Gil Meche, Opening Day Starter

DMZ · May 18, 2007 at 5:53 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

I’ve been tinkering with this post for a while now, as occasionally people have written in to chide us for not writing it, and I beg your pardon.

We know the deal, Meche’s long history of inconsistency and frustration. Here at USSM, we thought Meche’s deal in Kansas City was crazy, and said so a number of times. Right now, it looks like everyone who said he had “ace stuff” and potential were right, and we were wrong.

Gil Meche today is 3-1 in nine starts (woo! KC offense!) with a 1.91 ERA. In 61 1/3rd innings, he’s been stellar: 47 K, 16 walks, 6 HR — it’s crazy. He’s getting later into games, too: his average is about 6 2/3rds each start, which is not super, but he’s not getting regularly chased out in the fourth and fifth.

But he’s not striking out more batters, and his home run rate is about what it was. What’s the deal, then? There are a couple reasons he’s been a lot more effective so far. One is under his control, and the other — well, I’ll get there.

His walks are way down. The last three years of his Mariner career, Meche walked about 10% of the batters who came to the plate, and so far he’s only walking about 6.5% — and that’s a walk a game. His best years in this respect – 2003-04 – he was at about 8.5% (conveniently, about halfway between this year and his 2005-2006 average)(not that that means anything).

The other is that Meche so far has been dramatically better at getting ground balls than he ever has. He’s running a 56.4% ground ball percentage. In 2006, it was 43%, and that’s a little higher than his career average. That’s huge. His whole career, he’s been a slight fly ball pitcher (.83-.97 G/F from 1999-2005), then in 2006 he ticked up a little bit into groundballing (1.11 G/F in ESPN’s stats). He’s at 1.98 now. Of pitchers with at least 40 innings thrown, he’s #9 in G/F ratio (Webb is at an unreal 3.81)

And that raises the real question: is that for real? Can that possibly be for real?

I don’t think so, and for two reasons. One, I haven’t been able to find a historical precedent for that kind of change. We can talk about pitchers who sucked for a while and then got better, but someone with that many seasons getting that much better, and not just better but so different in results?

The other is that there’s no good explanation for why this would be so. The stories I could find on Meche point to improved mechanics, particularly being able to repeat them. I’m always skeptical of these stories (if it’s that easy, why didn’t it happen at any time in his Seattle stint?) but what’s more, their purported benefit is in better velocity, location, and consistency. Not a new pitch, not a new approach, nothing of the sort — and if he had better location and velocity, you’d expect to see more strikeouts, which we’re not, and fewer walks, which we are.

Unless you want to argue that better location also means he can pound down in the zone, but (and I entirely admit this is subjective) having seen him and looked at some of his pitch charts, I don’t see it. That said, I don’t have systematic information, like 20% are up in the zone where 40% used to be, or anything of the sort, so feel free to offer more information on this if you can find it.

The end result is I look at this and think “I’m willing to concede that between the change in organizations and coaches, Meche could have found something in his delivery that was fixable — but even dramatic results from that don’t explain apparently unprecedented magnitude of the turnaround, and the incredible change to being a ground ball machine.”

So I don’t think this is sustainable. Meche may be better than the Meche we saw, even significantly so, but there’s no explanation that fills the gap between the Meche we saw and the results Meche has seen so far.


23 Responses to “Gil Meche, Opening Day Starter”

  1. Thom Jimsen on May 18th, 2007 6:02 pm

    Yeah, ever since I swallowed (and since gruesomely passed away from) the Kool-Aid re 2005 Aaron Sele, I take those “they fixed his mechanics/motion/positioning” stories with a baseball-sized grain of salt. The problem is that such stories sound utterly plausible and reasonable … and really, you WANT to believe them.

  2. Jeff Sullivan on May 18th, 2007 6:27 pm

    Ryan Drese kinda sorta works as a comp, although it’s not very flattering.

    In my experience, guys who post high GB rates out of nowhere tend to give most of it back in future years, but Gil’s simultaneous improved control make him seem like a possible exception.

