What happened in 2021?
After the shortened COVID season, the Diamondbacks’ relievers underperformed. The following graph shows six seasons of saves, blown saves, and save opportunities. In 2021 the Diamondbacks had more blown saves than saves. Although that happened to no team in the latest season, in 2021 that happened to three teams - Nationals, Orioles, and Diamondbacks.
What happened last season?
The Diamondbacks’ 55% successful saves tied for 27th-28th in the Majors. However, a small improvement of two additional saves would have increased their rank to 22nd in the Majors.
The following graph shows saves, blown saves, and save opportunities for all teams this last season. The teams were ordered by number of save opportunities (the Diamondbacks ranked 19th-20th in save opportunities). The Diamondbacks’ results are highlighted.
Although 2022 was better than 2021, the number of saves was less than 2017 to 2019. Clearly the addition of Ian Kennedy and Mark Melancon had less impact than expected. Because Mark Melancon will return next season, let’s look at Melancon.
What happened with Mark Melancon?
In 2021, his 39 saves were the most in the Majors. Diamondbacks’ expectations were high. His performance in 2022 disappointed fans.
The following table shows some statistics that changed in 2022. He had less saves and a worse FIP.
How did Mark Melancon compare to closers who started the season in 2022?
Although next season as a bounce back candidate Melancon Could Surprise Fans, last season how did he compare to other opening day closers?
The following table compares the closers who started the season with each team.
Who was the oldest of the 30 closers?
Mark Melancon was the oldest. The margin was thin – he was 12 days older than David Robertson of the Cubs.
What were Mark Melancon’s Strengths?
Pitch Efficiency. Of the 30 closers who started the 2022 season, I was blown away that he ranked as the 4th best in one statistic – least pitches per batter faced, which was 3.587 pitches per batter faced. He was very efficient with his pitches.
He ranked 21st in strikes per pitch, so possibly some batters either chased pitches out of the zone or maybe they put the ball in play early in the count.
Good Percentage of Team Saves. Here we looking at team contribution. For the season, his 55% of team saves ranked 13th highest in the Majors. Also, in total number of saves he ranked 16th highest in the Majors.
Therefore, two of his strengths were that he was very efficient with his pitches and he accumulated more than half the Diamondbacks’ saves.
Did Mark Melancon pitch better is some situations?
The following table shows he pitched better (ERA and OPS) in save situations, especially if ERA is your metric of choice. The possible reasons are less home runs, less walks, and more strikeouts per batter faced. Interestingly, it’s not clear whether he pitches best in the ninth inning.
The following graph shows that whether or not he pitched in the ninth inning did not make a significant difference in his wOBA until the last two months of the season.
What were Mark Melancon’s weaknesses?
He ranked last in two statistics - strikeouts per batter faced and whiffs per pitch. He ranked 29th in balls in play (including homers) per strike. The term pitch-to-contact comes to mind.
His FIP ranked 23rd. My conclusion is that when he closed, fielding made a big impact (positive or negative, but often negative).
When he entered tied games, the results were unexpectedly poor. The following is from my referenced article:
“When he entered tied games:
He allowed an average of 2.15 batters to reach base, he allowed an average of 1.08 runs (earned and/or unearned), and the Diamondbacks lost often.
When he allowed runs the Diamondbacks lost 8 of those 9 tied games.
When he did NOT allow runs, the Diamondbacks lost 2 of those 4 tied games.” — Makakilo
Nevertheless, some of those losses were contributed to by poor defense and lack of offense.
Therefore, his weaknesses included strikeouts and whiffs. He put a lot of balls in play possibly due to pitching to contact. When he entered tied games, the Diamondbacks lost 10 of 13 games.
What is the nature of the closer position?
For 9 teams, the closer who started the season continued to be the primary closer at the end of the season. The percentage of team saves ranged from 73% to 82% for 8 of those 9 closers. The ninth closer (Paul Sewald of the Mariners averaged 50% of their team’s saves.
My conclusion is that by its’ nature, the closer is a platoon position. Building on that conclusion, more than one pitcher needs to master closer specific skills and mental attitudes. Every team (including the Diamondbacks) needs to plan on at least 2 closers for the season. Even if the team beats the odds and avoids injury or poor performance, significant saves will happen with other pitchers.
How will next seasons’ bullpen change?
The bullpen roster had many additions, both in the Majors and in the minors. Clearly, the Diamondbacks are swinging for the fences to contain their opponents’ batters in the late innings.
My view is that the Diamondbacks are filling the bullpen with pitchers who have high SO/BF, high whiffs per pitch, and low BIP/strike. Those characteristics were not strengths for Mark Melancon. For more details see A Perspective of the Diamondbacks’ Rebuilt Bullpen.
My view is that the closer position will be executed by a platoon of Mark Melancon and another pitcher. Two of the platoon candidates are Scott McGough (on 40-man roster) Zach McAllister (not on 40-man roster) per this AZ Snake Pit article.
My view is that the season saves will increase from 33 to 42. 42 was the average saves from 2017 to 2019.
Next season the Diamondbacks will see an improved bullpen. The closer will likely be a platoon of Mark Melancon and one of the newly acquired relievers. Saves will increase dramatically.