2011 Analysis: Mike Pelfrey

There’s an old phrase that goes, “sometimes you have to take two steps back in order to take one step forward”. If that’s true, Mike Pelfrey is on step back number three — so when are we going to see that one step forward?

Mike Pelfrey takes great pride in taking the ball every five days — and he has succeeded in reaching that goal for each of the past four years. In 2011, for the second straight season, he made all of his 33 starts — completing 193 innings. No one can deny he is durable.

Unfortunately, that is where Pelfrey’s value ends. Like most of the other Mets starters, “Big Pelf” averaged about 6 innings per start (5.8 to be exact) — an acceptable number for a starting pitcher, but nothing extraordinary, and not enough to label him an “innings eater”. Despite reaching and occasionally leaping over the mid-90s with his fastball, Pelfrey is not a strikeout pitcher; he averaged a feeble 4.9 K/9. Despite throwing a hard sinker, Pelfrey is not considered a ground ball pitcher; his .86 ground ball:fly ball ratio was about league average and says that he allows more fly balls than grounders.

When the Mets made Pelfrey their #1 draft choice — 9th overall — there were high expectations. Many scouts believed Pelfrey was the most polished pitcher in the draft, and fell down to #9 only because he had retained super agent Scott Boras. Pelfrey made it to the bigs after only a half season in the minors, and seemed poised to become an ace starter in the near future. During the first two and a half months of 2010, he appeared to have reached those lofty expectations — but, it’s been downhill ever since, beginning right around July 5, 2010. His performance became wildly inconsistent from that point through the end of 2010, and carried through the entire 2011 season.

By September 2011, Pelfrey’s confidence was shot and he regressed to a level of inconsistency that was similar to his 2009 season. His performance down the stretch was so shaky, many wondered if the Mets would offer him arbitration, or cut him loose as a non-tendered free agent.

2012 Projection

Personally, I don’t think it makes sense to non-tender Pelfrey. Even if his only value is as a durable starter who will take the ball and give you 5-6 innings, that’s still an asset. At this point, we need to accept Pelfrey — he “is what he is”, and that’s a #4 / #5 starter on a championship club. Considering his tool set and his age (he’ll be 28 when spring training opens), there’s an outside shot that he’ll “figure it out” and become slightly better than what we saw in 2011. His career path, raw talent, and the opinion of outsiders reminds me very much of Gil Meche. Remember Meche? He had one strong season in his mid-20s for Seattle, was otherwise something of an enigma, then, when he hit free agency, was highly over-valued as someone who was on the verge of “breaking out” and “taking the next step” toward becoming an ace. It never quite happened, but Meche did put together a few decent seasons as a 200-inning starter for the Royals. Unfortunately, I see too many similarities between Meche and Pelfrey.

2010 Mike Pelfrey Evaluation

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. PAL88 November 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm
    I would be thrilled if I got up one morning during this hotstove season to learn Pelfrey was traded…The man is a head case and will never put a solid season together..
  2. Joe November 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm
    I’m all for accepting what I got and that’s what we had last season — a bunch of flawed starters who were 3-5 spot quality, down to the poet/author/40 guy who started the last game.

    Pelfrey, however, is a head case and I’m tired of him. The team can find someone else to give them innings, even if they only do so for a few months and have to be replaced by some other cheap fill-in, for less money and without the bad taste. The team isn’t going to do that much next year, so at least let’s do what we can to ease fan annoyance.

  3. Walnutz15 November 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm
    I’m just about done with Pelfrey, as well – and hope he’s dealt over the winter. Won’t even be mad if he finds success elsewhere, ‘cuz it’s evident it’s not happening here.

    For all the talk of not wanting to sign a guy like Jason Marquis – at least he’s got balls. Pelfrey’s been pitching scared for years, and hasn’t been much better – for all the mental anguish.

    As opposed to years past, where it would have made absolutely no sense whatsoever to pursue Marquis’ services – per what he would have been looking for…..a reasonable “get myself back on the map, while pitching at home” 1-year deal would probably work in the state of this organization.

