K’mon, Kirby

Jeff · January 2, 2006 at 7:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Half of this statement from Kirby Arnold is true:

The Mariners badly need a pitcher to step up and become a pleasant surprise, and there’s no reason [Gil] Meche can’t be that guy.

Well, unfortunately, there is at least one reason. One torn labrum, the gnarliest injury a pitcher faces. As Jonah Keri explained at the BP/USSM book event, virtually no one comes close to their previous form or potential after suffering this malady.

I understand where our Mr. Arnold is coming from, though. In a year where the starting five is — ahem — in flux, we find ourselves looking for heroes and reasons to expect their heroism to emerge. Kirby’s got two reasons for the Meche Renaissance to begin:

Meche has incentive this year that didn’t exist in past seasons.

He’ll be eligible for free agency after 2006, and the opportunity for a huge contract tends to motivate players to work through the aches and pains that might cause them to back off … Meche also says he is tired of losing, especially the streaks of ineffectiveness that have undermined periods of sheer dominance.

There’s your reason for optimism, folks. Gil Meche has not learned to enjoy losing.

I’ll be rooting for Gil as hard as anyone, and harder than most. It’s wonderful when someone triumphs over adversity to achieve greatness, and it’s even better when the result saves your starting rotation.

I’ll be rooting for that to happen. But I won’t be wagering on it.

[And hey, at least Kirby didn’t take the easy way out and write about Felix like everybody else.]


33 Responses to “K’mon, Kirby”

  1. John in L.A. on January 2nd, 2006 7:40 pm

    Holy cow, that’s weak. “Yeah, losing’s ok, but I’ve done so dang much of it, you just wanta try something different, ya know? And what’s more different than losing than winning. So, yeah, I’m gonna do some of that, I guess.”

    And how did I miss these “periods of sheer dominance.” That seems a tad overstated.

  2. Chintan Desai on January 2nd, 2006 7:40 pm

    I’ll admit i have always had an irrational liking for Meche, even if he’s never been very good. Seriously, though, i hope the m’s don’t go through with this like last year. If he sucks in the first month, move him to the bullpen or move him altogether. There’s no reason to deal with anymore of his crappy performances.

  3. Mr. Egaas on January 2nd, 2006 7:42 pm

    I’d like to hope or think he’s on a pretty short leash. If he’s pitching poorly in the first few months, I would hope they would call up an arm from AAA to fill the 5th man in the rotation.

  4. Jim Thomsen on January 2nd, 2006 7:56 pm

    I’ll wager that the length of Meche’s leash will be in direct proportion to the size of his 2006 salary.

  5. CCW on January 2nd, 2006 8:30 pm

    Chris Carpenter tore his labrum in 2003, I believe. He seems to be doing just fine. OK, I know that Carpenter’s wasn’t as bad as Gil’s. But how come he isn’t mentioned in that article? He seems to be an absolute exception to the labrum surgery is the end theory.

  6. pslim on January 2nd, 2006 9:10 pm

    Gil’s ineffectiveness doesn’t seem to be due to the injury. He’s pretty much capable of physically doing what he was doing before he got hurt, right? The “stuff” is still there. There may still be some psychological effect from the injury though.

    Contract year + Rafael Chaves + another year removed from the injury + he can’t possibly be that bad again = at least a little optimism

  7. LF Bleacher on January 2nd, 2006 9:12 pm

    I feel terrible. I read the whole article, assuming Kirby was being sarcastic!

  8. MER on January 2nd, 2006 9:20 pm

    If the odds of successful recovery for a torn labrum is only 3%, I would find it difficult to believe that the Mariners or any MLB team would be willing to pay Meche or any other pitcher with labrum issues millions of dollars unless they thought there was likely a reasonable return on their investment. I think it is a major mistake to lump all players with a given diagnosis into a single narrow category. It is one thing to predict future performance based on a sabermetric approach, but quite another matter to make a prognosis when we lack the results of the medical testing, let alone the knowledge to interpret them.

  9. AQ on January 2nd, 2006 9:33 pm

    Doesn’t Meche still throw in the 90-93 MPH range, at least? If that’s the case, you’d think that his fastball, combined with a decent curve, and “show me” changeup might be enough for him to escape mediocrity. I also wonder (like post #6) if he’s got some psychological issues going on when he takes the mound. Maybe not as bad as, say, Mackey Sasser’s throwing issues at catcher back in the day, but still enough to mess with his confidence.

    From a statistical point of view, if we look hard at his numbers I’m sure that some of his peripherals have fallen off since the surgery. But, I am preplexed as to why he hasn’t been able to realize his physical limitations (as a result of the injury/surgery) and re-invent himself a little bit? Perhaps he has tried to do this over the past few years and has failed miserably at it? I don’t know. He’s one of the most infuriating pitchers I’ve ever watched in an M’s uniform (and yes, I was a fan when we had Ayala, LOL).

