August 12, 2010

Overusing Evan Meek?

Evan Meek entered tonight's game having thrown 63.1 innings in relief, third most in the National League behind Tyler Clippard and Matt Belisle. His overall numbers still look great (1.56 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) but Meek looks to me to be showing some signs of fatigue. After walking 16 batters in the first four months, he's already walked six in five innings so far in August.

To John Russell's credit, despite a depleted relief corps he has called on Meek in only four of 12 games since the trade deadline. Unlike some managers J.R. also is good about not warming up guys who then don't appear in the game. Yet I wonder if Meek's usage needs to be decreased even more going forward.

In his first three years since being converted to a reliever for the 2007 season, Meek appeared in 44, 42, and 47 games out of the bullpen in the last three years throwing 67, 70, and 56 innings. At his current rate of usage he'll appear in 74 games and throw 90 innings in 2010. These are all high leverage innings.

Also, anyone who has watched a game can observe that Meek is clearly a high effort guy on the mound. When watching his 50-pitch outing against the Reds I was reminded of the faces I saw earlier this year when I watched some of the Pittsburgh Marathon at mile 22. Except that during the marathon it was actually raining while our All-Star reliever was just sweating.

I would be fine with this pattern of usage during a pennant race, but we're approaching the level of use that can have negative effects the following year. Basically, 74 game guys usually throw 60-65 innings and 90 inning guys usually appear in only 55-60 games. Pitching is an unnatural motion and everyone will get an arm injury after some number of pitches. No one knows what that number is for any individual pitcher, but the combination of appearing in every other game and often appearing for multiple innings can only increase the chances of arm injuries going forward.

Meek is a valuable asset who is under club control for four more years, and throwing him for another 27 innings has zero chance of resulting in anything other than a last place finish this season. Once September call-ups arrive I would like to see his usage drastically cut back to a point where he throws only 80 innings this year.

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