By Jason Shetler
Last offseason, there was speculation about whether or not the Pirates were going to trade Mark Melancon, as he was due a large amount in his final year of arbitration eligibility. The Pirates decided to bring back Melancon for $9.65 million to avoid arbitration.
While most of the Pirates bullpen underachieved in 2016, Melancon was superb again, as he posted a 1.51 ERA with a 0.96 WHIP and was named an All-Star for the third time in his career. The Pirates found themselves in an interesting situation the final week of July where they were somewhat in contention for a Wild Card spot. Two days before the trade deadline, the Bucs decided to sell high on Melancon, dealing him to the Washington Nationals in exchange for a couple hard-throwing lefties, Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn.
Rivero showed dominance when he arrived to Pittsburgh, as he allowed just one earned run in his first 17 appearances. In 28 games for the Pirates, he put up an ERA+ of 128. Among MLB lefty relievers this year with at least 50 appearances, Rivero had the second best average fastball velocity at 95.8 mph. His strikeout rate this past season was 10.8, which was better than the 8.0 K/9 he posted in 2015. Rivero throws a good changeup, and he used it about 16% more this year, so that certainly played a big part in the increased strikeout rate.
During this year’s postseason, we witnessed the use of “super relievers”, guys who were brought in not just for the ninth inning, but much sooner, and asked to get more than three outs. Aroldis Chapman of the Cubs, Andrew Miller of the Indians and Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers all filled that role for their respective managers.
The one thing that Chapman, Miller and Jansen all have in common is the ability to rack up a ton of strikeouts. While Rivero can also strikeout batters consistently, here’s what could make him a super reliever with the Pirates. In his first two big league seasons, Rivero has held left-handed batters to a .626 OPS. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s been better against right-handed hitters, holding them to an OPS of .613. With the combination of getting strikeouts with regularity, as well as being equally tough on both left-handed and right-handed batters, Rivero has the potential to join the next wave of super relievers.