Admit it. You were shocked. I mean, how could you not be?
When the Kansas City Royals signed starting pitcher Gil Meche to a five-year deal worth $55 million dollars for the upcoming 2007 season, jaws around the entire sport dropped.
"We were proud to be a part of the process and delighted that Gil Meche made the decision to join the Royals," general manager Dayton Moore said at the time of the signing. "He is an impact pitching talent who fits in with our plan for long term success. At 28, he is entering the prime of his career."
Like nearly everyone else, I laughed when I read this.
Meche was an average pitcher, who posted a very average 4.48 ERA and 1.43 WHIP during his contract season. Throw in the fact that he would be leaving Safeco Field, a pitchers haven, and it was easy to mock the Royals for throwing too much money at an incredibly run-of-the-mill pitcher in Meche.
Then something strange happened.
Meche became good.
In fact, he became really good.
During the 2007 season Meche not only led all of baseball in games started with 34, but he posted a very respectable 3.67 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Although he finished with a 9-13 record, that should not factor into the equation when analyzing his season. The Royals gave him little support, finishing a measly 27th in runs scored that season with only 706 in total.
Many called the season a fluke, citing his poor strikeout numbers and above average batting average on balls put into play (BABIP). No way would he post those types of numbers again.
Or would he?
Not only did Meche pitch as well in 2008, he may have been better.
Although his ERA and WHIP increased slightly, his strikeout total improved from 156 to 183, and he decreased his home run against total from 22 to 19. Once again he showed his rubber arm, leading all of baseball in starts with 34 for the second straight season.
Clearly, Nate Silver and the rest of those “so called experts” who were all calling for a major slip in performance were wrong on Meche once again.
So why did it take Meche so long to reach the level he is currently pitching at?
In truth, no one knows. Although you can look for statistical trends and other data to find out why he has developed into one of the top 15 pitchers in the game these past few seasons, the simple reality is some guys are just late bloomers.
Meche just happens to be one of them.
The 2009 season is now underway, and it is clear the Royals are the dark horse to win the AL Central.
With a young emerging offensive led by 3B Alex Gordon, 1B/DH Billy Butler and SS Mike Aviles, plus star closer Joakim Soria, it is easy to see why people all over baseball are falling in love with this team.
However, their rotation might be their principal strength.
Although Kyle Davies and Sidney Ponson are uncertain at best, the one-two punch of rising superstar Zach Greinke and Meche, who is off to another solid start, could be the best in all of baseball. In a five game playoff series, where their top three could pitch every game, the Royals have more than a puncher's chance.
But was it dumb luck or complete brilliance by the Royals front office in signing Meche?
If you ask me, it was probably both.
The Royal’s obviously did their homework and saw some traits they liked well enough to invest $55 million in the guy. Yet you're probably asking, how many other teams, if any, would have paid that much for him at the time?
I can’t speak for those organizations, but if the contracts signed by fellow pitchers Jason Schmidt, Barry Zito, Vicente Padilla and Jeff Suppan are any indication; I am sure some other teams would have paid him that type of money as well.
At one point, fans and experts alike heavily ridiculed the Royals for awarding what many thought was the most absurd contract during the 2007 offseason.
Well, look who’s having the last laugh now.
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