The Gil Meche Experiment


So it was just a few days ago that word went around that Gil Meche was going to require surgery on the right shoulder that’s bothered him since last season.

Well,that’s partially correct – the shoulder still does require surgery I’m sure, but Meche seems to think that his shoulder can handle bullpen workloads. It’s crazy, it’s risky, but at the same time, what does Meche have to lose? He’s guaranteed for $12 million in 2011. The shoulder’s messed up already anyway. There was a solid chance that going under the knife this late would have cost him most of, if not all, of 2011.

First of all, there’s a part of me that wants to applaud Meche on the decision. It’s an old school baseball player kind of decision. “Hell no, I’m not getting surgery. Rub some dirt on it.” I believe that he’s sincere when he says that he wants to finish out his contract pitching rather than rehabbing or resting following surgery. And despite the advice of trainers and doctors, the decision is his to make as an individual.

Maybe Meche wants to show that he can get through the injury and still be effective, so after his Royals contract is up, other teams could give him a look and keep him under their employ. Or he’s just stubborn. Probably both. Nobody wants to admit that they’re done – think of Jerry Rice on the Seahawks, or Willie Mays on the Mets in his last year. There are dozens of examples of players who just didn’t want to hang it up, so they took that one last chance to stay alive. Happens all the time in sports. So in that kind of context, yeah, Gil Meche is a bulldog for giving this a shot.

I still don’t think it’s a good idea, for Meche or the Royals.

I’m going to make two assumptions: 1) That Meche has no further setbacks and is available for this bullpen experiment in September as Jeffrey Flanagan’s article suggests 2) that once he’s in the bullpen, he suffers no more injuries and can return in 2011.

Ned Yost would have to keep Meche on a pitch count. Forty pitches – no more than that. Meche would see one and maybe two innings of work every other day.

For his career, Meche has been just a bit better than average his first time through a lineup. In a relief scenario, he’d usually only face a few batters and wouldn’t make it back through the lineup again.

1st PA in G, as SP22001.99.251.327.398.72591
2nd PA in G, as SP21321.84.258.326.420.74796
3rd PA in G, as SP16501.47.286.357.465.822116
4th+ PA in G, as SP1330.94.259.348.405.75499

So in that regard, maybe this idea will work. Meche has been an average to slightly above average starting pitcher in his career, so those numbers aren’t surprising. And from the time he signed his contract until that fated Arizona shutout, he was healthy in a Royals uniform. Not surprisingly, that made him even better.

But on June 16th, he threw 132 pitches against the Diamondbacks in a shutout, got rocked in a couple of starts, then threw 121 pitches shortly after and he hasn’t been the same since. From his June 21st start (right after the shut out) to the rest of 2009, Meche gave up 42 earned runs in 44.1 innings pitched. Including his 48.1 innings from 2010, he’s given up 78 earned runs over 93 innings since. That’s a robust 7.54 ERA. It’s not safe to say that even if Meche can get back on the hill that he’ll be effective, because, other than a few starts, he hasn’t been good at all.

1st PA in G, as SP810.83.269.395.463.8583197144
2nd PA in G, as SP810.92.279.395.397.7922783115
3rd PA in G, as SP611.14.327.400.596.99631126158
4th+ PA in G, as SP80.00.333.500.333.833296122

Those numbers are Meche’s 2010 results as he goes through a lineup. They aren’t too bad, from an OPS+ standpoint.  There are two problems though.  The tOPS+ relates the OPS to Meche’s own career splits, but the sOPS+ relates it to the rest of the league.  Being over 100 is not good in that case – it means the rest of the league is doing much better.  In Meche’s case, his strength in 2010 has been the second time through the lineup, but he’s been awful the first time through.  That 0.83 K/BB ratio is ugly and won’t help anybody if he’s coming out of the bullpen.  It guarantees that Meche would only start an inning fresh with no inherited runners, and even then, could you trust him to keep runners off the basepaths?  It’s clear that the injury has killed his command, and he’s walked 6.3 batters per nine innings in 2010.  He walked 4 per nine last year.  And while his career rate is 3.7, it’s interesting to note that in his two seasons with Kansas City with no health issues, Meche only walked 2.6 (2007) and 3.1 (2008) batters per nine innings.

At this point, Meche is an injury prone pitcher with a blown shoulder who’s lost the command of his best years.  That’s not going to help any team, regardless of  the salary.  He’s getting his $12 million anyway.  Let him have it, just keep him off the mound.  We walk enough batters as it is.

While we can applaud Meche for being a gamer and trying to put the team first and show that he’s not going to just soak up a contract, I don’t see any way this doesn’t end badly for him.  His shoulder isn’t going to repair itself and he’s not going to suddenly find his control in shorter stints.  I can’t fault him for trying, but Gil Meche is done.  At least for 2010 and very probably for 2011.  If he continues to try this bullpen idea, it might set him back beyond even that.

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