02 April 2014

What Should You Know About Evan Meek?

Evan Meek, making his O's debut (photo: Keith Allison)
Evan Meek is on the Orioles. He is in their bullpen. And on Monday, he got the call ahead of Darren O'Day and Ryan Webb to pitch on opening day against the Red Sox in the eighth inning of a one-run game. I'm not sure who could have seen that coming.

In two-thirds of an inning in the O's 2-1 win, Meek wasn't good. He walked the leadoff batter, then made a nifty little play at first base after a sharply hit ball ricocheted off of Chris Davis's glove. Meek struck out the third batter he faced but walked the fourth. He then exited the game and in came Brian Matusz, who got the third out.

Regardless, it's an impressive comeback story for Meek. Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore noted why:
I'll admit that I didn't pay that much attention when the Orioles signed Meek to a minor league deal in February. Dan Duquette loves his minor league signings and keeps them coming. Apparently Meek contacted Orioles bench coach (and former Pirates manager) John Russell earlier in the offseason, looking for any kind of opportunity to pitch in the majors. Russell managed the Pirates from 2008-2010, so he was obviously familiar with Meek. He impressed the O's enough to sign him. Buck Showalter was pretty happy to bring Meek on board:
"Evan's got a chance to make our bullpen," Showalter said. "That was an exciting late add for me, because I think he's got a chance, especially if he's back physically all the way. [In 2010], he was about as good as there was in the National League. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch and see where he is."
Meek did indeed put together an effective (but partly BABIP-fueled) 2010 season: 80 IP, 7.88 K/9, 3.49 BB/9, 0.56 HR/9, 2.14 ERA. Showalter's comments are a bit hyperbolic, but Meek did have a solid season and could realistically be useful again. However, he only pitched in 32.2 combined innings in 2011 and 2012 while battling shoulder injuries.

Now that Meek is healthy, it will be interesting to see if Showalter was correct in his excitement. Meek, who turns 31 in May, not only had not (until Monday) pitched in the majors for a while, but he wasn't that spectacular before, either. He's only thrown a combined 173.1 innings over parts of five major league seasons. Other than 2010, Meek also hasn't pitched in more than 47 innings in any major league season. He pitched for the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate in 2013, and that's it. And it wasn't like he was dominant; in 108 innings, he had a K/9 of 6.67 and a BB/9 of 3.83 (and a 4.50 ERA). It's worth noting that he did start 15 games while filling a rotation spot. He has zero career major league starts.

Year Age Tm ERA IP H R ER ERA+ H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
2008 25 PIT 6.92 13.0 11 11 10 62 7.6 2.1 8.3 4.8
2009 26 PIT 3.45 47.0 34 18 18 122 6.5 0.4 5.6 8.0
2010 27 PIT 2.14 80.0 53 25 19 189 6.0 0.6 3.5 7.9
2011 28 PIT 3.48 20.2 27 11 8 108 11.8 0.4 5.2 7.4
2012 29 PIT 6.75 12.0 14 9 9 57 10.5 0.8 4.5 6.0
2014 31 BAL 0.00 0.2 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 27.0 13.5
6 Yrs 3.32 173.1 139 74 64 122 7.2 0.6 4.8 7.5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/1/2014.

Meek was originally drafted by the Twins in 2002. He was released in 2005, signed by the Padres, traded to the Rays in 2006, and then selected by the Pirates in the 2007 Rule 5 draft. In May of 2008, when the Pirates removed Meek from their active roster, he was offered back to the Rays. Instead, the Pirates simply purchased Meek from the Rays, and he remained with Pittsburgh until he was released at the end of the 2012 season.

According to Brooks Baseball, Meek currently throws three pitches: a four-seam fastball, curveball, and change-up. Until recently, he mostly just threw fastballs and curveballs. He uses his fastball about three-quarters of the time, but now he can sprinkle in the change-up as well (which he seemingly picked up in 2013, perhaps because he needed a third pitch as a starter). Over the years, he has also been relying less on his curveball. On Monday, per Brooks Baseball, of Meek's 19 pitches, 18 were fastballs. He also threw one change-up. Only nine of his pitches found the strikezone.

One problem for Meek has been his declining fastball velocity. Since having a peak of around 95 mph on his fastball in 2010, his fastball velocities have steadily declined each season. In his appearance on Monday, Meek's fastball was clocked between 88-90 mph. Brooks Baseball had him at an average of 89.99 mph, while Pitch f/x data on FanGraphs had him at an average of 88.4 mph. That may not be enough for him to be successful, especially if he's going to have issues with walks, but it's just one appearance. Meek's velocity seemed to be a little better in spring training, for what it's worth.

Obviously Meek hasn't pitched a whole lot in the majors -- both overall and recently -- so it will be interesting to see what happens next. Maybe Showalter's plan is to see what Meek can do against major league hitters before Troy Patton returns from his 25-game suspension. That's one possible reason why he was summoned to pitch ahead of O'Day and Webb. If Meek is effective, maybe he'll stay on the roster. But Zach Britton (who pitched much better than Meek on Monday) has no options left. Neither does Josh Stinson. And barring injury, none of the other relievers are going anywhere. The Orioles are in win-now mode, so they probably aren't in a position to simply let Meek hang around for a few months just to see if he has anything left. If Meek is going to stick around, he's going to have to pitch well fairly soon.

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