The real Mike Pelfrey

At the break, Mike Pelfrey was 10-4 and many thought he got a raw deal by not making the All-Star team. But the truth is that after a great April, Pelfrey is the same underachieving guy he has always been. The story line was how the former first-round draft pick had added a new pitch and was now ready to take his place as one of the elite pitchers in the game. But if you look at him objectively, he is a back of the rotation pitcher whose stuff may still play best as a reliever.

Coming into this season, Pelfrey was 28-32 with a 4.58 ERA. He had 479 IP in the majors and recorded 275 Ks, for a 5.2 K/9 ratio. He did not have a pitch to put away batters when he got to two strikes and he had trouble versus LHB. Both of these were by-products of his pitching arsenal, where he threw two-seam fastballs the majority of the time.

Strikeout pitchers usually have a weapon that moves out of the strike zone that they get hitters to chase when they have two strikes. But Pelfrey did not have a big curve or sharp slider to expand the strike zone with when he got to two strikes against a hitter. Pelfrey did have a slider, but it was not a particularly good pitch and it is not one that traditionally fares well against LHB, as it breaks towards them instead of away from them.

This season, Pelfrey added a splitter to his repertoire. It seemed an odd choice, given that his two-seam fastball broke the same direction, but it was another pitch in his arsenal. And at first it was a great success. In April, he had a 6.6 K/9 and his splitter had a linear weights value of 3.13 runs above average per 100 pitches, the third-best mark in baseball.

In five games in April, Pelfrey was 4-0 (and a save!) with a 0.69 ERA.

But in 17 games since then, Pelfrey is 6-5 with a 5.00 ERA and a 5.2 K/9. Sure, he has been a bit unlucky, as batters have a .356 BABIP against him in that stretch. His FIP in that span is 4.03 but as Pelfrey allowed only 7 HR in those 99 IP, if xFIP was available it would show a mark right in line with his ERA.

So, coming into 2010, Pelfrey had a sub-.500 record and a 4.58 ERA
Last year he was 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA
In his last 17 games, Pelfrey is 6-5 with a 5.00 ERA

Which do you think is more indicative of Pelfrey as a pitcher, April when he had a 0.69 ERA or May-July when his ERA was 5.00?

Remember how his splitter was so effective in April? Now, linear weights show it as a below-average pitch, as it is -0.53 runs over 100 pitches. And LHB have a .291/.365/.447 line against him in 283 PA this season. That is an .811 OPS, which matches up perfectly with his .814 lifetime OPS against lefties. Despite the splitter, Pelfrey is the same pitcher he has always been.

NL pitchers have a 4.09 ERA. Starters in the NL have a 4.11 ERA. SP for the Mets have a 3.89 ERA, John Maine and Oliver Perez included. Since May 1st, Pelfrey’s ERA marks him as a #5 SP. He still has a gaudy W-L record of 10-5, which hides his true talent level to a lot of people.

Many have cried for the Mets to acquire a SP and move Hisanori Takahashi to the bullpen. Takahashi has been much more effective as a reliever than a starter, so it is understandable why. But in his last start, Takahashi went 7 IP, allowed 3 H and 2 ER. His reward? They skipped over his start and moved him to the bullpen. Takahashi was lit up in his prior start, but that was his first start in 13 days.

Ideally, both Pelfrey and Takahashi would be in the bullpen. But if the Mets do make a move to add one pitcher, it is far from a slam dunk that Takahashi is the pitcher to be moved. Yes, Takahashi was very effective as a RP. But he was also a quality starter for 10 years in his native country. Last year he was 10-6 with a 2.94 ERA in Japan. Takahashi has not been given enough of a chance to show what he can do as a SP in this country.

On the other hand, Pelfrey has been given a chance and the results have been far from dazzling. He outperformed his peripherals in 2008 and he had a great month of April in 2010. But the vast majority of his work shows a pitcher who is not very good. Pelfrey has 604 IP in the majors and a 4.49 ERA, which is in the middle of his FIP (4.22) and xFIP (4.60). For the past three months, he has been worse than that.

It is understandable why the Mets would prefer to keep Pelfrey in the rotation. As a former first-round pick, the club has a lot invested in him. Also, as the Mets already have two other LHP in the rotation, their preference for a righty also makes sense.

What confuses me is why the fan base shows such a strong bias towards Pelfrey over Takahashi. What should matter to us is simply results. Since May 1st, Pelfrey has a 5.00 ERA while Takahashi has a 4.60 ERA. Yes, some of Takahashi’s appearances in that time span came out of the bullpen. But he also had a start in Puerto Rico, had his turn skipped in the rotation and has yo-yoed back and forth between being a starter and a reliever. In other words, he is not pitching under the most ideal circumstances. And it is not like Pelfrey has a long history of success with the team.

It just makes me wonder if Takahashi would be embraced more if his name was Harry Smith.

1 comment for “The real Mike Pelfrey

  1. August 1, 2010 at 12:13 am

    Takahasi pitched well tonight, adding to your point. Perhaps Pelfrey needs to change psycologists.

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