In case you missed it, over the weekend, the Mets announced that RHP Jenrry Mejia is heading for the Bisons' bullpen. Mejia, coming off Tommy John surgery has pitched very well over his rehab assignments. To my eyes, his curveball looks better than it ever did pre-surgery thanks to a more consistent release point on the offering.
I believe almost all of the rationale for the move is contained in the following chart:
Mejia was averaging over five innings a start in Buffalo. Say for the sake of argument, that he made four more starts for Buffalo before he was recalled to the Mets at a point when he was already pushing 60 innings. At that point about eight starts from his career-high in innings when the Mets would need roughly 15 more starts from their rotation members.
Is this too conservative? Perhaps. Mejia's innings rose steadily as he ascended through the system from 2007 through 2009. His 2010 was marred developmentally by Jerry Manuel's insistence that he needed Mejia in his big league bullpen. He was ineffective in the Majors, and then came down with a sore shoulder at the end of the year as the Mets moved him back into a starter's pattern. Blame Manuel? Sure.
Developmentally, it would probably be best for Mejia to start every fifth day whether it's Buffalo or for the Mets, if his performance warrants it, until he reaches whatever innings ceiling the team has set for him and then shut it down. In a starter's role, he could continue to throw all three of his pitches, and work through game situations and setting up hitters.
However, development is not the only thing that matters. Big league wins matter too. Overall, the Mets are 22nd in baseball in ERA (4.28), but fourth in xFIP (3.72). Mets starters behind outstanding work from RA Dickey and Johan Santana and solid-mid rotation performances from Jon Niese and Dillon Gee are 6th in ERA (3.66) and third in xFIP (3.48). The relievers still boast the worst ERA in baseball (5.59) and 3rd worst xFIP (4.21) and that's while throwing the 12th fewest innings of any relief core.
Mejia's right arm represents one of the last potential in-house options to improve this bullpen. (Josh Edgin's left arm is another.) The only pitchers on the 40-man roster who are healthy and not on the 25-man roster are Mejia, Pedro Beato and LHP Robert Carson. Since May 1, Carson has an 8/5 K/BB ratio in 13 AA innings. That's not all that impressive. Beato on the other hand, has gone 10.2 innings without allowing a run in AAA, fanning nine and walking four, three intentionally, in that time with just five hits allowed. Beato is probably next on the list if the Mets need a reliever.
Of course, the Mets rotation has its own question marks: will Santana and Chris Young's shoulders hold up through the August heat? Can Gee maintain both his career-best strikeout and walk rates? Can Jon Niese maintain his career-best GB%, LOB% and BABIP? The Mets seem content to ride with Miguel Batista or Jeremy Hefner rather than turning to Mejia. Perhaps in a month or so, when Mejia would have been ready, Matt Harvey will be prepared to make the jump into the big league rotation.
I would have kept Mejia working as a starter to facilitate his development and preserve the team's options to help either the rotation or the bullpen. Mejia's value is so much higher as a 150 inning pitcher than as a 75 inning pitcher that the short-term, 2012 loss would be worth it. It is far easier to go from starting to relieving than from relieving to starting during the course of a season. There's no reason that with relatively normal usage out of the bullpen, Mejia could not reach 75 innings this year, and put himself in line for a return to the rotation in 2013.
Maybe it's just short-term thinking, but big league wins matter. At some point, it's time to expect young players to make the transition from prospects to big leaguers who help start producing those wins. Apparently, that time is now for Mejia.