After a three-week trek along the Sahara desert, Royals Insider, tainted, grey beard and all, emerges from the ashes and focuses on starting rotation centerpiece Gil Meche, or GilgaMeche, as we Royals fans affectionately deem him.
The $55 million man.
In eleven seasons with the Seattle Mariners organization, Meche followed a career path of a pitcher long on promise and potential, but short on results. Oh, sure, he combined for a respectable 100 ERA+ throughout his entire Emerald City tenure, but posted somewhat underwhelming ERA's of 4.59, 5.01, 5.09, and 4.48 in his final four years in the uniform. Meche possessed a 92-94mph fastball and a 12-6 curveball, but could never coax his potential as a frontline ('frontline', in this case meaning #1 or #2 starting pitcher) starter into fruition. He was a fine #3/#4 pitcher, but General Manager Bill Bavasi and the Mariners front office knew that, by the 2006-07 offseason, an offseason whose Free Agent market was loaded with mediocre to slightly above average starting pitching and many teams desperate for arms, he would command a multi-year contract. After many years of striving to force Meche's hand as a frontline, by then the Mariners concluded his production superceded his actual rotation value.
Thus, like mother eagles soaring over their young, in flew General Manager Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals scouting crew.
Moore felt Meche possessed the makeup of a bonafide ace starting pitcher. If Meche could coax an otherwise terrific curveball and well above average fastball at the ripe age of 28, he could succeed as a legitimate frontline starting pitcher for many years. On December 7, 2006, the Royals signed Gil Meche to a five-year, $55 million contract. Royals fans had grown accustomed to this style of offering, as franchise face and perennial captain and D.L. All-Star Mike Sweeney had, four years prior, been rewarded with 5/$55. The specifics of Meche's contract would be as follows:
TOTAL AMOUNT: 5 Years / $55 MM
Signing Bonus: $2MM
Award Bonuses: $0.1M for WS MVP, $0.1M for MVP ($50,000 for 2nd-5th), $0.1M for Cy Young ($50,000 for 2nd-5th), $50,000 for Gold Glove, LCS MVP or All Star selection
No Trade Clause
Meche had bypassed similar offers from the Chicago Cubs and the Toronto Blue Jays, and ultimately decided the offer that contained that fifth season, the offer submitted by the Kansas City Royals. That the signing generated enormous controversy is a slight understatement. The signing even triggered spirited banter between two front offices.
After the Royals landed free-agent Gil Meche to a five-year, $55 million deal, Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi questioned Meche's competitiveness. "When a guy talks about coming to our place where he has a chance to win and compete against the Yankees and the Red Sox," Ricciardi told USA Today, "and then he goes to a place like Kansas City, that's an eye-opener."
Royals manager Buddy Bell, among others in Kansas City, took offence.
"(Ricciardi) is an interesting guy for all that he's done in the game," Bell told the Kansas City Star. "He's a little guy with a big mouth and all he does is whine. And you can write that. That's the kind of crap in this game that drives me crazy. He knows nothing about our situation. You've got to be kidding me. Every time I hear this guy talk, all he's doing is whining."
In a chatlog, Baseball Prospectus Managing Partner Nate Silver deemed the contract a risk, calling the contract a potential albatross with a possible reward if Meche stays healthy and reasonably effective.
In addition, both SI.com analyst Jon Heyman and ESPN.com writer Rob Neyer strongly disagreed with Dayton Moore's decision to sign Gil. However, The Daily Lancer countered with some more meaningful perspective.
I think we may very well look back at this move as the defining moment of Dayton's era. It could be the day we rue as when we trapped ourself into an awful contract because we were desperate. Or it could be the bold stroke that pushes the Royals out of being known as a punching bag in baseball--the day the Royals became winners again. Today we are left to wonder and hope. And right now hope seems worth $55 million.
Indeed, Meche had the security of a long-term contract and lots 'n' lotsa dough. However, he needed to prove committed to a) staying healthy throughout his entire tenure, b) improving any mechanical flaws that may have resulted in less-than-stellar ERA+'s in Seattle, and c) simply proving the doubters false, which in turn is embedded in a) and b).
What could Royals fans - those easily the most knowledgable and informed about the small-market, midwestern team - possibly conclude about an acquisition of this enormity? No single definite conclusion arose; however, multiple analyses did. Some Royals fans deemed Moore foolish for making such a high-priced acquisition when it was obvious that our measures should have gone far beyond that of one, two, or even three 'marginal' players. Some Royals fans were finally glad Glass had opened the pursestrings and committed to a Major League budget in a Major League market. Many Royals fans remained cautiously optimistic, but in the back of their minds feared that Gil Meche would become the could'a been, albatross bust that so many recent acquisitions had in recent time. As a Royals fan, I affectionately call the contract exactly that. "The Contract". 5-$55MM for #55. Nevertheless, Dayton Moore was convinced that he had found our much-needed starting pitching ace.
