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Is Mark Melancon back?

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

You're probably sick of hearing about Mark Melancon's velocity by now. Outside of Andrew McCutchen's lack of dreads and Jung-Ho Kang's general existence, Melancon's decreased velocity has been one of the most-discussed storylines of the season

If, however, you never read my article or Charlie's article dealing with the subject, here's a quick synopsis to get you up to speed:

1. Melancon's velocity was down several ticks during April.

2. While pitchers' velocity generally tends to be lowest at the beginning of the season, Melancon's decrease was well outside the normal range.

3. Velocity stabilizes very quickly--for the most part, pitchers tend to reveal their 'true' velocity within a few appearances.

4. Commentators proposed several theories for Melancon's velocity decrease, from fatigue to mechanical inconsistency.

5. Given Melancon's struggles to generate swings and misses with his lower velocity, many of us thought Tony Watson would/should be moved to the closer role until Melancon regained his velocity (if ever).

Well, we've survived through May without too much closer-related angst. To his credit, Melancon's been able to get the job done, despite very mediocre peripherals. Charlie compared Melancon's season to Jared Hughes' 2014, and I think that's apt--Melancon has been pitching like a ground-ball-inducing, pitch-to-contact middle reliever. Which isn't a terrible thing. It's just a bit underwhelming from your closer.

But it looks as though Melancon may be returning to form, which would be a huge boost for the Pirates' bullpen. Look at this month-by-month velocity graph of Melancon's career:

His velocity is still a bit down from last year, but it's rebounded quite a bit since his April nadir. It goes without saying that if he's able to deal in the low 90s, as opposed to April's 88-89 fastballs, we should expect him to look much more like, well, the Mark Melancon version of himself with whom we've been so thoroughly spoiled the last several years.

Also, remember how we (and others, including Travis Sawchik) hypothesized that Melancon's struggles could be mechanical and tied to his release point? Melancon's velocity recovery has coincided perfectly with his release point dropping back to his pre-2015 norms. See the graph below:

The irregularities from earlier in the season are gone, and his vertical release point is roughly back to his career norm. This is basically the best-case scenario we envisioned earlier in the season. Or as I wrote back in April:

If a release point change is what’s bothering him, the prognosis might be a bit more hopeful. Melancon has shifted his release point several times throughout his career, and if a minor mechanical adjustment can fix him, we may forget about all of this in a few weeks.

As a necessarily-pessimistic Pirates fan bracing for Melancon's inevitable Grilli-esque implosion, it's refreshing that Shark looks to be back on track. With a revitalized Melancon, Tony Watson's steady excellence, the surprisingly solid Arquimedes Caminero and Jared Hughes, and potential contributions from Antonio Bastardo, Rob Scahill, and Vance Worley, the Pirates' bullpen suddenly looks quite solid.