Evan Meek’s Maturation

Since the Minnesota Twins signed him for $180,000 as a product of the now defunct draft-and-follow system back in 2002, Evan Meek has both tantalized and frustrated his employers. But now, with his fourth organization, Meek may soon inherit a prominent role in the ‘pen.

A stocky 6-0, 220 pound right-hander known for touching the mid-90’s with his fastball, Meek was nevertheless released by the Twins in 2005 after he walked 36 batters in 18 innings in the Low-A Midwest League. The San Diego Padres picked up the Bellevue (Wash.) Community College product, stuck him in the starting rotation and watched him whiff (8.7 K/9) and walk (4.8 BB/9) the yard in the High-A California League in 2006. In August of ’06, Tampa Bay acquired Meek as the PTBNL in a deal for Russell Branyan. Shifted to relief in 2007, he punched out 9.3 batters per nine frames in the Double-A Southern League, but walked 4.6 per nine as well.

Tampa didn’t place Meek on the 40-man roster after the season, leaving him subject to the Rule V Draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates, impressed with Meek’s work in the Arizona Fall League, snagged him with the second overall pick in the Rule V proceedings.

For the first month of the 2008 season, Meek flailed to the tune of seven K’s, 12 walks and three wild pitches in 13 innings for Pittsburgh. He was behind in the count before you could say “Marmol”–Meek’s first pitch strike percentage was 44.3, compared to the 58 percent major league average.

Still, the Pirates were intrigued enough to work out a trade with the Rays so that Meek could be sent down to the minors. In 57.1 combined frames between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, he punched out eight hitters per nine innings and induced a ground ball 60 percent of the time. Most importantly, Meek issued just 2.7 walks per nine innings.

Last season, Meek began the year back at Indy but got the big league call in late April. When he took the mound, the outcome of the game was already largely determined–Meek’s Leverage Index was 0.63, lowest among regular Pirates relievers. Showcasing 93 MPH heat, a hard 90 MPH cutter and low-80’s breaking stuff, Meek had 8.04 K/9 in 47 IP, burning worms at a 52.1% rate. But alas, control remained elusive. He walked 5.55 per nine frames, posting a 4.18 expected FIP (xFIP). A left oblique strain shut Meek down in mid-August.

In 2010, the 27-year-old has been a revelation. Sure, he has been lucky to post a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings pitched–he’s eventually going to surrender a home run, and he isn’t likely to strand 85.2 percent of base runners all season. But Meek has legitimately been one of the best ‘pen arms in the majors. With his fastball up a tick in velocity, he has 9.35 K/9, 2.42 BB/9 and a 52.2 GB%, owning a 2.83 xFIP that ranks within shouting distance of San Francisco’s Brian Wilson (2.77 xFIP) and Kansas City’s Joakim Soria (2.71 xFIP). That’s not to suggest that he’s suddenly on the same plane as the Giants’ mohawked stopper or the Mexicutioner, but Meek is pitching marvelously.

While he’s doing a slightly better job of locating this season, raising his percentage of pitches within the strike zone from 51.9 percent in ’09 to 53.1 percent in 2010, the big difference is that Meek is getting batters to chase his stuff off the plate for the first time. As a Rule V selection, Meek garnered outside swings just 13.2 percent of the time. Last year, his O-Swing was still below average, at 22.1 percent. But in 2010, he’s getting hitters to hack at 28.2 percent of his out-of-zone offerings.

As Meek continues to mow down hitters, he’s earning the trust of Pirates manager John Russell. In April, Meek’s Leverage Index was a custodian-level 0.66. But in May, his 1.66 LI trails only closer Octavio Dotel. He’s also being deployed often for multi-inning stints, with seven of his 19 appearances lasting a full two frames. It took a while, but Pittsburgh’s patience with Meek is paying dividends.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

12 Responses to “Evan Meek’s Maturation”

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  1. Andy S. says:

    I just came in here to say I misread this title as “Evan Meek’s Masturbation.”

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    • ClosetM'sFan says:

      It’s worse if you went to school with him like I did and know that his photographer dad was busted and sent to jail for photographing underage girls naked, tricking them into thinking he would make them into a famous model and then jerk-jerk-jerking it to the proofs in his dark room. I’m glad to see lil’ Evan has climbed out from under that family spank-shadow, although I guess pitching for the Pirates could be considered a great shame in and of its own.

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      • izzygabby says:

        What a great thing to publicize, you jack off!!! I know Evan personally myself and no matter what his father involved himself in in the past has nothing to do with the man Evan is today. Dude, pull your head out of your ass and use your time to do something more productive than type the garbage that you just did. No wonder you have the name “closet” in your name. Perhaps you should try coming out of it one of these days. Go screw yourself.

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  2. Pat says:

    The Meek shall inherit the closer’s job.

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  3. Rico says:

    I own him for ratios / backup saves now and love the fundamentals. My concern is that one of the crappy old men Hanrahan or gasp Donnelly ends up getting first crack if Dotel has a meltdown. Actually, Dotel had an awful month and they still stuck with him. I’m starting to think Bard in Boston has a better chance of saving games full time this year. Papelbon is the only guy in his way, and there’s enough pressure in Bos for them to be forced to make a move if Papelbon struggles. He could also get hurt.

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  4. Ben says:

    Hanrahan is not old. He is 28.

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    • matt w says:

      He’s not that crappy either — 2.70 xFIP so far this year.

      Could part of the reason for Meek’s low LI in April be that the Pirates were getting blown out so much that there weren’t many high-leverage opportunities for late-inning relievers?

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      • MarkInDallas says:

        Yes, which meant that Meek was just getting some work in. But also, Brendan Donnelly began the season as the setup man, but had to go on the DL.

        In the interim, Meek and Hanrahan have taken the 7th and 8th innings in close games, with Meek being used in the 6th – 7th to close the door when a starter allows a baserunner and is out of gas.

        The Pirates have done extremely well in close games, winning almost all of them, due to the strength of the bullpen. There are some gaudy numbers for Dotel and Hanrahan, but those happened in mop up duty in blowouts. In the close games, they’ve been extremely tough.

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  5. Bill says:

    I’m kind of surprised that the Rays gave him up for nothing after the Pirates returned him. I don’t know how much cash they got in the deal, but I’m sure it was completely insignificant. Seems like when you have the chance to get that guy back you should take him. I guess it’s possible that without the Pirates he may never have turned the corner and the Rays didn’t see him figuring it out. That would seem strange considering the two teams involved.

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  6. Bobby Boden says:

    While Meek may be getting into more high leverage situations, Hanrahan is still clearly being used as the setup man. Which usually seems to imply that Hanrahan is next in line for saves. At the same time, Hanrahan is also having a great year, and has closer experience.

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  7. Curtis says:

    Dotel has been solid lately. He’ll most likely be traded (Philly?). Hanrahan is definitely next in line for saves. Meek will move from the 7th to 8th inning.

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  8. Cutlery says:

    Hello, I really enjoyed reading your article. Will bookmark for later. Lots of interesting stuff.

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