Mets need Dillon Gee more than ever after Mike Pelfrey injury

After yesterday’s win over the Marlins, it was announced that Mike Pelfrey was likely to undergo elbow surgery and miss the remainder of the season. This is really bad news for the Mets, a statement I’d never thought I would say. The Pelfrey we saw in three starts this year was doing everything he needed to do to “cross the Rubicon,” as broadcaster Keith Hernandez would say.

In our small sample, Pelfrey had a 3.25 K/BB ratio, easily the highest of his career. He had not surrendered a home run and his 2.69 GB/FB ratio was also a career-best. Previously, people had said that Pelfrey might be better off in a new organization, that he would need to be surrounded by different people to reach his potential.

I have no idea what Pelfrey’s potential actually is at this point in his career, but I want the guy we saw in 2012 on my team.

There was no shortage of opinions that Pelfrey’s time on the Mets was limited. Some speculated that he would be dealt midseason while others figured that the Mets would let him walk at the end of the year. Either “he’s too inconsistent” or “Jeurys Familia and Matt Harvey will take his place” were echoed by nearly everyone around.

Guys who can throw 200 IP on a yearly basis do not grow on trees. Even last year, an admittedly poor year, Pelfrey was a solid #4 SP. You need guys like that. This isn’t Lake Woebegone, where everyone is above average. Just as it was insane to consider Pelfrey a #1 SP, it is equally crazy to not see the value of a guy who gives you innings and an ERA near league average.

And what we saw this year in three starts was a guy likely to give much better than a league average ERA. Why was everyone so eager to cut ties with this guy?

Equally frustrating for me was that while everyone was eager to push Pelfrey out the door, Dillon Gee seemingly has a Teflon coating and no one wants to admit the obvious: If anyone in the rotation needs to go, it is Gee rather than Pelfrey.

My favorite over-the-top endorsement of Gee comes from his sponsor at Baseball-Reference. A patron by the name of “Snicks” sponsors the page and says of Gee:

I truly believe he is a future 20 game winner. Apparently, the key for him is not to overthrow. When his “SO/9” ratio is lower, he has more success.

I admire Snicks for sponsoring a page at B-R. I appreciate his optimism around a player on the Mets. But having said those two things – that might be one of the dumbest things I’ve seen written. Since 2002, there have been 29 seasons where a pitcher has won 20 games. In the past 10 years, we have roughly three 20-game winners per year. So our sponsor thinks Gee is going to be one of the top three winners in baseball one of these years.

Meanwhile, Gee is a pitcher who had a 4.96 ERA his full season in Triple-A. While he had 13 Wins last year, that was based on a start in which he won seven of nine GS, a great pace for a pitcher in the race for a Cy Young Award, much less a pitcher of Gee’s pedigree.

Gee deserves all of the credit in the world for his performance in the early going last year. I’ve said more than once that his pitching is what kept the Mets’ season enjoyable for so long last year. But we have to look past a hot streak, see what the player is really like and project what he is likely to do going forward.

Last year, Gee finished the season with a 4.43 ERA. On the surface that seems okay, a bit below the league average, perhaps, but not anything that is going to really hurt the team. But Gee was worse, considerably worse, for most of the season. In his final 17 starts, a stretch covering 94.2 IP, Gee had a 5.51 ERA.

Now, which one seems more likely coming from a guy with a 4.96 ERA at Triple-A:

Option A: 7-0, 2.86 ERA (when he had a 2.23 K/9)
Option B: 6-6, 5.51 ERA (when he had a 1.33 K/9) – sorry Snicks

I think Option B is the much more likely outcome that we should expect. And here in the early going, Gee has a 5.21 ERA here in 2012.

Yet no one complains about Gee and many fans actively look forward to a rotation that does not include Pelfrey. It makes no sense to me.

In 2012, Pelfrey was doing everything he needed to do to be an above-average pitcher. The exciting thing was that he was doing it in ways that indicated skill, rather than luck. Pelfrey was an above-average pitcher in both 2008 and 2010, but in those years he benefitted from an elevated LOB% and a depressed HR/FB rate. If we go by his peripherals, he was exactly the same guy in 2009 and 2011 as he was in 2008 and 2010.

While his xFIP in those four years ranged from 4.31 to 4.55 (a remarkably narrow range for four full seasons), this year it was 3.08 – a truly good number. I blame no one who says that he would regress to his numbers from the previous four years. However, much like I did with Gee’s start in 2011, the detractors need to acknowledge that what we saw this year from Pelfrey was worthwhile.

