Let’s face it, there haven’t been many fun stories for the Rockies in the second half of the 2019 season. How can there be for a team that is 18-39 since the All-Star Break and just recently won back-to-back games for the first time in nearly a month?
Perhaps the most fun story for the Rockies recently has been the performance of pitcher Tim Melville. The right-hander has made four starts with the Rockies this season, posting a 3.66 ERA in 19 2⁄3 innings, walking nine and striking out 19.
Prior to joining the Rockies, Melville had pitched just 14 2⁄3 innings in his big league career, all in 2016 and 2017 with the Reds, Twins, and Padres, posting an ERA of 11.04. He spent all of 2018 in the Orioles system with Triple-A Norfolk (think about that, Melville couldn’t even get a shot with the 2018 Orioles) and started the 2019 season with the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League before signing with the Rockies and making 17 starts at Triple-A Albuquerque before his call up in August.
Now, he has a 146 ERA+ with the Rockies. So what happened?
From his very first start, it was apparent, just from the eye test, that Melville’s best pitch is his slider. In fact, here are some numbers on his slider from that first start in Arizona, in which he allowed just one run in seven innings of work:
.@Rockies P Tim Melville wrote quite the tale in his team debut— Sports Info Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) August 22, 2019
It was the story of a great slider that reeled in the Diamondbacks ...
- 33 of 49 for strikes
- 11 misses on 26 swings
- 10 outs, no hits allowed (1 walk)
Melville has maintained that success with his slider, holding opposing hitters to just a .122 average against with 18 strikeouts coming on the slider. Melville also has a 41.3% whiff rate on his slider.
Prior to joining the Rockies, Melville had thrown his slider just 21% of the time in his major league career. With the Rockies, that number has nearly tripled, as he is throwing his slider 55.2% of the time.
Not for nothing, Melville has dropped the velocity and increased the vertical break on his slider this season, both of which could be factors in making it a more effective pitch.
Throwing your best pitch more often is good, but doing so directly at the expense of your worst pitch is even better. Melville does not have what you’d call a plus fastball. So far in 2019, it has come in at just under 90 mph, with opponents hitting .478 against it in 2019 and .426 against it in his career.
Melville threw his fastball 59% of the time in 2016-17, but has thrown it just 33.1% of the time this season. Yes, it would benefit Melville to not get his fastball hit quite so hard, but limiting his usage of a pitch that is frankly not very effective has been a factor in his success with the Rockies.
For decades, the dogma for pitchers, especially starters, has been, “Work off of your fastball.” Melville has eschewed that dogma in rather dramatic fashion and just might be pitching himself into a big league job for the 2020 season, so kudos to him for finding an approach that works for him and kudos to the Rockies for allowing him to use it.