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2007 Rotation Preview: Mike Pelfrey

Mike SteffanosWednesday, January 3, 2007
By Mike Steffanos


Mike Pelfrey was the Mets' first round draft pick, the ninth overall player taken in the 2005 amateur draft. He was acknowledged to be the top pitcher in that draft but, thanks to the fact that his agent was Scott Boras, he fell to the Mets. The lanky right-hander features a very good fastball that sits in the mid 90s and reaches 97 at times, with good natural movement and sinking action. Unlike many tall pitchers, Pelfrey possesses a fluid repeatable delivery that enables him to maintain that good fastball deep into games.

Besides the plus fastball, Pelfrey came out of college throwing a decent changeup and a "slurve" breaking pitch that was considered his weakest offering. That proved to be the case, as Pelfrey struggled for consistency with that pitch in the minors and in his brief time in the majors. In a couple of Arizona Fall League appearances Pelfrey featured a traditional slider as his breaking pitch and was said to be showing more promise with it. This would bear watching in spring training.

After his initial pro season, Scout.com has Pelfrey rated as the team's #2 overall prospect behind OF Carlos Gomez, and offers the following scouting report on the big right-hander:

At 6-foot-7, Pelfrey can be very intimidating with his plus fastball that sits in the mid-90's and touches 97 MPH at times with a ton of movement. But with a good changeup and a very inconsistent curveball, he often times falls in love with his fastball and doesn't have the ability to mix in his secondary pitches to keep hitters off-balance. He has shown the ability to throw an above average changeup and curveball at times, he just needs to work on being consistent with their release points and location to realize his full potential.

Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein ranks Pelfrey a notch lower, just behind Phil Humber. Goldstein sees the potential for Pelfrey to be a front line starter in the majors, but only if he can develop his off-speed pitches:

The Good: Outstanding fastball features plus-plus velocity (92-95 mph, touches 97) and plus-plus movement, as he's capable of adding major cutting or sinking action on it. Height, and therefore downward plane, only adds to Pelfrey's effectiveness. Repeats delivery well and has very good command for such a large pitcher.

The Bad: Breaking ball pulled a bit of a disappearing act in 2006. He had a decent over-the-top curveball in college, but he just never found his feel for it this year, forcing him to pitch primarily off his fastball, which worked in the minors, but hindered his effectiveness during a brief big league look. Changeup is usable, but like the curve, he loses confidence in it, reducing himself to a one-pitch pitcher.

John Sickels rates Pelfrey ahead of Humber, and feels the breaking pitch will come:

I think the breaking pitch problem is overblown. He had a good one in college and I think he'll find it again. I am sticking with my guns on this one.

Finally, the just released top 10 Mets prospect list from Baseball America's Matt Meyers rates Mike Pelfrey as the number one prospect in the system, and feels he's ready for a spot in the rotation right now:

Strengths: 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. He throws it effortlessly from a 6-foot-7 frame on a steep downhill plane with great extension and solid command. ... Though Pelfrey barely needed to use a changeup as an amateur, he already has a good feel for it and it's his No. 2 pitch.

The Future: Though he needs better command of his secondary stuff, there's little left for Pelfrey to prove in the minors. With Martinez out until at least the all-star break, Pelfrey will definitely be in the mix for the Opening Day rotation. He should be in the Mets rotation for years to come and has the potential to be a legitimate No. 1 starter.

Here are his numbers for 2006 at 3 different minor league levels and in New York:

2006 Major and Minor League Stats -- Mike Pelfrey
Team Starts Innings Hits/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA AVG
St. Lucie (A) 4 22.0 7.0 10.6 0.8 0.4 1.64 .224
Binghamton (AA) 12 66.1 8.1 10.4 3.5 0.3 2.71 .244
Norfolk (AAA) 2 8.0 4.5 6.8 5.6 1.1 2.25 .148
Minor League Totals 18 96.1 7.6 10.2 3.1 0.4 2.43 .232
Mets 4 21.1 10.5 5.5 5.1 0.4 5.48 .305

There is little doubt that at this stage of their pro careers, 2004 top pick Phil Humber is a more polished pitcher than Pelfrey, possessing a major league-caliber breaking pitch and changeup to compliment his low 90s fastball. Despite missing most of 2005 and part of last season after Tommy John surgery, if you held a gun to my head I would choose Humber over Pelfrey as the young pitcher most likely to make an impact in 2007. In the long run, though, that fastball gives Pelfrey a higher ceiling.

