Jenrry Mejia looks like Jenrry Mejia

Over the summer, in a discussion about starters and relievers over at The Book Blog, I said this:

I think a lot has to do with preconceived notations of what people think starters and relievers “look like.” Joba Chamberlain “looks like” a reliever. Jamie Moyer “looks like” a starter. I’m sure, on both a conscious and subconscious level, things like height, physical appearance, “makeup,” and even race are taken into account when managers are assigning roles to amateur pitchers.

My main thesis was that as coaches at the high school, college, and pro levels begin to assign pitchers roles, much of the time they are not thinking of how to use their players optimally, but instead just plugging guys into roles based on vague ideas of what a closer “looks like” or a starting pitcher “looks like.” So in discussing the upcoming Mets season with our own Jeremy Greenhouse at The Baseball Analysts, I said this:

I’m really worried the Mets are going to put [Jenrry Mejia] in the bullpen to start the season. I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope they put him back in Binghamton next year. His peripherals in Binghamton were really solid last year. I hope he continues to prosper there and move up the ranks. I don’t want to see him get thrown in. He has that look of a set-up guy or closer that people can think “Oh, this is one of those late-inning guys, a K-Rod because of that electric arm.” And they can forget that he can actually be a very good starter if they leave him in the minors for long enough.

And it still does worry me. Mejia has struggled with his control (4.67 BB/9 in Double-A last season), but strikes out guys in bunches, which is a combination that usually leads to the idea of putting a guy in the pen. But Mejia was just nineteen years old last year, and still put up a tremendous 3.49 FIP in Double-A despite his superficial 4.47 ERA. Given another minor league season or two to grow as a starting pitcher, Mejia could become something special.

At the time, I thought I was just speculating with my K-Rod comment. However, then came this yesterday:

You can feel the Jenrry Mejia campaign beginning to build in earnest. So far Jerry Manuel has only lightheartedly hinted at the possibility of express-laning the 20-year-old prospect to the majors to get big outs in the bullpen this season, but now Darryl Strawberry is trying to convince anyone who will listen.

Even GM Omar Minaya.

“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.

“He’s the only guy I’ve ever seen that reminds me of Mariano Rivera.”

Oh no. Here we go again. I chided Manuel in a column last week for referencing Rivera when he spoke glowingly about Mejia, and now I tried to tell Strawberry it’s way too premature to talk about Mejia that way.

“I’m telling you,” Strawberry said. “I played with Mo, I saw it up close. I know what his cutter looked like and I’m telling you, I haven’t seen a pitch move like his, with that kind of velocity, until I saw this kid Mejia.”

So I got the comp wrong: it’s apparently Mo he looks like, not K-Rod. To think of how silly it would be to try and gain a marginal advantage by using Mejia in the bullpen this season and risk his potential blossoming as a starter. But here it is. The Mets have something really exciting on their hands. Let’s hope they do the right thing and think long-term.

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Comments

  1. Matty said...

    Earl Weaver used to develop starters in relief roles.  Johan Santana started as a reliever.  It’s not a bad way to develop pitchers.  I understand the fear of Mejia never getting a chance to start if he’s too good in the bullpen, but it may work out okay.

  2. Pochucker said...

    As a met fan I can say this”Oh no here we go again”  The list of overblown , overhyped prospects is legendary.(it did work in the case of pulling wool over Minnesota eyes in Santana trade). I wont bore anyone with the list but just remember this is a team that traded Nolan Ryan away and hyped Alex Escobar to death.

  3. Pat Andriola said...

    Matty,

    I agree it’s possible, but it’d be very unlikely. Johan was also started 41 games in 4 years in the bullpen. It’s a generous example.

  4. Josh Fisher said...

    Pat, I’m with Matty. Using the ‘pen to break a guy into the majors without ramping up his innings too much can work. It’s what I’d do with Strasburg.

    The key is that you don’t get suckered into using him there forever. I think that’s what you’re really concerned with.

  5. Pat Andriola said...

    Josh,

    Yeah, the difference is when you have a set gameplan with a guy like Strasburg and say, “okay, let’s get him some big league innings in mop-up duty, etc.” When you throw a guy like Mejia into the pen, there’s a chance he can be looked at like a late-game, 1-inning reliever and stick there. That’s the worry.

    Also, he’s really young and could benefit from starting in the minors and extending his workload

  6. Stephen Castro said...

    Though Mejia is probably not there yet, if a pitcher is so advanced as to completely dominate the minors, he can be helped by pitching in the majors as a reliever in order to gain the confidence and experience of facing major league hitters.  It might be a net positive as long as he is not pigenoholed into the bullpen

  7. Chris said...

    Santana pitched about 82 more minor league innings than Mejia and didn’t have the high BB rate.

    I definitely think that he should remain in the minors.

  8. anonymous coward said...

    The closer position is very valuable in modern baseball.  Every team needs a guy that can come in and shut the door in any situation.  If this kid really has a devastating pitch why not use him as a two inning late reliever.  The method has worked before.  Before Rivera was a closer he used to come in to pitch the 7th and 8th prior to handing the ball to John Wetland.  I think K-Rod’s best days are behind him, why not bring this kid up let him pitch and develop into a closer, rather than a starter.

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