If we go back to Gee’s strong start to 2011, we see he had a 3.50 FIP and his xFIP would have been even higher, as he had allowed just 4 HR in 66 IP. His hot start was not supported by his peripherals, which suggested a pitcher much-closer to league average. Meanwhile, Pelfrey’s 2.29 ERA in 2012 is supported by a 2.18 FIP and a 3.02 xFIP. Even if Pelfrey regressed completely to his xFIP – that’s still a wonderful pitcher to have.

In an ideal world, Familia and Harvey have great years in the minors in 2012 and hold their own during September auditions in the majors, giving hope that they could be contributing members of the 2013 rotation for the Mets. But even if that happens, I would still be interested in re-signing Pelfrey to battle for a spot, assuming his recovery went off without a hitch.

I feel bad for Pelfrey, coming down with a season-ending injury. But I also feel bad as a Mets fan, as there was seemingly a good chance that this was the year we were going to see Pelfrey blossom before our very eyes. Good luck with the surgery and rehab Mr. Pelfrey. I hope we see you in a Mets uniform again.

As for Gee, he’s more important than ever now. While his start to 2012 has been less than inspiring, the one thing to take comfort in is that he has 16 Ks and 3 BB for a spectacular 5.33 K/BB ratio, which leads to a 3.90 FIP and a 2.99 xFIP. If he can keep his K/BB numbers above 2.0 – I’ll be much more confident in his ability to be a productive member of the rotation, despite what Snicks says over at B-R.

As Jason Bay and Mike Pelfrey hit the DL, Mets fans say so what?

Just as soon as the Mets put Jason Bay (ribs) and Mike Pelfrey (elbow) on the disabled list, the Mets go ahead and win two straight games over the Miami Marlins while also ruining the Jose Reyes homecoming in the process.

Everything is right in the world, correct?

Not so fast.

I’d like to think that the the old saying “You don’t know how much you miss something until it’s gone” may take precedence here.

While, of course, these two players have brutally underachieved and have been whipping boys for several Mets’ fans over the years, they might be missed more than people think.

For the better part of their Met careers, Bay and Pelfrey have been maddeningly inconsistent, while never living up to their full potential or in Bay’s case, more particularly his contract. And that’s what irritates Mets’ fans so much. However, they were off to decent starts this season and you must view things in a vacuum.

Although Pelfrey has not won a game this season, he has kept the team in games and had a 2.29 ERA through 19.2 innings while allowing no home runs and issuing just four walks. As for Bay, yes, he only has a .240 batting average, but his power stroke was coming along –albeit slowly-and he was showing a bit more confidence at the plate before his injury.

Now the Mets will be void of two veteran players who will be replaced by players who don’t offer that much promise.

Scott Hairston, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin will play left field on most occasions and once Andres Torres comes back, Kirk Nieuwenhuis will man left with Torres going back to center. Outside of Nieuwenhuis, are any of these candidates really an improvement over Bay?

Hairston has his usefulness, but is best left as a power bat off the bench. Baxter is nothing more than a role player. Valdespin, who was recently been called up, has some upside, but there will probably be a learning curve when it comes to his game.

With Bay, at least you had a ‘presence’ in the middle of the lineup and he was good for breaking up all the lefties in the middle of the lineup. Also, Bay was vastly underrated for the way he played defense in left. It’s safe to say, that none of his possible replacements can play as good a left as Bay did.

When it comes to Pelfrey, almost of all of us have come to expect what he is: an average pitcher who up until this point has been durable. Pelfrey always ate up a lot of innings and that will be hard to replace.

Pelfrey will now be replaced in the rotation by Chris Schwinden and possibly down the line by Chris Young. Schwinden is a mid-tier prospect with limited promise. In four starts last year, Schwinden went 0-2 with a 4.71 ERA. Schwinden is the “he’ll have to do” choice as neither Matt Harvey nor Jeurys Familia are ready to be called up just yet.

It’s not so much that Bay and Pelfrey will be missed, it’s more about who will be replacing them at this juncture. Fans may soon realize that Bay and Pelfrey at least served a useful purpose for the team.

While the Mets won their first two games without Bay and Pelfrey, we’ll see if they will be missed in the long haul as these next two to three weeks could prove to be a pivotal stretch for the club.

For now, they are not being missed, but if they miss an extended period of time (and Pelfrey visiting Dr. Andrews is never a good thing) Mets’ fans may be singing a different tune come the end of the season.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Did new delivery cause Mike Pelfrey’s injury?

