CLARK BUILDING – The Mark Melancon trade certainly does not increase the Pirates’ chances at reaching or advancing in the postseason.
Every game matters at this point for a team on the fringe of the playoff picture. And since 2013, few pitchers – three actually – have better improved their respective club’s chances of winning games than Melancon.
While WAR, a cumulative statistic, is harsh on the value of relief pitchers because relievers throw fewer innings than starters, another measure – Win Probability Added (WPA) – perhaps better captures a pitcher’s true value.
(WPA reflects a player’s contribution to wins by measuring the change in win expectancy after each plate appearances.)
WPA LEADERS SINCE 2013
Clayton Kershaw 18.7
Zack Greinke 12.6
Max Scherzer 12.4
Mark Melancon 11.7 (!!!)
Chris Sale 11.3
Melancon is great. He impacts games. But on the other hand, Melancon is probably only going to pitch 20-25 more innings in the regular season, so the impact he can make on the any team’s postseason chances is likely somewhat limited. ZiPS projects Melancon will produce 0.4 WAR the rest of the year.
Felipe Rivero? 0.3 WAR
Still, losing Melancon hurts 2016. There’s no doubt about it. How much it hurts? That’s unclear.
But context is key when considering this deal.
The Pirates’ chances at making the postseason are, well, they aren’t great.
According to Baseball Prospectus’s playoff odds, the Pirates own a 6.3 percent chance of capturing a wild card, and a 0.1 percent chance of winning the division. The weekend didn’t help.
The Pirates are four games back of the second wild card spot and trail three teams for the second wild card spot. It’s not an impossible path but it’s unlikely. And while the Pirates have a favorable second-half schedule, they still must take advantage of it and not stumble. (See: Milwaukee/Miller Park).
The Pirates are unlikely to make the postseason, they were unlikely to retain Melancon beyond this season, and they only controlled him for two more regular season months. Moreover, Pirates GM Neal Huntington has a history of flipping closers for relief pitchers who become future closers.
In short, it made sense, it was logic-based, for the Pirates to trade Melancon.
“Our goal in this move is to attempt to continue that chain of quality production,” Huntington told reporters over the weekend “We’ve dealt from an area of strength and strengthened our future without changing our goals for this season.”
Now, perhaps, the return can be debated.
And there were mixed reviews:
Melancon is going to be a free agent at year's end; Pirates get five more years of control with Rivero. Plus a prospect. Makes sense for PIT
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 30, 2016
Have to say the Pirates return for Melancon–Hearn and Rivero–is modest. Pirates must see something in Rivero.
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) July 30, 2016
The Pirates were not offered an Aroldis Chapman-like package, despite Melancon being arguably as effective as Chapman.
Huntington said the return of Rivero and Taylor Heran, the Nationals’ fifth-round pick in 2015 (the Pirates drafted Hearn in the 22nd round in 2012, but he did not sign) was the best package the Pirates were offered for Melancon since last winter.
But here’s the other key point, here’s why the Pirates aren’t like other sellers: they are not truly rebuilding.
The Pirates were looking for a specific package. Ken Rosenthal reported the Pirates were seeking a setup man in return as part of any deal for Melancon.
Perhaps a prospect-based packaged would have been richer, or seemed more like a clear win for the Pirates. But in this case, the Pirates are looking at the next several years as a window. Assuming the rotation becomes younger and more homegrown, and more effective, the largest void the Pirates must fill the next 2-3 years is in regard to their bullpen.
Melancon is gone, Neftali Feliz is a free agent at the end of the year. Tony Watson is under control through 2017. The Pirates are soon likely going to have to rebuild their entire back-end of the bullpen. And that’s an area that has been a strength for the club since 2013. It’s why the Pirates targeted a major league bullpen arm. And they received an intriguing one in Rivero who hit 100 mph earlier this season, averages 95 mph with his fastball and has a swing-and-miss changeup. Rivero’s K rate (9.7 k/9) and whiff rate (14 percent) are strong indicators. He’s under control through 2021.
Two regular season months of Melancon?
Or 32 from Rivero?
Rivero has a Fernando Rodney starter kit … from the left side. Will he reach his potential? No one knows. But it is the kind of high-velocity arm with a swing-and-miss off-speed pitch – and who has some control issues – the Pirates have had success with.
Hearn, the prospect in the deal, is an intriguing left-handed arm who sits in the low to mid 90s but has control issues. A flier, but one with upside.
Debate the return if you choose, but that they Pirates are taking something of a tactical retreat is a logical position.
THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
>>The trade shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. Huntington told the Trib a month ago the Pirates would be open to buying and selling at the deadline. The Pirates have to be opportunistic. This is a seller’s market.
>>The rotation remains a major issue and Rosenthal reports the Pirates have some interest in Rich Hill. But in a thin market for pitching, the Pirates would likely have to overpay for two months of Hill. (12:57 PM UPDATE …. Hill is going to Dodgers in deal first reported by Rosenthal)
>>The A’s received three of the Dodgers’ top 12 prospects for Hill and Josh Reddick. Nice job by the A’s in flipping Hill, who might have been the reclamation project that got away (or was not identified) by the Pirates this offseason.
>>As I wrote about on Sunday, regardless of what the Pirates do or do not do by today’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, this season’s issues to date – and any potential major improvement moving forward – is really tied to what’s already on the roster. The Pirates simply need more from Francisco Liriano and Andrew McCutchen — and more of what Gerrit Cole offered in his last start.
>>Ryan Vogelsong rejoining rotation is a great story after his horrific injury earlier this season. But should Vogelsong be in the rotation for the remainder of the season? If the Pirates have their eye on 2017, it seems to make more sense to take longer looks at the kids – the Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow – in the rotation than Jeff Locke and Vogelsong.
After all, there’s a college football coaching saying that goes something like this: the best thing that happens to freshmen is they become sophomores.
>>Jameson Taillon continues to impress with his command. Six more Ks, no walks, in a quality start Saturday. Taillon has the look of a future No. 2 starter. He might already by the Pirates’ No. 2 starter.
>>How active will the Pirates be leading up to today’s 4 p.m. deadline. If they sold Melancon are they willing to sell other to-be free agents like David Freese, Feliz and Sean Rodriguez? Or are the Pirates not going to go into full sell mode and hedge on their 6.3 percent playoff odds?
>>While buying a piece that’s under control beyond this season makes more sense than a rental for the club, because it is such a seller’s market, the offseason probably would represent a better time to buy for the club.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 114
Saves by Melancon since 2014, the most in the majors.
STAT OF THE WEEK II: 0
Number of times in franchise history the Pirates have reached the postseason in four straight years.
STAT OF THE WEEK III: 132
Number of professional starts Cole needed to record his first complete game.
HE SAID IT
“I think it was Mark (Melancon’s) idea. And look what happened to him.”
– Jeff Locke, on why he did not shave his head in moving to the bullpen.
HE SAID IT II
“This has been a blast. Pittsburgh has a special place in my heart. The experiences we’ve had are running through my mind — wild-card games, big games that we’ve been in. It’s an honor to be a Pirate and say that we got to go through those experiences together.”
HE SAID IT III