Now or never for Mike Pelfrey

When the Mets tendered Mike Pelfrey a contract in December, the club went ahead and gave the soon-to-be 28 year old one last chance at glory.

This is make-or-break time for Pelfrey. 2012 will be his last year to prove what kind of pitcher he actually is and salvage his reputation as a productive and trusted pitcher.

Actually, if you ask any Mets’ fans what Pelfrey is, they’ll bluntly tell you who he is. Most portray him as a meandering, inconsistent and at best average picture.

Those definitions wouldn’t be out of line, since Pelfrey has certainly underwhelmed in his time with the Mets. His career numbers don’t scream out prolific front-line material. In his six years, Pelfrey has registered 50 wins (with 54 losses) with a career 4.74 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.

Pelfrey has been at the brunt of most Mets’ fans ire for years because-fair or not-he embodies what the Mets and their flailing ownership represent: broken promises.

After being drafted in the first round (9th overall) in the 2005 Amateur draft from Wichita State, Pelfrey was supposed to usher in a new era in Mets’ lore where the Mets could count on home-grown prospects and not rely on going outside and bringing in like pitchers like Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Mike Hampton etc. to carry the rotation. (Much like how Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler are being hyped these days).

As Brian Joura pointed out on Monday, offense likely won’t be the Mets problem in 2012. The pitching, well that’s a different story. Pelfrey and his ability to produce is just another in a long line of question marks surrounding Mets’ pitchers.

Such as:

Can the Mets expect Johan Santana to stay healthy and provide dependable innings?

Can the Mets score enough runs to make R.A. Dickey a consistent winner?

Can the Mets get a good second half from Jon Niese?

Can Dillon Gee cut down his walk ratio?

If you accept Pelfrey at face value, then it’s easier to accept his shortcomings. Pelfrey is a solid innings eater who’ll give you a good number of quality outings sprinkled with some epic meltdowns. After six years with the Mets, he is not going to be an ace. So, this season he will have one last chance to step up or he’ll likely be pitching somewhere else in 2013.

For Pelfrey to be successful, he needs to develop a mean streak and not be so tentative. He has to take the metaphorical bulls by the horn. No more pussyfooting around. However, that has not been Pelfrey’s demeanor and it may never will be.

Pelfrey just doesn’t see like the type of pitcher who can thrive pitching in New York and the scrutiny that comes with it.

Maybe a change of scenery could be the ultimate respite for Pelfrey. If Pelfrey gets off to a good start and the Mets are out of contention, then there stands a good chance he could become trade bait come next season’s trade deadline.

If Pelfrey and the Mets are to coexist in harmony, then 2012 will be his last year to prove so.

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9 comments for “Now or never for Mike Pelfrey

  1. January 12, 2012 at 10:27 am

    For what it’s worth, of the 41 players drafted 9th overall between 1965 and 2005 (the year the Mets drafted him), Pelfrey ranks 10th by rWAR, through 4+ years of ML service time. Essentially, thus far in his career, he’s been more productive than roughly 75% of the players drafted in the same slot as him. Kevin Appier (’87) leads the bunch, followed by Barry Zito (’99), John Danks (’03), Ron Darling (’81), Mark Kotsay (’96), Geoff Jenkins (’95), Jeff Francis (’02), Michael Cuddyer (’97), and Steve Buechele (’79). Additionally, 15 of the 41 never made it to the Majors, another 9 made it, but posted neutral or negative career rWAR.

    We’re disappointed with him because he was drafted as a polished pitcher and made it to the Majors quickly, but has failed to become a frontline pitcher. He’s especially frustrating because he’s had stretches where he’s looked like he could be an ace. But stepping back and looking at the big picture (emotions aside), while not a homerun you’ve still gotta count that draft pick as a hit, not a miss.

    Anyway, sorry for wandering off on that tangent, Dan. Your post just got me thinking about what constitutes a success or failure with a primo draft pick like #9 overall. In general, I do agree with you that this is Pelfrey’s last shot with the Mets. Another year like 2009 or 2011 (even if 2011 was brought down largely by an atrocious April), and he’ll likely be non-tendered. Hopefully, Pelfrey can put it all together, and have himself a nice, solid season. Or at the very least, as you mentioned, a nice solid first half, after which he would have enough value to actually net a worthwhile prospect or 2 at the trade deadline.

    • Brian Joura
      January 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      Good stuff Chris!

      Your post brings a couple of things to mind. First, I’m not sure what year we should use for when the draft “matured” but it’s hard to make serious comparisons with early results. Look at 1971 – Five of the first 12 picks didn’t make the majors and the seven who did combined for -6.1 rWAR in their careers. Compare that to Pelfrey’s draft, when 15 of the first 16 picks made the majors and the one who didn’t was ranked as Tampa Bay’s #1 prospect before shoulder and elbow problems did him in.

