2010 was supposed to be Mike Pelfrey’s “breakout year” – and it appeared he’d fulfill that promise in the first three months, as he went 10-2 and pitched as well as any NL pitcher. In fact, he was among the top three pitchers in the league from April-June.
Then something happened in July.
Out of seemingly nowhere, Pelfrey’s performance and confidence sunk significantly – to the point where he looked like one of the worst three pitchers in baseball (Oliver Perez included). Luckily, he came out of his mid-season slump in August, then finished the year with mixed results. Over his final dozen or so starts, he was good – better than most – but nowhere near the dominant, ace-like starter he was in his first dozen.
Here at MetsToday we pointed out a minor mechanical issue that may or may not have contributed to his slump – one that he never completely worked out. Still, he finished the year with 15 wins, a 3.66 ERA, 204 IP, and allowed only 12 HRs – all good numbers for a mid-rotation starter. The main stats that worry me are his walk rate (3.0 per 9 IP), and to a lesser degree his groundball/flyball rate (1.05), and strikeout rate (4.99 per 9 IP). As a sinkerball pitcher who pitches to contact, he can’t afford to walk that many batters, and though he was 11th in the NL in GB rate, to be better than a top-of-the-rotation guy he will have to either strike out more batters or get more ground balls (and walk less batters).
A big part of his first-half success was Big Pelf’s ability to change speeds – something he hadn’t done with any consistency at any time in his career previously. His new-found forkball / changeup kept batters off-balance and put an extra pitch into their heads. Pelfrey also made steps toward commanding his overhand curve – yet another weapon that will keep hitters guessing.
I think it’s fair to say 2010 was a step forward in Pelfrey’s progress. The question for 2011 is, will he continue to improve, or has he established a baseline for the rest of his career?
Considering his raw skillset, I’d like to believe that Pelfrey will continue to improve. Whether he progresses, however, will have much to do with his confidence – which, of course, is directly tied to his success. I sincerely believe that if Pelfrey can work out his mechanical inconsistencies, and stick to a strict program that enables him to repeat his delivery, the sky is the limit. A consistent delivery will allow him to command his sinker and change-up / forkball low in the zone, and continue development of his curve. With total command of those three pitches, Mike Pelfrey could be an ace.