As the Mets try their best to acquire a number two starter to pair with ace Johan Santana for the 2010 season, let’s examine the facts surrounding Mike Pelfrey, who was anointed the number two starter last season.
The 2009 season was one to forget for the young righthander who the Mets selected ninth overall in the 2005 MLB Draft. Pelfrey regressed across the board among many statistical measures, but even worse was his mental makeup as the stress of his declining performance wore on. By seasons end, he looked frazzled on the mound and his confidence was visibly shaken.
His 2008 ERA (3.72) jumped to 5.03, and his WHIP (1.36) spiked to 1.51. Both his walk and hit rates increased significantly and he nearly doubled his HR rate as well. In 184 innings pitched he allowed a whopping 213 hits. Opposing hitters batted .291 against Pelfrey last season.
The esteemed Bill James predicts a 9-12 season for Pelfrey in 2010 with a 4.45 ERA. Not exactly the type of numbers one would expect from a top ten overall pick.
In a recent article for the Daily News, John Harper wrote the following,
A lack of mental toughness has seemingly kept Pelfrey from living up to the label he earned as the No. 9 pick in the draft out of Wichita State in 2005, but he seemed to clear a hurdle of sorts in 2008, going 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA.
Last season, however, he went 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA, and at times, as the NL scout put it, “he gave you the impression he didn’t want to be on the mound.”
A year ago, Omar Minaya spoke glowingly about Mike Pelfrey when he pronounced him as his number two starter for the 2009 season. He went on air and even suggested that Pelfrey could be as good or better than most of the number two starters of the other contending teams. However these days, Minaya is singing another tune.
When asked specifically about Mike Pelfrey’s status as the Mets de-facto number two pitcher, he responded:
“I know we have a No.1,” Minaya said, referring to Santana. “But once you’re getting into the 2-3-4 guys … look, we felt last year we had a good team, and a lot of people in baseball thought we had a good team, with the pitching we have in place now. That being said, coming off last year, to say these guys are going to pitch to their potential, we’re in some gray areas.”
Not only does Minaya completely fail to mention Pelfrey by name, but in one fell swoop he admits that every spot behind Santana is now being viewed as a gray area.
Harper quotes a Major League scout in his article who said the following regarding Mike Pelfrey’s regression,
One NL scout who saw Pelfrey pitch late in the season said Monday he can’t understand what happened to his once-devastating two-seam fastball, with the sink and 95-mph velocity that once made him a can’t-miss prospect.
“I remember seeing him in Double-A,” the scout said, “and his sinker was better than it was when I saw him (last season). It seems to be a mental thing with him.”
Anthony DiComo of MLB.com wrote this about Mike Pelfrey regarding his reputation as a ground ball pitcher.
The common misconception about Mike Pelfrey is that he is an extreme ground ball pitcher. He is not. Statistically speaking, Pelfrey has proven merely average at inducing ground balls throughout his career, submitting a Major League ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio of 1.05. The 1.09 ratio he has posted so far in 2009, in fact, is the highest mark of his big league career. And his lifetime rate does not compare favorably to that of other notable MLB sinker ballers, including Tim Hudson (1.51), Derek Lowe (1.75) and Brandon Webb (1.89).
Whether it’s as a number two starter or as a number five starter, the Mets clearly have a lot of time and money invested in Pelfrey who received a hefty $3.3 million signing bonus and collected $6.6 million in salary between 2006-2009 in the heavily front loaded contract he signed when the Mets drafted him. In other words he was paid an average salary of $2.5 million in each of his 4 years with the Mets. This season, the Mets exercised their team option which will pay Pelfrey just $500K, an 80% pay cut.
The calls and speculation about potentially including Pelfrey in a trade have become louder and more frequent. I can’t see that happening until the Mets first acquire at least one top of the rotation starters. Lackey is still an option for the Mets, as is Jason Marquis and Joel Pineiro to lesser degrees.
Despite Bill James’ best efforts, it’s hard to predict what Pelfrey will be like next season. He hasn’t progressed the way we all would have hoped, but he is just 26 years old and the potential for improvement is still there. He still has a great chance to put it all together, but will it be with the Mets?