On the field yesterday was a pretty good day for Mets fans. We got to see Jose Reyes return to Citi Field, saw a great pitching match-up with Josh Johnson and Johan Santana, saw Reyes go 0-4, and most importantly the Mets got a win. It was a very exciting and well played game, a classic pitchers dual.

Off the field the Mets had some problems. It’s seems the injury bug is back at Citi Field and it has claimed its first two victims. The first was Jason Bay who was placed on the 15-day DL with a fractured rib. He suffered the injury in the second game of the doubleheader against the Giants on Monday when he tried to catch a fly ball and dove or fell or tripped or whatever he didn’t to make him look like an idiot. In any event he dropped the ball and since he doesn’t know how to hit a baseball the Mets would take any excuse to put him on the DL, fractured rib or not.

The other injury is more upsetting. It was suffered by Mike Pelfrey, who was off to a great start in 2012. In three starts this year he’s gone 19.2 innings,  13 strikeouts, four walks, and an ERA of 2.29. He was placed on the DL with soreness and swelling in his elbow. Adam Rubin than reported that he has a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, and could need season-ending surgery.

The injury comes at a bad time because for the first time in a while Pelfrey actually looked like the pitcher everyone hoped he would be. Everything was clicking and the idea of him Santana, R.A. Dickey, and Jon Niese together in the rotation got Mets fans very excited. If all of them could produce up to their potential, it could be one of the best rotation in the NL, and it was looking like that was the case.

I have to wonder if Pelfrey’s new delivery motion had anything to do with the injury. Pelfrey was now rising his arms over his head before he pitched, which was giving him more downward power. It may have just been too much power, causing extra stress on the elbow, which led to the ligament tear.

The injury reminds me a lot of Chris Young last year. He got off to such a great start and then an injury ended his season. This time however, Young could be the guy coming back to replace the injured pitcher. He still needs more time to get ready though, after missing all of Spring Training. He did recently pitch a 60-pitch bullpen session, but it will be at least another month before Young is ready to come up to the majors.

While Young seems like the obvious choice to replace Pelfrey’s spot, the team needs to find a filler until he is ready. The Mets called up Robert Carson, who in previous years has been a starter, this year has been pitching out of the bullpen at Binghamton.

Pelfrey’s next start would have been Friday, so the Mets need to make a decision of who will take his spot until then. On the roster right now it’s looking like it will either be Carson or automatic-game-forfeiter Miguel Batista. They could also go in the more likely path of calling up Chris Schwinden, which would be the better option. Schwinden made four starts for the Mets last year, who had a rough first start, but then threw some three solid starts for the Mets.

Hopefully Pelfrey’s injury isn’t as serious as it seems, but it doesn’t look that way. Right now in my mind I’m figuring his season is done. This does open the door for Young to come back with he is healthy, and we all know how good he can pitch. In any event, this is bad news for the Mets and Pelfrey, who finally looked like he had found his groove.

Mike Pelfrey had an outstanding game last night, really

Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit his first major league home run and Daniel Murphy made two key plays in the ninth inning but the big story from Monday night was the performance of Mike Pelfrey. At first glance that might seem odd, as Pelfrey gave up 10 hits and three runs and needed help to finish six innings. But it was still an encouraging outing from a guy that the Mets need a big year from if they have any hope of challenging for a playoff spot.

Pelfrey was brutal through most of Spring Training before posting solid starts his last two outings. Still, he finished with a 7.62 ERA, which had many fans calling for the team to release him, especially once they found out that the club would not have to pay him the full value of his contract.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and Pelfrey took the mound in the fourth game of the season. The game didn’t start well for either Pelfrey or the Mets, and they were down for the first time all season. After allowing two runs in the third inning, the Mets were on the wrong end of a 3-0 score. But Pelfrey added 2.2 scoreless innings and the Mets offense rallied to tie the game by the time he departed.

That’s all well and good, you might think, but where’s the good news?

According to Brooks Baseball, Pelfrey threw 50 sinkers with an average speed of 93.63 for the game. If Pelfrey is going to establish himself as an above-average pitcher, the only way he can do that is by pounding hitters with his sinker, keeping the ball in the park and getting lots of ground ball outs. Both the number of sinkers he threw (50 of 104) and the velocity are encouraging signs for his success.

Pelfrey tied a career-high with eight strikeouts, with five of those coming via the sinker, usually not thought of as a great strikeout pitch. He recorded two other whiffs with his slider and one compliments of his four-seam fastball.

