A Closer look at Jenrry Mejia’s First Start of 2014 | Astromets Mind

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Closer look at Jenrry Mejia’s First Start of 2014

            Jenrry Mejia was pretty electric at times during his first start (4/4) of 2014; often looking a lot like the ace we got a glimpse of in July-August, 2013, and giving the Mets their first win of the season. Since I consider Mejia a very important part of the Mets future, I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at how he got through the game. I also wanted to mention that you should expect more to come from me – I have many writing project ideas – both Mets and actuarial exam related – and would like to post something weekly, usually on Tuesday or Wednesday morning. If I have a chance to write something shorter during the week, I look forward to doing so. I wanted to write this post before the Mets won in grand fashion Saturday afternoon, but Hannibal was on after the Mets win Friday night (my wife’s new favorite show ever), and I was tired but trying to be productive by studying for my actuarial exams Saturday morning. I enjoy listening to and watching (when possible) Mets minor league games, so I may try doing recaps on interesting games I see throughout the summer too -speaking of, Jacob deGrom is looking in total control in his 2014 AAA debut as I write this, finished with 6 IP, 6 K, 1 BB, 4 H, 1 R.
On to the exciting part, Jenrry Mejia! I used the pitch/FX data available at BrooksBaseball.BaseballProspectus.com for this discussion. You can skip ahead to the good stuff at the end if you don't want a batter-by-batter summary
First Inning: Coming out dominant.
-                Needed 4 pitches to strike out Bernadina, froze him with a nasty curve on a 1-2 count.
-                Phillips fouled off 5 pitches before being robbed of a HR by Eric Young on a changeup with a 1-2 count.
-                Got Votto to strikeout swinging on a 3-2 change-up, the first pitch he threw in the zone during that at-bat.
Totals: 18 pitches, 13 strikes, 72% strikes, 2 SO’s, 1 long fly-out
Second Inning: Continued dominance, small hiccup.
-                Completely owned Bruce with a fastball on the inside paint that froze him, low change up that he swung through, and outside fastball that froze him again.
-                Got Ludwick swinging on a 1-2 fastball low and outside. Ump gave Mejia the borderline call on the first pitch in nearly the same place.
-                Gave up a single to Frazier on a 1-2 changeup a little low but over the middle. Was surprised anyone made contact at this point.
-                Walked Pena on a 3-2 count, threw 6 cutters that all missed the strike zone. Was consistently throwing ~90 mph with his fastball by this point, after sitting 92-93 much of the first inning.
-                Got out of his jam by striking out Santiago looking with a 1-2 fastball on the outside corner, the same place he froze Santiago to start the at-bat.
Totals: 22, 15, 68%, 3 SO’s, 1 single, 1 BB
Third Inning: Some trouble, but it was mostly self-made.
-                Got Leake to ground out on a 1-2 count
-                Walked Bernadina on 4 pitches as close to the strike zone without being a strike as possible – his third pitch was actually in the zone per Pitch/FX. Umps often gives such a close 3-0 pitch to the pitcher, but it wasn’t to be – Mejia is usually going to get some swings on such close pitching, especially if he can get a reputation for having better control.
-                Phillips lined an 0-1 fastball off Mejia’s leg, d’Arnaud recovered the ball and threw him out at first. Was a little worried for Mejia at first, second straight start he was hit by a comebacker, but he looked fine. Didn’t get to see the defensive alignment, but it would’ve either been a single or an easy double play if not for hitting Mejia’s leg. Ump made up for non-strike calls in last at-bat with a very generous first strike on a low fastball.
-                Another generous low fastball strike made it 3-2, but Mejia would walk Votto on the 7th pitch of this at-bat, though he didn’t appear to have any effects from being hit in the leg.
-                Bruce lined a first pitch fastball, inside and belt high, into CF to give the Reds a 1-0 lead. It was a pretty straight fastball in one of Bruce’s best hitting zones, data also available at the Brooks Baseball site – not exactly what Mejia was trying to do there. Pitchers are allowed mistakes though, they are expected, and this one only cost him 1 run.
-                Ended the inning without more damage by getting Ludwick to ground out on another first pitch fastball belt high and over the plate. The pitch had more movement than the one to Bruce, but still likely not what he was going for with location.
Totals: 19, 10, 53%, 1 single, 2 BB’s, 1 R, 3 ground outs
Fourth Inning: A needed quick inning considering his high pitch count coming in.
-                Got Frazier to pop out to Murph on an 0-1 fastball at the knees. Mejia had good cut on both pitches, so Frazier really had no chance. ;)
-                Was all over the place with fastballs only as he walked Pena for the second time on a 3-2 count, the 4th walk for Mejia over a 10-batter span.
-                Got Santiago to ground out to 1B on another first pitch fastball. Duda got to the ball quick and made a quick throw to Tejada, but he couldn’t get the return throw back in time. Not sure how many 1B/SS combos make that play, but it was frustrating that the Mets were ¼ on possible double plays last night.
-                Blew 3 fastballs by Leake, who swung through all of them. Would’ve been nice to start the fifth with this at-bat.
