2010 Comeback Candidate: Mike Pelfrey

The Mets endured an unfortunate 2009 season where injuries to the team’s superstars severely hampered their season. The injury bug stayed away from former first round pick Mike Pelfrey as he logged 31 starts and 184 innings. But Pelfrey finished the year with a sore 5.03 ERA.

There’s reason for optimism when Pelfrey’s season is placed under the microscope but there also appears room for possible adjustments as well. Pelfrey will be 26 at the outset of the 2010 season and the Mets need Pelfrey to step up and become a force in the middle of the rotation especially after Oliver Perez’s disastrous 2009 season.

In 2008 Pelfrey logged 201 innings with a 3.72 ERA accompanied with a 4.93 K/9 rate, 2.87 BB/9 rate, and an insanely low 0.54 HR/9 rate. His shockingly low HR/9 rate helped aid him to a solid 3.96 FIP. There was natural reason to expect his home run rate to increase in 2010 and it did to 0.88 home runs allowed per nine innings. Pelfrey’s strikeout rate increased to 5.22 per nine but his BB/9 unfortunately swelled to 3.22. All of this added up to a 4.39 FIP.

Pelfrey’s FIP looks much better than his 5.03 ERA and fantasy owners should also expect his .321 BABIP to regress closer to the league average around .300. His 66.7% LOB rate should also move closer to the league average of 72% (his 2008 LOB was 74%). Pelfrey is known for his sinker and in 2009 51% of his balls hit in play were of the ground ball variety. In 2008 he had a 49% ground ball rate. Pelfrey received no help from his defense in 2009 but it figures to improve if the Mets regulars can stay healthy and on the field though the potential addition of Jason Bay in left field wouldn’t improve the teams UZR prospects. The Mets had the leagues second lowest UZR at an astounding -47.3. Interestingly enough the Mets were without a doubt the National League’s worst team with the leather as the Nationals had the second lowest mark in the NL at -26.7 which is over 20 runs better than the Mets. In 2008 the Mets had a 27.1 UZR as a team.

Despite striking out more hitters Pelfrey’s contact rate on pitches he threw outside the strike zone leaped from 68% in 2008 to 77 percent in 2009. The league average during both years was 62%. This is an interesting mystery and no definite answer may lay in the data. But his run values per pitch certainly stand out. In 2008 Pelfrey tore hitters up with his fastball and it resulted in 21.9 runs above average on the season. But in 2009 his fastball was worth -8.2 runs below average. Something happened with Pelfrey’s fastball in 2009. Hitters were definitely doing more with it when they saw it.

Pelfrey’s fastball velocity during both years remained nearly the same at 92-93 mph. But his Pitch F/X data reveals something about his fastball. While Pelfrey’s horizontal movement on the pitch remained nearly static (-7.7 X in 2008 and -7.9 X in 2009) his vertical movement on the pitch tells another story.

Here’s his vertical movement on his fastball over his first three years in the league:

2007 (only 99 pitches): 7.8 Z
2008: 7.4 Z
2009: 6.5 Z

Pelfrey’s sinker was diving about an inch more than it had been in years past. Pelfrey’s sinker has always been his bread and butter and during his last season of prospect eligibility before the 2007 season Baseball America ranked him number one in the Mets system and raved about the pitch in the scouting report: “There are few pitchers in the minors whose fastball can rival Pelfrey’s. His two-seamer sits at 92-95 mph with fierce sink and late life and rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.”

The difference is small and we are only talking about nearly an inch here between the difference of vertical movement on Pelfrey’s fastball from 2008 compared to 2009. Baseball is said to be a game of inches and an inch is often times the difference between a sky high pop up and a home run in this game.

Pelfrey’s sinker had a bit more sink and/or late life but it seemed to negatively affect him and he paid dearly according to the run values we have available per pitch. Why? That is what we are not exactly sure of and extra movement on a pitch typically helps a pitcher and enhances his repertoire. This extra bite hurt him and it could be statistical noise over the course of the season but hitters handled the pitch very well and did make contact with it at a great rate when it found its way outside of the strike zone.

Either way, Pelfrey should improve upon his 2009 showing next season with a little more help from his defense and a normal increase in his left on base rate. Pelfrey’s proven to be durable early in his career and his FIP vindicates his poor 2009 ERA. Pelfrey should be a good source of wins next season with the Mets having many injured regulars returning to the line up.

If you see reports about Pelfrey working on his mechanics or trying to alter his sinker to return to prior form as spring training approaches try to remember his poor 2009 run value on his fastball. Perhaps if Pelfrey goes back to his old ways he’ll see more improvement or if he sticks with what he was doing last year he’ll enjoy the extra strikeouts and rely on his defense to help him out a bit more. 2010 will tell us a lot about Mike Pelfrey and his sinker but label him as a sleeper for your drafts. He could be had towards the middle rounds and he would offer your team some intriguing upside.




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Dan is a Sports Marketing major at Duquesne University and most recently interned with Baseball America. He also spent parts of two seasons as an intern with the Washington Nationals. He aspires to work in a baseball operations department and can be reached at danbudreika@gmail.com.


11 Responses to “2010 Comeback Candidate: Mike Pelfrey”

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  1. archilochusColubris says:

    q: Does that pitchF/X data not indicate that his sinker was diving more than it was in the past? Or am i reading that wrong?

