Why the common comps for Jenrry Mejia are not good comps for Jenrry Mejia

I fixate. Anyone who has been reading my writing long enough to remember my unending Val Pascucci campaign in 2008 knows that.

These days, I’m fixated on the idea that Jenrry Mejia should open the season starting games in the Minor Leagues, or, now, stretching out to start games in the Minor Leagues, and not in the Major League bullpen. See here, here and here for details.

I realize that obsessing like this is stupid; by now, Mets fans have all likely made up their minds one way or the other about where they feel Mejia should be pitching in April, and continuing to beat the drum only opens me up for criticism in the event that he does start the season in the Major League bullpen and manage a successful conversion to the rotation down the road.

And I know the Mets haven’t actually put him in the bullpen yet. So it’s pointless to get too upset, since all using him in relief in Spring Training could end up amounting to is a little more time getting Mejia stretched out in April — ultimately keeping his innings total down — plus some needless screwing around with him and a whole lot of wasted words.

But whatever. I persist.

Anyway, plenty of people who are understandably excited about the possibility of Mejia breaking camp with the big club have countered arguments like the ones I’ve made by comparing him to other pitchers who debuted in the Majors as young as Mejia or successfully made the conversion from a bullpen role to the rotation.

But the following pitchers are not like Jenrry Mejia:

Dwight Gooden: Gooden comes up a lot because Gooden also wowed Mets coaches in Spring Training at a very young age despite no Triple-A experience and wound up on the Major League club in 1984. And Gooden went on to win the Rookie of the Year that year and then the Cy Young Award the following year, when he put on one of the most dominant season-long pitching performances in Major League history at the tender age of 20.

But Gooden is not like Jenrry Mejia because Gooden came with a wildly different Minor League pedigree. Look at what Gooden did in 1983. 191 innings, 300 strikeouts, 112 walks. That’s insane, and an insane amount of pitching for an 18 year old. Or anyone, really. If Mejia had dominated High-A ball to the tune of 14.1 K/9 like Gooden did and was going to be used as a starter in the bigs like Gooden was, then there would be no great reason his age should hold him back.

Of course, there’s a case to be made (that I’m not here to make) that Gooden could have used a little more time pitching under the radar, even if he was physically ready.

Adam Wainwright: Wainwright is a great example of  a pitcher who came through the Minors as a starter, was used as a late-inning reliever in his rookie season, then became a successful starter, as some hope Mejia can.

But Wainwright also is not like Jenrry Mejia. By his rookie season in 2006, Wainwright was 24 and had thrown 784 2/3 innings, including 245 1/3 at Triple-A. In them, he developed enough confidence in his curveball to throw it 25.9% of the time in 2006, including, as we all recall, in some pretty big spots.

By most accounts, Mejia still needs work on his secondary stuff. That type of work is best done in the Minor Leagues, which brings me to the next guy:

Johan Santana: Santana is another pitcher who came up in a relief role and became a successful starter, and since he’s on the Mets, he makes for an easy comparison to Mejia.

But Santana is not like Jenrry Mejia because the Twins were likely only keeping him around in their bullpen in 2000, his rookie year, because he had been a Rule 5 pick, and Santana — hard as this is to believe — sucked that year.

Santana didn’t become the awesome Johan Santana we know and love until 2002, when, surprise, surprise, he went to Triple-A for a stint to refine his changeup. The Twins slowly transitioned him into a starting rotation role over the next two seasons as they eased up his innings total, but he was never a one-inning reliever.

Francisco Liriano: The Twins began Liriano in a relief role in 2006 to give him his first taste of the Majors before moving him into the rotation in late May. And though they were careful with him — Liriano never pitched on back-to-back nights, and usually had two days off between appearances — his stellar rookie season was shortened by an elbow injury that ultimately required Tommy John surgery. He has not been the same since.

So I don’t see why Liriano’s a great example to point to for why the Mets should start Mejia in the bullpen. I don’t think the Twins’ handling of Liriano had anything to do with his injury, but a great pitching prospect who threw a half of a really good season shouldn’t be held up as a success story. The Mets want more than that from Mejia.

