Until you depend Stephen Strasburg’s much-hyped debut, a high pitching prospect’s first begin normally doesn’t have a lot to put in writing dwelling about. Whereas gifted, the participant in query is understandably an unfinished product who’s dealing with large league hitters for the primary time, along with combating off nerves and maybe stress to carry out. In case you’re searching for some razzle-dazzle, it’s finest to attend out a season of changes, perhaps two. I imply, simply have a look at how Shane McClanahan is taking off this season!
At a look, Max Meyer’s debut is emblematic of the rookie pitcher’s all-too-common plight. Positive, he did strike out 5 and maintain his personal by 5 innings, however issues shortly unraveled afterward. Within the high of the sixth, the Phillies obtained to see Meyer for a 3rd time, which resulted in a house run, stroll, and a double. Richard Bleier then took over, however the lefty allowed each runners to attain, ballooning Meyer’s earned run whole to 5. You by no means obtained the sense that Meyer was accountable for the Phillies, and also you couldn’t be blamed for pondering he was ill-prepared.
However c’mon, FanGraphs doesn’t simply cease on the field rating. From a special angle, Meyer’s debut is without doubt one of the extra hanging ones in latest reminiscence.
If I’ll generalize a bit, rookie pitchers are usually reliant on their fastballs, particularly in the course of the first few begins of their profession. The fastball is a weapon they’ll belief, whereas secondary pitches would possibly nonetheless want refinement. Confronted with a brand new setting, it’s human intuition to stay with what’s comforting.
Already, Meyer breaks the mildew. The 79 pitches thrown in his debut consisted of 39 sliders, 28 four-seam fastballs, and 12 changeups. That’s practically 50% sliders, which is bonkers for a starter. He threw it for strikes, and he threw it for chases. Right here’s a GIF of that slider Meyer confirmed no reservations in whipping out:
Higher-80s velocity? Test. Good location? Test. The slider is an enormous a part of why the Marlins drafted Meyer third general within the 2020 draft; even by main league requirements, it’s one of many higher breaking balls round, and Meyer’s ticket to ace-dom. However arguably most spectacular is his dedication to utilizing it so usually, when even seasoned large leaguers take the standard knowledge of creating one’s fastball approach too severely. The outcomes communicate for themselves: Meyer’s slider earned a 41% CSW (known as strikes plus whiffs) charge on the evening. This isn’t a one-off, however fairly a starting. With the fastball depend all but dead, Meyer’s arrival alerts what’s to return in MLB.
Because it stands, although, he’s nonetheless an outlier. And there’s yet one more side during which Meyer stands out. Final week, I wrote in regards to the importance of fastball shape, and the way motion and launch level matter in tandem with velocity. Meyer’s heater isn’t the speediest, topping out at 96 on Saturday and sitting between 93–95 mph. It additionally doesn’t have elite vertical motion, neither is it launched from a cool launch level and even notably near dwelling plate. As a substitute, what differentiates Meyer’s fastball from the remaining is an absence of motion. You possibly can’t actually inform from a GIF, however right here’s the fastball in motion:
Appears pretty regular, proper? However the numbers counsel in any other case. In his debut, Meyer’s fastball averaged a mere 10.8 inches of vertical motion. For reference, the mighty Spencer Strider is at 17.6 on the season, and even Hunter Greene checks in at 16. A pattern of 28 pitches produces some huge error bars, besides, we’ve sufficient to conclude that what Meyer makes use of is not any unusual fastball.
Let’s break it down additional. You would possibly assume it is a case of a sinker being misclassified as a four-seamer, however the lack of horizontal motion as nicely — a microscopic 2.3 inches — is a useless giveaway. Meyer doesn’t simply throw a gyro slider; he additionally throws a gyro heater. Gyro is brief for gyro spin, which is the kind of spin that doesn’t contribute to a pitch’s motion. Letting gravity do all of the work may not sound too horny, however in idea, all a fastball wants is to be distinctive. Give hitters an angle they haven’t seen earlier than, then reap the advantages.
The issue, nevertheless, is that there actually isn’t an acceptable comp for Meyer’s fastball in main league baseball (moreover perhaps Chi Chi González), which implies no clear blueprint exists on easy methods to optimize it. Ought to he deal with it like a daily four-seamer and intention for the letters? Or is it higher to let it sink in direction of the underside of the zone, in hopes of inducing weak contact? Towards the Phillies, Meyer opted for neither, however not of his personal volition: He painted the corners at instances, however a number of fastballs ended up down the center, leading to hard-hit balls. It’ll be attention-grabbing to test again in with Meyer on a day during which he has higher really feel for his heater.
In school, Meyer was primarily recognized for his fastball-slider combo. Since being drafted, he’s continued to hone a changeup, which each younger Marlins pitcher appears to have in his arsenal. It isn’t fairly there — it was the worst-commanded pitch of Meyer’s debut, with many bouncing within the filth — however hey, one changeup did get a whiff out of Darick Hall:
In contrast to the fastball, the changeup is hardly a unicorn; that is your run-of-the-mill offspeed providing from a righty. It additionally appears negatively impacted by Meyer’s really feel for gyro spin. In comparison with his Marlins friends, he doesn’t produce sufficient sidespin to kill the elevate on his changeup and let it fade, however with solely 12 thrown thus far, perhaps we should always take the motion knowledge with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, it’s a stable pitch in its present state, and what issues above all for a changeup is command, not stuff. And if the whole lot comes collectively, we may be taking a look at a whole arsenal with no additional fluff, so to talk.
In his first large league begin, Meyer bumped into just a few bumps within the highway, coughed up 5 runs, and appeared totally mortal. It’s underwhelming when described that approach, however take into account the finer particulars. Within the course of, he threw his breaking ball practically half the time, the excessive utilization justified by elite velocity and beautiful command. He backed it up with an odd four-seamer that isn’t seen usually in an age the place experience is king. Whether or not it’ll maintain up is a query for later; for now, we will recognize the singularity. His changeup didn’t get to shine, however Meyer’s athleticism and the Marlins’ observe report are two nice causes to wager on its growth.
I admittedly didn’t assume an excessive amount of of Meyer when he was first drafted, and as a prospect, I assumed he may gain advantage from a extra vertically oriented fastball. The Marlins did apparently raise his arm slot, however that didn’t flip his heater into a standard bat-misser. As a substitute, what we’ve here’s a quirky but promising profile. It’s not possible to see into the long run with a single begin, but it surely immediately put Meyer again on my radar. The Marlins have already got an electrical rotation chock-full of homegrown expertise, and it’s thrilling to assume he can develop into a real a part of it.