The Mets have been so impressed by 20-year old Jenrry Mejia in Spring Training that they are planning to make him a middle reliever to begin the season in the bullpen. But how impressive has Mejia’s spring actually been?
Mejia has faced 40 unique hitters over 43 plate appearances in spring training.
Here are their AB by level in ’09:
On Monday and Tuesday, the Mets wanted to test Mejia to see if he could work in back-to-back games as he might if he were in the Major League Bullpen. Prior to Monday, here’s the breakdown of AB by level from ’09:
Let me make that point clear in case the previous two tables didn’t. On Monday, the Mets prepared their top pitching prospect to become a reliever primarily on his performance in 35 Spring Training plate appearances against players who had 8,830 at bats in the minor leagues in 2009 and 3,897 in the big leagues! The Mets decided Mejia was ready for a big league bullpen based largely on his performance against AA caliber batters.
Yes, Mejia’s fastball is electric. His power changeup and curveball are tantalizing. But, prior to Monday, when he was facing one of his final tests of his bullpen mettle, he had faced exactly SIX batters who had 300 or more MLB AB in ’09. Six. Anything can happen over six AB. As decision-making processes go, isn’t this the equivalent of going to the beach in Far Rockaway, wading knee deep into the ocean, and deciding that since you not only didn’t die, but feel good, you’re going to swim to Spain?
Mejia has seen something which approximates an MLB lineup once. Against Atlanta, he set down Yunel Escobar, Matt Diaz and Nate McLouth in order. For the complete-ists, on March 8, he retired Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla in consecutive AB, but two batters at the beginning of spring training does not a lineup, or even an inning, make.
It’s true that Mejia has handled the more advanced hitters who have faced him. Players who saw any MLB time in ’09 are a combined 1-for-22 (.045) against Mejia with seven strikeouts, a walk and ten ground ball outs. MLB regulars, generously defined as those who had 300 or more AB, are a collective 0-for-10 against Mejia with just one strikeout. The “real” big leaguers might not have the bat speed to hurt Mejia yet, but at least like the minor leaguers and fringe guys, they can still put a bat on his stuff.
Want a good reason not to take any of this too seriously? The players who didn’t play a day in the big leagues in ’09 are hitting .316 (6 H/19 AB) against Mejia this spring.
What does this all mean? Nothing really, and I think that’s the point. Mejia’s early success came against players who are unlikely to be in the big leagues on Opening Day. He’s set down the few legitimate Major Leaguers he’s seen. He’ll probably face another 15 or so hitters before camp ends, which is another truly meaningless sample. That the Mets are willing to put Mejia in the MLB bullpen on this performance says more about the team’s decision-making process than anything else.
And around the web, the national guys started nailing the Mets on Wednesday.
At ESPN.com Keith Law is blunt in his discussion about the Mets plan to move Mejia to the ‘pen:
“I hate it. He’s a raw, high-upside arm with the weapons to be a starter in the long term, if he’s given time to improve his command and consistency on his change and curve. Instead they’re cutting off that upside for a quick fix in the pen. By the way, promoting prospects who aren’t ready is a hallmark of GMs in fear for their jobs.“
Baseball America’s Jim Callis made the same point in his ESPN Chat:
Jim, What is your opinion on how the Mets are handling Meija’s development? If he has a chance to be a legitimate top of the rotation pitcher, arent they hurting his development by rushing him to the majors and developing him as a late inning 1 or 2 pitch reliever?
Jim Callis(2:10 PM)
The Mets’ front office is in win-now/save-our-jobs mode. I would have sent him to Double-A as a starter to begin the season.
There’s an interesting point here about the divergence between the Mets fans and decision-makers on this one. Fans, at least judging by what I read, are on the whole opposed to putting Mejia in the ‘pen to start the year. Fans have a longterm relationship with the Mets. Most grew up Mets fans and will be Mets fans after 2010, in 2011, 2012 and beyond. The Mets decision-makers, operating on essentially a one-year win-or-else mandate from ownership rationally cannot afford that long time horizon that Mets fans enjoy. Strange, but true.
**If any readers are interested in playing with this data further, email me. I have all of this lovely information in a handy spreadsheet with each player’s OPS by level that I didn’t even discuss in this post.**