Gil Meche’s fastball

Just about every day, I find something that piques my curiosity, like this article by Marty Lurie:

Let’s take a look at 25 players who have stumbled during the 2009 season and examine what their prospects are for a bounce-back season in 2010.

….never mind about the other 24—all hitters….

Gil Meche, Royals: Meche signed a big contract with Kansas City as a free agent in 2007. The right-hander, when healthy, is an innings eater type pitcher. If the Royals will assume part of his remaining contract, Meche could be traded. I think he can fill a void on a team looking for a veteran pitcher, much like Carl Pavano did this year for Cleveland and Minnesota.

Not much meat there, but Lurie did have 25 players to cover in a small space. So I figured I’d take a look at Meche’s PITCHf/x data (over 7,000 pitches, dating to 2007). One thing struck me—the fastball. Okay, maybe more than one thing, but the fastball stood out the most.

Fastball speed

At first blush, everything looks just fine from year to year for Meche. The variation in spin movement is not much to make of. We’re talking inches (PFX_X,PFX_Z) amongst noisy data that vary by park and by year.

year # MPH PFX_X PFX_Z
2007 670 93.0 -4.6 10.7
2008 1809 93.3 -3.9 11.5
2009 1109 93.1 -5.3 10.3

A picture shows a little more detail. This is fastball speed (four-seam only) by game.


Meche was disabled due to back spasms in July, came back in August with less velocity, and has been shelved since with shoulder issues. He did throw a bullpen recently, so he could return.

While Meche looked stronger early in the season, his velocity wasn’t there at the end.

Quality of the fastball

The biggest change in 2009 appears to be the swing rate against Meche’s fastball, particularly out of the zone. Hitters also are taking more strikes.

Mental Health and the CBA
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year # MPH Swing Whiff Chase Watch
2007 670 93.0 0.463 0.116 0.322 0.390
2008 1809 93.3 0.468 0.160 0.260 0.362
2009 1109 93.1 0.404 0.141 0.204 0.403

Look at the run values, and you’ll see a plus pitch turn into a negative (rv100E is based on batted ball type, rv100 on hits/outs).

year # IWZ nkSLG rv100 rv100E
2007 670 0.494 0.487 -0.442 -0.396
2008 1809 0.558 0.523 -0.475 -0.157
2009 1109 0.528 0.554 0.426 0.580

That’s a big change—.7-.9 extra runs allowed per 100 pitches, about a full run per nine innings, which is about as much as his ERA ballooned.

Assuming he gets healthy, Meche may still have problems if hitters lay off his fastball, if this survey is any indication.

Other pitches

Here are the run values for Meche’s other pitches. He probably throws a slider and a cutter, with a slutter in between. I’m mashing them together.

Change # rv100 rv100E
2007 212 -3.259 -1.793
2008 401 -0.481 -0.352
2009 200 1.080 -0.933

Curveball # rv100 rv100E
2007 326 -0.606 -0.196
2008 616 0.035 -0.008
2009 412 -0.613 -0.190

Slutter # rv100 rv100E
2007 242 0.839 1.275
2008 647 -0.884 0.136
2009 412 1.836 0.775

His slider/slutter/cutter is no gem, and certainly has its own contributions to Meche’s inflated numbers in 2009. I’ll speculate that hitters are sitting on the heat and taking advantage of the slutter.

References & Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM’s Gameday
Pitch classifications by the author

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Meche has said he doesn’t throw a slider, so I think that slutter you’re referring to is just his cutter.  Perhaps it takes some slider motion.  I know it seemed to be his trouble pitch this year.