Monday, September 5, 2011

Joey's Soapbox: It's Always Labor Day For Mike Pelfrey

Greetings and salutations, Mets fans!  This is Joey Beartran, taking a break from doing nothing on a day that commemorates the sacrifices and contributions of workers who have done everything.

Today is a perfect day for me to discuss the problems I have with Mike Pelfrey, a pitcher who labors more than any other on the mound.  So grab your end-of-summer cold drink, sit back on that Mets inflatable chair you have but never like to admit you own (it's in the closet next to your Kaz Matsui bobblehead - the one you couldn't even sell on eBay), and prepare to hear what I have to say from my soapbox.

When Mike Pelfrey was drafted by the Mets with the ninth pick of the 2005 MLB June Amateur Draft (directly ahead of current blossoming major leaguers Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce), he was expected to become a dominant pitcher for the Mets for many years.  After all, his final season at Wichita State University produced a line that seemed to suggest that the Mets were right in choosing Pelfrey so early in the draft (12-3, 1.93 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 143 Ks in 139.2 IP).

Pelfrey was a ground ball pitcher with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, the type of pitcher that made scouts drool with his potential to be a top of the rotation starter.  The Mets couldn't wait to see that potential for themselves and decided to bring him up to the majors just six months after signing Pelfrey.  (Although the Mets drafted Pelfrey in June 2005, he did not sign his first contract with the team until January 2006 due to ongoing negotiations.)  That was their first mistake.

The Mets were able to slug their way to victory in Pelfrey's major league debut, clubbing the Marlins 17-3, with Pelfrey allowing three runs (two earned) in five innings of work.  Big Pelf made three more starts for the Mets that summer, but showed that he wasn't ready for the majors yet.  In four starts, Pelfrey's ERA was 5.48 and he posted a 1.73 WHIP.

Pelfrey's minor league numbers in 2006 and 2007 were actually very good.  In those two years, he went 10-9 with a 3.11 ERA, striking out nearly a batter per inning (167 Ks in 176.1 IP) and allowing fewer hits than innings pitched (81 hits in 96.1 IP in 2006 and 79 hits in 80 IP in 2007).

Still, the bottom line is that Pelfrey only made 33 starts in the minor leagues, pitching less than 200 innings below the major league level.  He did not receive enough minor league seasoning (even Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden pitched over 200 innings in the minor leagues before being called up for the first time) and was rushed to the big leagues because the team was in need of starting pitching.  It may have stunted his development and turned him into the mediocre pitcher he is today.

The fact of the matter of this.  Mike Pelfrey, strikeout pitcher in college and the minor leagues, can't strike out his own mother.  He has never struck out more than 113 batters in any full season in the major leagues and is striking out barely over three batters per start this year (29 starts, 93 Ks).  Also, the ground ball pitcher he used to be has apparently left the building.  That's not the only thing leaving the building, as Pelfrey has already allowed a career-high 19 HR with a month of baseball left to play in 2011.

That, combined with a steady increase in walks (Pelfrey walked 64 batters in 2008, 66 in 2009, 68 in 2010 and has walked 59 batters in 2011 with four potential starts remaining), has made Pelfrey more of a hit-and-miss pitcher rather than the star pitcher he was supposed to be when the Mets drafted him six years ago.  Unfortunately, for Pelfrey and the Mets, there have been too many hits (by opposing batters) and not enough misses.

With 189 hits allowed in 171 innings this season, Pelfrey is on track to record his sixth consecutive season with more hits allowed than innings pitched.  That would make him the first pitcher in Mets history to do so.

There have been 26 pitchers to pitch a minimum of six seasons for the Mets (including parts of seasons).  Of those 26 hurlers, only five of them allowed more hits than innings pitched during their tenure in New York.  Those five pitchers are:

  • Al Jackson (1,033 hits in 980.2 IP)
  • Ed Lynch (815 hits in 730.1 IP)
  • Bobby Jones (1,255 hits in 1,215.2 IP)
  • Steve Trachsel (967 hits in 956.1 IP)
  • Mike Pelfrey (934 hits in 854 IP)

Jackson, Lynch, Jones and Trachsel all had at least one season in which they allowed fewer hits than innings pitched, with Jackson accomplishing the feat once (1968), Lynch twice (1981, 1985), Jones four times (1993, 1994, 1997, 1998) and Trachsel three times (2001, 2002, 2003).

Mike Pelfrey is the only pitcher to have pitched at least six seasons for the Mets and given up more hits than innings pitched in every single one of those seasons.  In fact, only John Franco, who pitched in New York for 14 seasons (1990-2001, 2003-2004), allowed more hits than innings pitched in five different seasons.  Pelfrey is on his way to becoming the first Met to do it six times and he only needed six years to do it.

When Mike Pelfrey takes the mound, he always finds a way to make his effort more laborious than it should be.  How many more 30-pitch innings can the Mets take from their 27-year-old "ace"?  How many more five-inning, nine-hit, two-strikeout performances will Pelfrey engineer before the team realizes that he'll never the starter they wanted him to be?

The stats don't lie, my friends.  Throughout his Mets career, Mike Pelfrey has been an opposing hitter's best friend when he's been out on the mound.  If his overall record (50-52, 4.38 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) doesn't spell it out for the Mets, perhaps this will.

Pelfrey's 4.38 ERA in 142 starts is the highest earned run average of any Mets pitcher who has made at least 100 career starts for the team (Al Jackson is second with a 4.26 ERA in 138 starts) and Pelfrey is the only Met with at least 100 starts to have a WHIP over 1.40 (Steve Trachsel is second with a 1.38 WHIP).

Six years is a long time to be given a "trial run".  It's clear that Mike Pelfrey will never be a great pitcher.  At best, he will be an innings eater that will keep teams in ballgames provided that team has some kind of offense.  But the Mets haven't had "some kind of offense" since their last days at Shea Stadium.  In fact, offense and Citi Field aren't two terms that are generally seen in the same room together.

If Mike Pelfrey is ever going to succeed at the major league level, he will most likely have to do it on another team.  He's already left his mark in New York.  Unfortunately, that mark is at the bottom of a number of the franchise's all-time pitching categories.  Mets fans have been forced to watch Mike Pelfrey labor his way through a great deal of his 142 starts.  They shouldn't be forced to do so in 2012.

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