AT&T PARK — Sitting in a fourth-floor luxury suite, overlooking his new home mound, Mark Melancon is as calm as can be.
The San Francisco Giants’ $62-million right-hander doesn’t have the electric fastball or outsized ego typical of a frontline closer. What Melancon does have is the tools needed to make the final frame less stressful for Bruce Bochy in 2017.
“Sometimes I was standing up in the ninth inning last year,” the Giants manager said, recalling a season marred by 32 blown saves.
“I’m sitting down in the ninth inning next year,” Bochy added. “We’re in good hands there. He won’t be perfect. Nobody is. You have to understand that, but to have somebody of his caliber. It’s really going to make us a different club.”
Melancon, who has converted 98 of 104 save attempts over the past two seasons — a 94 percent success rate — is no typical stopper.
His strikeout rate per nine innings in 2016 was 8.2. For context, that was dwarfed by the 10.1 K/9 rate of maligned ex-Giant closer Santiago Casilla.
“I get outs, though,” Melancon joked, when reminded of modest K numbers.
The understated closer cracked that his recent success has been the result of pitching behind Gold Glove infields and within the confines of pitcher’s parks.
What he fails to mention is his nasty cutter. Melancon deployed the pitch 63 percent of the time last year, inducing a groundball rate of 50 percent and holding the opposition to a .210 average, per Brooks Baseball.
“Consistency is my biggest thing. I pitch with angles. I pitch down in the zone. I locate. I have movement on my ball — a little bit of deception,” Melancon explained. “And I feel like I have a really good plan out there. So, it makes for a good mix.”
Come opening day, Melancon will be anchoring a relief crew littered with youngsters and inexperienced types like Derek Law, Hunter Strickland, Steven Okert and Josh Osich. His new batterymate, Buster Posey, suggested that having Melancon atop the pecking order will bring back memories of bullpens past.
“Hopefully it will be something similar to when we had [Brian] Wilson and [Sergio] Romo at the back of the pen, locking the game down,” Posey said. “It just seems when you have a guy that is a lock-down guy it just shortens the game so much. You’re able to do some things differently, and also, of course the other teams knows if they go into the last inning without the lead, they’re kind of up against it.”
Javier Lopez was the final member of the famed Core Four to depart AT&T Park when he retired earlier this week.
Romo recently joined the Los Angeles Dodgers on a one-year, $3 million pact and Casilla signed with the Oakland Athletics after the Giants passed on bringing him back.
Lopez will join the broadcast crew on a part-time basis and has a standing invite to come to come to camp as a special instructor, according to general manager Bobby Evans.
“It does speak extremely well of that Core Four,” Evans said of the quartet’s success. “Relievers don’t always stay in one place for that long anyway — much less four of them and much less make the impact that they made.”
With the three-ringed relievers departing, Hunter Pence — a two-time champ — knows how significant the losses will be for the pen and the Orange and Black at large.
“They’re family to you when you spend that much time with them and you’ve been through the journey and been through the fire of a long season and the playoffs,” Pence said. “I’m going to miss just the camaraderie and the leadership.”