  10. cougs129 on January 2nd, 2006 10:06 pm

    If Meche can’t post an ERA below 4.50 this season than we need to bring up someone from AAA shouldn’t be that hard to find a #5 starter that can post an ERA below 4.50 last season we had 3 guys I believe with an ERA over 4.75

  11. Matthew Carruth on January 2nd, 2006 10:30 pm

    It’s not so much the stuff that’s an issue. It’s his control, which is rooted in his crappy mechanics, which is where the shoulder issues started in the first place.

  12. Mr. Egaas on January 3rd, 2006 12:13 am

    Say Meche dominates, do we want to sign him to a long term, big money contract? Ugh…

  13. DMZ on January 3rd, 2006 12:32 am

    Here’s the thing with labrums: a serious tear is quite nearly always the end of a pitcher’s career. Very few pitchers have ever come back.

    For someone to go through what Meche did, where he was repeatedly shut down over his laburm and had multiple surgeries, is far rarer and the success rate for returning to form so far is 0%

  14. TheEmrys on January 3rd, 2006 12:45 am

    In flux? I think its more that its all fluxed up….

  15. Gromky on January 3rd, 2006 1:49 am

    Hmm, this feels a lot like when red is “due” because it’s been black three imes in a row. I liked Meche, as I liked Cloude before him. But betting on the slowest horse because it will win eventually isn’t the best strategy.

  16. Steve Nelson on January 3rd, 2006 5:16 am

    Meche didn’t have a torn labrum. He had a frayed labrum. The difference is more than semantic.

    At the least, Meche’s injury was less severe than a torn labrum. If fraying is the precursor to tearing, then Meche was treated before his injury advanced.

  17. scraps on January 3rd, 2006 5:54 am

    Is there any rigorous evidence that contract years are better years? (Not anecdotal evidence, I mean.) It’s always seemed to me to be one of those things that people think should happen, but they only talk about when the correlation is there and not when it’s absent.

    Also, I find this bothersome:

    the opportunity for a huge contract tends to motivate players to work through the aches and pains that might cause them to back off

    Kirby here seems to buy into the Mariner management line on Meche, which is that he’s a wimp who needs to suck it up and pitch through his injuries. This is a disastrous attitude toward pitchers.

  18. Steve Nelson on January 3rd, 2006 7:10 am

    Added note.

    Meche did not have multiple labrum injuries. He had one injuries (fraying, not a tear), but multiple surgeries to clean up the injury.

    A significant question, though, is why Meche required more than one surgery. Most labrum tears – a far more serious injury – are addressed in a single operation, so why did a signficanly less severe injury require a followup surgery to do clean up stuff remaining after the first surgery? I don’t recall who the orthopod was who cut Meche, but I think there is reason to question the skill with which the first surgery was conducted.

  19. J.L. on January 3rd, 2006 8:14 am

    Can Meche ’06 be like Garland ’05? Well, forgetting about elbow tears, huge ERA’s, and everything else, here’s one reason why that thought might be a stretch:

    2004 CWS 34 33 217.0
    2005 CWS 32 32 221.0

    2004 Sea 23 23 128.2
    2005 Sea 29 26 143.1

    Meche will first need to cross that huge canyon of starts and innings between him and Garland, before even thinking about getting to 18 wins (and even a halfway decent ERA, and so forth). It may be more feasible for Piniero to have a “Garland” season than for Meche.

  20. J.L. on January 3rd, 2006 8:14 am

    Sorry, here is the quote I was referring to:

    “They need a pitcher like Jon Garland was for the World Series champion White Sox, a pitcher who had never won more than 12 games before leading the team with 18 victories in 2005.

    Meche can be that guy for the Mariners.”

  21. Jeff on January 3rd, 2006 8:39 am

    Steve, what you say about a fray being different from a tear makes intuitive sense to me. But the Will Carroll link specifically says “there’s no difference between a fray and a tear.”

    It’s possible Will is speaking from an outcomes perspective, but I thought I’d mention that, and I may try to ask him about it as regards Meche.

  22. Mr. Egaas on January 3rd, 2006 8:42 am

    Any noteworty success stores of pitchers returning from Labrum injuries?

  23. DMZ on January 3rd, 2006 8:45 am

    Meche did not have multiple labrum injuries. He had one injuries (fraying, not a tear), but multiple surgeries to clean up the injury.

    Iiiiiiiiiiiiiii disagree.

    We really don’t know what happened in his shoulder and when, not the least because the team’s been inconsistent/deceptive/bone-headed (pick your poison) in describing what happened.

