Reacting To The Thrashing: What’s Wrong With Pelf?

An article by posted on July 24, 2010

By the end of May fans everywhere were ready to call Mike Pelfrey the ‘ace’ of this New York Mets staff and rightfully so.  He was 7-1 (11 starts) with a 2.54 ERA and over that span fans were witness to ‘An Ace in the Making’.

Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog.com, received slack from Mike Francesa (which he explains HERE) for stating that he was “proud of Pelfrey”. At Metszilla we agreed with Matt and dubbed Pelf  “The Pride of New York.”

Well here we are in mid July and it looks as if Pelf has resorted back to his old ways.  After the shortest start of his career (1 1/3 IP, 6 ER) all that was missing was the constant hand licking that inspired “I lick Myself” by WFAN’s Al Dukes (if you have never heard this song before I highly recommend you click on this link).

This isn’t the first time Pelfrey has shown glimpses of dominance only to return to mediocrity.  In 2008, Mike had a stretch of 17 starts (June-August) which he allowed 38 ER over 110 2/3 IP (3.09 ERA) while posting an 11-2 record.

In September of  ’08 he was 0-3 (5 starts) with a 4.06 ERA (14 ER, 31 IP).  Pelf is starting to show similar inconsistent results once again in 2010.  After starting the season 8-1 (13 starts) with a 2.23 ERA, he has since gone 2-4 (7 starts) with a 6.96 ERA.  His ERA has risen from a Cy Young like 2.23 to a pedestrian 4.01 over the last couple of months and his K/9 rate has consistently dropped each month.

As Jay Robotham mentioned in his Z-Cap (click HERE to read) it was very noticeable to see the Diamondback hitters lay off Pelfrey’s splitter with two strikes.  They repeatedly worked from behind in the count and eventually capitalized on very hittable fastballs:

1st Inning

  • Kelly Johnson: 0-2 count, KJ eventually doubles off the bottom of the right field wall and drives in Arizona’s first run
  • Justin Upton: 0-2 count, Upton eventually walks
  • Gerardo Parra: 1-2 count, Parra eventually singles to center to drive in a run

2nd Inning

  • Chris Young: 0-2 count, CY singles to leadoff the inning
  • Justin Upton: 1-2 count, Upton doubles to right to drive in Young

It’s almost to the point where opposing batters seem to have Pelfrey right where they want him when he works in a ‘pitchers count’.  So why can’t Pelfrey finish guys off?  Why are they now laying off his split finger?  Rod Barajas weighed in after last night’s debacle:

Any position that you play when your doing well the confidence is off the charts, you feel good about yourself you feel confident about every outing that your gonna go out there and do what you can do to be successful.  When you struggle doubt comes into the back of your mind now your not to sure of your ability and your chances to go out there and make good quality pitches. I’m not in Mike’s head but can definitely be a factor.”

Over his last 4 starts (0-3) Mike has been unable to escape the 4th inning, allowing 15 ER in 13 1/3 IP (10.15 ERA).  As manager Jerry Manuel stated last night, mentioning his name alongside other dominate young starters like Phil Hughes, Josh Johnson, and Ubaldo Jimenez, is no longer the case:

Mike Pelfrey is a power pitcher that at times we could say Johnson, Jimenez, Pelfrey and we can’t say that right now.  That’s what he’s got to get back to and he can do it.”

So what is wrong with Pelfrey? What has happened to the mature starter who was starting to fulfill the teams expectations they had upon drafting him in the first round of the 2005 MLB draft. Manuel and Pelfrey both seem to think its the lack of establishing his fastball that has plagued him as of late.

Manuel:

Well I think what Mike is going through a little tough period right now. As far as what he needs to do is to get back to establishing his fastball.  That’s not what we are seeing. We need to see a high percentage of fastballs thrown as compared to sliders, split fingers anything such as that. I think that’s what we will have to see out of him next outing.”

Pelfrey:

I’ve gotten away from establishing fastballs I feel like I’m trying to establish 3 or 4 pitches at once all early in the game. That’s not who I am. I have to get back to using the fastball establishing that and it will make the other pitches better.”

I wanted to believe this stretch of bad starts was due to a case of dead arm and that a couple of days off from the All-Star break would have him well rested and ready to return to dominance in the second half.  Obviously, the problem at hand is much deeper than that.  Ron Darling of SNY seems to think Pelfrey is dragging his back foot and not pushing off the mound, thereby getting no drive or movement.  Darling also believes he has lost confidence and is aiming the ball so it’s like pushing and not throwing. He’s been through this before and can draw on his past experience.  The maturation of the 26-year old shows, to an extent, in that he recognizes his mistakes and does not deny or hide from them.  One thing is for sure, is if this team has aspirations of making the playoffs they will need Pelf to right the ship and return to the dominate starter we saw through April and May.  I believe it will happen but it will take more than Pelfrey just owning up to his mistakes, he will need to go that extra step to correct them.

To read more of my thoughts on the Mets, head to Metszilla.com

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