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The Mets are going to turn Jenrry Mejia back into a starter

May 18, 2010, 8:42 AM EDT

jenrry mejia headshot mets.JPGTwo fabulous bits of news in one little story: ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin reports that the Mets are going to send Jenrry Mejia back to the minors to be stretched out for a return to starting duties and that they’re going to call up knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to take Wednesday’s start against the Nationals.

All of this is occasioned by the giant anvil that has been dropped on the Mets’ rotation as of late, what with Oliver Perez being kicked down to relief duties and John Niese tweaking his hamstring. In addition to Dickey being called in to start, Hisanori Takahashi is jointing the rotation as well and will take Friday’s start.

But no matter what’s occasioning all of this, they’re good moves.  Mejia is the latest and perhaps the most regrettable recent example of a big league club taking a perfectly awesome starting pitcher and rushing him up to become a reliever in the majors.  And just like Joba Chamberlain and Neftali Feliz before him, he’s been successful in the pen. Which shouldn’t be surprising, because it’s much easier to come in and throw one inning with your best gas and little need for secondary pitches.

The only problem is that teams appear to be confusing these guys’ success with “a reliever’s temperament” or some such nonsense, making them loathe to restore the guys back to the starting rotation where their skills can be put to better use. Thankfully the Mets have been forced into making the right move with Mejia. A guy who, if given the chance to develop his secondary pitches, gain a little strength and gain a little confidence, could turn into a top of the rotation starter.

Of course patience will be necessary for this to work out.  If the plan is to send Mejia down to double A or something and let him spend the season starting in the minors, building arm strength and building confidence for the future, mazel tov.  It’ll be another thing altogether, however, if the plan is to give him four weeks in Buffalo and then rush him back to New York to join the Mets’ rotation. If that happens he’s likely to get shelled, because really, it’s going to take longer than that for Mejia to get a feel for the changeup and curveball he really hasn’t had to use that much this year, and he’s going to need those pitches to be whip-smart if he expects to get major league hitters out with them two and three times in a single game.

But let’s leave our hand-wringing over that for another day.  For today, be happy that the Mets are doing the right thing with their best pitching prospect since Doc Gooden.  Oh, and that they’re calling up a knuckleballer, because that’s really cool.

  1. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - May 18, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    Just to quibble, but Chamberlain was on an innings limit in the minors and the Yanks had a huge whole in the BP (as well as a division race). But everything else was spot on as usual.

  2. BigPhil - May 18, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    Isn’t there a pretty good track record of bringing in young pitchers as relievers first before turning them into starting pitchers? Pedro and Johan Santana come to mind.

  3. James - May 18, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    The Rangers haven’t said that they’re permanently switching Feliz to relief. But this year they’re trying to win, and they’re pretty set for starting pitching. Besides, Feliz will be limited on innings, and he’s clearly not ready to be a starter at the major league level. If they never give him a shot at starting–unlike the Yankees, who gave Joba a good chance–that would be bad. But their track record as recently as this season with C.J. Wilson shows that they aren’t going to be that stupid.

  4. Shaun P. - May 18, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    Yes, but as multi-inning relievers, not as 8th-inning guys in the LaRussa setup man mold. One-inning relievers have all the problems associated with them that Craig details. Its a different story when you ask a reliever to go through the entire lineup at least once.
    The multi-inning reliever tactic was, of course, Earl Weaver’s preferred way to break a young pitching in to the majors. I’ve never understood why it fell out of use, and why more teams don’t use it.

  5. BigPhil - May 18, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    Ahh, makes sense. Thanks.

  6. Joey B - May 18, 2010 at 9:41 AM

    Just to quibble, Pelfrey and AJ Burnett were probably rated slightly higher, Kazmir a good bit higher, and Wilson was actually rated the #2 prospect in America. Actually, only the first two actually count as quibbling. Wilson was the #1 overall pick in BB.

  7. Joey B - May 18, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    “The multi-inning reliever tactic was, of course, Earl Weaver’s preferred way to break a young pitching in to the majors. I’ve never understood why it fell out of use, and why more teams don’t use it.”
    Yup, I don’t get it either. When you bring a guy in as a starter, you’re committed to him for 5-6 innings, so you have no room to be flexible. When you bring him as a reliever, you can pull him anytime he struggles without upsetting him or the BP. You can give him favorable matchups and develop him at his own pace.

  8. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - May 18, 2010 at 9:58 AM

    Earl Weaver’s preferred way to break a young pitching in to the majors. I’ve never understood why it fell out of use, and why more teams don’t use it.

