Melancon’s performance in close and non-save situations has taken him out of the closer’s role in the bullpen, making it the 5th straight failure for a buy-low closer signing.
The closer role has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for the Arizona Diamondbacks under the Mike Hazen regime. Every year the D-backs have turned to a different pitcher for the 9th inning, with Fernando Rodney being the only successful closer back in 2017. For the next five seasons, the position has been anything but stable with none of the team’s first choice at the closer role holding the job all the way through the season.
Last winter the D-backs signed Mark Melancon to a 2-year, $14MM deal hoping to give the team some stability for the next two years. Melancon was coming off a solid season for the San Diego Padres, locking down 39 saves and a 2.23 ERA (175 ERA+) in 64 games. The team was counting on Melancon not only to repeat that success with Arizona, but also mentor some of the young arms looking to establish themselves in the big leagues. If things went well, he’d be a valuable trade asset they could flip for some prospects to help finish this soft rebuild.
Instead of providing stability to the bullpen, he has been a source of frustration. In 41 games with the D-backs, Melancon has pitched to a 4.66 ERA (88 ERA+) with 14 saves. In 2022, his strikeout per nine innings pitched has dropped to 6.4 while his hits per nine has skyrocketed to 11.0. That has reared its ugly head in high-leverage situations for Melancon.
Here’s how Mark Melancon has fared in typical situations you see a closer used in:
The big issue with Melancon has been his record in tie games and runners in scoring position, which has resulted in ten losses already on the season. That is the first time a Diamondbacks reliever has ever picked up that many losses in a single season. Some of that can be blamed on the ghost runner rule in extra innings, but you can’t deny his poor performance in those “got to have it situations”.
The failure for Melancon to stabilize the back-end of the bullpen has the D-backs fast approaching another 90+ loss season. He has since been removed from the closer role, with the team electing to go with a closer by committee approach. It’s also a mark on Hazen and the front office for another failure on another buy-low closer candidate. The team will need to find a role since Melancon is due $8MM for the 2023 season, with a salary of $6MM and a $2MM buyout that’s likely to be exercised.