When batters did hit the ball, 58.8 percent of them were ground balls. Pelfrey’s batted ball breakdown was as follows:

GB – 10
FB – 4
LD – 3

That’s exactly the type of breakdown Pelfrey needs to be successful. Yes the Nationals got 10 hits in the game. They also had a .556 BABIP which simply will not hold up over the long haul. Mets fans should be ecstatic about this performance.

Pelfrey got grounders, he got strikeouts, he did not give up a HR and he allowed just one walk. I will gladly sign on the dotted line for this type of performance for the rest of the year.

And it would be a giant oversight not to mention Pelfrey’s performance with the bat. While he’s not the worst-hitting pitcher in Mets’ history (hi Mark Clark), Pelfrey came in with a .097/.146/.112 slash line in 297 PA. So it was quite a shock when he played a key role in the Mets’ first run. Pelfrey led off the third inning with a double and came around to score on a single to left by David Wright. It was just the fifth double of Pelfrey’s MLB career.

It was great to see Johan Santana give a strong first start. It was fun to see Jonathon Niese challenge for a no-hitter. But Pelfrey’s performance last night might have been the most important pitching outing we have seen for the Mets in the young season. Those who look past his BABIP-driven ERA will see that this was everything we need to see for Pelfrey to be a successful pitcher in 2012.

Why it is naive to talk about cutting Mike Pelfrey

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.

Did Mets err by picking Mike Pelfrey over Chris Capuano?

Following the 2011 season, the Mets had to make a decision whether to retain the services of two starting pitchers going forward – Chris Capuano and Mike Pelfrey. There were a bunch of factors that went into the decision, not the least of which was that Capuano was a free agent and Pelfrey was arbitration-eligible. This meant that Capuano had the leverage to seek a multi-year deal while Pelfrey could be given a one-year contract. The Mets opted to let Capuano walk and they tendered a contract to Pelfrey. But was it the right decision?

Let’s start with their respective contract details. Pelfrey and the Mets agreed on a contract to avoid arbitration and the former first-round pick will receive $5.675 million in 2012. Capuano signed a two-year deal with the Dodgers that was reported as a two-year, $10 million contract. Cot’s breaks down the signing as $3 million in 2012, $6 million in 2013, a mutual option for $8 million in 2014 and a host of innings-based incentives that could total an extra $1 million if he reaches them all in the next two seasons.

If Capuano pitches the same number of innings in 2012 that he did last year for the Mets, he will earn $3.225 million. But there’s the rub – how likely is it that Capuano will deliver 186 IP again? He made his major league debut in 2003 but has reached that mark just three times since then. Meanwhile, Pelfrey has surpassed that innings total in three of the last four years and the one time he didn’t, he logged 184.1 IP.

Durability edge to Pelfrey

Both pitchers have made 25 or more starts in a season four times. Here are those four seasons, ranked by fWAR in descending order of quality:

Capuano 3.9 1.8 1.7 1.6
Pelfrey 3.0 2.8 1.6 0.7

For both pitchers, their 2011 season was their lowest-rated one by fWAR. Capuano has been very consistent outside of 2006, when he posted a career-low in both home run rate and walks allowed. The BB/9 was especially an outlier, as he delivered a 1.91 mark, a full walk better than his career rate.

Pelfrey seems much more inconsistent but that’s due to fWAR using FIP as its main pitching calculation. If it went by xFIP, you would not see anywhere near the volatility, as Pelfrey’s mark in that category the past four years has been: 4.45, 4.47, 4.31 and 4.55 – which makes him one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball.

FIP and xFIP are calculated with strikeouts, walks and home runs, with the big difference being that FIP gives a pitcher his actual HR rate while xFIP normalizes the rate. Pelfrey’s K/BB has been extremely consistent – it’s his HR rate that fluctuates. He gives up fewer home runs than expected but needs a really good HR/FB rate to be successful. The two years where Pelfrey had the most success, where he went a combined 28-20 with a 3.69 ERA, he had HR/FB rates of 6.3 and 5.7 percent.

It’s not all about HR rate for Pelfrey, as his strand rate was 73.7 percent in 2010 and 74.3 in 2008. In his two down years, his strand rate was below 70 percent both years.

However, Capuano has been consistent in three of his four years and Pelfrey has been better than Capuano’s demonstrated level of performance twice and equal another time. It may be luck or good fortune that pushes Pelfrey ahead but I’d rather bank on Pelfrey putting up a sub-7.0 HR/FB rate than Capuano setting career lows in BB/9 and HR/FB.

