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.