Return of the Max

Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins made a surprising run to the postseason in 2023, but it’ll be hard to repeat. First of all, the Marlins punched above their weight last year, which is saying something, because an adult marlin can weigh the better part of a ton. Also, they don’t have arms, or hands, or fists, which makes punching anything above anything quite a challenge.

More to the point, Miami went 84-78, which is tied for the fourth-fewest wins ever for a playoff team in a 162-game season. The Marlins also had a Pythagorean record of just 75-87; they finished 20th in the league in wRC+ and 16th in ERA-. Getting back to the playoffs in 2024 is a realistic goal, but in order to achieve it the Marlins will probably have to be better this year than they were last.

Where will that improvement come from? Not external acquisitions, which have amounted mostly to trading for Jonah Bride and Nick Gordon, hoping to extract whatever juice is left in Trey Mancini’s bat, and signing Tim Anderson — a move that looks suspiciously like a repeat of the Jean Segura experiment from a year ago.

Miami will have a full season from the pair of large, friendly corner infielders it acquired last year, Jake Burger and Josh Bell. But if the Marlins are to improve in 2024, it’ll be because of the team’s talented young pitchers, who — fortunately — are numerous.

The one I want to talk about is a short power right-hander who’s spent a long time on the sideline after a brief MLB cameo. No, not Sixto Sánchez, who’s apparently pitching again after throwing a grand total of one professional inning from 2021 to 2023.

I’m talking about Max Meyer.

Meyer was the no. 3 overall draft pick in 2020, entering the Marlins organization just as Sánchez was about to take the league by storm. Listed at a minuscule 6 feet and 196 pounds, Meyer is a great athlete for his size. He was a two-sport athlete in high school (baseball and hockey) and a two-way player in college — Minnesota, in case the hockey thing didn’t give it away. He boasted a triple-digit fastball in college, along with a plus-plus slider. As a freshman he was a multi-inning bullpen weapon on a Gophers team that made it to the super regional round of the NCAA tournament, and over the next two years he developed into one of the country’s best power arms.

An undersized, hockey-playing power righty from a Big Ten school might as well have been made in a lab specifically to titillate my own personal biases. But don’t just take my word for it: The Gophers were kind enough to put together a sizzle reel in the leadup to Meyer’s draft campaign.

In the pros, things haven’t been quite as smooth. With no minor league baseball in 2020, Meyer took a little longer to reach the majors than a top-five college arm should. And on a five-day workload, that upper-90s fastball backslid to the mid-90s. Even so, that’ll play. Particularly considering that the Marlins got Meyer working on an average-to-plus changeup. And the slider remained unaffected.

After a 25-month draft-to-majors lead time, Meyer had a solid major league debut in July 2022, though the Phillies knocked him around a little the third time through the order. Unfortunately, he came down with a bad case of Needs Tommy John Syndrome just 10 pitches into his second major league start, and he hasn’t thrown in a regular season game since.

But he’s throwing in spring training. Even with Sandy Alcantara out for the year with a torn UCL of his own, the Marlins have Jesús Luzardo, Eury Pérez, and (presuming his shoulder soreness isn’t terminal) Braxton Garrett at the top of their rotation. I’m skeptical of the A.J. Puk-return-to-the-rotation experiment, but if Trevor Rogers can pitch anything like he did in his dominant rookie year, or Edward Cabrera can lower his walk rate from abominable to merely problematic, that’s a rotation you can win with. The rest of the team… we’ll see. But the rotation is promising.

Especially if Meyer can contribute.

So what is there to look for? Two things, right off the proverbial bat: How hard is Meyer throwing? And is the slider intact?

Max Meyer’s Slider
Season Pitches Glove-Side Movement Vertical Movement w/o Gravity MPH RPM
2022 55 3.9 in. -1 in. 89.2 2559
2024 12 4.0 in. -1 in. 89.0 2632
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
2022: Spring Training and Regular Season
2024 Spring Training

So yes, metrically, everything looks right on the money. But that’s such a cold way of describing such an evocative pitch. I’ll be honest, the center field camera angle at the Yankees’ spring training ballpark, where Meyer made his first start of this preseason, is absolute garbage. So you’re not really going to be able to make an apples-to-apples comparison visually unless you were there.

Nevertheless, everyone loves gifs of breaking balls, and I aim to please. Here’s Meyer getting Nick Castellanos to swing over a 91.7 mph slider in his major league debut. This was the hardest breaking ball Meyer has thrown in the majors.

And here’s Meyer disgracing Anthony Volpe in public with a slightly slower slider (88.9 mph) with a similar movement profile.

The fastball also looks about the same as it did in 2022. Which isn’t the best-case scenario; ideally, we’d want Meyer throwing closer to what he was able to manage at Minnesota. But with that breaking ball, 94-95 will play.

Meyer only threw five changeups against the Yankees in his spring first outing, and near as I can tell that pitch seems fine too. Though a sample size that small is even more useless than your typical one spring training appearance with an oblique center field camera angle.

One last thought on Meyer, who looks solid physically at the moment but still has next to no experience at the MLB level.

Meyer throws three pitches: A four-seamer, a changeup, and the slider. All of them average 87 mph or more. That’s unusual. Last season, only 14 pitchers threw all three of those pitches, all of them that hard. (Including the other Mike Baumann, who is incidentally also from Minnesota.) Among those 14 pitchers are some elite starters (such as Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Alcantara, and Tyler Glasnow) and high-end relievers. The worst pitcher in the group is probably Tyler Kinley.

So here’s where I start to worry: None of those 14 pitchers throw only those three pitches. Ten of them also throw a curveball. Of those 10, seven (everyone but Baumann, Alcantara, and Joe Kelly) have a hook that averaged 85 mph or less last season. Brent Honeywell’s slider is a rounding error, and he throws his sweeper and screwball in the low 80s, so you can cross him off the list too.

The remaining six pitchers are Alcantara, Baumann, Kelly, Kinley, Gregory Santos, and Seranthony Domínguez.

Everyone except Baumann and Kinley throws a sinker at least as a co-primary fastball. Everyone except Alcantara is a reliever. Everyone throws his fastball noticeably harder than Meyer, who works mostly in a window of about eight miles an hour.

I would venture that in addition to generating great movement, Meyer is going to have to learn to change speeds if he’s going to stick in the rotation. There’s time to learn, of course. But as good as he can be now, he’ll probably need to get even better if he and the Marlins are going to get where they want this season.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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Jorge Soler vs Train (UNEXPECTED)member
2 months ago

Safe to say, Meyer needs to MAXIMIZE his ability within this 8 mph window