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.
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.