    Probably because Weaver was known to “eschew the use of so-called “inside baseball” tactics such as the stolen base, the hit and run, or the sacrifice bunt, preferring a patient approach (“waiting for the home run”), saying “If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get” and “On offense, your most precious possessions are your 27 outs”. Which drives people like Joe Morgan and many other “traditionalists” insane.
    I swear I found a quote saying something to the effect of “why do you want your players running into outs? You get the guys on base for your bigger hitters who knock the m(@^*(%(#%^! ball out of the ballpark!” But I can’t find it anywhere.

  9. Ben - May 18, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    havent we realized some guys are better as relievers? just because they can go out and start doesnt mean they are better at it

  10. BC - May 18, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    These are the Mets we’re talking about. He’ll be back in majors and in the rotation by next week.
    Captcha: much lapses. There’s that ESP again….

  11. Joey B - May 18, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    “havent we realized some guys are better as relievers? just because they can go out and start doesnt mean they are better at it”
    True dat. Rivera was a starter. The RS tried Paps as a starter one spring to no avail. A guy like Joba was likely the 5th best closer in BB the day he stepped out on the field. Each case is different. Guys like Hughes and Buchholz work in a variety of pitches and rely on keeping batters guessing. Guys like Lester and CC can throw 130 pitches without a second thought. Guys like Joba and Paps just want to explode off of the mound and dominate you from pitch 1.
    The idea that, just because a guy has a ton of talent, he fits in equally at either spot is erroneous, imho. I think the same guy can be good at either spot, but will typically be better at one spot or the other.

  12. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - May 18, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    The Joba and Paps comparison aren’t valid though, as shown in my comment above. Joba was always a starter, in college and in the minors. He was put into relief in ’07 because he reached his innings limit in the minors AND the yanks needed help in relief.
    Now, he may be better in the bullpen (I don’t agree, see Hughes, Phillip for how a pitcher can adjust with more time in the pros since prior to this year their starting pitching stats were eerily similar), but he needs to be given more time.

  13. Shaun P. - May 18, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    Re: Joba needing more time, absolutely! Hughes has over 330 IP and 60 minor league starts on his resume, more than half in the high minors (AA and AAA). Joba? 80 something innings and 15 starts, 8 in the high minors (admittedly he has another 20+ starts and ~200 IP of starting in college, but that’s probably the equivalent of the low minors, not the high minors).
    The best thing the Yanks could do with Joba, IMHO, is to send him down to AAA to start the rest of the year. It will do him and the Yanks a world of good.
    Its one thing to take a guy like Billy Koch, who basically had one good-or-better pitch (upper 90s fastball) and turn him into a reliever. Its another thing altogether to take a guy who has at least 3 good-or-better pitches (Joba) and make him a reliever. Koch’s case seems like maximizing talent. Joba’s case seems like wasting talent.

  14. Joey B - May 18, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    “Now, he may be better in the bullpen (I don’t agree, see Hughes, Phillip for how a pitcher can adjust with more time in the pros since prior to this year their starting pitching stats were eerily similar), but he needs to be given more time.”
    It’s unproveable, but Hughes always struck me as having a much better intellectual feel for the game. He seems to have the ability to attack all four corners of the strike zone. Joba will mix in other pitches, but primarily just tries to overpower.
    It’s in the way that Joba gets weaker as the game goes on. On pitches 1-25, Hughes and Joba have relatively close OPS’, .615 & .628. On pitches 26-50, Hughes is at .664 while Joba is at .780. It narrows to a difference of .023 for 51-75, and increases to .053 for pitches 76-100.
    Another of putting it is, compared to the league average, Joba is slightly better than an average pitcher for pitches 26-100, while he is much better for pitches 1-25. So you can have an elite RP for 1/2 innings, or a good #3 SP for 6 innings. This was the same with Paps. It wasn’t like he couldn’t get guys out, but he couldn’t get guys out nearly as well as he got deeper into the game. And it wasn’t that he wouldn’t have made a good SP, but more that he was an elite RP.

  15. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - May 18, 2010 at 1:26 PM

    Interesting data, thanks for that. But how much of it is biased based off last year’s information? Meaning, Hughes was extremely dominant in his stint of relief last year (better WAR than Rivera iirc), and Joba, who pitched well up to his previous IP high, fell off the table and pitched almost 50+ more IP than he ever had before?
    Maybe that explains the huge difference in pitches 26-50?
    captcha: coherent protesting (i agree!)

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