Section 518

Where we endeavor to stay positive about the 2011 Mets…

Mike Pelfrey – Another Look

Posted by JD on December 22, 2009

A lot has been made of the Mets’ failure to acquire a starting pitcher this offseason and that’s fair: the starting rotation (outside of Johan Santana) was a mess last season and it’s imperative that they improve it. If no moves are made, the Mets’ starting rotation would likely be Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, John Maine and Nelson Figueroa/Jon Niese. Basically, unless something is done, there’s a realistic chance that we’ll be watching Santana and four question marks.

Pelfrey, to me, is the biggest unknown. Perez is all over the place, an inconsistent talent who can shine or stink in consecutive starts but did far more stinking than shining last year. Maine has his plusses but also struggles with consistency: too often he gets pulled in the sixth inning after wasting too many pitches and walking too many batters. I can’t totally write off either Perez or Maine, but I think we’ve reached the point where we know what exactly what they’ll give us: occasional excellence surrounded by mediocrity (or, in Ollie’s case, worse). And including Figueroa/Niese in this discussion is really just a polite way of saying the fifth spot is “To Be Determined”. Personally, I think Niese can handle the fifth spot in the rotation but injuries and lack of experience (Niese is only 23, with all of eight major league appearances on his resume) combine to make him a questionable choice today.

Pelfrey is different though. He’s still young (he’ll turn 26 in January) and has had success in the past (his 2008 second-half had many, including me, thinking he’d turned the corner), but was plagued with control issues of his own last year (the propensity to balk that he suddenly came down with in ’09 was startling, to say the least). There’s still a chance that he can become a dependable second starter. Heck, the numbers say there’s a chance he can become a dependable number one starter.

For proof, I used the Baseball Reference Play Index to identify pitchers similar to Pelfrey at this point in his career. I used two main criteria: ERA+ (Pelfrey has a career 91 ERA+, 100 is league average) and WHIP (Pelfrey’s career WHIP is 1.489). I focused on pitchers who pitched in four or fewer seasons by the age of 25, were within 5 ERA+ of Pelfrey (86-96) and .100 WHIP (1.389-1.589), and had pitched at least 479 innings (Pelfrey’s career total) while starting at least 90% of their appearances (Pelfry has actually started about 97% of his appearances). It’s an interesting list:

Rk            Player ERA+  WHIP    IP From   To   Age   G  GS
1    Livan Hernandez   94 1.493 533.1 1996 1999 21-24  81  80
2         Kyle Lohse   94 1.432 666.0 2001 2004 22-25 119 114
3      Jason Schmidt   94 1.479 523.1 1995 1998 22-25  93  84
4      Sidney Ponson   94 1.432 705.1 1998 2001 21-24 118 107
5        Scott Olsen   93 1.452 579.1 2005 2008 21-24 102 101
6      Mark Langston   93 1.482 591.0 1984 1986 23-25  96  93
7      Ryan Dempster   93 1.542 639.1 1998 2001 21-24 106 103
8         Early Wynn   93 1.410 507.0 1939 1943 19-23  75  69
9         Mike Moore   93 1.434 731.1 1982 1985 22-25 119 115
10        Jim Slaton   92 1.398 718.0 1971 1974 21-24 113 104
11      Mike Pelfrey   91 1.489 479.0 2006 2009 22-25  82  80
12      Dick Ruthven   91 1.450 622.0 1973 1976 22-25 107 101
13       Jamie Moyer   89 1.475 490.1 1986 1988 23-25  85  79
14     Dave Morehead   88 1.445 562.0 1963 1966 20-23 107  97
15        Bobby Witt   87 1.581 669.1 1986 1989 22-25 110 109
16      Melido Perez   86 1.397 587.2 1987 1990 21-24 101 101

I love seeing Early Winn, Jason Schmidt (Baseball Reference has Schmidt as Pelfrey’s top comparable at the age of 25), and Mark Langston. Can you imagine Mike Pelfrey as a legitimate Cy Young candidate? I struggle with that, but at the same time, I’ve seen enough flashes from Pelfrey that I can’t completely reject it. When he’s on, Pelfrey can command a game. Is it that much of a stretch to assume that he’s capable of putting it all together one day?