Totals: 12, 8, 67%, 1 SO, 1BB, 1 pop up, 1 GO
Fifth Inning: A little wild but effective.
-                Again failed to throw a pitch in the strike zone among five fastballs to Bernadina, though he got a called strike on a close one this time. His 5th BB in 13 batters.
-                Got Phillips to ground into a double play – Murphy to Tejada to Duda – on a first pitch fastball at the knees. Love double plays!
-                After four fastballs produced a 2-2 count, Votto lined a slider over the middle of the plate to Lagares in CF for a single. Left the slider up and Votto made him pay, though nothing too serious.
-                The Ump called a lot of just-low strikes during the game and Mejia was helped by 2 such strikes against Bruce as he struck him out for the second time, this time on 4 pitches, to end the 5th. Froze Bruce with a curve just below the knees to start, and then bounced a second curve in the dirt. Bruce continued to not swing at a changeup just below the knees and a fastball in the middle of the plate. Not exactly where Mejia should be throwing a 1-2 fastball, but what is Bruce thinking taking that pitch?
Totals: 15, 8, 53%, 1 SO, 1 BB, 1 single, 1 GO – GIDP
Sixth Inning: O, the double plays that could’ve been. Got into trouble, but was dealing just fine.
-                Led Ludwick off with consecutive sliders – froze him with one on the inside, got a big swing-and-miss on one low – before giving up a single on a fastball over the middle of the plate, a rare mistake for Mejia.
-                Got Frazier to ground out to Murph near 2B on a 2-1 fastball, but Murph made an odd error and was unable to record any outs. Outside of the 5 BB’s, this one of the rare counts Mejia was behind in all night.
-                Finally threw a 1-0 fastball in the strike zone against Pena, which he softly lined out to Granderson.
-                On a high 0-1 fastball, Santiago grounded out to Duda for the second double play opportunity of the inning (and of the night for Duda), but again the Mets cannot convert, only retiring Frazier at 2B.
-                In perhaps an odd move, Leake stayed in to bat with runners on the corners, 2 out, Reds down 2-1. Worked for Mejia, who threw 3 fastballs that Leake fouled off before striking him out on a high slider that Leake foul-tipped into d’Arnaud’s glove.
Totals: 15, 12, 80%, 1 SO, 1 single, 1 FO, 1 GO, 1 error, 2 botched double plays
Final Breakdown for Mejia: 6 IP, 27 batters faced, 101 pitches, 66 strikes, 65% (11% swinging strike), 8 SO, 5 BB, 4 singles, 3 FO (1 a pop up) and 6 GO – ¼ possible double plays completed and 1 that should have been but was botched for an error. He had 18/27 first pitch strikes, which would be one of the top rates in the majors over a full season. His pitch selection breakdown was: 71 fastballs, 14 curveballs, 9 changeups and 7 sliders. His average fastball speed was 90 MPH, which is down from his nearly 93 MPH average last season.
As I mentioned above, his speed was fine in the first inning, but he often worked around 90 MPH after that. I do not think it should be a concern yet, however, as he proved capable of adding speed at key times – his second to last pitch of the night was 92.5 MPH, ended the 4th with 92.4 MPH heat, 92.7 MPH right before SO of Santiago to end 2nd – and he was usually in excellent control at the lower speed. That last comment may seem odd to say considering his 5 BB’s, but he was in great control against the other 22 batters he faced. He only had one other 3-ball count – to Joey Votto in the first – and two other 2-ball counts, including one against Joey Votto in the 5th. Those 22 batters faced 73 pitches, 58 for strikes (80 %!!). Another odd thing about those 5 BB’s is that 18/20 of the balls during the at-bats were fastballs, something he was otherwise in excellent control of – he had a 66% overall strike rate on fastballs, 83% strike rate against the other 22 batters faced.
You can’t ignore the 5 guys he walked, but I think the more important question is what caused him to walk that many? The Votto walk with 2 outs and Bernadina on 2B makes sense, as you don’t want the other teams best hitter to beat you, but two walks apiece to Bernadina and Pena – 3 of which were with the bases empty and 3 were fastballs only – do not make sense, especially considering his otherwise excellent control. If I hadn’t watched the game, I would have thought those other walks were a result of loss of focus by Mejia, but I did not get that sense watching on TV - did you?
Overall, the only thing it seems Mejia needs to improve upon from this start is the random, unwarranted walk. When he wasn’t striking guys out, he was mostly getting hitters to hit ground balls, which led to 4 double play chances when runners got on base. He only gave up 4 singles, so damage was going to be limited against him, and he seemed to manage the lineup perfectly. His fastball has so much movement at times that batters just cannot square it up, which leads to all the grounders and weak fly balls. He certainly needs to give a little credit for earning the W himself to EY, who robbed Phillips of a HR in the 1st inning that might’ve change the whole game, but would have at least been enough to give the Reds a tie later on. Certainly was fun to see him back on the mound though. Hard to believe there was ever a question about whether he should be the Mets ‘fifth starter’ after a dominant performance like this one – he could easily end up their best starter this season. I know he will have an innings limit and it’s just one start, but after 4 years of bullpen and injury delays, it finally feels like Jenrry Mejia has arrived, and that feels amazing!
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