What’s Wrong with Mike Pelfrey?

Yesterday, Mike Pelfrey faced 20 batters; 12 reached base. He allowed 8 hits, 4 walks, and 8 runs, including a three-run homer to Carlos Lee. On the bright side, he struck out 4 in his 2 2/3 innings of “work.”

According to Big Pelf and his manager Terry Collins, the goal was to “throw harder” in this contest, after reaching only 87 MPH in his previous outing. Per both Collins and Pelfrey, the goal was met. Unfortunately, the “execution was lousy,” according to Pelfrey.

So, what the heck is wrong with Big Pelf this spring?

Maybe nothing. After all, Mike Pelfrey had a terrible spring training back in 2010, and that turned out to be arguably his best season as a Major Leaguer. And in truth, Pelfrey has a bad spring every year — his career ST ERA is 6.90, with 3 wins and 14 losses.

But this year, neither Pelfrey nor the Mets can afford to have a sour spring. And there’s something different about Pelfrey’s struggles this March. Specifically, his velocity is significantly down. He’s throwing so slowly that the Mets coaching staff asked him to “throw harder” in this latest contest.

Here’s the report from Adam Rubin of ESPN-NY:

After registering only 87 mph in his previous outing, Pelfrey said he overthrew the ball Sunday, trying to up his velocity. The staff had asked him to throw harder to get his arm strong for the season.

Pelfrey said he ended up “yanking” his sinker as a result — meaning he did not get on top of the baseball to drive it downward. Instead, Pelfrey explained, he created more of a Frisbee action by getting on the side of the baseball and not finishing the pitch. It stayed flat and in the middle of the strike zone.

Those last two sentences are particularly interesting to me, considering the mechanical flaw that Pelfrey has been struggling with since July 2010. If you weren’t a MetsToday reader back then, in a nutshell, Pelfrey began hunching over during his leg lift, which in turn caused his balance to lean toward third base, which in turn caused more of a side-to-side momentum — exactly the kind of motion that one might use to, um, throw a frisbee. Why this flaw began, no one is sure, but it’s probably not a coincidence that Pelfrey suffered a rotator cuff strain around the same time that the flaw developed. My bet is that Pelfrey began the hunch-over and over-rotation as a response to the shoulder pain; it’s common for a pitcher to believe he can rotate his hips a little more to take some pressure off the shoulder (in fact, the result is usually the opposite).

So now we have a situation in which Pelfrey is throwing with low velocity, and when asked to “ramp it up,” he responds by most likely over-rotating, rather than getting taller and using both the advantage of gravity / leverage and back-to-front momentum. Is it because Pelfrey doesn’t understand the laws of physics discovered by Isaac Newton? Or is it because his shoulder is still barking, and he simply can’t get it to rotate as quickly as he used to?

I haven’t had the chance to see any video of Pelfrey this spring, so this is all guesswork. But, based on the comments that have been published by the beat writers, Collins, and Pelfrey, I’m going on a limb and going with my above theory. If Pelfrey doesn’t have a shoulder problem, then his mechanics are royally messed up. There is no other logical explanation for his inability to throw 90+ MPH with decent command — he should be able to do one or the other, even if he’s still getting in shape.

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 March 19, 2012 at 8:30 am
    Nothing an extended stay in Buffalo won’t cure….maybe it would get his head demons to leave.
  2. DaveSchneck March 19, 2012 at 8:43 am
    Joe,
    Your theory is as good as any, as I can’t believe the evaporation of his performance since mid-2010 is all “in his head”. His pitches are noticably less effective, and he is still young. Even with this a rebuilding year, and no depth of SP, I see Big Pelf on a short leash. A combination of his struggles (of Gee’s for tha matter) and Harvey’s continued development will send him the way of Ollie.
  3. Izzy March 19, 2012 at 9:38 am
    BAD BAD DAY FOR ALL MET FANS. Picard makes deal with the crooked Wilpons for a sum that will allow the roaches to keep the Mets. Settling implies their knowledge but their buddy Buddy won’t kick them out.
  4. MikeT March 19, 2012 at 10:06 am
    I seem to recall a piece somewhere that mentions Pelfrey was trying to stay taller this Spring. I was hopeful that this meant he was finally trying to correct this flaw. I’ll see if I can find it.
    • JoeBourgeois March 19, 2012 at 11:32 am
      Mike –
      That wasn’t about his performance on the mound; it was about him asking a woman out on a date.
  5. Angelo March 19, 2012 at 10:17 am
    Hey guys,