Still, Liriano is not like Mejia for a number of reasons. He entered the Majors in 2006 after a full season of starting in the high Minors in 2005, including a dominant 14-start stretch in Triple-A. Plus Liriano had a developed a wide enough arsenal of pitches that he threw under 50% fastballs that year and the highest percentage of sliders (37.6%) of anyone in the Majors with at least 100 innings pitched.

So: In truth, Jenrry Mejia is only like Jenrry Mejia, obviously. It’s fun to cite examples when making arguments, and drawing comparisons to players that have come before is a big part of what talking sports is all about. I get that.

And heck, for all I know, Jenrry Mejia can dominate out of the Mets’ bullpen this year while at the same time perfecting that secondary arsenal, then transition smoothly into the rotation next year to become a frontline starter and serve as a comp for all sorts of future young pitchers to come.

But as far as I’m concerned, it’s hard enough for a prospect to turn into a frontline starter without obstacles to his development, and the Mets would be best served making Mejia’s path to becoming a big-league frontline starter as smooth and effortless as possible.

That means a ticket to Binghamton or Buffalo, where Mejia can stretch out and strengthen his arm, gain valuable experience, and fully develop his entire array of pitches before being thrown to the big-league wolves.

The value he’ll add to the Mets’ 2010 bullpen over whomever he’d replace — be it Kiko Calero or Sean Green or Bobby Parnell — is simply not enough to jeopardize all the value he could add to the Mets’ future starting rotations. And just because there are a few vague examples of guys that have come before him in similar situations and succeeded doesn’t make it worth the risk to the Mets.

16 thoughts on “Why the common comps for Jenrry Mejia are not good comps for Jenrry Mejia

  1. Ted,

    I agree. The problem with the Mets is that it’s hard to figure out whether they really have a plan in place for top prospect other than ‘they need more time in the minors”.

    (1) Jenrry Mejia should probably start the season in AA. I’ve saw him pitch last year on a day when his fastball wasn’t working and he was erratic. It showed me that while he has a good fastball with natural movement, he doesn’t have command of his secondary pitches. If the Mets start him in the bullpen this year, they can pretty much forget of him as a starter one day because he won’t have an opportunity to develop those pitches.

    I would start him in AA for about 7-10 starts, then promote him to AAA and let him pitch there until he shows he’s ready. His future is as a top-of-the-rotation starter not an 8th inning guy.

    (2) Fernando Martinez is lighting it up, but he’s never been healthy and there really isn’t a need to rush him, since both Pagan and Matthews are doing okay. Let F-Mart play most of the season in AAA. Stay healthy, work on pitch selection and gain confidence.

    I would leave him in AAA for most of the year. What about 2011? No one knows Beltran’s health, whether Frenchy will be any good or whether Bay’s shoulder/knees turn out to be what the Red Sox thought. Have F-Mart play 2011 as a featured 4th outfielder – meaning he plays 3-4 times a week in each OF position to give the others a day off. This would also allow him to ease into the Majors.

  2. Ted, I remind you of the old adage — Never argue with an idiot, becuase he will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

    There is absolutely no valid reason for the Mets to make Mejia a reliever unless and until he fails as a starter, or unless they are in a pennant race late in the season and he is nearing an innings limit. Any person in the media arguing in favor of Mejia’s immediate conversion to the pen should be forced to hand in their press credentials immediately, because they are simply too ignorant of baseball to be permitted to have a public forum on such matters. In that regard, I note that the WFAN morning brain trust of Boomer and Carton agreed this morning that Mejia should make the team as a reliever. Enough said.

    • Sherm,

      Just because you dont agree with something doesnt mean there isnt a valid reason.

      I happen to agree with you that Mejia should go to the minors and start, which I still think he will, but to say that “There is absolutely no valid reason for the Mets to make Mejia a reliever unless and until he fails as a starter” is a bit ignorant on your part.

      Valid reason? How about winning? Is that not a valid enough reason for you? If Mejia has the potential to dominate the 7th or 8th inning does that not help the Mets win and accomplish the ultimate goal of making the post season and playing for a title.

      So while I agree with you, its just not as simple as you make it out to be.

      • I don’t think winning is a valid reason just because one inning pitchers over the course of the season usually don’t have that much of an effect.

        2. if this team was concerned about winning there were multiple other positions they could have addressed at low cost over the off-season that would have given us a much better chance of winning than just sticking a prospect into the 8th inning and they chose to ignore all of them.