Slight quality edge to Pelfrey

Pelfrey is five years younger while Capuano is a lefty. Ordinarily, teams might prefer a lefty but with Jonathon Niese and Johan Santana already in the rotation, do the Mets want to feature three southpaws in their starting five? While that may not make a difference, one thing that certainly does is that Capuano gives up more fly balls than Pelfrey.

With the Mets moving in the fences this year, more HR will be hit in Citi Field. Both Capuano and Pelfrey performed much better at Citi than on the road last year, but Capuano figures to be more affected by the new dimensions than Pelfrey. Capuano had a 1.81 HR/9 in road parks last year while Pelfrey had a 1.26 HR/9. That’s a difference of .55 HR/9, compared to a difference of .22 in home starts. The new dimensions should make Citi play like a more neutral park, meaning that .22 difference should move in the direction of the .55 difference in road parks.

So, Pelfrey is younger, more durable, has a slight edge in quality and is likely to be less affected by the new outfield dimensions in Citi Field. Capuano is lefty and will make significantly less than Pelfrey in 2012. But the latter edge is negated by the second year that comes on the Capuano contract. If Capuano bombs or reinjures himself, the Dodgers are on the hook for his 2013 salary. If Capuano repeats his 2011 season the next two years, the Dodgers get a bargain in 2012 and essentially pay market value in 2013.

The contract makes sense for the Dodgers because they should have new ownership in place by 2013 and should not have the monetary issues that current ownership has. It seems reasonable that Michael Moye, the agent for Capuano, approached the Mets about a similar-type deal but was rejected by Sandy Alderson. Whether due to age, injury, ballpark or payroll – the Mets decided they would prefer to pay close to market value on Pelfrey in 2012 to avoid a commitment in 2013.

It’s up for debate if that says more about Capuano or the Mets’ financial situation.

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.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Comparing Mike Pelfrey and Javier Vazquez

In their history the Mets have selected a pitcher with a first-round draft pick 18 times and have grabbed a hurler seven more times with a supplemental first-round pick. For every success story like Jon Matlack, you can name three failures (Les Rohr, Randy Sterling, Cliff Speck). If you counter with Dwight Gooden, I respond with Dave Proctor, Chris Roberts and Kirk Presley.

Viewed in this light, Mike Pelfrey, the team’s first-round pick in 2005, has been a huge success. Not only did Pelfrey make the majors, but he has 860.2 IP in the big leagues along with 50 Wins. That ranks 15th on the all-time victory list for the Mets, just a win behind Bobby Ojeda.

Pelfrey has been both durable and reliable for the Mets, as he’s made 30 or more starts in each of the past four seasons. On the surface that might not seem so impressive but heading into Tuesday, Pelfrey has pitched the 25th-most innings in the majors since the start of the 2008 season. When seemingly every player on the Mets has visited the disabled list multiple times since 2008, Pelfrey takes the ball every fifth day.

Let’s compare Pelfrey to another durable guy – Javier Vazquez. Since 2008, here’s how these two guys have produced in the majors:

MP – 766.2 IP, 45-43 (.511), 4.24 ERA
JV – 752.2 IP, 47-47 (.500), 4.16 ERA

On the surface, these two have been pretty similar the past four years. But there’s one respect where these two could not be more different. And that’s with how much money they’ve been paid since 2008. After the 2007 season, Vazquez inked a 3-year, $34.5 million deal and prior to this season he signed a 1-year, $7 million contract. Since 2008, Vazquez has made $41.5 million.

Meanwhile Pelfrey has the following salaries listed on his Baseball-Reference page:

2008 – $1,987,500
2009 – $2,237,500
2010 – $500,000
2011 – $3,925,000
Total – $8.65 million

Vazquez has made nearly five times as much as Pelfrey over the last four seasons for pretty similar output. Now there are reasons why – Vazquez was a proven commodity when he signed his big contract while Pelfrey had all of 94 IP in the majors prior to 2008, with a 5.55 ERA in that span. But the primary reason for the discrepancy is that Vazquez was a free agent while Pelfrey was still under team control.

Pelfrey signed a four-year contract after he was drafted with a relatively-hefty $3.55 million signing bonus, as negotiated by Scott Boras. That bonus was pro-rated over the life of the contract, explaining why Pelfrey made so much more in 2008 and 2009 than he did in 2010, when the Mets exercised their club option.

This year, Pelfrey saw a nice bump in his salary as he was arbitration-eligible for the first time. And as much of a percentage raise that Pelfrey saw, it was likely still well below what he would have commanded if he was a free agent. A ballpark figure is that a player will earn roughly 40 percent of his free-market value during his first arbitration year, 60 percent his second year and 80 percent his third year.

