Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Royals Need Improvement from Meche

The Kansas City Royals have gotten off to a solid start to the 2008 season, winning eight of their first 14 games, and moving back and forth between first and second place in the American Legaue Central standings. But the team's ace, Gil Meche, has yet to contribute to that success.

Through his first three starts, Meche is 0-2 with an elevated 7.13 earned run average. His control has been off, as evidenced by 10 bases on balls issued in just 17.2 innings pitched, and he just seems to be struggling to throw breaking balls for strikes.

I was thinking I could simply look up the stats from Meche's first three starts of 2007, compare them to the numbers from his first three starts of 2008, and it would reveal an obvious reason for his stuggles, but his numbers are pretty consistent to what he had done to this point last year.

Through three games in 2007, Meche had thrown 296 pitches (187 for strikes), had allowed three home runs, and opponents were hitting .288/.329/.438 against him. Through three games this year, Meche has thrown 294 pitches (183 for strikes), has allowed three home runs, and opponents are batting .275/.367/.493 against him.

Those are fairly similar numbers for what is a drastic difference in ERA from one season to the next. I was particularly amazed at the similarities in his pitch totals, and the numbers that were thrown for strikes, because the biggest difference in 2007 and 2008 for Meche is in bases on balls. Last year at this point, Meche had surrendered four walks, but this year's total is 10, which also explains the difference in OBP.

Since Meche's control has been iffy, he might simply be throwing more balls over the middle of the plate so far this season. Those balls are getting hit hard, as nine of the 19 hits he's allowed this year have gone for extra bases, compared to just five of 21 at this point last year.

Meche also hasn't been helped by a continuing lack of run support when he's on the mound. In 2007, the Royals scored an average of just 3.84 runs per game when Meche pitched, which ranked last in the A.L. and was the fourth-worst average in all of baseball.

Kansas City added free agent slugger Jose Guillen to the middle of its lineup during the offseason, which many hoped would bolster the Royals' offensive woes. But Guillen enters tonight's game with a .158 batting average and has yet to hit a home run in a Royals uniform.

Guillen isn't the only player to blame for Meche's lack of run support, but his support this season has been even worse than last year's, at just 2.79 runs per game. I believe that much of that has to do with the fact that, as the Royals' ace, Meche is often matched up against opposing teams' aces. It's not simply a matter of bad luck, as some people seem to think.

Whatever the issue has been through three games, Kansas City fans are hoping that Meche can figure things out, tighten up his control, and find the form that helped him finish last season with nine wins and a 3.67 ERA.

Meche gets his fourth start of the season tonight in Anaheim against a tough Angels lineup. I'm hoping we see the return of last year's consistency on display once again. The Royals need their ace to be just that.

Gil Meche Photo Credit: Paul Battaglia/AP

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