Mets Spring Training Question 9: Mike Pelfrey’s Sinker

With 9 days until pitchers and Molinas report, the #9 question to be answered during Mets spring training is: can Mike Pelfrey throw an effective sinker?

According to Anthony McCarron of The Daily News, Pelfrey “has already thrown 1,000 sinkers over the winter during workouts at Wichita State.” Presumably, Pelfrey believes that his inconsistency and failure to live up to his perceived potential over the last few years is due to his inability to command his sinker, and that an ability to do so will result in better performance. Maybe he’s right. From McCarron’s article:

His entire pitching life, he’s been able to make the ball sink, inducing ground balls from hitters. Last year, his pitches stayed high in the strike zone and Pelfrey believes that’s why he gave up a career-worst 21 homers in 1932/3 innings en route to a 7-13 record and a 4.74 ERA.

“I gave up way too many homers and that was a product of the ball being up a lot higher than I’d like,” added Pelfrey, who gave up 12 homers in 204 innings in 2010.

“Last year, it got to the point where it just wasn’t moving and I can’t necessarily explain why. It disappeared, but I’ve been throwing and there’s more action on the ball now.”

Some have opined that Pelfrey threw too many cut fastballs last year, falling in love with a pitch that isn’t as good as his sinker. Late in the season, he and pitching coach Dan Warthen discussed throwing his circle changeup more, something that Pelfrey also said he has gotten good movement on over the winter.

“We also talked about going back to the sinker and I feel like I’ve done that,” Pelfrey says. “I’m encouraged.”

If Pelfrey can regain command of his sinker, I do believe it can be helpful toward his 2012 performance. However, I think it’s only part of the equation. Much more important — in my humble opinion — are Pelfrey’s off-speed pitches. By “off-speed”, I am speaking specifically about his curveball and change-up. When Pelfrey has a strong start, it’s usually because he changes speeds and includes a generous mix of curves and change-ups into his repertoire. In his so-so and poor outings, you’ll see less off-speed and more sliders and cutters. So if it were up to me, I’d like to see “Big Pelf” working hard on one or both of his curve and change during the spring.

What do you think? Will improved command of the sinker be the key to Mike Pelfrey’s success in 2012? If his sinker looks good this spring, will it lead to a good year on the mound for him? Answer in the comments.

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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. NormE February 11, 2012 at 5:16 pm
    I’d like to add another aspect of Pelf’s game; his mental make-up. He’s got to be more positive and tougher!
    • Joe Janish February 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm
      Agreed but is that something that can be “fixed” in 6 weeks of spring training? I know Pelfrey used to see Harvey Dorfman but now that Dorfman has passed away does he see someone else?
    • Joe February 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm
      He needs to see that sports therapist in “Unnecessary Roughness.”
  2. mic February 12, 2012 at 4:51 am
    comes down to pitching coach
  3. DaveSchneck February 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm
    Through the years, Big Pelf hasw frustrated many a Met fan as well as himself. He may never live up to his draft position, but he is better than he was last year. Some maturity and Santana’s return could help him settle in decent 12-15 win season. Key will be improvement against NL east teams on the road. It’s a tough division but he does have the tools to be adequate.
  4. BklynCowpoke February 12, 2012 at 6:29 pm
    The only difference between Pelfrey and Ollie is that Pelfrey throws more strikes; albeit too many hittable ones.
  5. argonbunnies February 13, 2012 at 2:08 am
    Reducing the HRs is important, but there’s now way Pelf will be a league average pitcher unless he also improves his abysmal K rate.

    Maybe a better groundball rate would get him down from “replacement level” to “acceptable #5″. Sorry if I’m not thrilled.

  6. BCA February 13, 2012 at 10:39 am
    If he locates his pitches better, he will be more successful. Mental makeup is a factor but I think he will adjust better. I think he’s better than the 7-13 record. He’s a decent #3-5 type pitcher. Glad to have him.
    • HobieLandrith February 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm
      “If he locates his pitches better, he will be more successful.”

      Isn’t that pretty much the case with any pitcher, at any level?

      This guy can’t pitch in New York. Watch him go to Kansas City or Cleveland and win 18 games.

  7. Glenn February 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm
    Pelfrey tends to have one good year, then one bad which tells me he doesn’t make adjustments all that easily. He gets some success and the league adjusts to him and then he struggles. Then during spring training he makes the adjustment, succeeds until the league catches up to him again. I think Pelfrey will make adjustments after a rough 2011 and then I think the Mets should trade him at the ASB and get what they can. Mike will never be a number one, two or even three. He is what he is: a workhorse and that’s it.
  8. Mark February 22, 2012 at 6:06 pm
    In one of his two complete games last season Pelfry threw a curveball — and a good one. My reaction was: “Where did that come from?!” Someone in the booth mentioned that after he was drafted by the Mets “the organization” told him to drop the curve because his second pitch shouldn’t also drop like his sinker. That was a big mistake — and one that has continued. He has a good one — and he should use it. When he throws it the batters swing and miss (yes — that Pelfry) or they hit ground balls, and it makes his sinker more effective. It also allows him to throw some 95mph fastballs up in the zone and get more swinging strikes. The idea that a sinkerball pitcher shouldn’t throw a curveball is idiotic, especially when he has a good one. Pelfrey should have taken the lesson from that complete game and mixed in 20-30 curveballs in every game after that. Instead, he went back to throwing sinker after sinker after sinker after sinker — and then a flat slider that got hammered. Use the curve. It works.