    Initially, it was “dead arm”. Or “strained right shoulder”. Eventually, he had “exploratory surgery” (which we can debate the meaning of as well) which wasn’t supposed to have repaired anything. Except much later, Meche’s own comments indicate they knew something was wrong though they didn’t know what, tried to fix it, and failed.” After his comeback went badly and he continued to feel an impingement, he underwent “exploratory surgery” again this time with the stated goal of fixing the problem.

    So yeah, one injury multiple surgeries? Sure, though I’m not sure that’s the best description for what went on.

  24. Steve Nelson on January 3rd, 2006 9:22 am

    on a labrum fray versus labrum tear tear.

    Will and I have had some corespondence on that topic. In my contacts with Will he has recognized that at the least there is a difference in severity.

    I have a close personal friend who is an occupational medicine physician for a compnay that does major assembly operations. He deals routinely with arm and shoulder injuries that occur among the workforce, including tears, dislocations, etc.

    He considers fraying as distinctly different from a tear. Fraying ofren occurr sournd the edges of the labrum, whereas a tear usually occurs near the middle of the labrum. Injuries in the interior of the labrum are more significant than injuries in the interior.

    Fraying in the interior is generally considered a precursor to a tear. But if the injury has not proceeded to the point where fluid leaks out of the labrum, the condition is much less eevere – and is more treatable.

    The Mariner team physicians very clearly distinguished Meche’s injury as fraying and not a tear.

  25. msb on January 3rd, 2006 9:34 am

    #17– Finnigan’s timeline, from Oct 27, 2002:

    “Meche seemed on the rise in June 2000. He recovered from a slow start with the Mariners to go 3-0 with a 1.61 earned-run average that month, including a rain-shortened 7-0 win on June 13 in Kansas City when he allowed only one hit in five innings.

    Six weeks later, he was on the disabled list. And when the Mariners shut him down, Meche could only describe his problem as a weak feeling in the shoulder. A series of MRIs revealed nothing, and the first surgery, by Dr. James Andrews, revealed no more than fraying of the labrum, pretty standard for a pitcher.

    “So they left it alone,” Meche recalled, “and I came down to Arizona and started rehab. I’d long-toss and still feel something.”

    He continued with his program until he returned to Seattle in September. And one day in the bullpen, as he struggled to throw through the pain, he and pitching coach Bryan Price knew it was useless.

    For a second time, Meche shut down, and concern was growing in the organization that he was exaggerating his problem or he was too sensitive or he wasn’t tough enough.

    “I knew I was feeling this impingement in the front of my shoulder, and I don’t know if anyone else believed me or not,” Meche said. “I mean, from my viewpoint, why would someone like me want to have a problem with his arm? I knew I had something wrong.

    “I knew some people were thinking I was a mental mess, but I couldn’t help that. I had a problem in my arm, whether they found something or not, whether people believed me or not. It was frustrating.”

    Finally, Dr. Larry Pedegana, the Mariners’ orthopedic specialist, operated. According to Meche, he loosened up the impingement by shaving the acromion and bursa.

    “It worked,” Meche said. “It must have been what was wrong all along.”

    and FWIW, re: the organization’s uncertainties, from May 13, 2003:

    “I know there were times when there was a question over the legitimacy of his injury. That certainly wasn’t an overall organizational feeling, but some questions were unanswered,” Price said. “But I didn’t feel he was the type of kid who would just make it up. Maybe he just didn’t know what it was like to have a bit of soreness. We ran all the tests and couldn’t find anything wrong. But at that time there was a question of how significant it was. As it turned out, it was significant.”

  26. DMZ on January 3rd, 2006 9:52 am

    I don’t have the cite at hand, but Meche made comments later that that first surgery was intended to fix the problem and was not, as Finnigan quotes Meche there, just a look-see followed by physical therapy.

  27. billT on January 3rd, 2006 10:09 am

    Along with everything that has been said in the past few posts, I’ll add that Meche complained of a similar weak shoulder last season when his velocity dropped down into the 80s for a few games. He’s damaged goods and they should have let him leave.

  28. Steve Nelson on January 3rd, 2006 10:44 am


    I don’t have the cite at hand, but Meche made comments later that that first surgery was intended to fix the problem and was not, as Finnigan quotes Meche there, just a look-see followed by physical therapy.

    That is consistent with my recollection. The first surgery was intended to fix; the second was cleanup from the first one.

    I don’t think they would have snnt Meche to Andrews for just a “look-see” procedure.

    To correct a mis-typing in one of my previous posts. Injuries in the interior of the labrum are more significant than injuries on the margins.

