This post is a little delayed coming. Apologies. But the good news is that I've had time to process a little on Alex Meyer after having seen two of his not-so-good starts. And I've come to a conclusion: when Meyer misses it's because his pitches are high. Those misses are driving up the pitch count, gradually slowing down his fastball, causing him to tire and not go as deep into games as is necessary for the ace pitcher we expect him to become.
I attended one of his recent starts, a losing effort last week against the Binghamton Mets. Meyer started off dominant, but had a rough 4th inning that ended up costing him the game. Instead of focusing on that inning, however, I want to focus on the third inning. It started off innocently enough, with a 4-pitch strikeout and a 1-pitch ground out. Just like that, 5 pitches and 2 outs. But then this:
Check out the pitch locations. Meyer started missing high with 2 outs. As this shot shows, all but 1 pitch was belt-high or higher. Meyer issued this 2-out walk -- a Cardinal Sin in any organization, especially the Twins organization. But he wasn't done. How about the next batter?
Meyer issued 3 walks on the night. Here's the screenshot of his final walk. Again, high misses.
The point of this post isn't to suggest that Meyer needs to alter his mechanics or anything like that. I have absolutely no specialized knowledge to that effect. He's 6 feet, 9 inches tall, and his fastball reached 96 on both starts I've attended; I'm 5 feet, 9 inches tall, and may have hit 76 on a hot summer day in White Bear Lake in 1999. Meyer has a knuckle-curve that falls off the table and embarrasses hitters who are expecting the fastball. He has all the makings of a phenomenal pitcher, but something is missing this spring.
The point of this post is to suggest that, in the 14 or so innings I have seen Meyer pitch, when he misses, it's consistently high -- and it's very high. High to the point that batters aren't likely to offer. I could do screen shots from the other start I attended, and I'm confident they would be the same. In fact, I heard Terry Ryan mumble something to this effect when Meyer was laboring in a protracted inning last month.
So what is the solution? Having watched Meyer, I have no doubt that this is mostly a mental issue. He'll get 2 outs, then walk a couple batters with high pitches. Or, alternatively, he'll have 2 great innings, then start walking batters in the 3rd inning. Something temporarily changes. It really strikes me as a composure issue more than anything else. On more than one occasion I've seen Meyer have difficulty with the subsequent batter who follows a guy that reaches on a fielding error or a weak infield single. It's a common problem, and it makes sense to me. It would annoy me to no end to be unable to rely on my fielders. But that's a part of the game Meyer is going to have to learn: he won't be able to strike everyone out, and not every fielder will be Gold Glove caliber.
Some baseball lifers say that the jump from High-A to AA is the most significant. Meyer might be finding that out this spring. Like I've said all along, I have no doubt that he will become the pitcher that we all hope he will be. But it's also important to realize that he's a young kid working out physical -- and mental -- issues along the way. So if you're looking for something to watch for, I would recommend keeping an eye on the walks and composure issues. Is Meyer struggling after 2 outs for no reason? Does he start to miss very high with that fastball? Those are the signs that he's not ready, yet, for the show. But on the whole, those are fixable issues. You can teach a guy to work through a composure issue, but you can't teach a guy to toss 96.