Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Homegrown Pitcher Who Hasn't Really Grown

Mike Pelfrey turns 28 today.  He's about to enter his prime for a pitcher in the major leagues.  But does that mean he's about to blossom the way we thought he was doing during the first few months of the 2010 season?

Since making his debut for the Mets in 2006, Pelfrey has won 50 games in six seasons.  Those 50 victories put him in 15th place on the Mets' all-time leaderboard, just one win behind former Met Bobby Ojeda.  Going by that, it would appear that Big Pelf is one of the best pitchers the Mets have ever had and certainly one of the best who came up through the team's minor league system.

But one look at the career numbers of these all-time Mets greats shows that Pelfrey might be in the same classroom as they are, but he's not learning the same lessons.

Of the 15 pitchers to win 50 or more games for the Mets, Pelfrey is the seventh player originally drafted by the Mets, joining the likes of Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Bobby Jones and Craig Swan.  Two other members of the 50-win club were originally drafted by other teams, but won their first 50 games in the majors as members of the New York Mets.

Ron Darling was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1981 but made his major league debut in 1983 for the Mets.  Long-time teammate Sid Fernandez actually pitched in two games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1983, but finished with an 0-1 record in Dodger blue.  He was credited with his first victory in the major leagues as a member of the Mets in 1984.

Let's take a look at the nine players who won their first 50 games in the big leagues as members of the New York Mets to see if we notice something interesting about the most recent 50-game winner.  We'll consider the player's age and number of appearances (including starts) it took for that player to reach the 50-win plateau.

  • Tom Seaver: 24 yrs, 9 mos, 9 days.  Won 50th game in 100th appearance (99 starts)
  • Dwight Gooden: 21 yrs, 7 mos, 13 days.  Won 50th game in 82nd appearance (82 starts)
  • Jerry Koosman: 28 yrs, 4 mos, 16 days.  Won 50th game in 112th appearance (105 starts)
  • Ron Darling: 26 yrs, 11 mos, 9 days.  Won 50th game in 131st appearance (130 starts)
  • Sid Fernandez: 25 yrs, 10 mos, 2 days.  Won 50th game in 124th appearance (122 starts)
  • Jon Matlack: 25 yrs, 4 mos, 24 days.  Won 50th game in 122nd appearance (119 starts)
  • Bobby Jones: 27 yrs, 6 mos, 28 days.  Won 50th game in 121st appearance (121 starts)
  • Craig Swan: 31 yrs, 6 mos, 13 days.  Won 50th game in 174th appearance (149 starts)
  • Mike Pelfrey: 27 yrs, 7 mos, 10 days.  Won 50th game in 144th appearance (140 starts)

Only Jerry Koosman and Craig Swan were older than Pelfrey at the time of their 50th victories.  And only Swan had made more starts and total appearances than Pelfrey when he recorded his 50th win.  However, Koosman did not become a regular in the Mets' rotation until he was 25 and Swan pitched the majority of his career with some of the worst Mets teams since the days of their infancy.

By the time he was 25, Pelfrey had already made 49 starts in the major leagues.  Also, as bad as the Mets have been over the past three seasons, they still managed to win at least 70 games every year.  Meanwhile, in his 12 years in Flushing, Craig Swan pitched for eight different Mets teams that finished at least 20 games below .500.  That includes the strike-shortened 1981 season, when the Mets finished with a 41-62 record.

Mike Pelfrey was expected to become a mainstay in the Mets' rotation when the team promoted him to the major leagues in 2006.  That part has become true, as Pelfrey has become one of the 15 winningest pitchers in franchise history.  But if not for Craig Swan, Pelfrey would have taken longer than any Met to reach that win total, and even so, it only took Swan nine more starts on some pretty bad teams to win No. 50.

The Mets have produced many homegrown pitchers who have had tremendous success in the major leagues.  Unfortunately, Mike Pelfrey has yet to become one of them.  It'll take a lot more growth for this homegrown pitcher to move to join Seaver, Gooden and Koosman at the head of the Mets' pitching class.

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