At the same time, you can’t ignore the prescence of Sidney Ponson, Jim Slaton, or Dick Ruthven. Ponson is a bust, and Slaton and Ruthven went on to mediocre careers. Pelfrey’s at a career crossroads: any further struggle might cause him to regress and may lead the Mets to give up on him early. Personally, I think this highlights why the Mets need to keep Dan Warthen on a short leash.

Though he seemed to connect with Pelfrey in 2008, the Mets’ pitching coach couldn’t build on it last year. Any signs that a trend is forming should result in the Mets either replacing Warthen immediately or bringing in someone else to work with Pelfrey specifically. Inaction would be inexcusable, and would be more of a stain on Omar Minaya’s resume than failing to land John Lackey or Jason Marquis.

There’s a school of thought among Mets fans that the team should sign Ben Sheets or Chien-Ming Wang, pitchers with a record of previous success who are available only because of serious injury concerns. I’m not against it: I like a good risk/reward proposition and wouldn’t object if the Mets went that route. But I think we should remember that we already have a risk/reward proposition on the team, a pitcher who has the potential to become an ace. Any way you slice it, it’s going to be a big year for Mike Pelfrey.

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2 Responses to “Mike Pelfrey – Another Look”

  1. hdarvick said

    You wrote: “And including Figueroa/Niese in this discussion is really just a polite way of saying the fifth spot is “To Be Determined”. Personally, I think Niese can handle the fifth spot in the rotation but injuries and lack of experience (Niese is only 23, with all of eight major league appearances on his resume) combine to make him a questionable choice today.”

    The fifth spot should be Figueroa’s. He’s earned it. Look how he did in 2009 when he was part of the rotation from mid-August to October 4th when he pitched a complete game shut out, the only Mets complete game shut out at Citi Field: In his 8 starts his ERA was 3.38. Take away one bad start, and in 7 of the 8 games he had a 2.23 ERA. Averaged 6+ innings per start, only Santana averaged more. Figgy averaged over 100 pitches per game. Did Pelfrey? Perez? Maine? Niese? No. Figgy was 2-6, but in his 6 losses, the Mets scored a total of 11 runs,less than 2 runs per game. The Mets were never out of a game he started once he became part of the rotation. Never. He had more September strikeouts than any Mets pitcher. In fact his average of 7.5 strikeouts per 9 innings is his career best. In the Mets rotation he’ll easily top 200 innings. Jeff Wilpon should give Nelson Figueroa, at least, a one year $3 million contract with bonuses for 200 innings and quality starts, and an option for 2011. He’s earned it. Question: Of the following 2009 Mets pitchers, which one would you have more confidence in as he walks to the mound in the 1st inning: (alphabetically) Nelson Figueroa, John Maine, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, or Oliver Perez?

    • Sect518 said

      If your point is that I was unnecessarily dismissive of Figueroa in my analysis, I concede. I wanted to focus on Pelfrey’s potential and I blew right over Figueroa. He should absolutely be brought to camp and given a chance to win a spot. You’re right, he’s earned that much.
      But, and I want to be clear, that spot is still very much to be determined. The last month of a lost season is always a tricky time to evaluate players and eight (or seven) starts is a small sample size. You mention his 7.5 K/9, compiled over 50 1/3 innings. Is that more or less valid than the 5.59 he compiled over his previous 327 major league innings? I like what I saw from Figueroa, but I suspect that he’s due for some regression in 2010 and I can’t say with any real confidence that I’d prefer him to Mike Pelfrey. Ollie, sure. Maine, possibly. But I’d like to see Niese and Fernando Nieve (Nieve started 7 games and produced the same amount of quality starts (four) at a time when the Mets hadn’t fallen completely out of the race) get a shot at the fifth spot, too.
      By all means, sign Figueroa and let him compete for the open spot. But don’t overstate his value, and don’t hand him the fifth spot in the rotation.

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