I believe it would be a mistake to judge Pelfrey too harshly because he struggled in his brief stint in New York last season. Despite the lack of refined off-speed pitches that caused him to rely excessively on his fastball, Pelfrey was able to get a couple of wins and acquit himself respectably for a raw rookie. When you can throw one fastball after another (78% of his pitches) to major league hitters and live to tell about it, you have a God-given gift that can take you somewhere special.

Keep in mind also that we're not talking one of those kids who doesn't know where the ball is going (Hit the mascot!). He has command of his fastball thanks to that consistent delivery. That's a good, solid platform on which to develop his other pitches. You can teach someone how to throw a changeup and slider, but a fastball that gets you more than your share of strikeouts and groundballs is the stuff that aces are made of.

What he really needs is some time out of the harsh glare of the spotlight to hone his game. It's a good thing to keep in mind that Pelfrey turns 23 this month, so he has plenty of time to put it together. As for the whole Pelfrey vs. Humber debate, my answer is, "who cares?" I like them both, and would love to see the two young righties front this rotation for the next few years. It's rare for an organization to have two young pitchers who are both close to major league ready and both have a high ceiling at the same time. Count your blessings, Mets fans.

In any case, provided he stays healthy; Pelfrey will undoubtedly contribute to this club going forward. It's a mistake to think that he must achieve his absolute ceiling to justify his existence as a Met. Even if he fails to develop the consistency with his off-speed stuff to fulfill that front of the rotation potential, his fastball is good enough to enable a quality pro career lower in the rotation or in the bullpen. In the current economics of major league baseball, a productive young pitcher who will make nothing for three years and be under a team's control for the next three is a valuable commodity, indeed.

At this stage, attempting to predict what Pelfrey will contribute in 2007 would be just a shot in the dark. I'd like to see what he does in spring training with that new slider first before I would attempt to guess at how much of a contribution he would make in New York. I think he will pitch for the Mets in 2007. I do believe, however, that a scenario where Pelfrey spends at least the first 2-3 months in AAA-New Orleans is preferable, even if he masters that slider fairly quickly.

We've had some back and forth on the site with some readers who would like to see Pelfrey hone his skills in the Mets bullpen in 2007. While I understand the thinking, I think the need to develop his pitches points to leaving him as a starter in AAA. There is no substitute for taking the ball every fifth day, starting games and using all your pitches. The pressure to succeed as a major league reliever would cause Pelfrey to rely on his fastball at the expense of honing the off-speed stuff. It would make more to sense to use Phil Humber as a reliever, if the team is so inclined, since Humber already features a mature and full repertoire of pitches. While I respect the opposing position, I wouldn't personally be in favor of using Pelfrey in relief.

Note: This preview was updated 1/8/2007.


2007 Starting Rotation Previews:
Orlando Hernandez
Phil Humber
John Maine
Mike Pelfrey (This Article)
Oliver Perez
Alay Soler
Jason Vargas
Dave Williams
Rotation Preview Conclusions

2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (11)

Mike -- great writing as always, and your analyses of all the pitchers have been superb. At any rate, I think that we should sign Ohka and Armas to cheap, short-term deals to cover our bases for Humber and Pelfrey. Starting them both at AAA, in my opinion, is the best move right now. Don't you agree that throwing them into the mix would put us in a much more comfortable situation for '07?

Mike,

Another great review and I agree wholeheartedly to your points. Not only would pitching Pelfrey in relief stifle his secondary pitch development, but it would also reduce his stamina to the point where it would be hard for him to switch back to starter in mid-season, if needed (similar to why Heilman was never moved back last year during the Lima/Gonzales weeks). I'd prefer to see both Pelfrey and Humber in New Orleans in April and May, and then between pitchers inevitably going on the DL, or someone faltering, there will be plenty of opportunities for them to contribute in NY.

