Fear Mecir? Maybe

Manager Ken Macha has been criticized by some for using reliever Jim Mecir at the end of close games. Is this criticism justified? Melissa Lockard takes a closer look at Jim Mecir's appearances to date to gauge his effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) so far this season.

Thus far, the 2004 campaign for the Oakland A's bullpen has been marked by inconsistent pitching. Some weeks, the unit has been brilliant; other weeks, they have been down right awful. No one member of the bullpen has followed this pattern more closely then A's set-up man Jim Mecir. Mecir, who has been limited by injuries during the past two seasons, has been used with great regularity this season. While at times Mecir has been effective, his overall record stands at 0-4 with an unsightly 5.48 ERA. Mecir was responsible for two notable bullpen meltdowns against the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox and he has also given up two walk-off homeruns in the bottom of the ninth in tie ballgames, which resulted in A's losses. In addition, he had a memorable outing against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, where he almost gave away a 6-1 lead in the ninth inning, allowing the score to reach 6-5 before shutting the door.

Understandably, as a result of these notable outings and a poor 2003 campaign, A's fans have expressed considerable consternation when Mecir has entered the ballgame. However, Mecir has also had some memorable good outings, including an appearance against the Angels in April when he struck-out Vladimir Guerrero with the bases loaded in a 3-0 game and strong back-to-back outings in May against the Yankees at a time when the Pinstripers were using A's bullpen pitchers for batting practice. So what kind of season is Jim Mecir really having? A closer look at his appearance log may indicate surprising results.

Jim Mecir
Record (0-4, 5.48 ERA, 2 saves/7 holds)

2004 Game Log

April 6 vs. Texas 1.0 IP 0 hits 0 walks 2 strikeouts 0 runs (1-2-3 inning) (A's win 3-1)

April 11 vs. Seattle 1.0 IP 1 hit 0 walks 1 strikeout 0 runs (2-out single) (A's lose 9-4 on blown 9th inning save by Arthur Rhodes)
April 13 vs. Texas 1.0 IP 0 hits 0 walks 2 strikeouts 0 runs (1-2-3 inning) (A's win 10-9)

April 16 vs. Anaheim 0.1 IP 0 hits 0 walks 1 strikeout 0 runs (stranded three inherited runners) (A's win 3-0)

April 19 vs. Seattle 1.0 IP 1 hit 1 walk 1 HBP 1 strikeout 0 runs (loaded bases after first two were out, then recorded third out) (A's lose 2-1)

April 20 vs. Seattle 0.1 IP 1 hit 0 walks 1 strikeout 1 homerun 1 run (loss on walk-off solo homerun (A's lose 2-1)

April 24 vs. Anaheim 1.0 IP 3 hits 0 walks 1 strikeout 1 run (lead-off triple) (A's lose 6-3)

April 25 vs. Anaheim 1.0 IP 0 hits 1 walk 1 strikeout 0 runs (two-out walk) (A's lose 4-3)

April 27 vs. New York 0.0 IP 4 hits 1 walk 0 strikeouts 5 runs (received the loss; lead-off hitter singled on 3 ball count; next hitter walked) (A's lose 10-8)

May 1 vs. Tampa Bay 1.0 IP 3 hits 1 walk 0 strikeouts 1 homerun 4 runs (lead-off single) (A's win 6-5)

May 5 vs. New York 1.0 IP 0 hits 0 walks 2 strikeouts 0 runs (1-2-3 inning) (A's lose 4-3 on 9th innign blown save by Arthur Rhodes)

May 6 vs. New York 1.0 IP 0 hits 0 walks 0 strikeouts 0 runs (1-2-3 inning; recorded the save) (A's win 7-4)

May 8 vs. Minnesota 1.0 IP 1 hit 1 IBB 1 strikeout 1 unearned run (recorded first out; run scored on two-base error; received the loss) (A's lose 3-2 in 10)

May 11 vs. Detroit 1.0 IP 0 hits 0 walks 1 strikeout 0 runs (1-2-3 inning; recorded save in 15th inning) (A's win 5-4)

May 14 vs. Kansas City 1.0 IP 1 hit 1 walks 1 strikeout 0 runs (two out single and walk before recording third out) (A's win 6-2)