    And if need be, he could be trusted to play SS, provided Reyes does bolt…..alright, I’m being ridiculous — 2B, in lieu of that defensive disaster named Daniel Murphy.


    (And yes, I’m still kidding……kinda…….)

  4. Timo November 16, 2011 at 3:13 pm
    Big Pelf makes me sick. I can’t watch him pitch. Take a look at the 2005 draft selections … http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?query_type=year_round&year_ID=2005&draft_round=1&draft_type=junreg
    Some of the names taken after Big Pelf could have helped us more. However, you could probably say that about all drafts.
    With that said, you are right Joe. We are stuck with him. Non-tendering Pelf really doesn’t make sense. Also, a trade NOW is not feasible because we won’t get anything back. What I hoping happens is that a team’s pitching rotation get season ending injuries and they are in desperate need of pitching at the beginning of the season. Then Pelf will have value. Trade him then.
    Either way, if Big Pelf is on the Mets next year, I’ll will continue to not watch.
    • Steven November 17, 2011 at 12:50 pm
      Wow. Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce. Everyone else seems no better than Pelfrey
  5. Walnutz15 November 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm
    Personally, I’m hoping that Edwin Jackson gets a ridiculous contract somewhere – and that the Cards would be open to exploring a deal for Pelfrey.

    If Duncan stayed, then I’m confident that he’d be able to milk something more out of him.

    Whatever little we get in exchange, I’m willing to move to whoever wants him.

    • Joe Janish November 17, 2011 at 11:52 pm
      Pelfrey wins 18 games with Dave Duncan as his pitching coach. Guaranteed.
  6. argonbunnies November 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm
    The time to trade Pelf was after 2010. Anyone who watched him pitch should have known that his final numbers were skewed by an unsustainable (and indeed unsustained) hot streak to start the season. I dunno if we can blame Sandy et al. for that lack of vision, but whoever was reporting to them should have done better.

    I doubt we’ll get anything for him in a trade now.

    Pelfrey is not a 4/5 starter on a championship team unless your top 3 and your offense are spectacular. The value of making 33 starts a year is that it saves the team from having to throw in some awful scrubs as replacements. But if you are an awful scrub, there’s zero value to that durability.

    A 4.74 ERA may not look that bad coming off the steroid era, but in 2011, it’s absolute crap. 22% worse than league average. In 2006, that would have been 5.80. (And that’s not luck. That’s a K rate that’s a full 2 per 9 below average, plus awful intangibles.)

    If we’re trying to get what little value we can out of Pelfrey (which is okay for 2012, I guess), I’d change the program — try to get 97mph out of that perfect pitcher’s frame, and if he hurts himself, so what.

    Sorry for all the hatin’, Pelf seems like a nice guy. He’s just not a major league starting pitcher.

    • Walnutz15 November 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      #Mets and #Rockies briefly talked about building something around Huston Street and Pelfrey but Mets do not seem overly enamored with Street.

  7. Sal Alosi November 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm
    He can join John Maine and Aaron Heilman, although I think they were better than Mike, when they were w/ the Mets.

    Can’t you just wait to see another Pelrey vs. Roy Halladay start at Citizens Bank next season??? Your better off going to the beach or cutting your grass.

  8. Walnutz15 November 17, 2011 at 8:41 am
    The scary thing is: guys like Maine and Pelfrey have been afforded every opportunity.

    Aaron Heilman was banished to the bullpen for far less.

    • Joe November 17, 2011 at 11:58 am
      Maine, they got as a toss in, he made it possible for them to go to the WS (possible), gave them a good year and then fell to form. The team didn’t … see Perez … then stupidly overpay him for an extended deal. Maine was one of the smart moves they made.
  9. Walnutz15 November 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm
    Never contested that Maine was a smart move…..unfortunately, for them – he became the exact pitcher he was traded for (Kris Benson).

