Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Out In Front: Evaluating the Melancon Deal + Something Extra

When I told people that I have plenty of unfinished posts, I did have plenty of unfinished posts at hand. This is one of a few that I have left unfinished before I hibernated.

With the offseason in full swing and the Winter Meetings just recently concluded, the Giants made a notable acquisition signing Mark Melancon to a 4 year-$62 million deal. The deal looked like an slight overpay to a guy entering his age 32 season in Opening Day but when Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen to $80+ million deals, Melancon now looked like a fair deal. This is one of the most obvious signings in the offseason as the Giants was meant to sign one of the top-shelf relievers available after they had an awful bullpen corps this year, blowing more saves than I have ever seen from a Giants team in recent memory. I am digging deep on what the Giants going to get on Melancon.

First, they are getting the consistency that Melancon brings to the table. From 2012-2016 during his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals, he has been as lockdown in the 9th inning as it gets. Below are his pitching metrics during the 4 year span courtesy of FanGraphs:
            2013     2014     2015      2016
ERA     1.39      1.90      2.23       1.64
FIP       1.64      2.09      2.82       2.42
xFIP     2.05      2.47      3.07       2.99

The xFIP has continued to increase throughout the 4 year span but has kept it low while the ERA and the FIP have been very good. He has also the superb walk rate of 1.51 BB/9 this season and has never exceeded 1.75 BB/9 during the 4 year span. While he's not the elite strikeout pitcher that someone will covet in a closer (he never exceeded 9.00 K/9), he's been a good groundball pitcher ranging from 54-60 GB%. 

While he's not pounding the earth, he does not allow balls to leave the park, ranging from 3-8% of flyballs being hit as homers. With PNC Park being in the lesser-friendly parks to hit a homer and the Nationals Park being in the middle of the road accoring to ESPN Park Factors, I can see Melancon having similar results in his stint as the Giants closer in AT&T Park with the Giants being the least-friendly park to hit a homer. 

He also has the 8th lowest exit velocity across all pitchers in baseball at 85.5 MPH according to Baseball Savant and 76.6% of hits allowed are hit at soft and/or medium speed according to FanGraphs. All of that means is that his stuff is tough to barrel up so second, I'm going to take a look at his stuff. Here's his repertoire throughout his career according to FanGraphs:
I apologize for the supersized image

Melancon has primarily been a fastball-curveball pitcher, throwing his changeup in the trash for good in the 2013 season. His curveball has been very fast in his career due to his knuckle-curve grip. Also, he has been leaning away from his 92-95 MPH four seamer and using a 89-93 MPH cutter in recent years and the Giants have been big preachers of the cutter and Melancon's approach suits very well with the Giants corps. I can say that his cutter is one of the best in the business. I will compare his cutter to, in my opinion, the best cutter in the business right now, Kenley Jansen. Below are the amount of movement that the two create in throwing their bread and butter pitch (data courtesy of Brooks Baseball):

                                  pfx HMov (in.)       pfx VMov (in.)
Jansen                             2.60                       9.58
Melancon                        1.59                        4.81

Jansen clearly has the advantage in terms of the overall movement, Melancon has that ultra late break in his cutter. In this season montage by MLB Highlights 16, you can see that his cutter looks and moves like a four-seam fastball halfway then suddenly breaking at the last second. The proof in case you don't watch the video, below is a good example on how late his break on his cutter.

His cutter looked like it's going to be a four-seam fastball ending letters high but breaks and ended up thigh high and way inside, jamming Tucker Barnhart.
Another thing to look at his cutter is the spin rate. According to this video from in which Lucas Giolito is featured (I'll talk about him later), the average fastball spin rate is around 2253 rpm but Melancon's spin rate on his cutter averages at 2555 rpm, good for 20th best in cutters according to Baseball Savant. Given the late break of his cutter as well as his outstanding spin rate and the amount of success that he's getting versus the volume of cutters that he has thrown, I can say that his cutter in the top 5 of best cutters in baseball.

How about his secondary pitch, the knuckle curveball? His knuckle curve is almost as good, if not as good, as his cutter. How did I say knuckle curve? Look at the image below:

His average velocity in his knuckle curve is at 81.66 MPH, good for being the 10th hardest knuckle curve according to Baseball Savant. While his curve doesn't possess a lot of horizontal movement (2.46 inch) due to his over the top release point, he generates -8.88 inch of vertical movement according to Brooks Baseball that's the highest among all the 10 pitchers throwing the hardest knuckle curves. His curveball also breaks late as well shown below when he threw a beauty against his soon to be battery-mate (this is also part of the earlier montage):

Perfectly thrown curve by Melancon to Posey

The curve that Melancon threw is at 83 MPH(!). That amount of late break in a curveball that hard can be attributed in his very good curveball spin rate. Melancon's average spin rate in his knuckle curveball is at 2751 rpm that is good for 5th in knuckle curves and 46th in overall curveballs according to Baseball Savant. That amount of spin in that hard of a curveball is amazing. When I think of that kind of curveball I always think of A.J. Burnett where he throws the knuckle curve at mid-80s while having great sweeping break on it. He's a former teammate of Melancon so probably he picked some tips from Burnett.