FanGraphs pegged Pelfrey’s 2010 season as being worth $11.5 million and he ended up getting $3.925 million in his first year of arbitration. If the $11.5 million was representative of his free-market value, Pelfrey received about 34 percent of his value in his first arbitration year.

Of course, the question is: How much could Pelfrey get in his second arbitration year and is it worth it for the Mets to sign him? FanGraphs shows Pelfrey being worth just $2.3 million so far this season. However, one of the rules of arbitration is that a team cannot offer a salary less than 80 percent of what the player made the previous season.

The least amount the Mets could offer Pelfrey would be $3.14 million. However, it is extremely unlikely that they would offer Pelfrey less than what he made in 2011. A 2005 Baseball Prospectus article indicated that the “last case where someone walked out of an arbitration hearing with less money than they made the previous year was Randy Milligan in 1994.”

If the $11.5 million referenced above is still Pelfrey’s free-market value, he should earn roughly $6.9 million in arbitration. It seems unlikely that his value is still that high, but let’s call that the upper end of what he might get in arbitration. So, Pelfrey’s contract floor is $3.14 million and his contract ceiling is $6.9 million. Can Sandy Alderson risk going to arbitration with Pelfrey and having to pay him somewhere around $5 million, the midpoint between his floor and ceiling?

As painful as it is to say when we have watched him disappoint on a regular basis in 2011, Pelfrey is probably still worthwhile to sign at $5 million. A 34-year old Vazquez commanded $7 million on the open market coming off a 157.1 IP season where he posted a 5.32 ERA. The only other option seems to be to roll the dice with a pitcher coming off injury, like Alderson did with Chris Capuano. That’s worked out okay, but Alderson did the same thing with Chris Young, and that one didn’t go quite so well.

I expect the Mets to retain Pelfrey for 2012. The past five years, he’s alternated bad years and good years, much like Howard Johnson and Bret Saberhagen did back in their day. Johnson and Saberhagen had their better seasons in odd years, while Pelfrey prefers the even ones. If you believe in that kind of thing, perhaps Pelfrey will be a bargain, even at $5 million.

What do the 2011 Mets lack in SP?

Entering the 2011 season one of the biggest question marks was how the Mets’ SP were going to do with Johan Santana on the shelf. Would the team be able to handle not having an ace? There were other concerns about the starters, too. Could Chris Capuano and Chris Young stay healthy and regain their earlier form? Could Jonathon Niese take a step forward? And finally, could Mike Pelfrey repeat his 15-win season from 2010?

The answers to these have been mixed. Niese has been a solid pitcher, Capuano has stayed healthy and Dillon Gee has stepped forward to stabilize the rotation. On the negative side, Young fell apart physically, Pelfrey has taken a step backwards and Santana just recently had a setback in his rehab. The Santana news is the worst of all, meaning we could be in a similar position again in 2012.

Can the Mets handle not having an ace?

Everyone throws around the term “ace” but there’s no clear cut definition of what makes a pitcher into one. You’re just supposed to know when you have one. Roy Halladay is an ace, but is Jaime Garcia? It all depends on how you define the term.

Instead of worrying about semantics, let’s instead look at pitchers and break them down into percentiles. Let’s start with doing this by ERA. If we take all starters who have thrown at least 80 IP, we see the 30th-best ERA is 3.19 so far this year. If pitchers were distributed equally among team, each squad would have one pitcher with a 3.21 ERA or better. This would be your #1 SP

The 60th pitcher has an ERA of 3.69 so each team, assuming the same equal distribution, would have a pitcher with an ERA between 3.20 and 3.69. This would be your #2 SP. The #3 SP would have an ERA between 3.70 and 4.23 and your #4 SP would have between 4.24 and 4.92 ERA. Your #5 SP would have an ERA 4.93 and above.

By ERA, the Mets best pitcher is Gee and he rates as a bottom-tier #2 SP. Dickey rates as a strong #3 and Niese is a solid #3. Capuano and Pelfrey are solid #4 SP.

The problem is not just that the Mets do not have a #1 SP, it’s that they barely have a #2 SP. On the flip side, they do not have a #5 SP, either, which certainly helps things out. After inserting Gee into the lineup the Mets have been healthy and reasonably productive with their starters.

