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Adalberto Mejia: High Floor or More?

Few moments in life result in genuine anticipation. For me, they are predictable. My wedding day, the birth of my daughter and waiting for a starting pitcher to sign this offseason. In an effort to fill this continually unexciting, and harrowingly stagnant alternate reality in which starting pitchers are no longer required to complete baseball games, I’m taking a stand. I’m going to forget about all the upside that could improve the Twins rotation and focus on what we already have. Namely, Adalberto Mejia.
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Mejia ‘hasn’t gotten a ton of ink’ at Twins Daily this offseason. Those are Tom Froemming’s words, I can’t pull that sentence off. The point remains, Mejia can be an afterthought in a Twins rotation resplendent with uncertain back end options. He’s most likely the leading candidate for the fifth starter role in 2018, but should he be?

The Twins acquired Mejia in a sell-high swap of Eduardo Nunez, traded on the back of an outstanding(ly lucky) first half for Minnesota in 2016. Mejia was one of the Giants’ better thought of prospects (No. 10 according to Baseball Prospectus) in a weaker system. At the time, he was thought of more as having a high floor than high ceiling. After an up and down 2017 season, what does Mejia offer the Twins? And what does he need to do to take a step forward and cement his position as a more consistent back of the rotation starter?

Let’s start with what Mejia has. He’s a 6-foot-3 lefty, who checks in at 195 lbs. according to FanGraphs (lies!). He relies in a pretty typical four-pitch mix. Mejia throws a four seam fastball (avg. 93 mph), a slider (avg. 84 mph), a changeup (avg. 84 mpg) and a sinker (avg. 92 mph). All four of his pitches have slightly above average velocity, but none of them are going to blow you away.

Mejia’s mechanics went through some adjustments over the course of the 2017 season. In April (a month in which Mejia struggled significantly) his release point was significantly lower on all four of his pitches than it was by the season’s end. His average fastball started the season with a release point of 6.0 ft. and finished with a release point of 6.31 ft., a significant difference. This ‘straightening up’ allowed Mejia to generate a little more vertical movement on all of his off-speed pitches as the season progressed. The graphs below track Mejia's vertical release point and vertical movement for his four primary pitches throughout the 2017 season.
Attached Image: Mejia1.jpeg
Attached Image: Mejia2.jpeg
In spite of this increase in movement, Mejia struggled to generate a consistently strong secondary pitch throughout the 2017 season. Mejia left a few of his sliders over the plate, which, with minimal break on the pitch, led to said few being crushed for home runs. His lack of a strong secondary pitch most impacted his fastball, however, allowing hitters to wait on it and tee off on the pitch to the tune of a .921 OPS. Mejia did split his breaking pitch mix between his slider and a curveball (which he threw around 10 percent of the time). Mejia’s curveball showed promise, registering at season’s end as his only plus pitch.

If there is one factor in determining whether Mejia can solidify himself as a solid back end option for the Twins, it is his fastball control. Overall, Mejia had an ugly walk rate of 4.04 BB/9 in 2017. Mejia was only able to generate 34 percent ground balls on his fastball. Looking at his heat map for first-pitch fastballs, it’s easy to see why. The heat map below shows the location of Mejia’s fastball when deployed as the first pitch to right-handed hitters. It’s notable that Mejia 1) struggles to find the zone and establish his fastball against RHH, and 2) Mejia leaves a considerable number of the fastballs which do find the strike zone over the middle of the plate.
Attached Image: Mejia3.gif
One of the limitations of Mejia’s fastball in 2018 is how eminently hittable it is. This is noticeable in a comparison between Mejia’s fastball and that of Jose Berrios. O-Contact% measures the amount of contact hitters make with a particular pitch when it is thrown outside the strike zone. In 2017, opposing hitters made contact with around 60 percent of Berrios’ fastballs located outside the strike zone. For Mejia the figure was just under 80 percent. Over the course of the season, this equates to around 150 extra fastballs which weren’t in the strike zone getting contacted when comparing Berrios and Mejia.

When your fastball isn’t a plus pitch, that’s a big deal. Mejia doesn’t have the movement or velocity to blow people away or create much deception in his pitches. In order to be successful, he needs to develop his ability to control his fastball and command it using the strike zone more deliberately.

Finally, it’s interesting to note exactly when Mejia got himself into his biggest messes on the mound. You might think that a pitcher struggling with control would walk more hitters with men on base, but these situations were actually where Mejia clamped down. His greatest struggles came in low leverage situations in which he had a BB/9 of 5.34, as opposed to 1.29 in high-leverage situations. To put this another way, Mejia had a BB/9 of 5.73 when the bases where empty, as opposed to just 2.67 with men on base.

Mejia remains an interesting option for the Twins going into the 2018 season. He will remain a bargain, given the price Minnesota paid for him. His 2018 impact is really dependent on two key factors moving forwards: Getting ahead of hitters and improving one of his breaking pitches to offset his fastball more effectively. If Mejia can take steps forward in these areas, the Twins should have a solid No. 5.