May 16 vs. Kansas City 1.0 IP 0 hits 0 walks 2 strikeouts 0 runs (1-2-3 inning) (A's win 6-2)

May 19 vs. Detroit 1.0 IP 0 hits 0 walks 1 strikeout 0 runs (1-2-3 inning) (A's win 6-2)

May 23 vs. Kansas City 1.0 IP 0 hits 0 walks 1 strikeout 0 runs (1-2-3 inning) (A's win 3-2 in 10)

May 27 vs. Boston 1.0 IP 0 hits 1 walk 0 strikeouts 0 runs (9th inning of a 15-2 game) (A's win 15-2)

June 1 vs. Chicago WS 1.0 IP 1 hit 0 walks 1 strikeout 1 homerun 1 run (blew save with two outs in the 9th on solo homerun) (A's win 6-4 in 12)

June 2 vs. Chicago WS 1.0 IP 2 hits 1 IBB 1 strikeout 0 runs (retired first batter and gave up second hit and intentional walk with two outs before retiring last batter) (A's win 3-2 in 10)

June 3 vs. Toronto 1.0 IP 1 hit 0 walks 1 strikeout 0 runs (two-out single) (A's win 2-1 in 10)

June 7 vs. Cincinnati 1.0 IP 0 hits 0 walks 1 strikeout 0 runs (9th inning of 13-2 game) (A's win 13-2)

June 8 vs. Cincinnati 0.2 IP 0 hits 1 walk 1 strikeout 0 runs (stranded two of three runners inherited, as he limited Cincinnati to 1 run after inheriting a bases loaded, no out situation. Issued his walk after tweaking his knee recording the second out; left game after the walk) (A's win 10-6)

Examining Jim Mecir's game log closely leads to some surprising conclusions about the type of season that he is having in that it shows that Mecir has actually been effective the majority of the time. In fact, the memorable blow-ups that I mentioned in the first paragraph are notable because they are Mecir's only truly bad outings – making 5 bad outings out of 25 appearances. The A's are 16-9 in games that Mecir has appeared in. In games where Mecir has appeared in the 7th inning or later where he has had to pitch with the tying or winning run in the on-deck circle (or in a traditional save situation), the A's record stands at 9-6. Of his remaining nine appearances, six of those were close games. Mecir has come into three games where the A's were trailing by two runs or less and four games where the team was leading by four runs. The A's stand at 4-3 in those games. In his other two appearances, the A's had double-digit leads. Mecir has appeared in the 7th inning or later in all of his games this season. In other words, with the exception of a few outings, Mecir has appeared in spots in the game where the outcome could be decided one way or another. For the most part, the A's have had success in close games when Mecir has been involved.

There is another interesting pattern that develops when examining Mecir's game log: if he retires the first batter that he faces, he has an effective outing. With the exception of the one-out solo homerun by Raul Ibanez in Seattle and the two-out solo homerun by Jose Valentine in Oakland, Mecir has not allowed an earned run in any game this season where he has retired the first batter. In fact, even when Mecir allows multiple base runners after the first hitter has been retired, he has been able to get out of those jams. On the flip-side, Mecir has yet to escape an inning unscathed where he allows a lead-off base runner. While this pattern may generally hold true for most relief pitchers, it is striking to see the split in Mecir's effectiveness when he retires the first batter (0.95 ERA) and when he doesn't (49.50 ERA). In fact, in two of the outings where he failed to retire the first batter, he failed to retire any batters before departing with runs on the board. It will be interesting to follow this pattern throughout the season. The current sample size (25 appearances/21.1 innings) is not that large, so it is hard to make a definitive judgement based on these numbers. However, if the pattern continues through July, Ken Macha might have to consider pulling Mecir from any appearance he makes when he allows the lead-off hitter to reach base.

Much of this analysis may be moot because Mecir left last night's game against Cincinnati after jamming his troublesome right knee while covering a play at first. During the past two seasons, an injury to either of Mecir's legs often limited his effectiveness. However, if Mecir does fully recover from this latest injury, it appears that based on his performance a third of the way into this season, the A's should continue to use Mecir late in tight games.

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