Mike Pelfrey is not my favorite player. I always thought his stuff would play better as a relief pitcher than as a starter. Having said that, I cannot believe how ready the fan base is to cut ties with a guy who won 15 games in 2010. When someone mentioned that Pelfrey’s contract was not guaranteed and that the Mets could cut him by a certain date and not be liable for his full $5.7 million, the fans acted like they found a great loophole.
Here’s the case for cutting Pelfrey: He was rotten last year (4.74 ERA), the Mets chose to keep him over Chris Capuano, who while he didn’t have great stuff seemed to have the bulldog mentality that Pelfrey lacks, while the Mets were pinching pennies in other areas, they stepped up to pay Pelfrey and lastly, Pelfrey has been putrid (11.49 ERA) in Grapefruit League action.
Let’s look at that last issue. First off, it’s beyond crazy to judge someone by Spring Training stats when you have 876 innings of major league stats to look at, instead. That’s the kind of thinking that has you put Blaine Boyer on the Opening Day roster because he had 11 good innings in Florida rather than looking at his major league record and seeing he was lousy over 227 innings.
Second, having a poor Spring is nothing new for Pelfrey. MLB.com now has historical Spring Training stats available and we can go back and look at how Pelfrey has done previously and see that it’s not pretty. Here are his ERAs prior to this season in Florida:
2011 – 5.63
2010 – 6.15
2009 – 7.77
2008 – 8.14
2007 – 5.48
In case you’ve forgotten, Pelfrey was so devastated from that 8.14 ERA that he went out and won 13 games and posted a 3.72 ERA during the regular season in 2008.
Also, while Pelfrey had a poor season last year, he did throw 193.2 innings, which tied for the 50th-most in MLB. You hear people say, “So what if he throws a lot of innings if those innings are lousy?” That argument is compelling on the surface but if you look at the numbers it simply does not hold water. Let’s look at 2011, which was a poor year for Pelfrey.
There are 30 teams in MLB and each team uses five starters so we want the 150 pitchers who threw the most innings last year. We have to lower our IP threshold to 94 IP to get 150 pitchers (remember Pelfrey had 193.2). If we sort those 150 pitchers by ERA – what do we see? Pelfrey’s 4.74 ERA makes him the 120th-best SP.
So, in a poor year for Pelfrey, there were still 30 pitchers who had a worse ERA and there were 99 pitchers who threw fewer innings. It is naïve to think the Mets could cut Pelfrey and come close to matching his production, especially when the alternatives are Miguel Batista and Chris Schwinden. Also, it is important to remember that this was Pelfrey in a poor year. In both 2008 and 2010, Pelfrey exceeded last year’s IP and ERA totals.
The dirty secret is that Pelfrey pitched just as well last year as he always has – he just put up poor years in the “luck” categories. His 9.1 HR/FB rate last year was the highest of his career while his 68.9 LOB% was beneath his career mark of 70.6 percent. If we look at his xFIP, which normalizes these rates, we see he had a 4.55 xFIP, nearly identical to his 4.52 lifetime mark.
The bottom line is that if Pelfrey exactly duplicates his 2011 season, he’s a worthwhile pitcher to have in your rotation, with his combination of innings and ERA grading out as a fourth starter. And while he may not be a bulldog on the mound and while his finger-licking habit is disgusting – those things pale in comparison to his production. Plus, he is just an elevated strand rate and a depressed HR rate away from being a 15-game winner with a sub-4.00 ERA.
Perhaps soon The Queens Quads will come up and bump Pelfrey from the rotation, giving the Mets a staff of five above-average pitchers. But those guys are not ready yet. Until that happens, Mets fans need to be content having Pelfrey pitch every five days. If Pelfrey is the team’s biggest problem in 2012, it will be a very good year.