        And 3 kind of goes with 2, but considering our flimsy rotation, the number of question marks we have in the line up and on the field and that we’ll be missing Beltran and Reyes for at least the first month, maybe 2 for Beltran of the season, do you really think 40-50 innings of baseball from Meija is going to be the difference between the post-season and not making the post season? I imagine at most it will be the difference between maybe 3rd and 5th place in the NL East, just because I think the Mets, Marlins and Nats will end up pretty tightly bunched at the bottom.

      • You cannot always assume the team is going to be awful. Thats not how they think or make decisions. They are not the Pirates

      • I’m assuming they’re going to be bad because they chose to ignore multiple positions that needed upgrading and could have cheaply been upgraded. If they were so concerned with winning then whats the excuse for not bringing in piniero, lopez and branyan, among multiple others? the last two signed for about as much as we’re paying Cora. It doesn’t make sense to not address multiple holes and then needlessly cut off the development of a high upside player.

  3. Chris, I really think it is that simple, although perhaps I’m being a little too strident.

    A good starter is so much more valuable to a team than a good reliever, and it is thus imperative that the Mets do nothing to delay or hinder his development if he is indeed as good a prospect as many experts believe. Its too short-sighted to say that “winning” is a valid reason to put him in the pen because you have to balance winning this year (and, to be honest, will Mejia really help the Mets win a WS this year?) with winning in future years, and having a top-flight starter under team control for several years will help them win more in the future than having a good set-up man this year. What’s best for Mejia is probably whats best for the franchise, and its hard to deny that its best to send him down to work on his breaking ball and command. Also, and no one is discussing the possibility of him bombing as a reliever for the Mets because he ends up being too wild to pitch the 8th inning. Then his development is hindered without having helped the Mets win. It seems that every argument in favor of keeping him on the team presupposes that he will good this year. But there is no such guaranty.

    And, like I said, if the Mets find themselves in a pennant race this year, they can bring him up in August when he’s at 120-130 innings and have him both develop as a starter in AA and help them win this year.

    • Gravedigger, I love your name, and you’re really dating yourself with it.

      A coupe of years back I did a ton of landscaping in my yard by myself, including the terracing a hill by digging it out into two flat levels and building a stone retaining wall so that an above ground pool could be placed on the lower level. In the middle of this months long project I told a friend of mine how many wheelbarrows of dirt I had dug up and removed, and he immediately asked me, “who are you, Richie Hebner?” I hadn’t heard that name in years.

  4. I think the best scenario would be for Mejia to go down and start until August. If the Mets are in the race, he can move into the pen at that time.
    Remember, he only threw 94 innings last year, so a full year as a starter would be taxing. But if he got about 100 innings in the minors to work on his secondary pitches and command, he can then pitch 20-30 in the big league pen to help down the stretch.
    He then would be at a point next year where he could throw 150-165 innings in the big leagues, with hopefully improved secondary stuff.

    • I think that was the plan going into spring training.

      7 or 8 great innings in spring training and injury to Kelvim Escobar are not valid reasons to change that plan.

  5. I think the Mets should look no further than how the Spanks handled Mo and Joba when trying to figure out how to handle Mejia.

    If you want him to be a starter, then send him down to AA and let him start. If the Mets are in the race late in the year, bring Mejia up to boost the Pen. Then let him work on being a starter for next year.

    If he proves he doesn’t have the ability to be a successful starter in the bigs, then move him to the pen where he could be successful.

    But to put him in the Pen now for a full season will only hinder his ability to develop into a
    successful starter, and the damage done to his development probably can’t be undone.

  6. “7 or 8 great innings in spring training and injury to Kelvim Escobar are not valid reasons to change that plan.”

    The problem is that this whole situation points to the fact that the Mets front office basically has no plan. And when they do have a plan, it is so off the cuff, with so little invested in it, that a few good or bad innings one way or the other is likely to lead to the whole thing being scrapped. They’re like children distracted by shiny objects.

    This is not the way successful organizations are run, and is exactly why it’s gotten more and more difficult to root for this team while these guys are in charge.

    I’m assuming, given what I know about the org, that the kid starts the season in Flushing. Anyone care to offer odds that this ends badly?

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