Pelfrey Ditches Slider

According to

Pelfrey pitched for the first time since March 4. He had missed a turn of the rotation because of a strained muscle in his lower left leg. He was delighted with the effect of his curveball — he has scrapped the slider altogether — and a changeup he threw 11 times, once to a left-handed hitter.

Interesting turn of events, eh? Especially since we’ve been discussing Pelfrey’s need for an offspeed pitch right here for the last year and a half?

If you weren’t with us, or forgot, check the following tidbits from archived articles:

From “Why Change?” (4/10/2008)

Mike Pelfrey is an ideal example of a shortcut pitcher — someone who is force-fed to the bigs by focusing on his main strength, and adding the easiest pitch to develop quickly (a slider). This strategy gets batters to swing and miss over the short term, but eventually they catch on — see: Jorge Sosa. The most successful pitchers of this and every other era were those who threw at more than one speed.

From “Pelfrey’s Curveball” (3/8/2008)

To understand why it’s so important for Pelfrey to throw a curveball (or a changeup) for strikes, you need only have watched his outing today. His first time through the lineup, he pitched well, spotting the fastball all around the zone and mixing in that inconsistent breaking pitch. The second time through the lineup, however, the batters were sitting on the fastball — waiting for it, and jumping all over it. The batters knew that Pelfrey wasn’t throwing a changeup and were usually able to recognize and lay off the hard-breaking slider. So they timed his fastball and hacked at it. In other words, the batters had little to think or guess about.

If Pelfrey could have dropped a few more of those breaking pitches — the ones with the slower, downward break — into the strike zone early in counts, then the batters would have more to think about. They wouldn’t have the luxury of sitting on the fastball.

…Maybe Mike Pelfrey can “accidentally” throw more curveballs. If he did, he would not only win the fifth starter spot but likely win 10-12 games this year.

Obviously, I’m happy to hear that Big Pelf will be working harder on changing speeds by using his curveball and a changeup. After he gets at least one of those pitches going, he can probably bring back the slider and use it the way it’s supposed to be used — as a strikeout pitch, maybe 5-6 times a game. Tom Seaver was the master of this strategy, relying heavily on the fastball-change-curve repertoire, and pulling the slider out of his pocket only when absolutely necessary — such as with two on and two out in the seventh inning of a one-run game. He’d drop the pitch just off plate and below the knees, and get the batter to reach for it and miss.

I truly believe that if Pelfrey can develop EITHER the curve or the change into a consistent, plus pitch, he can be a true ace. Will that happen in ’09? Who knows? But if he focuses on building up one of those offspeed pitches throughout the season, he could be in line for the 2010 Cy Young Award.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. sincekindergarten March 16, 2009 at 6:51 am
    I seem to remember that Big Pelf had a decent curveball before Rick Peterson banned him from throwing it. I’d love to see him bring it back, too. Same with John Maine.
  2. Tandy3 March 16, 2009 at 9:18 am
    Just read this morning in the DN that Maine is abandoning his curveball, too. Mets need Pedro, need him right now.
  3. Walnutz15 March 16, 2009 at 9:53 am
    Early on, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that John Maine is a headcase.

    It’s okay to be a brainiac on the hill — but it’s another to be fighting through an injury, while nitpicking on mechanics…and “scrapping” plans that are outlined for him.

    “It still wasn’t the right time to get back to it,” Maine said after his uneven, but encouraging, performance.

    He’s not throwing his curveball yet? When he’s supposed to be working on it……that’s not really a good sign.

    Either he’s struggling alot more than the average fan is going to pick up, or he’s MORE than stubborn…

    I had nicknamed John Maine: “Johnny Rocket” — after some of the long-gone bombs I witnessed at Shea during some of his very early starts in 2006. (One off the bat of Soriano, pulled to LF — in his 1st ever start will never leave my mind.)

    He obviously progressed a ton in 2007, then regressed again in ’08, before we learned he was struggling with pain.

    So far in ST, we’ve seen ALOT of Johnny Rocket again — when the Mets are definitely going to need “The Maine Event” to show up.