I would like to know exactly what led to Pelfrey and Humber shutting down so early into the Arizona Fall League. It sounded innocent, but the Mets don't have a good record of coming cleam on the players' health issues.

I want to see these two intact and recording outs. It's fun, having new young pitchers to think about, Sort of reminds me of the mid 80's.

Great read. I would bet Humber ends up as the number 5 over this spring and if all goes well with Pelfrey we see him later in 2007...sooner if there are injuries. How Maine and Perez pitch will have an direct impact on where they pitch.

Despite all the gnashing of teeth over Zito and all the other pitching rumors, I am actually looking forward to seeing a rotation of Glavine, El Duque, Maine, Perez and Humber to start the year. We have the bats to carry them, if necessary, and I think the pen looks very solid on paper. In August, if Pedro is recovered and Pelfrey has command of his 2nd and 3rd pitches, we could go to a rotation of (hopefully with a 20 game lead!) with Pedro, Glavine, Maine, Humber and Perez/Pelfrey with El Duque in the pen. That would be a nice mix of age and youth, left and right, control and hard throwers and it would have some depth.

Matt - I definitely think if they could sign guys like that to cheap incentive-laden short term deals they should do it. I wonder if even Armas and Ohka will be able to get 3 year deals, though.
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Glenn - Although I do think there's a chance that Humber in particular wins a job this spring, I agree that what you've outlined makes the most sense.
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dd - I believe them this time they were just being cautious. And you're right on the fun part.
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chris - That would definitely be something if we could put together a good rotation and then talk about something else next year. I must have typed Z-i-t-o a million times in 2006.

I think that Pelfrey needs some more work in the minors. He uses his fastball way too much and major league hitters can catch up to it if they are looking for it. Making him a reliever would hinder his progress because he would just rely on his fastball to get hitters out instead of working on his weaknesses. Humber is more complete and showed in his relief appearance that he has the stuff to get major league hitters out consistently. Pelfrey doesn't need the pressure of NY right now, he will feel it in due time.

Karey - Couldn't agree more.

Another great piece Mike. I agree with you completely on the Humber-Pelfrey saga. Humber is simply a more polished pitcher and unless we get another arm before ST I see him winning the 5th starter spot. Mike Pelfrey is far too valuable a pitcher to allow Major League hitters to beat up on in April - simply because we rush him into a starting role before he has a reliable secondary pitch. To be honest, even if he has gained confidence in his slider, throwing in for a few games in Arizona is not going to be enough for him to feel comfortable throwing it over the plate to Albert Pujols. Even if he hates us for it, we should send him to AAA to start the season with the mandate that he get hitters out using a consistent breaking pitch. He will thank us later when he is winning 18-20 games a year.

Salman - In a perfect world he spends more time in AAA. However, if he wins a job in spring training, he wins a job. They're trying to win this year, and they'll do whatever they feel makes the most sense. I think they do a good job of handling their kids.

What I worry about more sometimes is how impatient we are as fans. No matter how much time they get in the minors, young pitchers are going to struggle in the majors at first:

Year   IP     H    K     BB    HR    ERA
2000   86    102   64    54    11   6.49
2001   44     50   28    16     6   4.74

Those unimpressive numbers are Johan Santana's first 2 major league seasons.

I agree Mike - you have to expect that the kids will struggle a little when they first come up. That is why it is really imperative for the Mets to go out and get at least one other inning eating arm - to remove some of the pressure from Pelfrey and Humber. And I do not believe that the "make him a reliever for a year" philosophy is a good one. Guys who become relievers have a tendency to stay relievers, or just not become great starters. Look at Heilman and Dotel. And I think 2007 may prove the same to be true for Jonathan Papelbon. Pelfrey and Humber both should remain exclusively starters.

Salman - I'm not really against giving young starting pitchers their first taste of the majors as relievers. The Dodgers have done that quite effectively. I mentioned I could see that working with Humber. It's up to the team to get the player out of the bullpen and into the rotation. Dotel was always better suited for relief.

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