Before he was traded to the Washington Nationals this weekend, Mark Melancon told Pittsburgh Tribune writer Rob Biertempfel that he understood why Pittsburgh might trade him, in spite of the fact that he led all major league closers in saves since 2014 and had 30 saves in 33 opportunities this season.
Melancon is, after all, set to hit free agency this winter, after the one-time Yankees, Astros and Red Sox’ reliever spent four seasons in the Pirates’ bullpen.
Through 45 appearances this season, Melancon has a 1.51 ERA, a 2.65 FIP, a 0.96 WHIP, nine walks (1.94 BB/9), 38 Ks (8.21 K/9) and a .203/.252/.265 line against in 41 ⅔ IP.
“I get the business side of things,” Melancon told the Pittsburgh Tribune.
“If they were to trade me, that doesn’t mean they would be giving up on the season. They could add value and still have Tony [Watson] and [Neftali] Feliz, [Jared] Hughes and all the rest of the bullpen. So I can see all sides of it.”
After the deal, which sent left-handed reliever Felipe Rivero and minor league left-hander Taylor Hearn to the Pirates, was completed, Melancon talked in an MLB Network Radio interview about finding out he’d been dealt.
“It’s been out there a little bit so I guess I can’t say that I was completely surprised, but when it happens it’s a little bit different from rumors,” Melancon said.
Asked why his career took off once he joined the Pirates, the right-hander said it was about the development of his cutter.
“I think just trusting my cutter and throwing it more often and learning how to throw it,” he explained.
“When to throw it, why to use it inside, which is backdoor to guys and just really learning how to throw that pitch.”
“I’ve had a lot of help from a lot of different people that I’m very appreciative for and just getting better as time goes on,” Melancon continued.
The cutter, he told reporters when he joined the Nationals in San Francisco in time for their series finale with the Giants in AT&T Park, was something he picked up while he was in New York.
“I was in the pen with Mariano [Rivera] and I got to watch that a lot from him and just sit behind the plate, sit behind him pitching, and not only did I notice how important the cutter [was] and the movement and when to throw it in, backdoor it and all that stuff, but just his location and how important that was,” he explained.
Opposing hitters have a .248 AVG against Melancon’s cutter, which he throws at an average of 90.6 mph, and he throws a curve, which averages 81.0 mph, against which hitters have a .135 AVG and a fastball which averages 91.6 mph, against which hitters have a .077 AVG this season.
His recent success, Melancon explained, has been all about location.
“I think location is always key, making sure you hit your spots, and for me the cutter has been a very good pitch for me, mixed with the curveball and two-seam fastball, but my cutter has been predominantly the best change for me.”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo reportedly pursued Aroldis Chapman before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs and New Yankees’ left-hander Andrew Miller before he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians. The Nats were rumored to have interest in Chicago White Sox’ closer David Robertson as well.
Getting Melancon for what they did, Rizzo said, worked out well for the Nationals.
“There are not a lot of relievers at his level,” he told reporters this weekend.
“So it’s supply and demand and the supply for those type of guys — there’s not a lot of them — so there is a lot of competition for players and you have to do a deal that makes sense for you.”
Melancon said he was excited about the opportunity to join the first-place Nationals.
“It gives you a nice little boost, I know that,” he said.
“For me it was, like I said, just really exciting and a whirlwind of a day yesterday, but I’m here and everything is going great.”
Will Melancon solidify the back-end of the Nationals’ bullpen? What role does Jonathan Papelbon move into now that the Nats have acquired a new closer? Will Rizzo and Co. in the front office in D.C. make any more additions to the bullpen before today’s deadline... or after it?