The Mejia madness

I already weighed in on this once but it hasn’t quite gone away. Now Darryl Strawberry, too, has compared Mets’ top prospect Jenrry Mejia to Mariano Rivera and suggested he be given a place in the Major League bullpen post haste.

Everyone in the baseball world needs to agree to some giant pact to stop comparing people — especially 20-year-olds with 45 innings of experience beyond Single-A ball — to Mariano Rivera. Mariano Rivera is about the most dominant pitcher of all-time. Probably not the most valuable — that honor should go to a starter — but, inning for inning, the most dominant.

Check out the historical ERA+ leaderboard. Stare. Gape. Look at where Rivera is, then look at the pack.

Now tell me that some 20-year-old kid, an impressive prospect no doubt, compares somehow to Mariano Rivera. No one compares to Mariano Rivera. Mariano Rivera is incomparable.

Hey, guess what? Ike Davis is the next Lou Gehrig. Fernando Martinez? Babe Ruth.

And I know no one has quite said Mejia is the next Rivera, only compared their pitches. But the frustrating thing about the comparison, I guess, is that it would take Mejia becoming Rivera — or something close — for moving him to the bullpen to be a worthwhile decision.

Human, non-Rivera closers aren’t worth nearly as much as good or great starting pitchers. And if Mejia’s stuff is electric as everyone seems to say it is, and his arm is strong and the Mets are careful with him, he has a chance to be a front-of-the-rotation Major League starter in a couple of years.

But to do that — and I touched on this the last time around — he’ll have to develop his secondary stuff. And he won’t have that opportunity relying mostly on his cutting fastball in a Major League bullpen. Plus, spending a season in the bullpen would prevent Mejia from approaching an innings target above the 109 he threw between the Minors and the Arizona Fall League in 2009. That complicates a transition to a starting role down the road.

You can point to recent examples of now-successful starting pitchers who broke into the Majors as relievers, like Johan Santana and Adam Wainwright, but the situations are not the same. Wainwright had excellent breaking stuff in 2006 and enough confidence in it to throw it in big spots — Mets fans know that all too well.

Santana spent 2000 mostly getting torched in the Twins’ bullpen because he had been a Rule 5 draft pick. He didn’t become the Johan Santana we know until 2002, after a stint in the Minors. From the Wikipedia:

In 2002, the Twins sent Santana to the minors for 2 months to work almost exclusively on perfecting his changeup. He did this for 10 starts and came back up to the majors with a terrific changeup to complement his very good fastball. While in the minors, pitching coach Bobby Cuellar made Santana throw at least one changeup to every batter. According to Cuellar, Santana would sometimes throw 20 in a row during games.

You can’t throw 20 changeups in a row in Major League games. It would be very, very bad.

Naturally, Mejia is not Santana, just like he’s not Wainwright and he’s not Rivera and he’s not Doc Gooden, either. I’m as excited as everyone else is about his potential, which is why I’m hoping that, for once, the Mets can be patient and allow his ability to match his hype before they elevate him to the big-league level.

15 thoughts on “The Mejia madness

  1. Why is it that every g–d–m pitcher in the Mets organization is a future reliever/closer? I totally agree with you, let these guys develop at their own pace into solid starters. Its not like trying to be a starting pitcher hurt Rivera. If anything it may help Meijia. Give the kid some time to work on his stuff and maximize his potential. Relievers are a dime a dozen. Homegrown talent isnt.

  2. Great post. I wish I could trust the Mets to do the right thing with this kid.

    Send him to the minors, let him learn how to become a starter. If after a while you’ve determined that just won’t work, then you can convert him to the bullpen. Lo and behold, you will have (gasp!) developed a future closer, instead of having to bestow ridiculous $36 million contracts on aging free agents.

    But to do anything other than put all your energy into making him a better starter over the next year or two is baseball malpractice.

  3. I agree, why start this guy in the majors to be a 8th inning guy. Let him go down develop his pitches and start not relieve.

    Then down the stretch when he is close to his inning limit in the minors if he performs well you can then bring him up to get some MLB experience.

    I see no reason in having him start the year in the bigs.

  4. Good post Ted, but regardless of all the media hype, the only people that matter in the diecison making process here, Omar and Jerry, have both stated on numerous occasions that Mejia is most likely headed for AA to start the season.