But we know that xFIP is a better indication of a pitcher’s quality than his ERA is. So, how do SP break down via this metric? Here are the bottom numbers for each group:

#1 SP – 3.44
#2 SP – 3.80
#3 SP – 4.05
#4 SP – 4.42

By xFIP, the Mets do have a #1 SP with Niese (3.22). They have two strong #3 pitchers in Capuano (3.86) and Dickey (3.88). Gee is a bottom tier #4 SP (4.39) and Pelfrey is one of the better #5 SP (4.46).

Either way, the Mets are missing an elite pitcher. If you go by ERA, the Mets need to add a #1-type pitcher but if you go by xFIP, they may really only lack a #2-type guy.

We hope the Mets will not be as financially handcuffed after this year as they were last offseason. However, with the Madoff clawback lawsuits yet to be finalized, no one really has any firm idea what to expect. Will the Mets go after someone like C.J. Wilson (3.38 ERA/3.47 xFIP) to fit in as a #2-type SP, if the budget allows?

Do you think the Mets should go to the free agent market do sign a #1 or #2 SP? And if so, do you think they should non-tender Pelfrey? These are some of the decisions awaiting Sandy Alderson in the offseason.

Nature Of The Beast: .500 Mets Are Jekyll & Hyde

Apparently, I spoke too soon: fire the fanboy.

I suppose this is what a .500 team looks like. A sublime string of wins, crisp games and smart play is followed by a ghastly stretch of boneheadism, vapid offense and corresponding losses. Baby steps, I suppose, but that doesn’t make the dour, Indian-pudding taste of these last three games go down any easier. Each one was winnable in its own way, but each was littered with mental mistakes, limp-noodle bats at the wrong time and just…one…bad…inning in a nearly flawless effort from the odd starter or reliever. That’s all it takes for a season to turn to trash in a big hurry. It would seem that the only difference between a .500 ballclub and a .667 one is consistent bad timing: the hit with the bases loaded that isn’t made, the botched cutoff throw that leads to a run, the Jerry Meals call the pitcher doesn’t get. Ron Darling’s mantra from 2007 and 2008 is playing in my head: “A lot of times, it’s not ‘how many,’ but ‘when’ that makes the difference.” The last three games, the “when” has not been the Mets’ friend.

Again, this is how it seems to go with .500 teams. The stars never seem to align in just the right way, and the sad fact is, a .500 team can pretty much only rely on the fates. Casey Stengel famously told us in 1963 that “You make your own luck.” Shaping your own destiny takes talent, as well as confidence and hard work. Right now, there isn’t enough talent to win the day, and the a scrappy attitude can only take one so far – despite whatever Wayne Hagin thinks about David Eckstein. Until the David Einhorn money comes in and/or the Bernie Madoff lawsuit is settled, there is little that can be done to remedy the situation. Then, Sandy Alderson can put his Jedi mind tricks to use in the off-season and acquire some frontline players – preferably a true slugging outfielder to relegate Jason Bay and a quality starting pitcher to replace Mike Pelfrey – and some prospects to restock the farms.


We fans can see better times ahead. The horizon looks clear, despite this franchise’s widely noted propensity to screw up the best of circumstances. Until that future comes into a little sharper focus, we fans are going to be stuck on the rollercoaster.

Losing patience with Pelfrey

When is Johan Santana getting back anyway?

The maddeningly inconsistent Mike Pelfrey was the perfect buzzkill to the Mets’ recent mini surge, when on Thursday he put up yet another stinker. Sure, Pelfrey was opposed by one of the hottest pitchers in baseball in Justin Verlander and the Mets only scored two runs on him. That is not the point, however.

It would have been nice for Pelfrey to go deep in the game and give the team a semblance of a chance. Instead his final line was: 4.2 innings pitched, eight hits and five walks allowed and four earned runs allowed.

In his last two starts, Pelfrey has combined to pitch 10.2 innings while giving up 16 hits and allowing seven walks. The bevy of baserunners of course led to eight earned runs and consequently two losses.

While I am pigeonholing two starts here, the moral of this may be that Pelfrey just might not be a good pitcher. Many of you (spearheaded by our very own Brian Joura) probably realize that by now.

Pelfrey has amassed 47 wins compared to 48 losses in his time with the Mets and has a career 4.39 ERA. That suggests average at best.

Pelfrey is not a spring chicken anymore. He’s been pitching in the league for six years now. You can’t say, ‘well he’s young and going through growing pains, etc.’ anymore. That excuse should be locked away for good.

Pelfrey is simply just too shaky to trust anymore.