    He’s been complaining alot so far, about not feeling right — not finding the right flow…’s gonna have to turn around, in order for this team to be successful. I’m hoping he’s not a headcase that constantly nibbles around.

    He throws entirely too many pitches, and when he’s up in that zone — he does get hit hard. There’s no room in the rotation for another headcase, as Ollie’s got that on lock.

    Time for Maine to start working on the things that are going to make him a better, more consistent pitcher. And throwing a curveball to mix things up is going to help him tremendously…..he’d better get crackin’.

  4. joe March 16, 2009 at 10:29 am
    Funny how the media and blogosphere was quick to crucify Rick Peterson for being too single-minded and strict with his methods, and lavished Dan Warthen for his loose and “hands off” approach.

    Of course, neither Peterson nor Warthen are all good nor all bad for every pitcher. Different guys respond to different styles. Personally, I’ve always thought Peterson a little flaky and too boxed into his own methods to be valuable to a variety of personalities — but he was a godsend for pitchers like Maine and Perez, whose success is dependent on outside direction.

    Hmm ….. is this an article brewing?

    I’m standing by my original hypothesis that John Maine will not advance unless/until he makes a few minor tweaks to his mechanics. The only pitcher in MLB who is successful despite a similar flaw is Roy Oswalt, but Oswalt hits 97 MPH, somehow fights his mechanics to keep the ball down, and has one of the best curveballs in the game.

  5. Walnutz15 March 16, 2009 at 11:00 am
    Oswalt’s also a guy who will never struggle to put up 210+ innings per season, despite being about 5′ 10″ on the hill (he ain’t 6′) — meanwhile, Maine’s got all the physical tools working in his favor.

    He needs to get himself into a comfortable flow…..otherwise, he’ll be maddening to follow on a start-to-start basis; especially from a “quotable” standpoint.

    Hearing him complain about not feeling right, etc. — then magically feeling “much better” after getting bombed again in similar fashion……speaks to me that he’s going to say whatever suits his case; as to not have the media all over him just yet.

    If it continues, then he’ll be in for a very rough go of it in 2009. I saw Maine’s line the other day, how he got shellacked — and said to my brother: “Guaranteed, he’s talking about how much better he feels tomorrow in the papers.”

    And he did…….

    Now he’s talking about “having bigger fish to fry” instead of throwing a curveball during Spring Training — but at the same time, cites how much better he feels?

    All part of the process? I’m hoping.

    Time will tell in the results, though. He needs to develop this season in terms of becoming a reliable pitcher — especially past a 5-inning, 100+ pitch thrower……

    Ditto Ollie Perez, Ditto Mike Pelfrey (though I AM pleased to hear that Pelfrey’s growing as a pitcher)….the Met rotation is looking suspect so far; and I’m just hoping that we’re ready to turn a corner this year — in lieu of having a couple of these “high-end” talents regress any further in 2009.

    We can’t afford much in the way of disappointments in the rotation…’s been constructed as such, that at least 2 of these guys are going to have to over-achieve a bit; especially with no real #5 (again).

  6. Walnutz15 March 16, 2009 at 11:33 am
    Here’s some new quotables from Lastings The Slacker:

    You know, there’s always a thing where, Oh, rookies have to be here 2-1/2 or three hours before stretch. No. I’m not gonna be here three hours before stretch. If you’re here and you get your work in, it shouldn’t matter how early you’re at the field. You know what you need to do. That’s fine. You don’t have to be at the park three, four hours before the park if you don’t want. You don’t see nobody clocking in three or four hours before they have to show up to work. So, I mean, some people feel like they have to get here to read the newspaper or do crossword puzzles or get their mind ready. I feel like I come to the park, I have 45 minutes of stuff I have to do to get prepared for practice and get ready for the game. Five minutes might be watching videos. Fifteen minutes might be going in the cage. And then getting whatever other work I need.

    Attaboy, Lastings….

    Newsflash: you were never THAT good, where you never had to work on anything in the pre-game. Making a fuss over being required to show-up early because you’re a new face in the locker room further re-iterates the point:

    “Know your place, rook.”