  3. wabbles on May 18th, 2007 7:04 pm

    Well, Meche’s improvement may indeed be unstainable. But can we all agree that the (paraphrased) question, “If improved mechanics were that easy, why didn’t it happen at any time in his Seattle stint?” practically answers itself?
    Maybe it’s another indication of a bad organizational philosophy, approach, instruction, whatever?

  4. oNeiRiC232 on May 18th, 2007 7:04 pm

    I remember one of the knocks on Meche a few years ago was that he was throwing too many pitches and couldn’t keep a feel for them all. So they knocked him back to FB/CB/Change and threw out the rest. And for all of ’05 and ’06 I remember only seeing those.. maybe a two-seamer.

    This year, looking back on archived footage, I see that he’s throwing his fastball in the 93-95 range with a cutter/slider thing in the 90-91 range (and the same curve/change). I don’t remember him using a cutter-type pitch in ’05 or ’06. Can anyone else?

    Check the condensed games on MLB.TV; they’re all on there from this year and years past.

  5. Rick L on May 18th, 2007 7:09 pm

    All in al I would rather have Gil Meche at 11 million than Weaver at 8 million. I would also rather have Meche and Soriano than the HoRamir.

  6. oNeiRiC232 on May 18th, 2007 7:09 pm

    Also, I may be going all Stanley-Fish-style and think I’m seeing something only because I’m looking for it, but his four-seamer looks like it’s a little heavier this year.

    Take that with a big grain of salt though. Or just go look yourself.

  7. Crushgroovin on May 18th, 2007 8:14 pm

    I will be the first to admit that I am no expert on statistics the way the many here are. That being said I don’t need stats to see that this years team is questionable.

    So early in his career I thought Meche had some real potential. Then I heard something that made me sick. He was getting pitching advice from Jamie Moyer. More that advice Moyer was “showing” him how to pitch.

    The following years I thought he got a bit to tentative. Instead of going after hitters he kind of chipped away at them. That is and ok approach for a 75 year old with a 28mph change, but not what I want in a somewhat hard throwing young pitcher. The result was to many walks and pitches up in the zone.

    I myself think that the move to KC helped him attack hitters more. Perhaps it’s just confidence perhaps it’s philosophy. But the results seem to point that way.

  8. DMZ on May 18th, 2007 9:00 pm

    Uh huh. Except that we saw that before: there was a period (after his short stint in AAA) when he came back up and turned into SuperFranklin: nothing but strikes, pitch to contact, attack the strike zone constantly.

    He wasn’t nearly this pitcher.

  9. smb on May 18th, 2007 10:34 pm

    I’m too lazy to do a statistical analysis, but [too lazy]

  10. msb on May 18th, 2007 10:44 pm

    #7– huh.

    interestingly, most people seem to think it is a good thing when Moyer talks to young pitchers. FWIW, Moyer doesn’t ‘show’ another pitcher how to pitch. He is willing to talk to them about pitching, esp. the mental side of pitching, but only if the pitcher comes to him and asks.

    (“I was young and didn’t concentrate that much, and [Moyer] always talked to me about concentrating more and not trying too hard,” Garcia said.)

    and I can’t say I’ve noticed that since Cole Hamels has spent the last year talking daily with Moyer that he has “got a bit to tentative. Instead of going after hitters he kind of chipped away at them.” Seems to be mowing them down as before.

  11. smb on May 18th, 2007 10:47 pm

    Another notable difference this year is the success Meche is having the third time through the lineup. Opponents are batting an average somewhere in the .260 range on the third trip through, whereas with us, I believe it was somewhere up near .999999999 (my heart’s approximation based on gut-wrenching aggregate memory, faulty as it may be).

    They need to start calling him Louisiana Lightning. That should get him shelled a few times right quick…which leads me to my final, unverifiable, hokey postulate that is just plausible enough to make me want to puke. Let’s call it the Carlos Guillen theorem.

    The crux of the Guillen theorem is that his (Meche’s) new-found depth of demonstrable skill (or sustained health…the variable is dependent upon the individual player) is entirely attributable to the fact that he is no longer wearing a Mariners uniform. You know exactly what I’m talking about. For every Ken Phelps-for-Jay Buhner, there’s a Varitek and Lowe for Slocumb, or a bye-bye-Carlos, hello Rich Aurilia!

