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.