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Five Things To Watch For From Gil Meche

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 22, 2006

At 6:05 PM Seattle time, Gil Meche will make his third start in Cactus League play as he takes on the Kansas City Royals down the road in Surprise, Arizona.

In his first two starts, Meche has allowed just one hit over five innings, walking one and striking out six. He’s faced just one batter over the minimum.

Meche has looked fairly sharp, sitting 89-91 with his fastball – his two-seam fastball – and showing command and consistency with his curve ball, which is a plus pitch when he keeps it down in the zone.

But all we are talking about is five measley innings. And all we are analyzing is spring training. You think spring training means anything at all statistically?

Please allow me…

You’ll only need one March worth of numbers compared to the ensuing season’s stats to know how little spring training numbers mean.

Last spring, we all watched as Gil Meche piled up numbers that made all Mariners fans drool. In 19.2 innings, Meche fanned 22, walked just five and posted a 1.84 ERA. No, those weren’t Felix Hernandez’s marks. Gilbert Allen Meche put up those gaudy numbers from the mound last spring. He fanned more than 10 per nine innings pitched, his walk rate was 2.29 and his WHIP was 1.02.

Some of us were a little bit excited.

Then the real season started and Meche was again the Gil Meche we all know and despise. He won 10 of 18 decisions but put up career worst marks in several areas.

His K/9 of 5.21 resembled that of a soft-tossing middle reliever who can’t bend a blade of grass with his fastball. Meche posted a 1.52 WHIP and 4.52 BB/9 and a 5.09 ERA which oddly was his FIP as well.

So putting any stock in spring stats is like betting bucks on a greyhound that isn’t even entered in the eighth race at the Phoenix dog track.

There are, however, other aspects of Meche’s performance to keep an eye on that may just radiate the possibilities of his success in 2006.

Since Meche has employed a new pitch, the two-seam fastball that has sinking and boring action, note the quality of contact, or lack thereof, that hitters make against Meche’s fastball. His four-seamer has very little movement, and the small action it does have is more of a tailing action into left-handers, but not enough to have any positive effect on righties, so he’s been using his two-seamer about 80% of the time.

Not coincidentally, this is the same for another of Rafael Chaves’ projects Clint Nageotte. Chaves believes in the sinking fastball and knows how to install such a pitch into the arsenal of any pitcher in the organization.

Meche’s biggest problem on paper the past few seasons appears to be control. His walk rates are terrible as are his home run rates, which are partially due to his G/F rates that hover just under the even mark.

But it wasn’t simply his inability to throw the ball over the plate. Meche was afraid to throw a fastball down the middle. When he did, it was crushed, very hard and very often.

What’s the next step? To try and nibble somewhat. Hit the corners. Well, when you don’t have impeccable command, and Meche does not, you’ll miss and either throw four balls before you induce contact or reach three strikes, or you’ll miss within the strike zone, catch too much of the plate and we’re back at square one – a Meche heater hit a country mile.

Meche did not have the use of a two-seamer a year ago. He was basically set up with a four-seam fastball in the low 90s, a curve ball and an occasional change.

Constantly falling behind in the count, Meche had very little opportunity to throw his best pitch in a pitchers count. His curve ball has good bite and when he’s ahead in the count, he can throw an aggressive curve and not worry about missing down in the zone.

This spring, he’s faced 16 batters. He’s gone three balls on just three of them and he’s only been 2-0 on three. Seven times he’s had hitters at 0-2 or 1-2.

Let’s see. Seven times he’s been ahead 0-2 or 1-2 and he has six strikeouts. NOT A COINCIDENCE. On five of those seven, he’s landed a whiff. One hit a tapper back to him and the other lined out to Sexson at first. Four of the five were K’d with the curve ball – only two of them swinging.

Other than the contact style on his fastball, definitely look for how often he gets ahead. This starts with the first pitch, which many times will likely be the two-seamer. The pace in which he works has also picked up considerably, though he’s only had the two base runners, which certainly changes things. A fluid, consistent pace allows Meche to find a groove and stay consistent in his delivery and mindset.

This also brings us to the third thing to watch for.

Meche’s pitch count. He’s scheduled to go four innings or 60 pitches, whichever comes first. If he goes four before reaching that 60, he’s done a pretty decent job in that department. Meche must become more efficient with his pitches to be an effective starting pitcher.

A fourth thing to watch for is how Meche does when he gets in a jam. He’s yet to be in one this spring and his focus will be tested as soon as he gives up a run or two and is trying to pitch out of jams. Minimizing the damage is imperative to Meche’s success, especially since he will walk his share of hitters.

The fifth and final thing to look for from Meche tonight versus KC – and throughout the rest of the spring and into the regular season is body language.

When he gets drilled for a inning or two and the M’s fall behind 4-0, 5-0, 6-2, etc, how does Meche react? Does he get that patented look of a 10-year-old who just broke his dad’s motorcycle by dropping spare parts into the big gaping hole in the partially disassembled engine?

Or does he stay confident, rock, fire and stay focused on the task at hand – throw strikes, work quickly and be confident that when the pitch gets hit it won’t take his head off?

1. Quality of Contact on Fastballs

2. How Often is He Getting Ahead in the Count/Pace?

3. Pitch Count

4. Performance in Jams

5. Body Language

If Meche does all of the above, he’ll have some success in the regular season. His mechanics will always need watched and he’ll probably always be someone that needs to be caudled somewhat, but if all five of the above things are accomplished by the former first rounder, M’s fans might just have a real reason be a little bit optimistic about Meche.

I never thought I’d say that, but Chaves has gotten into Meche’s head and we all know confidence does wonders for athletes.


One Response to “Five Things To Watch For From Gil Meche”

  1. I think ihis mechanical flaws are all in his lower body, which is the total opposite of how Price attacked it. Not to say that he doesn’t have flaws in his trunk pivot and shouler rotation, but that’s all led to a dark death by his lower body.

    Price’s adjustments were all upper body… waist on up. Unlike a hitter, whose head leads the rest of his body, a pitcher’s plant foot is key, as is everything that happens between the break of his wind and the second his plant foot touches the mound dirt again.

    I don’t know what the major issue is, exactly, but if you watch Gil from 2005, you can see that his delivery has no rythmn and he seems to plant in a different spot each time.

    Ask Orel Hershiser what made him a good pitcher and the very first thing he’ll tell you is that he had good command, but that he had it because he repeated his flawless delivery 100 times a game.

    I think Gil shows too much of his frontside too early and it takes away from the secret that is what pitch is coming – as well as velocity and command.

    At the end of 2005, a former big-league pitcher said these words to me.

    “Meche is a mess. Erase the results, he’s a mess before he even lets go of the pitch.”

    It’s nothing unfixable, says Chaves, who said so in 2004 when Meche made a trip to Tacoma to straighten things out.

    Meche just has to be willing to be very different. Bend more at the waist, retain balance from the ground to the top of his head and repeat the fixed delivery.

    All pitchers can show you a perfect delivery once or twice. Some can even do it 30 times. But when 30 is only one-third of the total pitches thrown, you’re in trouble.

    I think Meche’s five-inning success right now is simply due to the fact that he’s got a new pitch that is getting some subpar hitters out.

    He did it last spring with his old stuff.

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