April 8, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Mark Melancon (37) pitches during the eleventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Detroit won 13-12 in eleven innings. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Mark Melancon and the Closing Conundrum

On the B.S. Report, Bill Simmons told friend and diehard New York Yankees fan Jack-O that somebody close to the Boston Red Sox told Simmons to “stay away” from Mark Melancon when Simmons was contemplating adding him to his AL-only fantasy team. This exchange took place before the injury to Andrew Bailey, and the reason for staying away from Mark Melancon is presumably because of Melancon’s issues with playing under pressure.

Earlier in the show, it was hypothesized that Mark Melancon would struggle moving from the Houston Astros- a team that has no pressure when closing- to closing for the Boston Red Sox. This is a sentiment echoed by many, who believe that Melancon doesn’t have the mental make-up to be the closer. The two men talking on the B.S. Report did not exactly endorse current closer Alfredo Aceves either, who was rightfully dubbed by the duo as a “spot-starter/long reliever”, just as he was successfully used by the Yankees.

The three main components to figuring out a closer’s success are groundballs, strikeouts, and walks; the three peripherals. Mark Melancon is far better than Alfredo Aceves at keeping the ball on the ground, as he has a GB% of nearly 15% more than Aceves in their respective careers.

Although Aceves allows less walks, he also throws more strikes and receives more swings on his pitches. However, Melancon induces more whiffs and strikes out eight batters per nine innings compared to just 6.5 for Aceves.

That low strikeout rate is troublesome, and it’s the reason why Aceves will never be a successful closer in this league. He owns a career 3.02 ERA, but he also has a .238 BABIP in those 241 innings, which shows that he has been lucky throughout his career so far.

In fact, his only non-BABIP skewed season were those 84 innings he pitched in the best year of his career (1.4 WAR) with the well-regarded 2009 New York Yankees.

Aceves owns a career 4.14 FIP and a 4.54 career xFIP. His 16.5 LD% against shows that he has been lucky, and he owns a career 4.11 tERA as well. This is a pitcher whose true value is around a 4.20 ERA, and his low strikeout rate combined with over three walks per nine and a sub 40 GB% shows that he isn’t a true closer.

No matter the questions due to ability to perform under pressure, Mark Melancon should be the closer for the Boston Red Sox. He’s going to have to pitch in high-leverage situations anyway, so why not let him be the closer? The closer role should be obsolete in baseball, but there is a closer and the best man has to be that guy under the current set up. The only edge that Alfredo Aceves holds over Melancon is in walk rate, and the former ‘Stros closer is easily the better reliever than Aceves.

He has the ability to strikeout hitters and has a career 3.50 ERA with a 3.58 FIP and 3.29 SIERA (4.06 tERA). Mark Melancon can get the groundball outs, and the projection systems view him as a 0.7-1 WAR reliever this season.

Ignore the one inning in which he imploded against the Detroit Tigers and take a look at last seasons’s statistics.

Mark Melancon finished with a 2.78/3.25/3.14 pitching triple slash in 74.1 quality innings of work for a total of 0.8 WAR in Houston last year. He struck out eight batters per nine while allowing 3.15 walks per nine, and his walk rate is getting lower and lower.

This leads me to believe that he actually has the same control (walk rate, in this sense) than Aceves, because his career averages are skewed by some struggles with walks early on in his career.

Boston Red Sox fans have every right to be upset with their closing situation, if they are among those who believe that Alfredo Aceves isn’t the answer. He’s a quality arm as a guy who can give you a few good innings from the fifth through seventh when you need them, but he shouldn’t be deployed as the closer. He doesn’t generate whiffs, and he’s a flyball pitcher as well. Mark Melancon has a great ground ball/strikeout combination that will yield better results if the Red Sox stick with him. By the end of it all, if Boston is smart, then Mark Melancon will be this team’s closer and all will be well. He is a 0.8 WAR closer and a 3.50 ERA guy who has much more value than Aceves. Make Melancon the closer, because I don’t buy the whole “he folds under pressure” angle. He had a .23 clutch score last year with a 25-8 shutdown to meltdown ratio and will get more comfortable with his role in Boston if he is given room to grow. The team needs to be patient with him and allow him to be the solid reliever that he truly is.

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Tags: Alfredo Aceves Andrew Bailey B.S. Report Bill Simmons Boston Red Sox Detroit Tigers Houston Astros Jack-O Mark Melancon New York Yankees

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