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Mark Melancon, Giants are a perfect fit

A closer look at the new Giants closer.

San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals
His pitchface is like a John Kricfalusi cartoon, and I can’t get enough.
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Mark Melancon isn’t a strikeout wizard. When a team pays scores of millions for a closer, it’s reasonable to hope for a strikeout wizard, the kind of arm that will age well because there’s so far to fall. Melancon is not that kind of pitcher. His cutter averages about 91 mph, and he needs a good defense behind him more than Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman.

What Melancon is, though, is a known quantity, a pitcher with a long, consistent history of not allowing runs to score. Which is sort of the point of pitching. Here are the pitchers who have thrown at least 200 innings since 2013, ranked by ERA:

  1. Mark Melancon, 1.80
  2. Clayton Kershaw, 1.88
  3. Andrew Miller, 1.93
  4. Aroldis Chapman, 1.93
  5. Zach Britton, 1.95

Now, ERA isn’t a great stat for relievers — or a great stat at all, really — but it helps clarify the larger point, which is that Melancon has been baseball’s best reliever when it comes to keeping runs off the board. It might or might not be sustainable, but even a little regression would keep him an elite reliever.

Don’t look down that ERA list and notice that Santiago Casilla is #17, I beg you. That would kind of futz up my point.

Melancon’s strength is his command, which makes his cutter/curve combo as devastating as physics will allow. Here’s his curveball, which ... dang it ...

That game was, like, the 20th-most frustrating loss of the year, which means it was extraordinarily frustrating, and now I’m mad all over again. But anyway, it’s a good curveball. Probably even a great curveball.

If you’re looking for the cutter, it’s the last two pitches in this video, and it looks annoying. That’s a compliment.

Let’s get to the perfect fit described in the headline. The real perfect fit would be a closer who throws 107 mph for the league-minimum salary. Melancon will make a lot of scratch, and his presence will affect what the Giants do in the next four offseasons. So as far as rosters and contracts and such go, he’s not a perfect fit. His contract is, uh, not subtle.

But he’s a perfect fit as a pitcher. Melancon is a low-heart-rate closer, which is so, so, so very nice after last season. He doesn’t come into the game with half of his command and a bullheaded reliance on his fastball. He throws a nasty curveball, and he throws it where he wants. He throws a cutter, and he throws it where he wants. It’s almost boring. Boring is nice.

Consider Aroldis Chapman, whom the Giants won’t sign, he noted gleefully. He’s on that list of run preventers up there, probably because he’s excellent at throwing baseballs hard. But he’s also a stressful closer, more so than you might think. There are nights where he’s all over the place, where he can’t locate his fastball and can’t mix enough sliders in to make up for it. There are even nights when he gives up triples to Conor Gillaspie, if you can believe it.

I don’t want a closer who errs on the side of dominance but still stresses me out. I want quiet. Nice and quiet. To be fair, Santiago Casilla was that kind of closer for a while. There were hiccups, but there was very rarely a sense of impending doom. Until last year, which was the kind of year from a closer that would make a team spend a record amount of money on a new closer.

While there’s more to Melancon than his steadiness — that whole bit about run prevention, again — that’s why he’s the perfect fit for the Giants. Did you know that Melancon has never balked in the major leagues? Not once. He also holds runners exceptionally well, allowing just two stolen bases over the last two seasons. And not to belabor the point, but his command is excellent. He’s hit fewer batters in the last two seasons than Casilla did last year, and he’s consistently had one of the best walk rates in baseball.

The money? Well, that’s not going to be easy to work around, and it will limit some future roster moves. As far as pitchers go, however, Melancon is nice and mellow. That might not be worth $15.5 million per year to you, but it’s worth a lot to the Giants after watching that historic, miserable, baseball-hating season from the bullpen.

Looking forward to the ninth innings where the Giants have the lead, now. Any pitcher who can make me do that is the perfect fit. Melancon is expensive, and that matters, but we deserve some nice, quiet ninth innings. It appears as if we’ll get them for a while.