Evan Meek, who was an All-Star in 2010, missed much of last season due to injury. He was expected to return this season as the regular set-up man for closer Joel Hanrahan. However, we knew something wasn’t right when it was announced that Jason Grilli and Juan Cruz would be the main set-up men in the Pirates bullpen.
Meek didn’t look great in spring training (4.63 ERA in 11.2 innings) and has been shaky to start the season (6.23 ERA in 8.2 innings). Here’s his game log so far:
He’s looked good in some outings (PHI, SF, ARI, STL) but bad in others (LAD, ARI, STL, ATL).
While watching Friday night’s game vs. Atlanta, it seemed Meek was leaving his pitches up in the zone, and the consequences were evident.
He entered the game with his work cut out for him. Tony Watson left the bases loaded with one out and Dan Uggla coming to the plate. His first pitch was a fastball clocked at 94 mph, but was high for ball #1. His next offering, a 91 mph fastball, was right in Uggla’s wheelhouse. Here’s the Strikezone Plot, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
As you can see, Meek left his second pitch up in the zone, which Uggla roped for a double, knocking in two runs.
Chipper Jones came up next with runners on second and third. Meek left a 93 mph fastball over the middle of the plate, but Jones didn’t offer on the pitch. He then attacked him with an 80 mph slider, down and in, which Chipper fouled off. Then, on the 0-2 count, Meek left one up in the zone, which Chipper stroked for a two-run single. Here’s Brooks Baseball’s Stikezone Plot for the at-bat:
As you can see, Meek was once again up in the zone with the fastball, and Jones promptly drove in the runs. In this situation, he needs to be more careful locating the fastball, as you can’t afford to allow the batter to get a good pitch with runners in scoring position.
The third and final hit that Meek surrendered was to opposing relief pitcher Kris Medlen. He got away with two straight fastballs up in the zone (91 and 92 mph, respectively), and then left a slider over the outer-half of the plate. Here’s the Strikezone Plot:
Once again, you can see that Meek got careless with his fastball by leaving it up in the zone.
However, when Meek better located the fastball and boosted his velocity, he was able to get some outs. He retired Jason Heyward on just one pitch, seen here on the Strikezone Plot:
Although Meek kept it more vertically in the heart of the zone, the pitch was clocked at 95 mph and thus jammed up Heyward since it was on the inner-half.
The same pattern can be seen on the Strikezone Plot when Meek got Tyler Pastornicky to ground out. He better located his fastball and got him to ground out on a 94 mph fastball, down and in:
Meek saw the consequences of leaving the ball up in the zone, as well as the success he had while commanding his pitches. The Strikezone Plots provide solid evidence of Meek leaving some of his pitches too high.
Simply put, Meek needs to better locate his fastball, whether he is getting careless or if it’s a serious control issue. He cannot afford to leave those pitches up in the zone, especially when his fastball velocity sinks down to the low 90’s. If Meek wants to keep his job and regain his 2010 All-Star form, he must find his control and be more consistent with his velocity. The Pirates pitching has been there strong suit, and the bullpen is certainly not a good place to crumble.