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.