The Mark Melancon trade was, not to understate it too much, not well received by the general population of the Pirate fanbase on Saturday night when it broke. On the surface, it looked as if the Pirates were waving the white flag on the 2016 season. But after taking a deep breath, fans should realize that the Pirates still have a great 7th-8th-9th inning combo in place with Rivero-Feliz-Watson, with tremendous upside in the form of Felipe Rivero.
Mark Melancon was most likely not going to be a Pirate next season. Under Mike’s four scenarios in his article last Wednesday, the Pirates were probably not going to offer him a Qualifying Offer of 1 yr/$16M+ this offseason. They also would have been outbid in free agency. So in exchange for the Nationals getting two months of his services, the Pirates get five years of Felipe Rivero, plus 6+ potential years of the Taylor Hearn lottery ticket experience.
Now’s a good time to remind everyone that closers are overrated. It’s also a good time to bring up that Melancon was a broken toy when he was traded here in 2012 from the Red Sox, lugging a 6.20 ERA. And that Jason Grilli was plucked out of the minor leagues with his career in doubt. Or that Joel Hanrahan had a 7+ ERA when he was traded here from the Nationals as the “other piece” in the Lastings Milledge trade. But unlike all three of those guys, Felipe Rivero does not come in need of fixing.
All of that stuff that I wrote about how the Pirates should trade for lefty Will Smith of the Brewers? Well, you can pretty much substitute “Will Smith” for “Felipe Rivero” from that article, with the exception that the Pirates got an asset with even more control. And has better overall stuff, probably.
Presumably, Tony Watson will be the closer the rest of the year and probably in 2017, as well. He’ll be solid. But he may have competition from fellow left-hander, Rivero. The 25-year old sports a 95 mph fastball, an 87 mph changeup, and 82 mph slider that all grade out as positive pitches, according to PitchF/X. His changeup appears to be particularly effective, worth +2.96 runs per 100 pitches this year.
Rivero has swing and miss stuff, as evidenced by his plate discipline charts from Fangraphs:
Let’s contrast that with Melancon’s same plate discipline chart from his time with the Pirates:
Check out the Z-Contact% for both pitchers. This is the percentage of contact that hitters make with balls in the strike zone. Melancon consistently has been in the high 80’s, while Rivero in 2016 is at 79.3%, implying that Melancon relies on contact to get outs due to a lesser fastball. Both pitchers O-Contact% are striking, as well, with Rivero getting over 10% less contact out of the strike zone due to more movement and (again) more velocity. Rivero’s SwStr% (swinging strike) is higher this year than during any of Melancon’s four years with the Pirates.
As for Taylor Hearn, he’s a lottery ticket at this point, but he appears to be a ticket worth holding on to. Interestingly, Hearn was drafted four times before he signed, which I have never seen before. Either he really believed in his talent or he had some bad advice from his advisor. He was drafted in the 22nd round in 2012 by the Pirates, the 36th round by the Reds in 2013, the 25th round in 2014 by the Twins, and finally the 5th round in 2015 by the Nationals out of Oklahoma Baptist University. He’s lucky he didn’t Matt Harrington himself out of baseball.
It hurts to see the Pirates lose Melancon. He was a very reliable cyborg during his time here. But he wasn’t staying after this year and the relievers are disposable. The Pirates extracted maximum value from him during his time in Pittsburgh and on his way out the door. The Pirates have set themselves up well in the bullpen for the next few years.