    no doubt that was bad bad pitching from Pelfrey but he will be fine . I think with Santana , Pelfrey, Niese and Gee , we have a good rotation . Dickey is sure in as well but i dont think he will have a heck of a year . WE ALL SHOULD JUST BELIEVE , nothing else we can do folks, AND nothing else the Fans of the other 29 clubs are doing ;) just BELIEVE , first goal is to NOT end up in the last place , so get the Nationals. IF we past them in the standings , there should be not much between us and the Marlins/Braves . Sure we need a ride , i mean these Mets team need one of course , but we as fans starting it !!! LETS GO METS from Germany

    I will watch the post 9/11 game vs the Braves right now and ….. BELIEVE

    • HobieLandrith March 19, 2012 at 10:49 am
      I BELIEVE!

      I believe the Mets will stink this year!

  6. Joe March 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm
    I appreciate the analysis but basically I don’t care. I’m tired of this guy. I didn’t care WHY Ollie Perez was a waste either. He was one & I’m glad they got rid of him.

    That is my gut reaction. Superego Joe will step back & see that it does matter, but really, I’m just tired of him. Let him go and thrive some place else. If he suddenly has an okay year, fine, though too much water under the bridge at some point even there.

  7. argonbunnies March 19, 2012 at 10:26 pm
    Pelf was a below-replacement level pitcher last year, and he’s never demonstrated average major league K/9 or K/BB rates. I don’t think any adjustment is too severe. Right now we stand to get nothing for his 2012 salary, including in trade. Better to risk that his arm falls off if it gives a chance of some upside.

    Stand taller, push off harder, get more separation, get the velocity back up to the 96mph he was throwing in AA in 2006. “96 or we’re not letting you into a game” should be the mandate. That’s the only way his mediocre command is going to play in the majors. Also, bring back the only secondary pitch that’s ever been effective for him, the splitter.

    Pelfrey is 28 and has over 1000 pro innings, most of that in the majors, after a full college career. If he can’t get consistent movement or location on any of his pitches after all that time, I don’t think he ever will. The best way forward is to maximize the velocity. Maybe that’s Plan D, but Plans A, B and C have already failed.

    • Joe Janish March 19, 2012 at 10:40 pm
      The crazy thing is that Pelfrey gets GREAT separation — to the point that he should be throwing 96+ MPH. But he blows it all with that little bit of hunch that throws off his balance. And, I’m guessing, there’s a pain issue in the shoulder as well that has an impact. It boggles my mind that he doesn’t use his height to his advantage. What’s the point of being a 6’7″ pitcher if you’re going to pitch from 5’8″?
      • argonbunnies March 19, 2012 at 10:44 pm
        Joe, the hunch you’re talking about, isn’t that the same thing Halladay does, and doesn’t it happen before separation’s established? I’m not clear on where the lost balance you describe is occurring during his motion.
  8. argonbunnies March 19, 2012 at 10:41 pm
    Let’s list Mike Pelfrey’s qualifications as a major league pitcher:

    League-average walk rate: 2008-2011

    Excellent groundball rate: 2008

    Durability: 32 starts/yr 2008-2011

    And that’s it.* In every other category, he’s stayed below-average. There doesn’t need to be anything wrong with him; there’s simply never been anything right with him.

    Fans of Matt Harvey, take note: Pelf’s numbers in college and his first year as a pro were far better than Harvey’s.

    *Statistics tell us that his low 2010 HR total despite an avg GB rate was most likely a combo of CitiField and luck.

  9. jerseymet March 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm
    Pelf is a head case. He is not part of the future. Lets cut him and save 4 million. Give a young guy a shot.
  10. cph April 4, 2012 at 11:33 am
    you were right! looks like Pelf’s delivery changed to bring the glove over his head during his windup motion and I’m wondering if this is helping him to not hunch over like you said in your previous posts. he’s also not ending up half-way to first base and throwing off the completion of his motion and accuracy. throwing over the top too and getting his sinker some nice downward motion. great outing against the yankees.