The Gil Meche Experiment: Another Look

Back on August 3, I discussed the impending shift by Gil Meche from the starting rotation to the bullpen as an alternative to right shoulder surgery that could have held him out of a large chunk of 2011, and potentially the whole season.  There were concerns that if he didn’t recover well (and Meche has never seemed to recover well), it could threaten his career.

And thus the Gil Meche Experiment was born.

At the first mention of it, I did not like the idea at all.  Fortunately for Meche and the Royals, my opinion was wrong.

Originally, I’d made two assumptions. First, that Meche didn’t encounter any setbacks in his trek back to the active roster. He obviously didn’t as he was activated off the 60 day DL when rosters expanded on the first of the month. Second, Meche would have to hold up once in the bullpen.

To do that, I also suggested a strict pitch count – that means nobody being a hero and trying to gut it out (like Meche has done as a starter in the past). I recommended forty pitches at the very most, and no more than two innings of work with a day of rest between appearances.

So far, Meche has been quite effective in his new role. Through 11 innings over nine appearances, he has a 1.64 ERA and has struck out nine batters versus four walks. That’s all perfectly acceptable. Also, Ned Yost has used him carefully, as Meche hasn’t appeared in consecutive days yet this month. Further, he’s maxed out at two innings on two occasions, with pitch counts of 32 and 29 in each extended appearance. In his single inning appearances, he’s exceeded 13 pitches twice – with 18 and 20 pitch days.

All of that is pretty decent as far as performance, efficiency and usage. Meche’s relief appearances have lowered his season ERA from 6.66 to 5.73. He’s averaged just over an inning an appearance, and only 14.27 pitches per appearance.

While I’d rather see Meche in the rotation, at this point, his shoulder’s health may mandate that he stay in the bullpen. It’s not the best use of $12 million, but it’s also a lot better to get something out of a pitcher for that contract than to just have him on constant rehab assignments or shut down altogether.

It’s with caution (because with Meche, he’s not exactly durable) that I have to say this experiment is proving successful.

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