Career Profile: Mike Pelfrey
Mike Pelfrey has been something of a disappointment to a lot of Mets fans, not developing into the Number One starter of their dreams. He's a good pitcher though, and is an interesting case study for prospect analysis.
Mike Pelfrey was an extremely successful starting pitcher at Wichita State for three years. A local kid from Wichita, he had a great freshman year in 2003 (10-2, 2.49, 98/15 K/BB in 105 innings), then followed that up with even better sophomore (11-2, 2.19, 125/24 K/BB) and junior (12-3, 1.93, 143/30 K/BB in 140 innings) seasons, establishing himself as one of the premier talents in the 2005 draft class.
Most experts thought he deserved to go in the top three or four picks, but his bonus demands knocked him back to ninth overall, where he was selected by the Mets. In college, he showed a low-to-mid-90s sinking fastball, a very good curveball, a decent changeup, and outstanding durability. He also threw strikes and demonstrated a lot of confidence on the mound. I saw him pitch many times in college and he always looked great to me. I gave him a Grade B+ in the '06 book, ranking him Number 15 on the pitching prospect list even though he hadn't pitched in pro ball yet.
Pelfrey began in 2006 with High-A St. Lucie, posting a 1.64 ERA with a 26/2 K/BB in 21 innings. Promoted to Double-A Binghamton, he went 4-2, 2.71 with a 77/26 K/BB in 66 innings with 60 hits allowed. He made two starts in Triple-A, then four more starts with the Mets, going 2-1, 5.49 with a 13/12 K/BB in 21 innings with 25 hits allowed. He showed off his 93-95 MPH sinker all year, but scouts noted that, while his minor league stats were strong, neither his curveball nor changeup were quite as sharp in '06 as they were in '05. Still, it was a good season, and I was confident he would get his secondary pitches in order. I gave him a Grade A- in the 2007 book and had him as Number Eight on the pitching list.
Pelfrey split '07 between Triple-A (4.01, 56/26 K/BB in 74 innings for New Orleans, 74 hits) and the Mets (3-8, 5.57, 45/39 K/BB in 73 innings, 85 hits, 5.06 FIP). He frequently struggled in his major league outings due to problems with his secondary pitches, especially the breaking ball. Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson had Pelfrey abandon his formerly-strong curveball in favor of a slider, with results that could best be described as mixed. Pelfrey also seemed to lack confidence and mound presence at times, which again was not what I saw when he was in college. He was regarded as a big disappointment by a lot of folks, although by any rational viewpoint it was way too soon to give up on him after 17 major league starts.
2008 was a much better season: 13-11, 3.72, 110/64 K/BB in 201 innings, 209 hits, 113 ERA+, 3.96 FIP. He showed an admirable ability to chew innings, and improved his slider and changeup enough to provide some balance with his sinker, his primary pitch. He began reincorporating the curveball into his arsenal in '09, but the season was statistically weaker with a 10-12, 5.03 record, 107/66 K/BB in 184 innings, 213 hits, ETA+ 81. His FIP was 4.39, indicating that the slippage from '08 wasn't as great as the ERA indicated.
2010 was a nice rebound campaign: 15-9, 3.66, 113/68 K/BB in 204 innings, 213 hits, ERA+ 107, 3.82 FIP. He reduced usage of his slider in favor of more curveballs, but the biggest change was use of a new splitter instead of a conventional changeup. Statistically, '10 was quite similar to '08 and '07 in terms of ratios: his K/BB and K/IP marks have remained very similar, hovering between 4.9 and 5.2 K/IP and 1.62 and 1.72 K/BB, which looks like random variations around a set level of ability. The main difference between the seasons has been the number of hits, but defense and luck play into that.
His current record stands at 43-41, .512, with a 4.31 ERA in 683 innings, 745 hits allowed, 388, 349 K/BB, ERA+ 95, FIP 4.18. Despite his occasional struggles, his WAR has been positive each season, 0.3 in '07, 3.0 in '08, 1.6 in '09, and 2.9 in '10.
Most similar pitchers through age 26: Johnny Marcum, Todd Stotttlemyre, Kip Wells, Rickey Bones, Pete Redfern,Jason Marquis, Adam Eaton, Jason Schmidt, Pat Hentgen, and John Lackey. I particularly like the Stottlemyre and Hentgen comps.
Pelfrey hasn't turned into the Number One ace-starter envisioned when he was in college, but he's a very useful pitcher who chews innings and usually posts slightly above average results. He is the type of guy who, with the right combination of luck, run support, and defense behind him, could have a surprisingly outstanding year sometime, win 20 games and carry away a Cy Young Award, then "slump" the following season without any actual change in his underlying skill set.