Who do you think is the favorite for the Twins fifth starting pitching roster spot ahead of spring training?

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43 Comments

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puckstopper1
Feb 04 2018 03:24 PM

Thanks for the thoughts Jamie.To me Mejia is a wildcard for 2018.I really hope he can step up and grab a rotation spot for two reason.1) It gives the Twins a lefty starter.2) It allows some of the young guys (Gonsalves, Romero, etc.) more (likely needed) time to develop in AAA.

 

Come on Alalberto - grab this opportunity and run with it!

    • glunn, bluechipper, tarheeltwinsfan and 5 others like this

This is great. I'm glad you used Berrios as a point of comparison because I see some similarities in their first-year control issues. Berrios in 2016 and Mejia in 2017 both had trouble finding the strike zone consistently with their fastball, and I think that allowed hitters to spit on their breaking pitches and wait for a fastball in the zone.

 

Berrios went from a 6.9% BB rate in the minors to a 12.5% BB rate in his first year in the majors, but then he was able to drop it back down to 7.8% in 2017. Mejia's control issues weren't quite as extreme (5.3 in the minors to 9.9 in the majors), but if he can iron out the fastball control (and especially command since his breaking stuff isn't as electric as Berrios's), it could make a huge difference.

    • glunn, Oldgoat_MN, Danchat and 3 others like this

I'll throw in another vote for Fastball Control.

 

I liked watching him pitch but it was edge of my seat stuff because he never seemed in control. His stuff is decent but just OK... I like his slider it seems to be on the plus side but he can't live by that.

 

He will need to spot his fastball in my opinion and that will make everything else more effective. 

 

He's just finding his way... if he finds it... he could carve out a career and help us win some games. If he doesn't... we will be looking for the next man up. 

 

I Hope he is putting the work in. It looks like he is lining up to open in the rotation. The ball is in his court. 

    • glunn, Blake, beckmt and 7 others like this

I think Mejia has the potential to be a #4 starter and I definitely saw flashes of that in 2017. He'll need to figure out how to get deeper into games as it always seems the wheels came off around the 4th/5th inning. I'm hoping he will start the season as the 5th man in the rotation and make some strides forward like Berrios did.

    • glunn, sploorp, Jamie Cameron and 2 others like this

The joker in the deck when it comes to the pitching staff is the new pitching coach.

 

According the the Pioneer Press, Alston is all about the fastball. Which, if I'm reading correctly, could really benefit Mejia.

 

See here: https://www.twinciti...-garvin-alston/

    • glunn, birdwatcher, Thrylos and 7 others like this
MORE. My pick to click for pitchers in 2018.
    • birdwatcher and sploorp like this
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Jamie Cameron
Feb 04 2018 10:26 PM

Agree with this. I think he'll have a month or two to shoe he can be more efficient and contribute more lastingly to the Twins rotation. It will be interesting to see if he takes his opportunity.

Thanks for the thoughts Jamie.To me Mejia is a wildcard for 2018.I really hope he can step up and grab a rotation spot for two reason.1) It gives the Twins a lefty starter.2) It allows some of the young guys (Gonsalves, Romero, etc.) more (likely needed) time to develop in AAA.

 

Come on Alalberto - grab this opportunity and run with it!

 

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Jamie Cameron
Feb 04 2018 10:27 PM

This is super interesting. Wish I had dug into the comparison in greater depth now! If Mejia can improve his control, he certainly has the ability to be a number 4 type guy IMO.

This is great. I'm glad you used Berrios as a point of comparison because I see some similarities in their first-year control issues. Berrios in 2016 and Mejia in 2017 both had trouble finding the strike zone consistently with their fastball, and I think that allowed hitters to spit on their breaking pitches and wait for a fastball in the zone.

 

Berrios went from a 6.9% BB rate in the minors to a 12.5% BB rate in his first year in the majors, but then he was able to drop it back down to 7.8% in 2017. Mejia's control issues weren't quite as extreme (5.3 in the minors to 9.9 in the majors), but if he can iron out the fastball control (and especially command since his breaking stuff isn't as electric as Berrios's), it could make a huge difference.

 

    • glunn likes this
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Jamie Cameron
Feb 04 2018 10:27 PM

 

The joker in the deck when it comes to the pitching staff is the new pitching coach.

 

According the the Pioneer Press, Alston is all about the fastball. Which, if I'm reading correctly, could really benefit Mejia.

 

See here: https://www.twinciti...-garvin-alston/

 

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Jamie Cameron
Feb 04 2018 10:28 PM

This is a super interesting point. I wish I'd considered it more. Hopefully Alston can have a similar impact on some of our young arms that Rowson did on hitters.

The joker in the deck when it comes to the pitching staff is the new pitching coach.

 

According the the Pioneer Press, Alston is all about the fastball. Which, if I'm reading correctly, could really benefit Mejia.

