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Mets are right to let Jenrry Mejia continue pitching

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A counterpoint to our editorial from earlier in the week that argued for shutting Mejia down.

Mitchell Leff

Apparently, to many fans, the Mets' decision to allow Jenrry Mejia to pitch this season while knowing that he has a hernia, is a terrible mistake and just another example of #LOLMETS. Luckily, however, the reality of the situation is quite different. So long as the medical staff says it's okay, Mejia should finish the season pitching for the major league club. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here's the lede in the words of beat writer Matt Ehalt:

Mets closer Jenrry Mejia closer disclosed Sunday that he is pitching through a hernia in his back that will require offseason surgery, but doctors have told him he’s fine to continue throwing for the time being.

The real diagnosable problem around here is a fan base that gets increasingly know-it-all, increasingly self-deprecating, and continues to foster an increasingly negative attitude around this team in general. Earlier this week, Michael Avallone wrote right here in an article on Amazin Avenue (emphasis is mine):

For a team that has had its share of poor public relations moments when it comes to injuries, allowing one of your prized young pitchers to gut out a hernia in a season that more than likely won't bear fruit is pointless and dangerous . . . Alderson and Collins need to step in and definitively tell Mejia that he needs to be shut down. A doctor saying the hernia won't worsen is not justifiable cause to allow the 24-year-old to continue to pitch.

To my knowledge the author is not a doctor, not a pitching coach, not a physical therapist, and not a body kinesiologist. To my knowledge he's just a fan, like me.

Nonetheless, Avallone makes very a pointed statement that Mejia's pitching is "pointless and dangerous." However he only supports that position with 1) his opinion that the Mets have handled injuries poorly in the past, and 2) his assertion that the hernia might force Mejia to change his delivery and further injure himself. He provides no evidence for this second point.

Avallone is not the only one, as there are other articles that similarly call for a Mejia shutdown. But these articles are similarly long on speculation, long on worry, and short on facts. In reality, we on the outside know very little about the facts underlying this case. Here's what we do know:

  1. Fans have no idea the extent of the injury. It may be minor and/or barely noticeable. Many sports hernias go away with rest and a little therapy, and don't even require surgery. In fact, Mejia himself called it only "a little bit of a hernia."
  2. Players can play through sports hernias and be okay. Despite Tim Byrdak's now-famous warning to Mejia, the facts are the facts: R.A Dickey had a sports hernia the year that he won the Cy Young award. Adrian Peterson had a sports hernia the year he won the NFL MVP. Not only can you play through hernias, you can be the best player in the league with one.
  3. If Mejia requires surgery, recovery is quick, simple, and uncomplicated. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Center for Biotechnology Information, in conjunction with Baylor University, published a paper that said that most athletes return to action within six weeks. Another source says that sport therapy can begin in three weeks, and a typical return to sport can be had in six weeks. Peterson returned in four weeks.

Is it possible that the hernia is affecting Mejia? Sure. But it is far more likely that Mejia has just hit a rough patch when it comes to luck—even Mejia boosters will admit that he has been walking on egg shells all season long, giving up too many hits, leaving too many hittable pitches up in the zone.

Since moving to the bullpen, Mejia has posted a strong 2.70 ERA and 9.81 K/9. He was even better before his last seven appearances, posting a 2.10 ERA from May 12 through July 23. However, the only thing that appears to have changed between July 23 and now is Mejia's luck. Despite posting a BABIP of .321 through July 23, Mejia's BABIP has exploded to an impossible .565 over his last 6⅔ innings. This despite the fact that his strikeout rate over that span is an excellent 13.49 per nine innings.

This is worth saying again: Mejia has recorded 20 outs over his last seven appearances, and 10 of them have been by strikeout, which is pretty good. He has not given up a home run in this period, and he has walked only three batters. In that same time, opposing hitters have put 23 balls in play, and 13 of them have become hits. It doesn't matter how many line drives you're giving up, a .565 BABIP is unreal.

As everyone already knows, Mejia has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. That is all the more reason to seize the opportunity to let him continue pitching at the major league level if the medical staff believes that he can continue to pitch without changing his mechanics or injuring himself further. I asked this on Twitter on Monday, after having a few debates about the decision to let Mejia continue to pitch:

Shockingly, nobody responded to that question. In lieu of any expert opinion to the contrary, I would defer to the opinions of the experts involved in the decision to let Mejia pitch. In fact, Mejia was pitching with the hernia for three weeks before even getting it diagnosed—and now that it has been diagnosed, the doctors have said that he can continue to pitch through to the end of the season so long as it doesn't worsen.

The bottom line is this: Jenrry Mejia is only now experiencing his first serious run of success at the major league level in his entire career. The 2014 season is not meaningless; these months will help determine who the Mets can count on to be a part of a 2015 team with serious playoff aspirations. If it's possible, Mejia should be out there gaining more confidence and experience with every passing day.

With the hernia problem being a simple fix, let's trust the medical staff's judgment. If you want people to stop saying #LOLMets, Mets fans should stop saying it about themselves.