This is an article written by Matt Himelfarb
After a disappointing 2009, Mike Pelfrey rebounded big time in 2010, going 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA in 204 innings pitched. With Johan Santana expected to be sidelined until at least Opening Day, and the unclear financial stature of the Mets, no one dare wants to broach the idea of trading Pelfrey, who is entering just his first year of arbitration this winter. Wright, Reyes, Beltran? Hey, its’ house cleaning time. Yet, nary a mention of Pelfrey.
There is good reason to think, however, that Pelfrey’s market value is probably inflated right now, and it would behoove the Mets to sell high on him. His tidy surface stats belie the fact that he is, most likely, a rather pedestrian pitcher. After all, looking at Pelfrey’s peripherals, he is just not particularly good at anything. He does not strike out a lot of hitters, and his walk rate is more or less average. He induces a decent number of ground-balls (around 50% of his batted balls were grounders), but no one is confusing him for Brandon Webb or Derek Lowe in his prime. Most importantly, these three factors have held remarkably constant the last three years, despite varying ERAs.
What has correlated with Pelfrey’s success is a lower number of home runs allowed, stemming from a lower HR/FB rate. (Note: league average HR/FB rate is 10-11%).
*I did not actually calculate his average xFIP over the last three years, but averaged them all together, so the difference is fairly negligible.
HR/FB rate does not correlate well from year to year, and is highly dependent on luck, so part of the reason Pelfrey has outperformed his expected performance can be attributed to luck.
But, we are talking about a fairly large sample size (589 innings), where regression to the mean should have taken place if it were purely about luck. Instead, Pelfrey was able to maintain a low HR/FB rate, and outperform his xFIP by nearly half a run (.39), indicating that his ability to limit homers had a lot to do with pitching in a favorable home ballpark (Shea Stadium in 2008, Citi Field the last two years). While it is unclear to what extent Citi Field suppresses home runs, Pelfrey has performed significantly better at home than on the road the past two years, as have many of his teammates.
Hence, Pelfrey’s performance is not necessarily unsustainable, per se. As long as he is starting half his outings in Citi Field, and has a decent defense behind him (Pelfrey allows more batted balls than the average pitcher, and thus a lower BABIP is also a key component of his success), there is a good chance he can outperform his xFIP, and a sub-4 ERA is attainable for him, as it was in 2008 and 2010.
But the point still remains the same, because if Pelfrey can reap the advantages of pitching in Citi Field, so can numerous other pitchers. Take, for instance, Zach Duke, who was just designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates, after going 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA last year. Pelfrey’s and Duke’s average numbers over the last three seasons are frighteningly similar:
Duke also had much higher BABIP numbers during his tenure with Pittsburgh, due to some awful defenses. He is essentially a left-handed version of Pelfrey. As recently as 2009, Duke threw 213 innings and posted a 4.06 era. If the Mets were to sign him, I could easily see him posting similar, if not better, numbers. Like Pelfrey, that does not mean that is Duke’s true talent level; I am just trying to make my point that Pelfrey is, in fact, more replaceable than people believe.
Glancing over some possible trade partners, sending Pelfrey to the Brewers for Brett Lawrie would be awfully nice, although I doubt Milwaukee would be interested. I could see a deal with the Tigers involving Scott Sizemore or with the Rockies and Chris Nelson, so long as the Mets receive some additional prospects.
Given the fact that Sandy Alderson might be precluded from pursuing big name players due to financial reasons, improving next year’s team will probably require some creativity. Signing someone like Duke, which would enable him to sell high on Pelfrey, could be a step in the right direction.