Mets starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey is currently going through a rough stretch in his last four starts. Since throwing six innings of two-earned-run baseball against the Twins on June 25th, Pelfrey has been a disaster on the mound. He hasn’t gotten out of the fifth inning in any start, and last night gave up 6 earned runs in just 1.1 innings pitched. Pelfrey, however, is in the midst of his best season in the majors after a hot start. His FIP stands at 3.87 and he has a groundball rate of 48.6%. For all of 2010, Pelfrey has been a solid starting pitcher. But he has been a nightmare of late.
Most people are looking for everything they can to figure out what’s wrong with Pelfrey, from pitch selection to mental weakness to arm fatigue. But what may be eating at Pelfrey is his inability to have batters hit the ball fair. For Pelf, batters hitting the ball in play is generally a good thing with a groundball rate as low as his (as well as a career HR/FB% of just 7.6% in 593.1 career innings). But it seems as though he just isn’t able to put batters away lately. Here are Pelfrey’s stats through the first 15 games of the season:
Through Pelfrey’s first 15 starts of the season, he was throwing strikes (just the basic strike totals accumulated at the end of the game that includes balls hit) 64.8% of the time and had a decent K:BB ratio for a heavy groundball pitcher. Now his last four starts:
Yeah, Pelfrey has been terrible. But the most fascinating part is that his total number of strikes per pitches is barely lower, and no kinds of a drop so as to be statistically significant. He is, however, walking over twice as many batters as well as striking out a significantly smaller portion, as well. So what gives?
Basically, Pelfrey is having a tough time putting away hitters, leading to more foul balls, which has driven his Strike% up. Although it’s only been four starts from Pelfrey, and that in and of itself can’t tell us much, we do have 367 pitches worth of data from which to glean something. Baseball information doesn’t have to be measured just in innings or at-bats; each pitch can tell us a whole lot (just ask Dave Allen or Jeremy Greenhouse).
We do know that, over the course of more innings, an inability to generate swings and misses can be quite costly for a pitcher. The more interesting question is how much of that is due to luck? What is the difference between a player hitting a ball three feet foul of first base and three feet fair into the first baseman’s glove? It seems, conceptually, to not be a lot, although it may take a whole bunch more of physics and math to figure it out. For Pelfrey, a player hitting a ball backward rather than forward can be quite costly if it happens too much and at inopportune times. Over the past four starts, Pelfrey’s foul ball issues have been tragic, and when you combine that with an unlucky BABIP and too many walks you get a recipe for immediate disaster. The question is whether or not the difference between a foul ball and fair ball is a matter of Pelf’s bad luck or an underlying issue (i.e. pitching poorly). The Mets sure would like to know.
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