Overall, I really think that the Giants hit the jackpot in the signing of Melancon. He's going to be 32 years old by the time the season will start I know but I honestly think that he'll age well given his track record of command of two masterful pitches as well as pitching in AT&T Park and with Buster Posey calling the shots. He might not be a strikeout pitcher that most want (even I want a strikeout pitcher in the 9th inning or in the pressure-filled situations), he does get the job done and I think that in this day and age where every pitcher coming out of the minors will going to throw 96-99 with a nasty slider but with poor command, pitchers like Melancon who can get consistent outs however it may be have found a renewed appreciation among everyone in the baseball community. I trust him the ball when the game's on the line. 

Something Extra

In this edition of Something Extra, I'm going to talk about the big trade involving the White Sox and the Nationals involving Adam Eaton. The White Sox received Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and Reynaldo Lopez. But the one I want to talk about is Lucas Giolito. The former prodigial talent throwing 100 MPH in his fastball in HS with a hammer curveball and a wipeout changeup was suddenly dangled like a pabitin (a traditional Filipino festival game where the crowd are going to grab the stuff in a wooden rack that's raised up and down) and the White Sox are the ones who grabbed the prodigial arm. But before he got dealt, his first taste of The Show was not pretty at all. He got hammered hard by hitters, his fastball slowed and looked flat, his curve can't get hitters out because he can't locate his fastball good enough, his changeup looked like crap, and the Nationals brassed lost their confidence on the once best pitching prospect in the planet. So what went wrong for Giolito?

This video from explained the problems perfectly. First, I'm going to talk about his mechanics. I foresaw this mechanics issues last year when I watched the 2015 Futures Game and did an evaluation on the Young Beedah and Keury Mella:

Compare that to the words that Tom Verducci said that he's not using his lower half in his delivery, I think that I am right. I'm no pitching coach or a pitching expert but when I'm trying to replicate Giolito's arm action, my left shoulder hurts like hell and I'm really surprised that he can replicate it at all and I really think that this very wide arm action is why he had Tommy John surgery. The problematic arm action also leads to his fastball having a low spin rate. 

In this video from that explained what to expect from Giolito's debut, yes they touched on Giolito's excellent stride, but there's little explosion from his hips and it really feels like he's pushing the ball to home plate and not driving it at all. All of that results to a low spin rate in his fastball. 

Look at that spin rate at just 1977 rpm! That's very slow in Major League standards and lacks the jump that you expect from a fastball that hard. His fastball will come in 0.38 seconds and it will feel like 99 MPH but it feels like a weak 99 MPH just like Yordano Ventura hurling his heater in the triple digits but often get hit hard because his fastball feels weaker due to his short stride. It worked very well against the Minor Leaguers but the Joey Vottos of the world will feast on him and now that he's moving to a more hitter-friendly American League, it will be very hard for him. 

I remembered when him and Tyler Beede faced off in one of the most anticipated pitching matchups last season from a Giants prospector perspective last May 9 and Beede has been the winner of the battle hands down and yet Giolito received all the attention. Did the baseball community overhyped Giolito? Did the scouts focused more on the raw stuff and the tall bframe over the underlying issues in his "free and easy" mechanics? His mechanics can be fixed but I'm having a hard time what to fix in his mechanics. Is it changing a part his arm action like shortening his arm action or changing it altogether? Is it making him crouched to load on his lower half better but can worsen his command? How can he add explosiveness in his arm action to add more spin rate in his fastball but simplifying his mechanics to improve his command? That's too much questions for me if you ask. Add more the slowly diminishing velocity and Don Cooper (the White Sox pitching coach) has a very big project at his hands.

I didn't really see Giolito being Major League-ready this season and I'm not as high on him overall than most evaluators. If I'm Giolito, I'm going to focus first at trying to find a sinking fastball grip since his four-seamer lacks the life to get by elite Major Leaguers then watch a lot of Roger Clemens videos to try to get some inspiration from his arm action and try to do it in himself. After that, he can improve in his overall tempo like making it faster so that his torso and arm will not carry most of the force. Maybe that will be the way to harness his prodigial stuff. It's way too easy to give up on this guy as he's just 22 years old but he is the proof that good stats doesn't always mean progress.

That's all for this edition of Out In Front about Mark Melancon and Something Extra about Lucas Giolito. I know that the Melancon review is late but I hope you picked up something on it as well as the Giolito part where I maybe a psychic. Happy holidays! 

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