    So while you make all good points about not rushing him and all that, the only people that really matter seem like they are on the same page as you.

  5. Ted, I think you’re missing the point. It’s not that Mejia is as good as Rivera RIGHT NOW . . . it’s just that he’s GOING to be as good as Rivera soon, like probly by the All-Star Break.

  6. Seriously. People need to chill–out.

    This happened with Chad Pennington. They said he’s like Joe Montana. Two guys similar in that they don’t throw hard, but are very accurate and study opponents hard.

    The problem isn’t the comparison, it’s what people take out of it. The minute you mention a young player to a hall of famer, knuckleheads get offended.

    All anyone ever says is he has an excellent slider and throws hard, kinda like Mariano Rivera.

    That’s not a big deal. No one is insulting Mariano Rivera, and of COURSE there aren’t any numbers to back it up, but it’s COMPLETELY OK to compare styles.

    Let me repeat that…STYLES.

    So if this kid has the goods, and if he can keep it together, then we can expect him to have a good career. (Those by the way, are two big IFs, much harder to come by, but then I know that. I’m smart.)

    And maybe one day, he can be as great as Rivera.

    Anyone with an ounce of intelligence knows that.

    Anyone without an ounce gets offended.

    Really, just shut up.

    • Only that’s not what they said. Read those articles. Both Strawberry and Manuel compared Mejia’s fastball to Rivera’s cutter, and Rivera’s cutter might be the most effective pitch ever.

      Assuming Mejia’s fastball can be that effective, and using that assumption as justification for moving him into a bullpen role, is foolish. That was the point of this post.

  7. I hate to defend the MSM (though I like defending Straw), but I think this is getting taken out of context a bit. A 94 mph cutter is not a common pitch. Maybe this will all get cleared up a bit when we get more Pitch F/X on Mejia so we can break down the movement on his fastball a bit better, but its just hard to name another guy who throws a fastball that hard that moves in that direction from a righty delivery. Its not necessarily to say Mejia can ever be as effective as Mo’, or even that he should be a closer (though some have seemed to imply that, which is nonsense, but I don’t think its what the minor league operations people in the organization are thinking, and even Jerry admitted he was joking about taking Mejia north). Just that he throws a pitch that’s very hard and moves in on leftys/away from righties. If there were a lesser pitcher whose name was well known who threw a similar pitch, I’m sure comps could go there just as easily, but its not a common offering.

    • That’s fair, but Straw did say pretty explicitly that he should be a closer: “I went to Omar and told him, ‘You’ve got to make this guy a closer,'” Strawberry was saying in animated fashion Tuesday. “I’d definitely put him in the pen this year, I don’t care if he’s only 20. He’s got a pitch that guys can’t hit.”

      And later in the article, Harper/Manuel seem to suggest that Manuel would be down for plugging him into a bullpen role now, but the front office wouldn’t. I suppose that’s good, and I guess you can’t fault Jerry for thinking that if he really believes it, but there’s just no way it’d be good for Mejia in the long run.

  8. My concern is that they go the “Joba” route with him, and put him in the pen in August if they are in the pennant race and thus hinder his development as a starter and create unnecessary drama and debate.

    Nice job by Omar picking up Kiko on the cheap. He’s good, when healthy. But do they still have room in the pen for Beimel? I’m not so sure, unless Nieve wins the fifth spot. And would they be willing to send down Parnell? I wouldn’t.

    • Yeah that’s my worry too Sherm. When Joba was put in the bullpen his pitching arsenal was already pretty refined, when he was drafted it was pretty refined, his pitches likely weren’t going to get better against minor league talent he just wasn’t stretched out enough for a spot in the rotation yet. Meija is almost the complete opposite, his secondary pitches are no where near refined and if he’s put in the bullpen he’s just going to end up leaning too heavily on his fastball because right now it’s his only pitch that will likely consistently get major leaguers out.

  9. With Joba, while his secondary offerings were mlb ready, his command was not quite there. He was delayed by both the innings limitations and the concomitant inability to develop command of his fastball as a starter in the minors. Meija needs time and innings in the minors to develop his secondary pitches like you said and the command of his fastball as well. If the kid can command that fastball (assuming its as good as everyone says), his secondary offerings need only be mediocre to succeed.

    I am excited about this kid. Lets hope they don’t mess him up.

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