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.