Stats corner: Cutter, curve key to Melancon's control
In just three short months, Mark Melancon has morphed from a homer-prone reclamation project into an All-Star and perhaps the most feared member of the Pirates' “Shark Tank” bullpen. The 28-year-old right-hander, acquired from Boston as part of the haul for Joel Hanrahan, was hammered for a 6.20 ERA in the majors and toiled in Triple-A for parts of the 2012 season. This year, Melancon holds the lowest single-season ERA (0.81) ever for a Pirates reliever tossing at least 40 innings, and the seventh-lowest all-time among bullpen arms meeting that threshold.
Melancon's ultra-low ERA — the last time he allowed an earned run was June 4 — can be attributed to his otherworldly strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has punched out 46 batters and issued just four free passes in 44 1⁄3 innings. When it comes to racking up Ks and avoiding walks, Melancon is keeping company with the likes of Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera, posting the seventh-best single-season K/BB ratio ever for a reliever.
Don't walk this way
Highest single-season K/BB ratios among relievers (Min. 40 IP)
Pitcher Year Team K/BB
Dennis Eckersley 1989 Athletics 18.33
Dennis Eckersley 1990 Athletics 18.25
Edward Mujica 2013 Cardinals 17.0
Sergio Romo 2011 Giants 14.0
Mariano Rivera 2008 Yankees 12.83
Edward Mujica 2010 Padres 12.0
Mark Melancon 2013 Pirates 11.5
Rafael Betancourt 2010 Rockies 11.13
Koji Uehara 2010 Orioles 11.0
Wilton Lopez 2010 Astros 10.0
There are two big reasons for Melancon's strike zone mastery: He's throwing more strikes with his cutter, and he has more than doubled his whiff rate with his curveball. Melancon also is relying on his best pitch more often, increasing his percentage of cutters thrown from 42.3 percent in 2012 to 63.8 percent in 2013.
Year Strike Pct. Year Whiff Pct.
2012 66.7 2012 11.5
2013 69.5 2013 28.4
MLB avg. 66.7 MLB avg. 11.6
David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.