      It doesn’t help when the three players taken immediately behind Pelfrey – Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce – have all posted higher rWAR.

      I agree completely that the Pelfrey pick has been a hit. The problem is that people see his hot streaks as indicative of what his average production should be. Hopefully people won’t make the same mistake with Dillon Gee, expecting him to match his first 10 or so starts from last year.

      If Pelfrey can give you 200 IP with an ERA around 4.00 — that’s got value. Now, we can argue and disagree about how valuable – but there just aren’t 100 people in the majors who can give you that in a year-in, year-out basis. Since 2008, Pelfrey has averaged 195 2/3 IP and a 4.27 ERA.

      • January 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

        Good point about the older drafts. I was just using all the data available at baseball-reference, but maybe a range like 1990-2005 or something would be more relevant. McCutchen (especially) and Bruce being rising stars stings (Maybin’s on the upswing, but by rWAR he’s still behind Pelfrey, whose draft page WAR isn’t right, you have to look at his player page). But it’s worth mentioning that all 3 of those guys were drafted as HS OFers. Taking a look, instead, at the next 3 pitchers taken (Lance Broadway, Chris Volstad, and Cesar Carillo), or the next 3 college pitchers taken (Broadway, Carillo, and Brian Bogusevic makes me feel relatively better.

        • Brian Joura
          January 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm

          My feeling is you should never spend your first round pick on need. You should always take the best available player. Mets did ok with Pelfrey but boy – we would trade him straight up for any of those other three guys right now.

          • January 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm

            Oh, absolutely. I’m 100% in agreement that you should always draft the best player available early on (and later too, if anyone slips) regardless of need. Whether the Mets were doing that in 2005, however, is a different question altogether.

            Also, I don’t know if you caught it, but Ted Berg actually had a post up on his site today looking at Pelfrey compared to other recent Top 10 overall draft picks used on pitchers. A slightly different way of looking at whether Pelfrey is a disappointment. Worth checking out, IMO.

            I don’t mean to come across as a Pelfrey cheerleader, ’cause I’m really not, but I do think the guy takes a disproportionate amount of abuse from Mets fans and the local media. If you asked many Mets fans how they’d grade out the Pelfrey draft pick, I bet you’d end up with all sorts of nasty and sarcastic responses, including plenty in the D and F range. Me, I’d give it a B or B-. You HOPE for more than what Pelfrey’s given you with such an early pick, but I think it’s a bit unrealistic to EXPECT more. I dunno, fine line maybe.

  2. Metsense
    January 12, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    2012 should be the last year the Mets and Pelfry coexist period. If he has a good first halve they should trade him because his salary will rise for 2013 and he will over price himself for a consistent 4th starter innings eater. (Malholm, a similar pitcher will make 4.75M this year.) If he has a 2011 like year then they will be forced to non tender him because he wouldn’t justify his arbitrated salary. Pelfry is who he is, a 4th starter and to expect more of him is not justified by his work record. I have no problem accepting Mike for what he is but in a year he will be overpriced and not a value. The Mets anointing him #1 last spring was a disservice to him. Enjoyed the back and forth between Brian and Chris above. I always learn something from you guys.

  3. Dan Stack
    January 12, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Good points. It’s just that Pelfrey was supposed to be more and he is as good as a fourth or fifth rotation guy. That’s what you got to accept him as.

  4. January 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    I always love the argument, “he is what he is.” Or, am I hearing in this case, “he isn’t what he is!” I do see what the numbers say and, as I’ve learned in this business, numbers don’t lie. After 146 GS for the Mets and 876 2/3 IP, Pelfrey has a 493/314 K/BB, 965 HA, and a 4.40/1.46 ERA/WHIP. That’s barely the numbers of a #4 SP on a staff much less that of an Opening Day SP, as he was in 2011. I’ll give you this, Pelfrey has had his moments in the show but he’s maddenly inconsistent. Maybe he’s the Bret Saberhagen of our time. No, I don’t mean the pitching skill at all, but he’s had better seasons in even years (2008, 2010) and, if you believe in that stat, now’s the time to buy in. Because if he has a season like last year, we better not be having this conversation heading into 2013. Having said all that, if you can get him as your last SP on your NL staff for the price of one U.S. dollar, I would investigate that. But, please, nothing more than that. I actually would rather have seen the Mets re-up with Capuano for what the Dodgers inked him at, 2 years and $10-mil. The Mets did a good job last year in digging up some cheap, yet useful, starting pitching. But the Mets, as a franchise, have never been able to follow up a “good” thing. The Mets should hope that Pelfrey has a decent 2 months and then look to get something for him.

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