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Will Mike Pelfrey Be Undervalued on Draft Day?

The ninth pick of the 2005 draft, Mike Pelfrey shook off a brutal start to begin paying dividends for both the Mets and fantasy players last year. He finished with 13 wins and a 3.72 ERA along with a 1.36 WHIP and 110 strikeouts. Those numbers combined to make Pelfrey a top-60 starting pitcher in fantasy in 2008.

Those numbers are decent but to decipher Pelfrey’s potential value in 2009, it is worthwhile to look at his numbers both before and after he turned the corner. In the first nine starts of the year, Pelfrey was 2-6 with a 5.33 ERA and a 1.776 WHIP. In his final 23 games, Pelfrey was 11-5 with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.226 WHIP.

Now, those first nine starts of 2008 count and it would be foolish to write them off completely. But at the same time when projecting Pelfrey’s 2009 stats, it is equally silly to ignore the improvement he made over his final 23 games. He was so bad the first two months of the season that it dragged down his overall numbers.

If Pelfrey’s true talent level is a pitcher with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.226 WHIP then he moves up to the equal of pitchers like Ted Lilly or Jon Lester in the 20-25 range for starting pitchers.

Now we should look at his peripherals. Pelfrey had a .302 BABIP and his 3.96 FIP was slightly over his 3.72 ERA. A sinkerball pitcher, Pelfrey does an excellent job keeping the ball in the park, as his 0.54 HR/9 shows. He really turned the corner last year with his command. He finished with a 2.87 BB/9, which was nearly two full walks lower than his 2007 mark.

When valuing Pelfrey for 2009, ask if he can keep his HR rate that low. I believe with that power sinker he can. Then, can he keep the walk rate that low? Ordinarily, I would say no. But when we look at what he did over his final 23 games, his BB/9 mark was 2.37 over that span. That gives me greater confidence that he can maintain his 2008 seasonal rate of just under three.

So, the final thing to ponder is what will his K/9 look like. For all of 2008 it was 4.93, which is less than good. It was slightly better over his final 23 games – 5.16 – but nothing really to write home about, either. Pelfrey can survive without a high strikeout rate, but as fantasy players we want the big strikeout guys and it’s an important factor in ranking him appropriately.

Pelfrey had good-to-great strikeout rates in the minors. He averaged 6.81 SO/9 in 14 games at Triple-A in 2007 and had double-digit rates in 2006. And we’ve seen with Chien-Ming Wang that a sinkerballer can add strikeouts as they mature. I think a SO/9 rate of 6.00 is within reach for Pelfrey in 2009.

It’s not out of the question for Pelfrey to be a 15-game winner with a 3.50 ERA and a 1.275 WHIP. If he can maintain a 6.00 SO/9 rate, that would give him 133 strikeouts in 200 innings. And that makes him a top-25 starting pitcher.