  12. mark s. on May 18th, 2007 11:39 pm

    Good for Meche! Good for KC!
    There is always some dude that beats out the percentages. I hope he can keep it up for the rest of the year. Because as we all know, play long enough and the house wins.

  13. Mat on May 19th, 2007 1:43 am

    The other is that there’s no good explanation for why this would be so.

    That’s my problem with the whole thing, too. For the GB% to be sustainable, he’s got to be doing something different. Otherwise it’s just a big fluctuation (they happen sometimes), but without some underlying cause, things tend to regress to the mean.

  14. hub on May 19th, 2007 1:44 am

    In short: if you happen to have Meche on your fantasy team…sell NOW.

  15. MickeyZ on May 19th, 2007 6:40 am

    I don’t think a guy becomes a groundball pitcher unless he starts throwing a new pitch. 61 innings isn’t enough of a sample, I think he’ll revert to normal.

  16. John Walsh on May 19th, 2007 8:37 am

    I’m wondering if the GB hypothesis is really the reason for Meche’s success. The main advantage of being a GB’er is giving up few HR. As Derek already mentioned, his HR rate hasn’t changed much this year. The reason for that, btw, is that he’s giving up more HR per fly ball this season. If he’s been lucky in getting more ground balls, he’s been unlucky in giving up more HR per fly ball, it would seem.

    If you look at Meche’s FIP, you find he’s at 3.63, nowhere near his 1.92 ERA. The reason for the difference is Meche’s LOB%, which is a flukey-high 82.3% right now. In past years he was typically around 70%, which is roughly league average.

    BTW, that FIP of 3.63 (if it holds up) is a run better than any he posted in the last 3 years. The reason for that is the reduced walk rate, which according to THT’s stat page, amounts to 1.5 fewer walks per game.

  17. oNeiRiC232 on May 19th, 2007 8:54 am

    Go look at the actual game footage. He’s definitely throwing a new pitch, like I said in #4.

    Quick example: look through his K’s on opening day, 4/2/07. Some of those are definitely new.

    My guess is he brought back the slider that he used to throw much earlier in his career, and with his newfound mechanical consistency, is really making it work for him.

  18. Edgar For Pres on May 19th, 2007 9:49 am

    I was looking at his Baseball ref batted info. He’s basically got the same behavior with swinging strikes, contact rate, and almost everything else you could imagine. Kinda wierd. June of last year may just being repeated.

  19. carcinogen on May 19th, 2007 10:32 am

    #15: IYO, what would be a sufficient sample size for this analysis. 100 innings? I vote to revisit this issue then, as I tend to think you might be right.

    To anyone with knowledge of such things: is KC somewhat of a hitter’s park?

  20. Mat on May 19th, 2007 11:48 am

    My guess is he brought back the slider that he used to throw much earlier in his career, and with his newfound mechanical consistency, is really making it work for him.

    Throwing a slider would certainly be consistent with inducing more groundballs.

  21. DMZ on May 19th, 2007 12:59 pm

    On the “revived slider” issue: I haven’t seen it when I’ve watched him.

    Moreover, though, if that’s the case, that’s a fairly dramatic change to his approach, and I don’t understand why it hasn’t received any press. I’ve been reading up trying to find information on this, and all I’ve found is the mechanical tinkering.

  22. oNeiRiC232 on May 19th, 2007 2:46 pm

    Well, it’s KC. Don’t expect much of anything unless it has to do with football. 🙂

    I’d love to post a clip to make it visible, but capturing mlb’s MMS stream and posting it on youtube is probably highly illegal. I’ll see what I can do.

  23. manzell on May 20th, 2007 10:48 am

    I largely think that Meche got on the “Change of Scenery” diet.

    I think it’s 100% as simple as Meche is trying harder. He’s studying batter tendancies more. He’s thinking a little bit harder about what pitches he wants. He’s focused more on the mound.

    I mean, let’s face it – Meche was professionally stagnating on the mound. He’d settled into a rut that wasn’t particularly good, but would keep him in a job.

    There is also the Seattle Curse: Free Agents that arrive in Seattle invariably drop off the table (See Mitchell, Kevin) and those that leave see their careers take off.

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