The Mejia rules

Here’s what Jerry Manuel had to say on Sunday, when asked if he saw Jenrry Mejia pitch:

“Oh, lord, did I see him. Don’t get me started on him. This press conference is over, Jay. Oh, it’s tough not to get excited about him. That’s real electric stuff.”

(Quote courtesy Matt Dunn of SNY.)

There’s been early talk, some of it stemming from Manuel himself, about Mejia breaking camp as the Mets’ 8th-inning guy.

That’d be exciting, for sure, and as a Mets fan I’m definitely psyched to see the electric stuff everyone keeps raving about.

I’m not sure it’s such a good idea, though.

Mejia’s only 20 years old, and since he walked 4.7 batters per nine innings in his stint at Double-A, it’s a safe bet he needs a little more work on his controlling his pitches before he’s unleashed on Major League hitters.

And, perhaps more importantly, he just needs to pitch more.

Mark this down: A good starter is more valuable than the best 8th-inning man in baseball. I promise. I could delve into way more detail, but just think of the difference in total innings: A good starter throws about 200 in a season. A good reliever throws about 80.

So ultimately, unless the Mets feel Mejia is no more than a late-inning reliever, they should want him to become a starter. And by all accounts, they do.

The so-called Verducci Effect states that young pitchers suffer regression after increasing his innings load by more than 30 from one season to another. There are inherent flaws in the notion, as my colleague Michael Salfino has been pointing out for years, and as Jeremy Greenhouse examined in detail at The Baseball Analysts last week.

Still, despite all that, no one would argue that teams should throw caution to the wind and haphazardly handle young pitchers. The Mets will — and should — want to be careful with Mejia’s workload. He threw only 94 2/3 innings last year in a season partly shortened due to a middle-finger injury.

The Mets will likely want to up that in 2010 to prepare him for the rigors of a full season as a Major League starter in 2011. Starting him out in the bullpen will not do that. Starting him out in the bullpen will push his innings count in the wrong direction.

Beyond that, hard-throwers like Mejia can rely mostly on their fastballs in relief roles, even at the big-league level. I don’t know how good Mejia’s secondary arsenal is currently, but I know that to succeed as a Major League starter, a pitcher needs more than one pitch. He should be given the opportunity to develop his full array of weapons as a starter in the Minors instead of risking letting them atrophy under the pressure to perform as a big-league reliever.

If, as Mejia approaches his 2010 innings limit later in the season, the Mets have a need in the bullpen, then sure, call him up and use him conservatively in late-inning work. Plenty of great starting pitchers have gotten their first taste of Major League action in bullpen roles.

But no matter how good Mejia looks this Spring, the Mets cannot afford to rush him into a big-league relief role to start the season. Simply put, it’s way easier to find a good 8th inning guy than a 20-year-old prospect with “electric stuff,” and there’s no reason to hinder the development of the latter for one season of the former.

9 thoughts on “The Mejia rules

  1. Yeah can the team please leave him in the minors to work on his control and continue to develop as a starter? If he comes up and is awesome as an 8th inning pitcher then we’ll have to deal with the same nonsense that went on with Joba Chamberlain of the New York Yankees.

  2. There are definitely ways a team can stick a strong starting prospect in the bullpen without hurting his development, and while aiding the big league team. I’m just certain that with the current major league staff all those ways would be ignored and it would only lead to ruin and heart ache.

  3. I agree w/leaving Mejia in AA until he proves he’s ready for more.

    But I wonder whether there’s some coincidence about the “Mejia in the 8th” talk appearing so soon after Kelvim Escobar’s condition became a talking point. Maybe the Mets are so desparate to avoid the injury talk that they’re going to push a theory of “Escobar is as irrelevant as Jay Marshall because Mejia is our 8th inning guy” to divert attention from another injury?

  4. With only 90 innings last yr mejia could be three years away from being in rotation full throttle. That is.. If u follow the verducci effect. 90.. 120.. 150.. 180. While mejia may only 23 at the time.. Will the mets wait and can they?

    • Can they? Yes absolutely there’s just no logic for a team with so much money committed, and is going to be so desperate for cheap above average production, to throw away a possible front end starters career/development for possible use in the bullpen. If you’re that desperate for a bullpen arm spend the money for Kiko Calero, I mean we’re the mets we shouldn’t be struggling to pay for bullpen arms, don’t ruin long-term potential for short-term gain especially when cheap options are abundant that will cost nothing but $$ the mets should be able to afford with a payroll so far under last years and under the luxury tax.

      Also one of the biggest differences between Joba and Meija is that Joba’s secondary pitches were almost fully developed when he was drafted and pretty much had two plus pitches and a plus-ish third pitch by the time he was in the bullpen, his biggest problems were injury concerns and work load management because he hadn’t been stretched out, he didn’t/doesn’t have much development left as a pitcher. A guy like Meija who has a plus fastball but who’s secondary offerings are still a little rough would probably end up leaning to heavily on his fastball in the bullpen to the detriment of the development of his other pitches.

  5. Is this the same Mejia that has pitched all of 45-2/3 innings above A ball? Who had a WHIP up around 1.50 in his brief stint in AA–and Manuel is now yapping about putting him in the majors?

    Putting Mejia in long relief, in *2011*, will probably make some sense, and infinitely more sense than trying to wreck his career in short relief in 2010.

    Please–fire Manual now. There’s no purpose to prolonging our agony.

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