Pelfrey On The Road To Recovery

Despite a late-season collapse that, for the second straight year, removed them from the playoffs, the Mets had reason to be excited after the 2008 season. Their 2005 first-round draft pick, Mike Pelfrey, had just completed 200.2 innings of quality work, the first time he had done so in the majors. He left room for improvement, too. His 4.93 K/9 ranked near the bottom of the NL among qualified starters, something he could certainly build on in his sophomore year.

While Pelfrey did increase his strikeout rate, it was’t by much, just to 5.22 per nine. In fact, this shows why strikeouts per nine might not be the best analytical tool. In 2008 Pelfrey struck out 12.93 percent of the batters he faced. In 2009 he struck out 13 percent. An improvement it was not. As expected his minuscule 0.54 HR/9 rate from 2008 rose, though only to 0.88, while his walk rate also increased, though not by much. These small changes, along with a nearly 20-point jump in BABIP, led to a poor season for Pelfrey, a 5.03 ERA. Both FIP, 4.39, and xFIP, 4.52, rated him better, so there was reason for some optimism.

In 2010 Pelfrey has jumped out to a tremendous start. In 21 innings of work he has allowed just two runs, none of which have come via the home run. He has even earned a save. Encouragingly, he has struck out hitters at a greater rate than last year, 19.75 percent. While Pelfrey has a few more starts before this number becomes reliable — K/PA stabilizes at about 150 batters faced — it’s a good start. Then again, his swinging strike percentage ranks right around where it did in 2007 and 2008, so perhaps his K rate will drop with it.

One of the biggest differences Pelfrey has shown in these 21 innings is the frequency with which he achieves a first-pitch strike. Of the 81 batters he has faced, 48 have seen an 0-1 count while five have put the ball in play, only one of which has fallen for a hit. The batters facing an 0-1 count have not fared well, going just 9 for 45 with a double. Ten of them have struck out. The 48 0-1 counts might not be the sole key to Pelfrey’s success, but they surely play a role.

Another quirk from Pelfrey’s early performance: he has gone to the fastball less often. According to his PitchFX page, Pelfrey has thrown 45.2 percent four-seamers, down from 70.9 percent. That might be an algorithmic issue, though, as his two-seam percentage is up to 24.4 percent from 6.2 percent. Still, the combined total, 69.6 percent, falls below his fastball totals from last year, 77.1 percent, and in 2008, 81.5 percent. He has compensated by going to his changeup far more often 11.5 percent, which is more than double the rate he has used it over the past two years.

Next time one of us writes about Pelfrey, his numbers certainly will not look this pretty. He will surrender home runs, and hitters will produce better than a .231 BABIP against him. His strand rate, 90.5 percent right now, will also dip. There are indicators, though, that he might have made the necessary adjustments this season. He’s going to his secondary pitches more often, and is putting himself in favorable counts. He still has to do it for 30 more starts, but if Pelfrey continues his current trends he just might fulfill the hopes the Mets had for him in 2005.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

18 Responses to “Pelfrey On The Road To Recovery”

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  1. Chico says:

    For the sake of accuracy, pitch f/x is mislabeling his splitter for a change-up. Hes done a good job of mixing pitches, but its definitely his splitter that has really helped him so far this year.

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  2. The Frankman says:

    I believe Dan Warthen called it a “split curve” since it doesn’t act like a true split, but yeah it acts as his changeup and strikeout pitch. He’s also mixing in a few more curveballs, which I like considering he used to have a tremendous hook. Whatever the Mets are coating Pelfrey’s hand with (He licks it about 115 times a game), keep doing it because it’s working.

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  3. Max says:

    Well then, I guess the question is the following:
    Is throwing first pitch strikes a skill within itself? By that I mean is it sustainable and separate from throwing strikes in general?

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  4. The A Team says:

    I’m working on an article about Pelfrey and his new pitch for a Phillies blog as we speak. One thing that jumps out is that regression is primed to pimp slap him to New Jersey. He has a tiny BABIP, no HR allowed (despite a slightly high FB%), and a 90.5 LOB%. Some of the more in depth factors also lend credence to the “Heavy Regression Ahead” warning.

    I’ll pop up a link to my piece once it’s done. It might not be until tomorrow.

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    • fire jerry manuel says:

      wait. are you suggesting that a .86 ERA isn’t sustainable?

      please, tell me it ain’t so.

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      • The A Team says:

        I’m saying that the observed “improvement” might be unsustainable. Obviously his ERA will be somewhere north of 3.00 if he takes his 33 turns. Trying to figure out how far north of that figure it will be is the question at hand. Looking at the above factors, I’d suggest an expectation of perhaps a 5% improvement at the most.

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    • JerrysKids says:

      You write for a Phillies blog. Why do you care about Mike Pelfrey? The Mets aren’t winning the division no matter what he does.

      Very strange.

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      • Kris says:

        Hrm. Is BABIP even moderately useful when he’s only faced 55 hits?

        Honestly, instead of looking at stats straight away, we should step back and take a logical look at Pelfrey. Keep in mind, I haven’t watched a single start, but the first thing I’d think of is “Who has he faced”

        Washington, Colorado, Chicago. I hear these teams like to swing. Throw in a dash of luck and you’re good to go.

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    • DickAlmighty says:

      Why bother writing an article about that?

      1. You’ve been scooped. Everyone’s already written a “Pelfry Due for Regression” article/blog post/tidbit.

      2. Everyone who hasn’t written an article has also already figured it out.

      Not rocket science. He’s got a low BABIP, a 0% HR/FB, a high-strand, and we’re still not sure whether his new splitter is legit. Did I just write your article for you? Sorry.

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  5. Wallio says:

    Chico is correct. Mike Pelfrey has learned how to throw a splitter and has incorporated it since the beginning of this 2010 season. Please fix this issue since some of developers for MLB 2k10 rely on your website for putting pitches into their Video Game, and are so stubborn they will not put it in the game unless they see it on here lol. Thank you very much

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  6. J.P. says:

    Yeah, I don’t think anyone thinks Pelf is going to maintain is 0.86 ERA or 0 home run rate, but I do think he is mixing pitches better and the split-change gives him an out pitch that he didn’t have last year. If the walk rate stays manageable I could see him delivering a 3.50-4 FIP type season, which would be a godsend to the Mets at this point.

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  7. Steve says:

    I think Pelfrey can thank the Mets medical staff for the excellent bloodletting he received in the offseason.

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  8. BobLoblaw says:

    Regarding the total fastball frequency, Pelfrey himself said in his last postgame interview that he is trying to use his fastball less this year. If true, PitchFX will bear it out over the course of the season.

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  9. tarheelcoach says:

    The key for Pelfrey is how hitters react the second time through the league. Anyone who has watched him pitch can tell you that this year he is dramatically different as a pitcher with the splitter. Right now, that pitch has made a huge difference. The question is whether it will be an effective pitch long term as scouts do their homework and hitters make adjustments. That only time will tell.

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  10. Thomas J. says:

    The key for Pelfrey is the same as it is for all groundball pitchers: get people to hit into weak groundballs and get strikeouts.

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  11. Steve says:

    The fact that the Mets have gotten unsustainably good starting pitching and are not racking up wins over this stretch is not a good sign.

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  12. Franco says:

    He’s obviously going to regress, but just the fact that he’s throwing something other than a fastball now will help. He used to throw the world’s worst slider as his third pitch which wasn’t doing him any favors. A mediocre splitter mixed in should make him a solid back end rotation guy.

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