You know, I feel pretty silly. I’ve spent most of the past four years pointing out that whatever you feel about Mike Pelfrey- that he’s an ace-to-be, that he’s terrible, that he is woefully inconsistent- is really just projecting the rising and falling of Met defense and luck upon a pitcher who puts a lot of balls in play.
So here I am, on a day when Pelfrey’s mediocre outing against Washington last night is just another example of mediocre Mike Pelfrey acting mediocre, to make the case that there might be something happening here to change the upside of Mike Pelfrey at long last. I swear, I’m not just trying to be contrary.
But consider the facts. Pelfrey has been Pelfrey throughout his career. His walk rate, season after season, hovers around 3 per 9. His strikeout rate stays at the very pedestrian 5 per 9. That’s been the case in his good years, that’s been the case in his bad years.
His career high in strikeouts? 8. He did that back on June 1, 2010, and it took him eight full innings to do so.
Well, he’s now reached that mark twice, thanks to last night’s performance over 5 2/3 innings. He walked just one. Add that to his final spring start, when he struck out five over four innings without walking a batter, and he’s now put up a strikeout rate of 12.1 per nine innings over his last two starts, against a walk rate of 0.9 per nine.
That’s a very different Pelf.
It’s also a ludicrously small sample from which to make any definitive conclusions. Interestingly, that June 1, 2010 start was part of a four-start streak from May 22-June 8 when Pelfrey struck out 24 in 30 innings, walked just nine, and pitched to a 0.90 ERA. His strong start had been aided by good defense and/or luck on balls in play, but these four starts were all Pelf. He then followed with eight horrific starts, striking out just 14 over 38 2/3 innings.
In other words, he’s seemed statistically on the brink of figuring some things out once before, only to falter.
But in a year that has started so auspiciously, if Mike Pelfrey can break through the glass ceiling of his strikeout rate, it is something that would augur far better for the future than David Wright’s hot start. In any scenario that had the Mets doing well, David Wright was healthy and hitting like himself. To truly exceed their likely ceiling of around 80 wins, the Mets will need some unexpected breakout performances. If that can come from Mike Pelfrey, so much the better.