 ERA, 2.32 FIP, and 4.47 xFIP. Don't forget that due to relievers, especially closers, pitching such limited innings, even one single awful game can destroy your ERA for months.
So, if Mark's been actually great in his save chances, why are his stats so awful? In the non-save games, he's pitched in 2 games where the Dbacks were losing. The other 5 games have been where the game was tied. Only 1 of those 5 games did he not allow a run. Overall, he pitched 4.2 innings and gave up 12 hits, 4 walks, 1 HR, 10 runs, and 8 ERs, and did all that in 7 games! His ERA is a horrible 7.71 ERA while his FIP is 8.57. 4 of his losses came during those games too.
It's not even that Melancon can't pitch in tied games as his career numbers say he can. Yes, Torey Lovullo needs to not pitch him in tied games for the time being so as to help his stats, and confidence, and help the Diamondbacks not give away any crucial games. You can't ignore the shocking disparity between his save-chance games and non-save situation games. By the way, one game that Melancon lost was in extras when the Diamondbacks failed to get in one run with a runner starting on 2nd base to begin the inning. Can't forget that.
Mark Melancon has been hit with some bad luck too. Batters are hitting .348, but that's being propped up by an abnormally high .365 BABIP. For his career, the BABIP against Melancon has been .295, far lower than his current BABIP. That means some positive regression is in store. More positive regression is in store for Melancon too when it comes to runners left on base. In his career, Melancon has left 73.65% of runners stranded on base prior to 2022. This year? It's a super-low 48.8%.
You might think that he's losing his pitching "stuff". While he is throwing fewer 4-seam Fastballs and more cutters, his MPH average on fastballs has dropped roughly 1.5 MPH. That's courtesy of FanGraphs. He's walking fewer batters than ever before, while delivering a Win Probability Added (WPA) rate of 2.39. His Fly-Ball% is up 10%, highest in a decade. This can be explained away due to his ginormous increase in Infield Fly Balls which has risen up 20+%.
Is there concern to be worried? Yes, there is because Mark isn't immune to father time. However, the underlying stats are suggesting that the same closer that Mark has proven to be over a decade+ is still there. It's mostly due to some really bad games that have completely thrown off all his stats and credibility. He's still nailing down saves. Perhaps he should be left in the bullpen if the game isn't calling for a save or isn't up by a large amount. Leave the ties to Joe Mantiply, Ian Kennedy, Noe Ramirez, Kyle Nelson, and others.
Leave the Shark free to go hunting for his Saves. The ERA and basic stats will take a while to climb back down, especially if he's forced to do more saves in extra-innings where it's super easy for a runner to score. However, I have complete faith that his ERA will be back to the 3's and he'll wind up with 30+ saves by the end of the season.