August 1, 2007
Following a 2006 season in which he seemed untouchable on the mound, Cla Meredith has struggled this year. No one expected a repeat of his 1.07 ERA performance, but the increase by almost 3.5 runs per nine is worrisome. His QuikERA for 2006 was 2.82, but his 2007 QERA isn't much higher at 3.39; there isn't a significant difference in his peripherals, and relief pitcher ERA fluctuates often due to small samples. What's his problem then, if his peripherals aren't to blame?
Olise C. Meredith attended Virginia Commonwealth University in his home state, posting a dominant stretch from 2003-2004, where he worked mostly in relief:
Year Team IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 H/9 RA 2002 VA Common(NCAA) 44.0 6.3 2.5 2.6 0.6 9.2 5.32 2003 VA Common(NCAA) 60.1 10.4 2.4 4.4 0.3 6.6 1.19 2004 VA Common(NCAA) 67.0 11.3 1.6 7.0 0.4 6.6 3.62
The increased strikeout rate coupled with the dip in hit rate made Meredith a valuable commodity, and the Red Sox selected him in the sixth round of the 2004 draft. He signed soon after and found himself assigned to Augusta in the Sally League for his professional debut:
Year Team IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 H/9 RA 2004 Augusta(A) 15.1 10.6 1.8 6.0 0.0 4.7 0.00 2004 Sarasota(A+) 16.1 8.8 1.7 5.3 0.0 8.3 2.20
It's tough to argue with those peripherals: low hit rates, high strikeout rates, no homers and only 6 walks in 31 2/3 innings. Despite his selection as a sixth rounder, Baseball America made Meredith prospect #21 in Boston's organizational rankings. A lot of that had to do with the Sox top heavy system though:
Though he didn't join the organization until June, Meredith led all Boston farmhands with 18 saves while splitting time between two full-season Class A teams. He used a crossfire, low three-quarters delivery that generates a lot of life and deception. The Red Sox compare the sink on his fastball to postseason hero Derek Lowe's, grading it as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Meredith's sinker arrives at 87-90 mph and is nearly impossible to lift, as evidenced by his 47-8 groundball-flyball ratio as a pro. His slider is a borderline average pitch that needs more consistency.
Meredith would make four stops in 2005, with just one inning at High-A Wilmington and the rest at Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. His performance wasn't as impressive as those jumps suggest, though; the first Sox mistake with Meredith wasn't dealing him, it was rushing him to the majors after a few innings in Double-A and then sending him to Triple-A in a panic when that failed miserably:
Year Team IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 H/9 RA 2005 Portland(AA) 15.0 7.2 1.8 4.0 0.0 3.0 0.00 2005 Pawtucket(AAA) 48.1 7.8 2.2 3.5 1.1 11.7 5.59 2005 Boston(MLB) 2.1 0.0 15.4 - 3.9 23.1 27.00
Normally I would skip such a short stint as that big league appearance, and I wouldn't be upset over such awful stats in this small of a sample. Meredith only pitched 2 1/3 innings in the majors in 2005 because he couldn't get out of the innings he was put into; he faced 18 batters, and 11 of them reached base. He gave up a homer and seven runs, hit a batter, and didn't record a single strike out. It was clear to anyone watching that his few weeks at Portland did not magically make him ready for the majors, and why should they have? He threw 15 innings there-his first 15 out of A-ball-and had a .151 BABIP. Over a full season, that would have leveled out somewhat as the defense stopped reaching every ball the batters made contact with.
Boston's 6th-round selection in the 2004 draft, Cla (pronounced "clay") Meredith made brief appearances at five minor league levels before making his major league debut on May 8. His stay in Boston was brief and ineffective and his so-so performance in Pawtucket has tempered the hype somewhat. A submariner with a sinking fastball, slider and changeup, he might also have been let down by the mediocre Pawtucket defense. The Red Sox have been grooming him as a closer, but he had difficulty with left-handers last year. Will likely share end-of-game duties with Beam in Pawtucket, but he might be challenged by Martinez soon.
Looking at his QERA once again, we see that Meredith posted a 3.53 figure, validating the reaction to the "mediocre Pawtucket defense." Baseball America would move Meredith from 21st to 20th in their preseason organizational rankings:
Meredith followed Huston Street to become the second player from the 2004 draft to reach the majors, getting the call to join a decimated Boston bullpen in early May. He tightened up after the promotion and his arm lacked its usual whip. He surrendered a grand slam to Richie Sexson in his first game, then gave up four runs in two more appearances before returning to Triple-A. He wasn't the same pitcher afterward, posting a 5.59 ERA for the remainder of the season…Though lefties hit .359 against him in Triple-A, his exceptional movement has been enough to keep them at bay in the past. Once Meredith realizes he doesn't need to invent himself, he'll be fine.
