The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mark Melancon isn’t the closer the Nationals need

The Pirates’ Mark Melancon has 30 saves in 33 opportunities this season plus a 1.51 ERA. (Getty Images)

The New York Yankees received a top prospect from the Chicago Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, taking the flame-throwing closer off the market. Now teams, including the Washington Nationals, have turned their attention to Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Mark Melancon, in hopes of grabbing a late-inning stopper at a cheaper price.

His cutter is holding opponents to a .248 average and .624 OPS against and saves the team 1.6 runs per 100 times it is thrown.

Melancon’s four-seam fastball, used primarily against right-handed batters, has been virtually unhittable (1 for 13) as has his curve, which has surrendered just four hits — none for extra bases — in 25 at-bats this season. His hook has allowed just seven extra-base hits since 2009.

Melancon has 30 saves in 33 opportunities in 2016, striking out 38 batters in 41.2 innings to go along with a sparkling 1.51 ERA. However, ERA estimators like FIP (2.66) and SIERA (3.22) suggest his ERA should be much higher. Chapman and Miller each show better command and both have ERAs in line with their FIP and SIERA estimates.

Plus, Melancon’s lack of control gets much worse the more the game is on the line. In low-leverage situations, he has struck out 18 batters and walked one. In medium-leverage situations, his strikeout-to-walk ratio drops to 5 to 1 and in high-leverage situations, those when the game is most on the line, it is a horrific 1.67.

Washington’s current closer, Jonathan Papelbon, strikes out twice as many batters as he walks in high-leverage situations this year, so adding a pitcher like Melancon might make things even worse.

In addition, playing away from the friendly confines of PNC Park would also take it’s toll. At home, Melancon is producing a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.5 this season, significantly better than the 3.2 K/BB ratio on the road. For context, the league average is 2.6.

Maybe the excitement of chasing a title would focus him more on his command. More likely than not, however, he could end up being a big bust.

Correction: A prior version had the Yankees making a trade with themselves. This has been fixed.