Whether you like it or not, in the order of things, Pelfrey is the Mets’ fifth starter. While the other starters are not immune to an occasional clunker, they have at least shown a valued consistency that Pelfrey lacks.

In his latest start, Pelfrey did himself no favors by issuing a career high five walks before the third inning was complete. That’s unacceptable.

In his last two starts, and for most of the season for that matter, it seems Pelfrey’s confidence in throwing strikes is non existent. Pelfrey tries to nibble at batters and is becoming more finesse with each start. Pelfrey just can’t seem to trust his stuff.

This is the sort of thing that will drive managers and fans alike crazy. We have all been witnesses to Pelfrey’s hot streaks and we know how serviceable he can be.

So, if and when Santana does get back, should Pelfrey be designated to the bullpen?

If Pelfrey maintains this type of production, I can’t see why Terry Collins wouldn’t.

Pelfrey’s next two starts may go a long way in determining how his season may play out. The Mets will need him to be the veteran and de-facto #1 ace he was declared prior to the season in two very important starts in the west-coast trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It could just be a harbinger of things to come.

Capuano makes case to stay in rotation

The Mets have received strong pitching performances recently. With four of the five starting pitchers you can point to a definite start where they turned things around. For the fifth pitcher, we’ll just pick the start that fits best. Here are their before and after numbers:

Before After
R.A. Dickey 1-5, 5.08 2-2, 2.23
Jonathon Niese 2-4, 5.03 3-1, 1.34
Mike Pelfrey 1-3, 7.39 2-1, 4.11
Chris Capuano 1-1, 8.76 4-5, 3.52
Dillon Gee 2-0, 4.72 5-0, 2.59

There’s no real cutoff point for Pelfrey. His before numbers are his first six starts and his after numbers are his final seven. But included in those final seven are two starts where he gave up 12 ER in 11 IP. Still, his ERA in those seven, including the two bombs, is three full runs below his stinker to open the season.

The overall National League ERA this year is 3.76, down from 4.02 a year ago. Of course, we are now entering the summer months and we should expect the numbers to go up from here to the end of the season. Still, it’s a good number to use right now to judge how the Mets’ pitchers are doing.

Four of the five pitchers are below average and three of them – Dickey, Niese and Gee – significantly. Combine this strong pitching with the Mets offense seemingly delivering 10 or more hits on a nightly basis and it’s easy to understand how the team has gone 9-5 in its last 14 games, including 6-2 in its last eight.

At some point Johan Santana will come back and the question will be: How should the Mets handle their rotation? Of course, this is still a month away and plenty can change between now and then. But assuming that the Mets pitchers continue more or less on their recent path, what should the team do?

The most likely scenario is that Capuano moves to the bullpen. He has experience relieving and would give the team another lefty out of the bullpen. Also, Capuano has generally struggled his third time through the opposing team’s lineup. Finally, the Mets might prefer not to have three lefties in the rotation.

But is Capuano really better suited for the pen than Pelfrey? Even with Capuano’s much-discussed trouble the third time through the order, they have virtually the same number of innings pitched over their last 10 starts, with Pelfrey holding a 62.1 to 61.0 edge. However, Capuano has delivered much better quality in that span, with a 3.54 ERA compared to a 4.33 mark for Pelfrey.

Despite Pelfrey’s attempts to diversify his repertoire, he is still more of a one-pitch guy than Capuano. According to FanGraphs, Pelfrey throws his fastball 65.3 percent of the time and his other four pitches make up the remaining 34.7 percent. Meanwhile, Capuano throws his fastball 58.4 percent of the time while he uses changeup 26.6 and slider 15.0 percent of the time.

Subjectively, Pelfrey feels like a reliever, the type of guy who could add 2-3 miles per hour to his fastball if he didn’t have to pace himself. And with Capuano coming off all of the arm troubles he’s had in the past few years, is it really in his best interest to be pitching multiple times each week? Pelfrey could be in the mix for 7th inning or later duties. Could you really imagine Capuano coming on with the bases loaded and a one-run lead?

Of course, the Mets could go in another direction and look to protect Santana and Capuano by going to a six-man rotation down the stretch. It’s unorthodox but it might be the right thing in this situation. Nobody right now is screaming to be moved out of the rotation and this move babies the pitchers who have had recent arm troubles.

This will be another test for manager Terry Collins, as much as how he handles the lineup once the injured corner infielders return. Generally, Collins has done a good job keeping the Mets afloat under difficult circumstances through the first 65 games of the season. Will he have the necessary creativity and fortitude to make the right calls for the final 65?

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