Meredith would post similar Pawtucket numbers in 2006 in 13 2/3 innings, giving up a lot of hits on grounders thanks to the defense but posting solid strikeout and walk numbers. Then it was May 1, and Cla Meredith was a San Diego Padre just like that, thrown into a deal that Kevin Towers beautifully negotiated by involving the Yankees, who the Sox were facing that night. Josh Bard, who was also dealt, was struggling with his job as Tim Wakefield's personal caddy; with Wake pitching against the Yankees that evening, the Sox were in panic mode and tossed in one of their pitching prospects along with Bard to reacquire Doug Mirabelli, who the Sox had dealt earlier for their second baseman, Mark Loretta. Many Sox fans were excited about having Mirabelli back, but there were just as many who were upset that it cost the team Meredith:
Year Team IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 H/9 QERA 2006 Portland(AAA) 32.1 6.7 1.1 6.0 0.6 7.3 2.97 2006 San Diego(MLB) 50.2 6.6 1.1 6.2 0.5 5.4 2.82
Meredith posted BABIP figures of just .264 and .201 at the two levels, well below what you would expect given his line drive rates, but not as far away as it seems thanks to fine defensive play on the multitude of grounders he gave up. Baseball Prospectus 2007 was a fan of Meredith's, although it did expect regression:
As if the panic in Beantown wasn't rewarding enough in that it turned Doug Mirabelli into Josh Bard, the Padres managed to get Meredith as a throw-in in the deal. We can all snigger about how Meredith was a symptom of what seemed like a sudden industry-wide drive to draft, develop, or dig up the next Chad Bradford--echoing the unfortunate tendency to try to draft "the next Michael Jordan" in the NBA twenty years ago, or "the next Kellen Winslow" in the NFL--but Meredith looks like the real deal, a guy with a tricky delivery and a particularly nasty sinker. It's pretty easy to say that nobody can sustain a level of play that included a 34-inning scoreless streak, but he's in the right park, and it's unlikely he'll be asked to appear in 44 games in three months again.
Meredith has pitched well at times, but a few rough outings have marred his overall stat line this year:
Based on his peripherals and QERA, Meredith isn't all that far off from his 2006 performance. He's gone from dominating to very valuable reliever according to these numbers. His ERA tells a different story though, and his hit rates have more than doubled from last year's stint in San Diego. But how much does that have to do with the defense behind him?
Last year, he gave up just three doubles (and one triple) in 50.2 innings at the major league level, but this year has given up eight in just two-thirds of an inning more. That might not seem like a significant boost, but when you see he almost doubled his walk rate-and consider that as a reliever, Meredith inherits other pitcher's runners-it means more than a little more. The extra singles have been the real problem though, with Meredith allowing 56 of them-that's 26 more singles than hits allowed in all of 2006. His .201 BABIP from 2006 has jumped to .375, which is only about 100 points higher than you would expect given his 15.8 percent line drive rate. Even adjusting his 2006 campaign gives you a .279 BABIP, which would still make him a valuable reliever.
Meredith has allowed five more infield hits this year to go along with the additional extra-base hits. The rest of the singles may be the defense's fault, and you can make the case that the extra-base hits are their responsibility as well (chart from firstinning.com):
Almost 41 percent of Meredith's batted-balls head to the right side of the infield as grounders, and opponents are hitting .324 on those balls. The left side is not much better, with almost 30 percent of the batted balls going that way with a .294 OppBA. Sadly, I don't have this information for 2006 to use as a direct comparison, but it seems safe to assume that given his .201 BABIP, this was not a problem for him last year. We can take a look at some defensive numbers for the Padres' past two infield incarnations, thanks to John Dewan, who has revised Zone Rating to omit balls out of each positional zone.
For the right side of the infield, Adrian Gonzalez posted an .809 RZR in 2006, and slipped to .737 this season. Marcus Giles has improved the second base defense though, improving Josh Barfield's 2006 .822 mark to an .873 this year. The left side shows Khalil Greene improving from .832 to .863, and a poor showing from Kevin Kouzmanoff at just .669 RZR. Todd Walker (.618 in 149 innings) and Russ Branyan (.656 in 181 innings) played poorly at the hot corner in 2006, but Geoff Blum (.795, 200) Manny Alexander (.778, 33) and Mark Bellhorn (.825, 323) all played well, and at a higher level than Kouzmanoff has this year.
This poorer defense at the corners has more than likely helped to increase both Meredith's infield hit rate and his extra-base hits allowed, and could also be held accountable for some of the increase in his singles allowed. His 2006 rate was well below where you can expect a pitcher to be, but the regression in 2007 is well above expectations. It's possible that the recent addition of Morgan Ensberg could help Meredith out, and Gonzalez is normally known for his sound defense at first base.
One other thing that could be important to look at, given how small sample sizes can affect a reliever's stat line, is a blowout or two that scars his numbers. July 21st was a rough night, as Meredith gave up five runs on five hits facing nine batters. All runs are not created equally, though, as Meredith allowed three infield singles in the inning, along with an intentional walk. Five runs allowed on six groundballs is not something you'll often see, but that night his defense allowed three infield singles, a single up the middle to center and a double down the third base line on another grounder. His ERA jumped from 3.28-close to his QERA for the season-to 4.15 because of that one inning, and it hasn't had time to drop all the way back down yet.
Both left-handers and right-handed hitters are abusing him this season, which is unusual for a pitcher with his delivery and movement. Right-handers only managed a 299 OPS in 2006, but have hit .339/.366/.391 this year. If Meredith does indeed have an issue generating the same whip with his arm action as before, he and his pitching coach have some work to do. It would make sense that less movement would make him more hittable, forcing a less productive defense to work harder on balls that may be moving quicker and harder than they did last year. He's throwing his fastball 82 percent of the time, with opponents managing to hit .278 against him, but only .068 against both his slider and changeup. This supports the idea that he's getting less movement and deception on his fastball than he did last season, when it was just plain filthy.
His poor July 21 game and less productive defense have marred his stats somewhat, but he should be a valuable member of the Padre pen as long as he is able to keep his delivery consistent. And as long as the Padre infield defense is steady, his groundball rates shouldn't hurt him too much in the long run.