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    • Dan Budreika says:

      Good call. I interpreted that the wrong way at 4 AM on the pitch graphs. I made the correction and it makes the case of Mike Pelfrey that much more interesting. 2010 will be a huge year for him and educate us a lot about his pitch movement/values. I’m still expecting him to bounce back due to his peripherals and some more help from his fielders. I can’t wait to see if his sinker keeps sinking a bit more or if he attempts to go back to his pre 2009 form…

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  2. Dan Budreika says:

    And you would think this extra movement on his sinker would be of great benefit to him but hitters really got a hold of his pitches outside of the strike zone…it’s extremely interesting. His defense really didn’t help him out. A healthy Jose Reyes up the middle would definitely help him out.

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  3. KY says:

    Well I’m still confused.

    2007 (only 99 pitches): 7.8 Z
    2008: 7.4 Z
    2009: 6.5 Z

    That’s an inch LESS vertical this year. Is it not?

    I would also guess that the homers came on the sinker, thus the large change in run value. He had a rough strand rate too.

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  4. Just my two cents:

    I’m just not sold on Pelfrey at all. There is almost nothing in his peripherals that I like (I like his high groundball rate). A career 1.52 K/BB rate that includes a meager 5.17 K/9 doesn’t give me much optimism for a vast improvement. No matter what his sinker is doing, better or worse, hitters have made better contact on his pitches for three years running. Other than the assumption of wins, which I try to avoid, Pelfrey doesn’t provide value in any other category really. His career best WHIP of 1.36 is below average and it is unlikely that he’ll contribute much in the strikeout category.

    All that being said, sinker/groundball pitchers definitely have the ability to put together sub 4.00 ERA season’s out of the blue sometimes. However, there is always a lot of risk involved in low strikeout guys and the reward isn’t as high as a pitcher who can contribute more K’s.

    “He could be had towards the middle rounds and he would offer your team some intriguing upside”

    I won’t be taking Pelfrey in the middle rounds, no way no how, but I don’t think I’ll have to either. His ADP at mockdraftcentral.com is 378, so if anything he’s a last round flier in my eyes. Actually, I’d rather not even go there.

    Also, about the defense: There are some serious questions about Carlos Beltran’s ability to stay in center due to his knee problems. Jose Reyes’ torn hamstring carries plenty of question marks as well. Reports say that the Mets are going hard after Jason Bay. If they sign Bay to play LF, the Mets defense will get significantly worse. We’ll have to see what happens with the D.

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    • R M says:

      It doesn’t make sense to me to use a young major league player’s major league career stats to predict future improvement. Obviously you’re not going to see any upside if you just look at stats like “career best WHIP” or “career K/BB”.

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      • 30-plus starts in 2008 and 2009 and a K/BB under 2 both seasons. Pelfrey will be 26 in 2010, so there is room for improvement, yes, but he’s not exactly a young prospect anymore. Plus we are talking in terms of fantasy baseball, which profiles Pelfrey as a guy you don’t need to draft in the mid-rounds or maybe even late-rounds. There will always be pitchers who come from nowhere to make fantasy impacts and Pelfrey so far has not shown great strikeout ability, which lumps him in with the type of pitcher had off of waivers.

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    • Dan Budreika says:

      One thing to consider and that I overlooked is that if the Mets sign Bay to play LF he essentially replaces Gary Sheffield there who was also a poor outfielder according to UZR. So the defense doesn’t really get much worse from 2009 to 2010…and remains the same in LF.

      I understand your reservations with Beltran and Reyes. But healthy years from them would certainly enhance the teams defense. It’s likely that it happens.

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  5. R M says:

    People always throw around UZR like it is The Truth on this website. Am I wrong in saying that UZR needs a 3-year sample to mean something? If this is true, how do we know that the Mets were really that terrible in 2009, or really that great in 2008? Isn’t it possible that the Mets are simply an average defensive team with all 9 starters healthy, and that the extreme variations are largely noise? I don’t know much about UZR beyond the fact that it needs large sample sizes, so maybe I am wrong, but I just don’t see how a team could be so great one year, and suddenly incredibly terrible the next. Even if you take out Beltran and Reyes, that doesn’t account for the almost 70 run turnaround.

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    • On a grand scale there are a ton of factors that take course over a long season like injuries, decline, progression, trades, rookie call-ups, etc. That makes it tough to determine ahead of time if a club will be good or bad defensively. We can assume that having Jack Wilson at SS and Chone Figgins at 3B would make for a great defensive left side of the infield, but what if Wilson has to play through a minor injury and his defense slips because of it? UZR is a nice tool to use, but not the end all of defensive grading.

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    • Dan Budreika says:

      “Am I wrong in saying that UZR needs a 3-year sample to mean something?”

      The common rule of thumb is that three years of UZR data helps you make make a more convicting conclusion. But things happen. Injuries decimated the Mets last year and this killed the teams offensive production (the only team in the MLB that hit BELOW 100 HRs last year as a team) and also affected the clubs defense among other things.

      UZR is a great tool. But it’s not the only one. Dewan’s +/-, the fans scouting reports, scouting observations, etc. help paint the full picture of player’s defensive abilities. I like UZR and it’s a great tool and one of the better metrics we have here at Fangraphs.

      But it’s not gospel. For example…UZR had Jacoby Ellsbury at -18.6 in CF last year and at 16.5 (in all three OF spots) in 2008. I’ve seen Ellsbury play a lot and I just can’t comprehend that UZR has him at -18.6 runs in CF. It makes no sense to me. Hopefully that data evens out over time because right now it’s all over the place….

      The Mets were a bad defensive team in 2009. UZR says it. Scouts will say it too. Either way expect a better defensive team in 2010 which will help out Mike Pelfrey and the clubs pitchers.

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