 

See here: https://www.twinciti...-garvin-alston/

 

 

 

Pretty fair article for Mejia but I think it is time that we quit saying that Nunez was outstandingly lucky in the first half of 2016. Nunez has been a very good hitter for the last 3 years.

I still make that trade every time because the Twins were in rebuild mode and Nunez wasn't part of the future.

    • luckylager, glunn, Thrylos and 12 others like this
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Tommygun921
Feb 05 2018 07:17 AM
Mejia reminds me of a left handed Trevor May as a starter...with a bit less velocity. To many walks and therefore inability to pitch deeper into games. When he's good he's good. Just needs more consistency.
    • sploorp, Jamie Cameron, Tomj14 and 1 other like this
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Original Whizzinator
Feb 05 2018 07:45 AM
Nice article now I think I better understand what i was looking at when Mejia was pitching. It was frustrating to see him get hitters in his count then not put them away. I see now his ceiling is lower than I thought maybe a four unless he can somehow learn to spin it more.
    • glunn and Jamie Cameron like this
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stringer bell
Feb 05 2018 10:40 AM
Mejia needs to be able to throw more innings. Part of that is trust from the manager and coaching staff and part of that is pitch count. I like having a lefty with above-average stuff and velocity. He can fool guys with his slider, but he needs to get ahead on counts.
    • glunn and Jamie Cameron like this

Well written analysis, thanks.I'd argue that, as of today, Mejia would be the rotation's 4th or 5th option.

    • glunn and Jamie Cameron like this
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FormerMinnasotan
Feb 05 2018 11:20 AM
Mejia is a wild card, that’s for sure. He’s going to need to be better at commanding/controlling his pitches better. Mejia and Gibson are going to really have to work to stay in the rotation as Slegers, Jorge, May, Gonsalves, Romero, and possibly Littell will be trying to get into the rotation this year. If Mejia can’t improve he’ll either go to the bullpen or be looking for a new team. Competition should bring out the best in Mejia at least that’s my hope.
    • glunn and Jamie Cameron like this

Scouts don't agree with you about Mejia having a high floor. The consensus seems to be that he will be a #4 or a #5 which is not considered to be a good pitcher. I personally think this is selling him a bit short, but this is the year for him to show us his range. If Carlos Silva can be a #3 with a brief stint as a #2, Mejia certainly can too.

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Deduno Abides
Feb 05 2018 12:28 PM

Scouts don't agree with you about Mejia having a high floor. The consensus seems to be that he will be a #4 or a #5 which is not considered to be a good pitcher. I personally think this is selling him a bit short, but this is the year for him to show us his range. If Carlos Silva can be a #3 with a brief stint as a #2, Mejia certainly can too.


Silva and Mejia seem like opposites - righty with great control and so-so pitches vs. lefty with mediocre control and good pitches.
    • birdwatcher, sploorp and Doctor Wu like this

 

Silva and Mejia seem like opposites - righty with great control and so-so pitches vs. lefty with mediocre control and good pitches.

 

The point is Silva played way above his ceiling just by being in the right environment for him (and probably with some good breaks on defense). The point isn't they are clones.
 

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Parker Hageman
Feb 05 2018 01:56 PM

Mejia's fastball is super interesting. It's one of the highest spin rates of all left-handed pitchers in baseball (sixth highest behind Minor, Chapman, Rivero, Hill and Hand). Typically that equates to higher swings and misses. For the majority of the year, that wasn't happening (he had a 4% swinging strike rate on his fastball the first two months of the season). When he changed his mechanics and had the higher arm slot, his swing and misses on the fastball grew. In September his swinging strike rate was 10%.

 

Now, the old scouting adages is that you don't put too much stock in September numbers (what with call-ups and teams trying to audition prospects for the next year and the small sampling of three outings) so it's entirely possible that those are inflated somewhat. That said, Mejia also made enough adjustments to potentially build on this for next year. 

 

 

    • markos, bluechipper, Sconnie and 3 others like this

Lets hope that Hughes or May or one of the Rookies, steps up and we don't have to use Meija as a #5 :D

I think Mejia has the potential to be a #4 starter and I definitely saw flashes of that in 2017. He'll need to figure out how to get deeper into games as it always seems the wheels came off around the 4th/5th inning. I'm hoping he will start the season as the 5th man in the rotation and make some strides forward like Berrios did.


Oh, boy! Another #4 pitcher!

 

Lets hope that Hughes or May or one of the Rookies, steps up and we don't have to use Meija as a #5 :D

 

Hughes? 

 

Is he still pitching?

    • Sconnie, Ben Noble and twinssporto like this

Oh, boy! Another #4 pitcher!


A #4 starter that makes the league minimum has a lot of value. It allows you to not have to spend $13-$18 million on one in FA.
    • Blackjack, Danchat and Jamie Cameron like this

A #4 starter that makes the league minimum has a lot of value. It allows you to not have to spend $13-$18 million on one in FA.


Oh, I concur. But a team needs only 1 or 2 #4 starters. The Twins seem to have 6 or 7.

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