  29. MER on January 3rd, 2006 11:36 am

    Orthopods characterize injuries to the labrum using the SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior) system. There are 4 types and Meche almost certainly had a type I injury which involves fraying but no tear. The prognosis and treatment varies greatly depending on what type of SLAP injury occurs. Dr Andrew published a paper on his techniques and outcomes (Instr Course Lecture 2003; 52:43-63). The outcomes do not seem as gloomy as reported by Will Correll.
    Interestingly, there was a study of 14 asymptomatic professional players (mean age 20 so probably most if not all were in the minors) who had MRIs done as part of a study. The MRI showed shoulder abnormalities in 79% of the shoulders with no difference between throwing and nonthrowing arms (Am J Sports Med 2002; 30:136-151). This may explain why it was difficult to initially sort out Meche’s problem given a background of pathology expected in most pitcher’s MRIs.

  30. msb on January 3rd, 2006 3:35 pm

    #26, 28 — what he said after the surgery (as quoted by Laura Vecsey) was that since one of the first exams was done by Andrews, in retrospect he wished that they had done the surgery then (in 2000) rather than waiting until ’01:

    February 26, 2001

    By now, the 22-year-old power pitcher is at peace with the fact that his frayed rotator cuff needed surgery, even though there is a small part of him that wishes Dr. James Andrews had done the surgery last August, when he examined Meche, instead of now.
    “It seemed like the doctor felt like he wanted to go in, because he knew it was going to be the only way to get an answer. But he said they (the Mariners) want to hold things off because surgery should be the last resort,” Meche said.

    “But sure, in the back of my mind, I wish we had done it then. But we had all the tests and nothing came up. The plan was to rest and rehab. But I didn’t have a very good feeling coming into spring training. I was here in January and my fastball still didn’t have its usual zip. One day after throwing a little, I just looked at (pitching coach) Bryan (Price) and we both knew. We said, ‘Let’s just shut it down,'” Meche said.

    the other papers had this at the time:

    The Seattle Times, February 16, 2001

    For a man who had a gifted arm operated on only days ago, Meche was looking very pleased. “I know this sounds crazy, but I wanted them to find something wrong,” he said of the procedure performed by Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala. “I was hoping they wouldn’t go inside and find everything fine with me.”

    Last year, numerous doctors, including Dr. Andrews, found nothing wrong with Meche. At least, nothing wrong enough to cause the arm troubles that Meche felt from training camp on.

    “From even before camp, getting ready for camp,” he said, “it didn’t feel like it had in previous years. It didn’t feel right. In camp, I thought it was because I hadn’t gotten ready quick enough for spring training.”

    Even limited, Meche’s abilities got him in Piniella’s starting rotation to open the season. But even though the youngster did well at times, including seven shutout innings against a tough Anaheim Angel lineup in May, Meche was starting to worry.

    “I wasn’t feeling any pain, just a sort of pressure in the arm, and in games I didn’t feel anything, like the arm was numb,” the pitcher said. “My arm felt powerless, like I was pitching with a 2-pound baseball.”

    Meche was placed on the disabled list in late May, and again in June. When the club feared circulation problems in his arm, Meche was examined by a vascular specialist.

    Nothing helped, so they tried to rest him. That worked no better, so Meche did not pitch the rest of the season and spent the offseason working to rebuild strength in his arm.

    “When he got to camp in January, it was a lot like last year when his velocity was going from 93-95 (mph) to 87-88 in a couple of innings,” said pitching coach Bryan Price. “He’d start off fine, then peter off.”

    Added Meche: “Last year was so frustrating, then it was starting all over. It scared me. I want to help my team. I want to be healthy.”

    Meche talked with Price, who told him if he needed to get something done, he should. “The idea was to do it as soon as possible, to get well as soon as possible,” Price said.

    Andrews decided to perform an arthroscopic examination and found that the pitcher had some fraying of his rotator cuff, a condition that is common for pitchers. In Meche’s case, it was crippling.

    After what was described as minor surgery, the right-hander is happy to say that Andrews told him he’d “be game-ready after the (All-Star) break.”

    PI, February 22, 2001

    The 22-year-old Meche underwent an examination at the hands of orthopedic guru Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., on Feb. 6 in an effort to determine the cause of his shoulder tightness. Andrews found some fraying of the right rotator cuff and repaired it on the spot. “If it was the whole shoulder, that would be six months,” Meche said. “But he only had to work on one capsule. So now they are thinking four months.”

  31. msb on January 3rd, 2006 3:41 pm

    so to sum it up, Meche says the 1st op by Dr. Andrews was to repair fraying on one capsule, and the 2nd was done by Pedegana to loosen up an impingement by shaving the acromion and bursa.

  32. Steve Nelson on January 3rd, 2006 3:43 pm

    If labrum fraying is normal for a pitcher but debilitating for Meche, then perhaps Meche is not physically capable of being a mojor league pitcher.

  33. terrybenish on January 4th, 2006 10:21 am

    the rest of Arnold’s article goes on to repeat an assertion he’s previously made that Johjima has mechanical problems with his throwing involving his feetwork and seperation of mitt and hand.