Archive: March 8th, 2008

Pelfrey’s Curveball

Mike Pelfrey pitching for the MetsSo what was that pitch Mike Pelfrey was throwing in today’s split-squad game against the Marlins?

Pelfrey was definitely throwing a good, hard sinker, on both sides of the plate. He might have thrown a changeup here and there but I couldn’t tell because the CW11 radar gun was way off.

And then there was that “breaking pitch”.

Supposedly, Pelfrey ditched his curveball last spring, per the wisdom of Rick Peterson. He’d concentrate on the slider instead. We haven’t heard anything contrary to that dictum since.

Yet, I saw overhand curves being thrown by Pelfrey today.

Maybe it was the wind. Maybe my eyes were deceiving me. Or maybe Pelfrey is throwing the curveball again. Or, maybe he thinks he’s throwing a slider but it’s actually a curve.

By definition, a slider should resemble a fastball in speed and appearance, but dart slightly down and sideways, and out of the strike zone at the last millisecond. The “break” of the ball — its change in path from a straight line — should be measurable in inches. Five to ten inches is about right. If it stays in the strikezone, then it’s called a “flat” slider because it goes only sideways and not down.

In contrast, a curveball is thrown from a higher plane and at a slower speed than a fastball. It should break down sharply from that higher plane and into the strike zone. The total break should be a foot (12″) or more. A “12-to-6” curve is the ideal, and is called that because if you imagined a clock face behind the path of the ball, you’d see it start at 12 and break straight down to 6. Aaron Sele threw such a curve, as did Dwight Gooden; you don’t see many pitchers throw them these days. Most curves are more “11-to-5” or “1-to-7”, though they’re never called that.

What I saw today from Pelfrey on occasion was a “breaking pitch” that was starting at a higher plane and dropping into the strike zone — and was significantly slower than his fastball. If he can do this on purpose, and more often, then this is good news, because to be successful at the Major League level he MUST change speeds and must be able to throw something other than the fastball for non-swinging strikes. A curveball, rather than a flat slider, is ideal (Jorge Sosa flattens his slider to get it into the strike zone, and as a result many of those pitches end up over fences).

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.

Over and over (and over) you probably heard Keith Hernandez saying Pelfrey’s fastball was up in the zone and/or getting too much of the plate. There was some credence to Keith’s analysis, but what Keith was pointing out is really a symptom and not the actual problem. If Pelfrey were able get a true curveball or a good changeup over the plate, then he’d be able to “get away” with occasional poor location. Watch Johan Santana or Pedro Martinez and you’ll see what I mean. With either of those pitchers, the batter has more to worry about — particularly with timing. If a pitcher can keep a batter “off balance”, he can be less perfect with location. It’s much easier for a batter to adjust to a change in location than a change in timing. Because Pelfrey is not able to abrupt the batter’s timing, his location has to be absolutely perfect.

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.

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Righthanded Hitter Found

Last March — the 28th, to be exact — I thought Jorge Cantu might be made available by the then-Devil Rays, and figured he’d be a perfect fit for the Mets. At the time, the Mets’ second base position was shaky, and Cantu had a big bat.

A week later, I brought up the idea again.

By May, Cantu became an obsession to me, as he was rumored to be dealt by the Devil Rays.

Right before the trading deadline in July, I was jealous that the Reds stole Cantu in return for the equivalent of a bag of balls.

In December, I mentioned that Cantu was again available, as a free agent, and would be an ideal guy to invite to spring training.

Most recently, I reported that Cantu signed with the Fish, and it probably made sense since he would get a chance to fight for a starting 3B spot.

Cantu, by the way, was the guy who raked all day for the Marlins. He also happens to be a strong righthanded hitter who can play 1B, 2B, and 3B. He played plenty of shortstop in the minors, and I’d guess he’s a strong enough athlete to learn to play the outfield if necessary.

The Mets, of course, don’t need a righthanded slugger who can play all those positions … do they?

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Poor Subject of Conversation

During the CW11 telecast of the Mets-Marlins game, announcers Keith Hernandez and Kevin Burkhardt spent several minutes discussing the Florida Marlins. Specifically, the “fact” that the Marlins would be unable to compete this year, how they couldn’t hold on to their best players, how they couldn’t have a good team because of their stadium, how losing Miguel Cabrera meant their offense would struggle mightily, etc., etc.

Listening to all this banter on how poor the Marlins were and how their offense stunk, my wife pointed out that the score was Marlins 7, Mets 1.

Yeah, I know it was a spring training split-squad game, but when your team is getting clobbered, it’s not the right time to say the opposition stinks.

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Show Me a Starter

In his latest bid to take claim of the fifth starter spot, Mike Pelfrey didn’t fare too well. The man who relieved him, however, didn’t look so bad.

Scott Schoeneweis came into a bases loaded situation and struck out Mike Jacobs, gave up a bomb to Jorge Cantu to clear the bases, then got the final out of the inning.

Here’s a crazy idea: give The Show a shot at the fifth starter spot. He began his career as a starter, and started 19 games as recently as 2004. He’s become more of a junkballer since (getting off PEDs and) losing 5 or so MPH from his fastball, and as a result works harder on changing speeds and hitting spots. If the Mets can’t trade him for somebody decent, why not see what he can do as a starter? Pelfrey certainly isn’t the answer, and who knows when we’ll see El Duque.

Before you scream “but he can’t pitch to righthanded batters”, let me tell you that I don’t care much for that fact, nor platoon splits in particular. Crazy? Consider the following:

Tom Glavine, 2007 (13-8): RH batters hit .266; LH batters hit .326

Kenny Rogers, 2006 (17-8): RH batters hit .268; LH batters hit .200

Jamie Moyer, 2007 (14-12): RH batters hit .279; LH batters hit .309

Scott Schoeneweis, 2007: RH batters hit .316 ; LH batters hit .204

Throwing it out there … if we end up stuck with him, maybe Scott Schoeneweis could be a candidate as a spot starter.

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