In his short major league career, Jenrry Mejia has generated a 61.3% ground ball rate. With league average at 44.6%, Mejia’s ability to facilitate contact on the ground speaks to the movement he inflicts on a baseball.
Very few pitchers have pitched seasons with a GB% at above Mejia’s 61.3% in the past 12 years, as far back as FanGraphs reports.
|Lowe||2002||66.8%||219.2||5.4||21-8, 2.58 ERA, 3rd place Cy Young voting|
|Brandon Webb||2006||66.3%||235||6.3||Cy Young Award Winner|
|Webb||2008||64.2%||226.2||5.5||22 W, 2nd place Cy Young|
|Chien-Ming Wang||2006||62.8%||218||4.1||2nd place Cy Young|
|Kevin Brown||2003||62.5%||211||5.4||2.39 ERA|
|Webb||2007||61.8%||236.1||6.2||2nd place Cy Young|
- Mejia’s sample size is not large enough to say with confidence that he will repeat his GB% over the course of an entire season.
- Mejia’s GB% in the minors mirrors but does not exceed, as an average, what he has pitched to in the big leagues. Some seasons, though, are far higher. With the addition of a new and seemingly effective slider, the expectation for extreme GB% should continue.
- Notice the innings pitched in the chart above. In 14 of the 19 seasons in which a pitcher’s GB% was above 61.3% for a qualified season, that pitcher threw at least 210 innings.
- No pitcher has pitched to a rate of 62% in any of the past three years.
- Notice the WAR in the above chart. The average of all of these seasons is 4.04 fWAR.
- Many pitchers have success by obtaining outs in the air. Justin Verlander and Johan Santana are two of many who regularly pitched with low ground ball rates and have won many Cy Youngs doing so. However, the upper echelon of ground ball pitchers have had equal, if not better, success. Reducing the GB% to 58%, names like Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, and Greg Maddux start to appear.
In conclusion, the campaign for Mejia as the 5th starter on the 2014 Mets should already be have strong support following his handful of brilliant starts in 2013. Short of an injury or a poor spring performance, there would be no reason he does not get every opportunity to start games for the Mets this year. Despite his likelihood of starting in the big leagues this year, it is worth noting just how dominant extreme ground ball pitchers have been. Mejia, with his impressive movement, assortment of breaking pitches and history of high ground ball rates could become one of these pitchers.
A 4.0 fWAR is an All-Star performance. Only 21 pitchers achieved that mark in 2013. Of the 21 to reach this mark, 14 were pitchers with above average ground ball rates. There have been a number of rumors about replacing Ruben Tejada with a bat-first, fringe-defense young shortstop from another team. If there is no other reason for keeping Ruben Tejada, consider how many ground balls are going to be on the infield with the likes of Mejia, Niese, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Gee —all ground ball pitchers— facing opposing batters. Infield defense will be paramount for the 2014 Mets. Murphy already defends at a below average (yet acceptable) rate. A shortstop who reduces the quality of the infield defense goes a long way towards letting more runs cross the plate. That cannot happen.
Mejia has a talent that could be team changing. His ability to generate ground ball outs, maintain a high strikeout rate, maintain a low walk rate, and limit his pitches per inning could not just make him a solid starter, but one of the better arms in the National League. Keith Law recently opined that Mejia still has the ceiling of a number-two starter in baseball. In light of this data and having seen his potential last year, Law might be on to something.
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