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What Is Mike Pelfrey?

Posted By Howard Megdal On May 3, 2011 @ 3:06 pm In Player moves,Today's Mets headlines | Comments Disabled

For some Mets fans, this is the response to a Jeopardy clue: “Which Mets pitcher should be sent to Triple-A?” I don’t see it that way, and indeed, the question is largely a rhetorical one at this point.

Mike Pelfrey has moments when he looks like an ace. He has moments when he looks like a pitcher who doesn’t belong in the major leagues. This is nothing new, and has nothing to do with some perceived psychological or mental limitation. It is because he doesn’t strike many hitters out, leaving him vulnerable to wide swings in his results.

Look, the results have been awful in 2011. Through six starts, his ERA is an unsightly 7.39. But as I detailed in a spirited discussion on Twitter Friday night (are you following us @lohudmets yet? Well, why on earth not?) with Steve Keane of The Eddie Kranepool Society and Metsblog’s Michael Baron, a period like this recent struggle is nothing new. And what usually follows is an evening out of luck.

This is what happens to pitchers who only strike out around 5/9 innings, as Pelfrey has throughout his career. Sometimes, the balls find holes. Sometimes, they don’t.

From June 19-July 19, 2010, Pelfrey had a 9.11 ERA over six starts. In his next seven starts? A 2.58 ERA.

From June 21-July 17, 2009, Pelfrey had a 6.19 ERA over six starts. In his next six starts? A 3.58 ERA.

From April 25-May 26, 2008, Pelfrey had a 6.47 ERA over six starts. In his next six starts? A 3.67 ERA. In his next 11 starts? A 2.57 ERA.

In short, the Met defense can go a long way toward improving Pelfrey’s performances. Pelfrey himself, if he found a way to increase his swing-and-mises, could as well.

But chances are that this is Mike Pelfrey, for better or worse. And that is a pitcher with value- he’s been durable, for one thing, and there’s a clear floor on what you will get from him over the long haul, with the floor getting higher depending on how good the rest of your team is defensively. That is value enough to keep him in the rotation, especially when the alternative is Dillon Gee, a pitcher with more floor than ceiling himself.

It is time for Mets fans to stop panicking every time he goes through a rough stretch. And it is also time for fans to put aside the expectations of a future ace, fed by his high draft selection and tall frame. (The team probably didn’t do him any favors in this regard by starting him on Opening Day.) The Mets have someone even taller than Pelfrey’s 6’7” in Chris Young, and no one expects him to be an ace, or even throw 90 miles per hour.

Put it this way: if the Mets didn’t want Pelfrey’s ups and downs in the rotation, they probably would have traded him last winter. Because Pelfrey has been who he is now for years.

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