On Tuesday night, Minnesota Twins apparent pitching ace Adalberto Mejia mowed down the Cleveland Indians. Before being pulled with wrist tightness, he was working on a one-hitter and the Indians seemed baffled.
It was second time in a week that Mejia totally obliterated the Tribe lineup as he went five innings of shutout ball back on August 1. For his career, Mejia has dominated the Indians — over an admittedly small period of 23.1 innings he’s allowed four runs on 14 hits. Which, when watching him pitch, just seems insane.
It’s wrong to judge based on looks alone. But there are few less imposing figures on the mound than our friend Aldalberto. He throws a league average fastball at 92.4 mph on average, his slider seems to drift mostly horizontally without that Miller-like downward bite that kills hitters, and his command seems only average. By the numbers, neither his 14.1 percent K rate or 9.8 percent walk rate scream anything but bad, his batted ball rates are middle of the road at best, and only his absurdly low 3.8 percent HR/FB ratio is anything to call attention to. And yet, time and again Indians hitters faced him this past week and looked pitiful.
A great pitcher can look bad now and again, just as a terrible one can roll out an ace level performance out of nowhere. Some days, they’re just feeling it. Mejia though, just watching the games seemed like the type of pitcher the Indians should crush. He throws a slider 19.3 percent of the time this year, and actually featured it more against the Indians in his two starts at 29.6 percent. By FanGraphs’ Pitching Linear Weights the Indians are the best slider-hitting team in all of baseball with a +9.8 runs rating. Add that to his middling fastball – which at +48.3 runs the Indians rank third in baseball – and you have a formula for a great run-scoring day in Cleveland. You’d think, anyway.
Even watching those sliders, you wonder what the hitters were seeing. This…
Is the location of every slider Mejia has thrown in two starts against Cleveland. It seems like it’s a lot of hittable pitches for a team that likes sliders. Maybe he has some kind of weird late break or something, because he’s certainly not throwing snapdragons up there. In terms of movement it rates roughly 35th among lefty starters by horizontal movement. Compare it to Clayton Kershaw over the same span of time:
Where Kershaw (yes, a very rude comparison) has his sliders mostly clumped in the bottom corner by the right-handed batter’s box, Mejia is simply everywhere. That’s dangerous with sliders, it leads to spinners that go the other way fast. Yet time and again Indians hitters were either off on their timing or watching it wander across the plate.
Who knows, maybe they’re figuring him out, and were just a little unlucky with some batted balls on Tuesday night. The guys in the booth mentioned just that – it seemed like every hitter was just a bit off the mark when they made contact. It was a weird night with the rain and late start and all too. Baseball will always have these head scratching starts from pitchers you’ve never heard of and offensive outbursts from nobodies. It’s part of the fun. The Indians haven’t found it fun of course, but as long as he doesn’t start every game for the Twins when the two play it’s not that big a deal.