    My point was more about guys getting long, extended looks – while another prospect they ruined at the Minor League-level (Heilman) got all of 25 over 3 “ho-hum” seasons for the team.

    • Joe November 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm
      I did not mean to imply that you so contested.

      I don’t think Maine was “unfortunate” much at all. He was obtained cheaply, played his part well for a season plus (including a key game at the end of the season) and then fell to form. But, since he was obtained cheaply and all, he was disposable. So, who cares?

      Heilman is not really the same case. They got Maine as a starter, so didn’t have a chance to ruin him in the minor leagues, Maine wasn’t a pitcher that could be used and worn out for a few years as a reliever either. He was an average starter that gave them something for Benson & unlike Perez, after a season plus of value, they didn’t stupidly over pay him and get stuck with a mental case whose talent was spent.

      • Joe Janish November 18, 2011 at 12:03 am
        I completely disagree with your assessment of the Maine transaction. The Mets traded Benson for Maine and Jorge Julio, at a time when Benson wasn’t terrible but Julio was and Maine was a so-so prospect at a crossroads.

        Yes, Benson was in the middle of a fast decline but at the moment of the trade he had decent value, coming off a 10-8 season with 175 IP, an ERA in the low 4s, and a 1.25 WHIP — not too shabby for the end of the steroid era. The Mets essentially gave him away because the Wilpons were offended by his wife — the deal had ZERO to do with his ability as a pitcher. Minaya was told to trade him ASAP after Anna’s inappropriate Christmas party outfit.

        So when you term the deal as obtaining Maine “cheaply”, I don’t know how you justify that. Further, your argument that the Mets wouldn’t have had a chance at the WS w/o Maine in ’06 doesn’t necessarily hold water, because if the deal wasn’t made, they might’ve still had Benson instead of Maine, and Benson probably would have done just as well if not better.

        Maine was a pleasant surprise, but far from a cheap acquisition.

        • Dan November 19, 2011 at 11:34 am
          And if Maine wasn’t acquired they may have been forced to give Heilman a real chance to start, which if successful could have made a huge difference in 06 and 07.

          Long term Maine accomplished little, and the team is still looking to replace the starter they threw away, Heilman.

        • Joe Janish November 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm
          Dan, agreed … you’re preaching to the choir …
        • Dan November 20, 2011 at 2:57 pm
          Preaching unintended, just trying to keep
          a sometimes overlooked part of the larger story on the table for those who stumble upon the choir.
        • Joe Janish November 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm
          And I appreciate that … I was worn down by dozens from the peanut gallery telling me I had a “man crush” on Aaron Heilman for stating the logic of giving him a shot in the rotation. Had Wille/Manuel not destroyed his arm via over(ab)use, and he been given a fair shot at starting, Heilman might still be a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy. Now he’s an old, worn-out, middle reliever. Shame.
        • Dan November 21, 2011 at 8:38 pm
          He’s definitely of the wrong side of the aging curve, but still throws low 90s with good movement. I suspect a lot of this years stink was due to getting short sheeted for the starting job in Arizona and the occasional thought of not getting a real crack at big money (think Ollie and 36M). He faced Holliday and Pujols 4x each this year, only 1 hit each and 3Ks for 8 PAs might indicate that it’s not over yet.
        • Joe November 21, 2011 at 6:06 pm
          At the time, I and others saw Heilman start & didn’t think much of him, including some (unlike I) who actually have baseball expertise. I figured he might work, but the idea he would be a long term answer and give you more than (over) using him as a reliever would, who knows? That’s an assumption. Assume away.

          If Benson was disposed of and they put Heilman in, they would need someone to replace Heilman. So what, two relievers? Eventually, they got El Duque, so they used two starters from that trade anyways, and could have started Heilman instead. Maine wasn’t really to blame there. Since I don’t know “long term” what Heilman would have given, overall agnostic.

        • Joe Janish November 21, 2011 at 11:53 pm
          At the time, I — who have baseball expertise — saw Heilman start and thought very much of him. What anyone else thought, I don’t really care, as I trust my own eyes and experience watching and catching pitchers for 30 years.