We were proud to be a part of the process and delighted that Gil Meche made the decision to join the Royals.....He is an impact pitching talent who fits in with our plan for long term success. At 28, he is entering the prime of his career.
Moore instilled trust in pitching coach Bob McClure to tweak his delivery to maximize his potential. In a 40-pitch batting practice session early in the following Spring Training, McClure noticed a mechanical flaw in Meche's delivery. Meche countered that he felt much better than he felt before.
Despite experiencing a mild right hamstring strain in April and tightness in his lower back in June, Meche started 34 games for the Royals, indeed proving them haters wrong by compiling well above average results. Below are his final numbers.
Attached are statistics borrowed from Gil Meche's Player Card, courteously posted - along with literally hundreds of other pitchers - over at From Small Ball To The Long Ball. Note that I did not create or assist in forming this data.
Percent Thrown: 46.7
Percent Vs. RHB: 44.65
Percent Vs. LHB: 48.34
Movement in x (in.): -5.2
Movement in z (in.): 10.81
Initial Speed (MPH): 92.91
Percent Thrown: 22.25
Percent Vs. RHB: 19.53
Percent Vs. LHB: 24.41
Movement in x (in.): 3.71
Movement in z (in.): -7.52
Initial Speed (MPH): 77.95
Percent Thrown: 16.35
Percent Vs. RHB: 28.53
Percent Vs. LHB: 6.66
Movement in x (in.): 1.23
Movement in z (in.): 5.07
Initial Speed (MPH): 87.91
Percent Thrown: 14.7
Percent Vs. RHB: 7.29
Percent Vs. LHB: 20.59
Movement in x (in.): -8.45
Movement in z (in.): 7.8
Initial Speed (MPH): 83.26
Top Pitcher Comparisons (limited to select names):
Kyle Lohse: 97.73
Javier Vazquez: 97.46
Boof Bonser: 97.45
Brian Bannister: 97.19
Despite allowing a modest 22 home runs and allowing opponents to score an underwhelming .298 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against him, Meche succeeded as a frontline starting pitcher, posting 23 quality starts and pitching at least seven innings fourteen times.
Is this reason to believe Meche can continue posting excellent results in the remaining four years of his contract? For the following two or three offseasons, and given the publicity the contract received, that question will probably cross the minds of Royals fans casual and dedicated. Warning signs include that relatively high BABIP, high pitch counts, and the HR/9.
However, shaving almost 200 runs allowed off the pitching staff from 2006 to 2007, and acquiring such young potentially great pitchers such as Brian Bannister and Joakim Soria, Moore has himself proven a keen eye toward acquiring pitching talent via all routes, high profile Free Agent and scrapheap alike. If Meche can continue mixing a 12-6 curveball with his 92-94mph. fastball with movement, he can succeed with results similar to 2007.
Indeed, Gil Meche was a significant factor in the Royals finishing 7th out of 14 American League teams in ERA last season.
Below are my predictions for Gil Meche in 2008.
Improves upon 2007: 15%
Repeats 2007 form (3.5-4.0 ERA): 30%
Slight regression from 2007: 35%
Dramatic regression from 2007: 20%
Remains in Kansas City all season: 100%
Misses 3 or more starts: 25%
In conclusion, I feel Meche is due to regress slightly from his 2007, mostly due to the fact that I feel he was slightly lucky that year in terms of BABIP and WHIP. However, I feel McClure's tutelage has proven to be respectable, and I feel he can continue to help Meche continue to beat his projections in the coming four seasons. I feel Meche's strikeout rate will likely improve as he matures enough to finish those many 3-2 counts. His walk rate will likely increase by a bit and his home-run rate will decrease ever so slightly. However, he will surrender more singles and doubles than he did last year, resulting in slightly more runs. Again, some of my predictions aren't based entirely on predictions; rather, I have a hunch he will regress slightly, but not as slightly as other prediction systems might suggest. As a comparison, here are several more major systems' projection:
PECOTA: 4.55 ERA, 21.4 VORP, 4.0 WARP
ZiPS: 4.55 ERA, 188 IP, 126 K, 66 BB
CHONE: 4.41 ERA, 196 IP, 137 K, 71 BB
Marcel: 4.26 ERA, 186 IP, 139 K, 70 BB
How do you feel Gil Meche fare in Contract Year #2, 2008?