With Andrew Bailey Injured, Mark Melancon Should Be Boston's Closer
It is the most distressing news out of Boston Red Sox camp this spring. Andrew Bailey, brought in from Oakland to succeed Jonathan Papelbon as the team’s closer, may have to undergo thumb surgery that will keep him sidelined for months.
To lose the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star before the season even begins is definitely a setback for the Red Sox. But it is not a death knell.
The problems caused by Bailey’s potential surgery can be offset by simply moving Mark Melancon to the closer’s role until Bailey returns. No need to bring Daniel Bard back to the bullpen. No need to pine for Papelbon (too much anyway).
Mark Melancon is the best option for the Red Sox at closer. Here's why.
It is no small accomplishment that Melancon notched 20 saves for an Astros team that won just 56 games in 2011. (He also won eight games working out of the Houston bullpen—second on the team to starter Wandy Rodriguez.)
Even though he spent the previous season-and-a-half with a team far removed from the pressures of a pennant race, Melancon still has experience closing out games. And there is no denying that he has the tools to be a good closer: swing-and-miss stuff (nearly a strikeout per inning while in Houston), good control (2.54 strikeout-to-walk ratio in ’11) and durability (71 appearances last season).
No other member of the Red Sox bullpen comes anywhere close to matching Melancon’s experience as a closer. Even though it was only a season’s worth of games, it’s enough to give him the edge over other contenders for the role.
American League East Pedigree
For the first four-and-a-half seasons of his professional career, Melancon was part of the New York Yankees organization.
His experience with the big league club was confined to 20.1 innings pitched over 15 appearances, but before that, he thrived in the minors. In 2008, Melancon went 8–1 with a 2.27 ERA in 41 relief appearances spread between the Bombers’ Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.
Melancon has encountered the pressure that comes with playing for a high-profile ball club, and he has performed admirably. It will serve him well the first time he is thrust into a hard-fought, AL East contest.
Simplest Move for the Pitching Staff
The last thing the Red Sox want to do is overreact to Bailey’s injury and make sweeping changes to the roles of the pitchers on staff. Not only would it send the fanbase into a panic, it could also cause the pitchers to doubt themselves on the eve of the season.
Considering the pressure he’s already facing this season, manager Bobby Valentine doesn’t need the headache of a pitching staff that resembles musical chairs. He needs stability, which translates into leaving Daniel Bard in the starting rotation (pending initial results) and keeping Alfredo Aceves in the same long reliever role at which he so excelled in 2011.
Melancon would be the only member of the staff who is given new responsibilities. And because of his past experience as Houston’s closer, he wouldn’t need long to adjust.
Alfredo Aceves’ Potential as a Starter
Melancon and Alfredo Aceves are the two candidates vying for the closer duties. Melancon has the makeup of a relief pitcher, having been a short-inning specialist in college in addition to the duration of his major league career.
Aceves, on the other hand, has the potential to be a starter. Until Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard were named the staff’s No. 4 and 5 starters, Aceves was threatening to break into the rotation with a very strong spring. And with four pitches—fastball, curveball, changeup and cutter—he can throw for strikes; he’s still a threat to do so.
If either Bard or Doubront struggles out of the gate, or Josh Beckett or Clay Buchholz suffers a relapse in their recovery from injury, Aceves is the best fit to replace them. Keeping him on a closer’s regimen would make that hypothetical transition harder. But if he continues to be a long reliever, his arm would be ready to carry the load.