If you were to build a pitcher from scratch, you would give him a high strikeout rate and make him a hurler who did not allow many walks or home runs. One of the best ways to limit homers is to be a ground ball pitcher. It’s certainly not the only way – Chris Young is an extreme fly ball pitcher but manages to keep his HR in check partly by inducing lots of infield pop-ups – but it’s likely the best way.
Monday night Jenrry Mejia showed why he is such a promising pitching prospect. Here is his line against the Pirates, along with what he did in his first start this year earlier this month against the Brewers:
9/15 – 3 IP, 5 ER, 5 BB, 0 K, 11 GB, 3 FB, 19 BF
9/24 – 5 IP, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 11 GB, 3 FB, 20 BF
He allowed more walks than you would prefer but it was still a nice improvement over his first outing. The big takeaway is how many ground balls he has gotten in his two starts. The leader among qualified pitchers in the majors in ground ball rate is Trevor Cahill, who has a 61.4 GB%. Only 20 of 91 qualified SP have a ground ball rate of 50 percent or higher. When you combine high GB% and high K% – you get guys like David Price or James Shields or Adam Wainwright.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Edinson Volquez has a 50.1 GB% and an 8.70 K/9 yet he has a 4.30 ERA this year despite pitching in Petco Park. Volquez’ problem is poor control, as he has a 5.24 BB/9. It’s just tough to thrive as a starting pitcher when you are constantly putting runners on base.
Mejia got in trouble in his first start because he was doing just that. And when he didn’t strike anybody out, he was just upping the level of difficulty in his efforts to turn in a winning performance. Of course it should be noted that his first start was against the Brewers, the top offensive team in the National League, while his second start was against the Pirates, who are more of a middle-of-the-pack offensive squad.
Still, he got grounders and strikeouts and cut down on his walks. It’s just what we want to see from a pitcher. Another encouraging result was with his swinging strike output. In his outing against the Brewers, Mejis did not register one swing-and-miss strike in 68 pitches thrown. Against the Pirates, Mejia had eight swing-and-miss strikes
According to Brooks Baseball, Mejia averaged 94.03 with his four-seam fastball and hit 96.7 with his best heater. He also mixed in 21 curves, 10 cutters and 6 changeups.
There is still a question if Mejia should be in the rotation or pitching in relief. Many feel he will be a reliever due to his max-effort delivery and his struggle to come up with reliable off-speed pitches. Even last night, when he had a very good outing, Mejia was able to complete just five innings and you need more out of your starting pitcher, especially when he has his good stuff.
Still, the improvement from his last start cannot be easily dismissed. That there remain more improvements to be made should not negate the significance of the ones that were realized in his second start. Fewer walks, more swinging strikes, more strikeouts and no homers allowed were the things that Mejia showed Monday night.
Mejia should get another start, possibly two, before the year is out. Hopefully he will maintain his high ground ball rate and continue to make progress with his walks. As for next year, Mejia absolutely should begin the season as a SP in Triple-A rather than as a reliever in the majors. While his ultimate destination may be the bullpen, right now he still has a chance to make it as a starter, which should be the goal of everyone.
Of course, if Mejia returns to the minors to work as a SP, he’ll be performing in the PCL, playing in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in a league known for offense. Remember to keep that in mind when looking at his numbers. See if he can keep his walks in check while still getting more grounders than fly outs. If he does those two things on a consistent basis, don’t be concerned if the ERA looks a bit unseemly. Because we all know – What happens in Vegas… needs to be put in its proper context.