          Heilman threw four pitches for strikes, had movement on all four, had average to good command of all four, and was able to change speeds effectively. However I’m talking about the “after” Heilman — the one who was allowed to drop his arm angle and pitch with a style more like the one that he used successfully at Notre Dame. Nearly all of the people w/o baseball expertise who poo-pooed the idea of Heilman as a starter spent too much time looking at the stats / results of the “before” Heilman — when he was throwing directly overhand per the insistence of the idiotic “experts” in the Mets’ minor league system / player development at the time.

          And actually, one didn’t have to see Heilman’s handful of starts to decide whether he’d be a legitimate starting pitcher. As a reliever, Heilman threw a 96-MPH sinking fastball, one of the best change-ups in baseball, and an above-average slider. What else does one need to be a successful MLB starter? People have been waiting for Mike Pelfrey to become an ace and all he has is a 94-MPH fastball and a below-average slider.

        • Joe November 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm
          Fine and others with baseball expertise can disagree with you. You can ignore them all you like. Your comments are duly noted and respected. No snark.
        • Joe November 21, 2011 at 3:12 pm
          My overall comments suggest that as a whole the transaction went the Mets way. That is what I meant by “cheaply.” Not in a vacuum as in “they got rid of Benson for a stupid reason and wasted money” sort of way.

          Putting that aside, not sure how you disagree. Your summary of Benson’s talent amounts isn’t very appealing and his long term prospects, dim (he was hurt all ’07, the year Maine went 15-10). And, yes, my assumption is that Benson was gone by the time of the playoffs. Changing history, Maine or someone else isn’t as necessary. As is, they had to use Perez and Maine.

          They got El Duque for Julio, who gave them some wins. Thus, for a mediocre pitcher with a slim future, they got two starters, one who had a good ’07. They didn’t overpay to retain either one. And, since Benson didn’t even pitch in ’07, unlike W. said, in practice they we were not really “the same.” And, they came out ahead in the long run — it wasn’t really “unfortunate” that Maine gave them 1.5 good years plus El Duque some starts. Duly noted that you don’t think much of WHY they got rid of Benson. But, net, they came out ahead.

        • Joe Janish November 22, 2011 at 12:09 am
          So anytime a deal “goes the Mets way” it can be defined as a “cheap” transaction? OK, as you wish.

          The Mets wound up paying El Duque about $15M over just shy of three years in exchange for 18 wins. That’s not “cheap” in my dictionary.

          Your argument was that Maine was obtained “cheaply”. Maybe if all you care about is getting rid of salary in return for less salary, your argument holds water. But if indeed that’s your argument, the moment you extend the deal to El Duque, who like Benson missed an entire season under contract due to injury, you’ve turned the trade into a “wash”, especially when you consider that Benson earned almost exactly the same amount of money as El Duque over the same period of time.

        • Joe November 22, 2011 at 11:57 am
          >So anytime a deal “goes the Mets way” it can be defined as a “cheap” transaction?>

          Depending on the facts “as a whole,” yes it could, particularly in comparison to some of the expensive wasting of money in recent years.

          >The Mets wound up paying El Duque about $15M over just shy of three years in exchange for 18 wins.

          What did they pay Maine and El Duque combined?

          >a “wash”

          Even there, as I said, it wouldn’t be a “disappointment,” particularly since Maine — unlike Benson — did pitch in 2007. El Duque and Maine, more than Benson would have alone, helped the Mets get to a few innings from the WS. El Duque gave the team 9 wins in two seasons, which is pretty fair. Benson wouldn’t have given what Maine AND El Duque gave you combined.

          Anyway, “cheaply” was just one part of my overall discussion, which was concerned with the net result.

  10. Walnutz15 November 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm
    Speaking of Anna — did you happen to come across her “Mets were scared of her big funbags” comments?

    Hyping up her “Baseball Wives” show on VH-1, no doubt.