    If this guy ever lives up to the hype that came along with his name and tools, then more power to him. So far, all I see is a legend in his own mind….with tons of work to do to re-fine his overall game.

    Here’s the whole article that contains the above-referenced quote:

  7. joe March 16, 2009 at 12:28 pm
    Wow, thanks for the LM quotes ‘nutz. He sounds like Richie Allen … except, Richie Allen was perhaps the most gifted hitter in MLB history (Babe Ruth included), and could get away with a lax approach to the game.

    I think it’s time to start a “where are they now” category of our various former Mets.

  8. eephus March 16, 2009 at 5:07 pm
    Well in the vein of keeping track of players not currently on the mets i’d like to throw this into the mix for discussion:

    “Manny Ramirez’s hamstring injury will keep him out of spring training games for at least a week”

    Now we all would rather have manny than not, but aren’t you slightly relieved that you are not riding this emotional roller coaster this week? Just a reminder that there can be some downside to putting your season’s hopes, and 25 million dollars into just one, often unmotivated 37 year old.

    If we had to sweat out both Santana’s Elbow and Manny Hammy that”d be a third of the payroll, and most of the season ready to blow any given day…

  9. joe March 16, 2009 at 5:47 pm
    eephus, have to tell you that I’d be very happy to be riding the Manny emotional roller coaster.

    Yes, there’s every chance in the world that he’ll be on the DL for half the season. But then, looking at the team as currently constructed, I’d still take 80 games of Manny for $25M. It sure worked for LA in ’08.

    I’m also not buying the “often unmotivated” criticism. I get that he’s flaky and occasionally begs out of games because he doesn’t feel like playing, but he also works harder on preparation and honing his hitting skills than 99% of the players in MLB.

    There’s a lot of downside already littering the roster … the only difference is, few of those downsides have Manny’s upside on the other end.

  10. isuzudude March 20, 2009 at 7:59 am
    Pelfrey looked great yesterday vs the Astros. Ya know, a part of me wants to believe that the Mets didn’t make a serious run at Derek Lowe because they feel like Mike Pelfrey can duplicate Lowe’s prowess for incredibly less money. I’m wary of placing that much responibility on a kid who, at this time last year, was fighting El Duque for the 5th spot in the rotation. And now he’s pretty much viewed as the #2, regardless of whether he gets the 2nd start of the season following Johan on openning day. Of course, I don’t think there would have been anything wrong with keeping Pelfrey AND signing Lowe this offseason, perhaps even on top of retaining Ollie’s services as well. After all, who knows what John Maine will contribute in 2009, and at this stage he should be considered more as a #5 than anything else. That way we could have avoided the Tim Redding/Freddy Garcia fiasco, ceased the incessant Pedro rumors, still brought in Livan as #5 insurance, and had Niese waiting in AAA. I suppose I would have been far more understanding of the Mets’ approach of not spending top dollar on pitching if they had spent the money saved from passing on Lowe and low-balling Ollie by beefing up the batting order. But they again chose the cheap route, passing on countless bigger bats to allow a journeyman and an almost-rookie to platoon in LF. Of all offseason decisions, this will perhaps be the most instrumental to whether or not the Mets finally reach the postseason for the first time since 2006.
  11. joe March 20, 2009 at 9:33 am
    I can sort of understand the thinking behind not wanting to pay for four years for Derek Lowe, but it’s not consistent with the Mets’ previous decisions to give guaranteed deals to Moises Alou, El Duque, Julio Franco, and some others. I’m still not sure how Oliver Perez didn’t get a sniff from any other MLB club — it defies logic. Smells of collusion, if you ask me.

    I’m very high on Pelfrey right now, which is a 100% turnaround on my part compared to this time last year. At the same time, I agree that it’s not a great idea to rely on him as the #2. But then again, the Rays set up James Shields as their #2 last year and that worked out OK.

    I agree the key is that the Mets chose not to get the big bat. But they are convinced that Murphy, Evans, Niese, Parnell, Pelfrey, etc., to be much better than what outsiders believe. Time will tell who is better at talent evaluation.