Not every pitcher in the league needs to be able to throw 95 mph to be successful. It takes more than just being able to blow it past the batter to get a guy out. Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of control, and a whole lot of commitment. Ryan Merritt is the definition of a guy with impeccable control.
Merritt was drafted by the Indians in the the 16th round in the 2011 draft when he was only 19. He’s spent five seasons in the Indians system thus far and has a career ERA of 3.31. Merritt is one of the Indians’ top left-handed pitchers in their farm system.
In 2014, Merritt won the Bob Feller Award for being the top pitcher in the Indians farm system. He had posted an ERA of 3.14 in 25 starts for High-A Carolina with a record of 13-3. After having a breakout season, Merritt looked forward to continuing his success at Double-A.
In a rotation full of talented starters, including Cody Anderson, Will Roberts, Michael Clevinger and Shawn Morimando, Merritt was actually slotted to be the fifth starter in the rotation.
“I think I have the best fifth starter in the league,” manager Dave Wallace said at the start of the season.
Merritt lived up to his expectations.
In April, Merritt threw for an ERA of 3.00 with a record of 1-1 in 27 innings. He then struggled in May. He is known for his control and keeping the ball around the strike zone, which can be an issue for a guy who doesn’t tend to throw very hard. If his control slips up too much, then Merritt has the tendency to put a lot of runners on base, which can end up leading to some big innings. Knowing this issue was at hand, Merritt had to teach himself how to throw off of the plate for an intentional ball, something that he’s never really thought about when he would head out to the mound.
During his transition period in May, Merritt was working on his new technique of throwing intentional balls to set up batters to swing and miss. He ended up with an ERA of 4.97 and a record of 2-3. He walked five batters but only struck out 14. Even though Merritt was working on transitioning to a new style of pitching, he was still able to manage the batter at the plate, as far as giving up free passes. The second half of the season seemed to show that his hard work was starting to pay off.
In the second half, Merritt had much more success at the Double-A level. He adjusted to the more patient hitters in the league and was able to mature himself as well as a pitcher. He began to throw more away from the plate with pin-point accuracy, and the results were astounding. He had an ERA of 3.58 and kept batters down to a .276 average. While the average tends to stick out, he was able to control runners on base due to his ability to induce ground balls instead of letting them fly out of the park.
In August, Merritt was brought up to Triple-A Columbus. Merritt struggled during his time in Columbus, but was still able to put up a record of 2-0 and an ERA of 4.20 in five starts.
Merritt has a pretty small build for a pitcher. He’s only 6’0” and is weighed at 170 lbs. Due to his size, there is worry that his body won’t be sustainable for 200 or more innings during a season. In 2015, he pitched in 171 1/3 innings without taking an injury and seemed to be just fine. Being a lefty, the Indians will give Merritt every chance that they can to let him succeed as being a southpaw gives the Indians an extra weapon to their rotation that is such a commodity in the MLB.
Excelling from control of his pitches, Merritt is able to throw his pitches almost exactly where he wants them to go. Growing up, he consistently worked on keeping his pitches around the plate because he knew that getting that batter out was the most important thing for him to do, and to never walk a batter. Ever. Learning how to throw a ball outside the plate was a new challenge for him but he was able to adjust his pitching style well and the results showed.
A good comparison for him would be current Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin – both in size and in pitching style.
While Merritt may not actually have the physical build to make it to the show, his abilities and control will make the Indians give him a look at some point next season. He’s too good at controlling his game to not be given a shot at some point or another. With a rotation that is already as good as it can be in Cleveland, it’s good to know there’s a guy like Merritt just waiting in the wings, ready to be given his chance to shine.
Photo: Dave Monseur/MiLB.com