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The Mighty Pelf

Mike SteffanosThursday, July 17, 2008
By Mike Steffanos

Interesting pair of articles on Mike Pelfrey yesterday. The first one (link purloined from Matthew Artus' Always Amazin' blog) was Beyond the Box Score's Peter Bendix' The Emergence of Mike Pelfrey?

The question mark at the end of the title kind of tips the author's conclusion, which is basically that Pelfrey has benefited from facing some not-so-great offenses during his recent hot streak, and hasn't really arrived yet. While Bendix makes some valid points, I couldn't help thinking as I read this that he already had his conclusion and then found the data to support it.

I know some folks have gone off the deep end and think Pelfrey is an elite pitcher right now, but most of us feel a sense of guarded optimism based on what we've seen over the past two months. Sure, teams like the Giants aren't exactly offensive dynamos, but we can see the difference in Pelfrey and how he pitches. It happens that many of the teams faced in June and July are not elite offenses, but that doesn't invalidate the improvement. You compete against whatever team is mandated by the schedule, but the difference in Pelfrey is obviously more than just pitching against 98-pound weaklings.

In a lot of ways, Pelfrey's breakout over the past two months is reminiscent of John Maine's 2006 breakthrough. If you remember, Maine wasn't a highly regarded pitcher when he came up for the second time in July. A couple of so-so starts against the Pirates and Nats were followed by a relief appearance against the Cubs. It wasn't until a 9 inning shutout against the Astros on July 21 that he solidified a rotation spot.

Maine followed that with 7 shutout innings against the Cubs and 6 against the Phillies. His success came from throwing primarily fastballs and being aggressive. He mixed some very good games with some not so good after that, but has been a good starter for this club ever since.

As with Maine, I expect the league will make adjustments to Pelfrey and he will have ups and downs, but I think he's crossed the psychological barrier of knowing he belongs in the big leagues. So while he has some distance to go to be a really good starter, and more bumps will be encountered, I respectfully disagree with this author. I think it's fair to say he has indeed emerged.

Later on in the day The Hardball Times linked to this same article I found earlier from Matthew Artus' link, and also to another one on the Driveline Mechanics site entitled Has Mike Pelfrey turned the corner? A Pitch F/X analysis. In that one, author David Golebiewski utilized Sportvision's PITCHf/x data to examine the upturn in Pelfrey's fortunes. He compared the "Good Pelfrey" (post upturn) to the "Bad Pelfrey" from early on in the season. I recommend the entire article as fascinating reading, but we'll skip ahead to the conclusions here:

In conclusion, "Good Pelfrey" has made several changes from "Bad Pelfrey":

- Increased fastball usage, trading some movement for velocity

- Modest improvement on the slider

- Re-introduction of the previously scrapped curveball Whether these recent trends continue remains to be seen, but Pelfrey appears to have made a few alterations to his pitching style over the past two months that bode well for his long-term development. With Pedro Martinez's achy shoulder, Oliver Perez's erratic nature and John Maine's occasional hiccups, the Mets surely could use the more recent version of Mike Pelfrey, the one the team envisioned upon drafting him three years ago.

A little more optimistic than the first author, and to my mind more on target.

The argument against Pelfrey right now is that he lacks the secondary pitches to be really elite, and that's a fair assessment. Pelfrey is often compared to Brandon Webb for the heavy power sinker. What makes Webb elite is that he has the secondary pitches to make that heavy sinker even better. Obviously big Mike has a long way to go in that regard.

On the other hand, if you look at Webb's Inside Edge pitch data on ESPN.com, you'll see that he throws his heater 73% of the time, and for 80% of his first pitches. According to Golebiewski's data, Pelfrey has thrown his fastball over 84% of the time during his run of success. You'd hope that he can refine his off-speed enough to mix in a few more, but he should still throw the fastball most of the time.

In his Daily News column today, John Harper provides some opinion on Pelfrey:

Mostly it's impossible not to be impressed with their starting pitching, especially since Pelfrey has raised his game to become the dominant starter the Mets envisioned when they drafted him out of Wichita State with the ninth pick in the 2005 draft.

There is no reason to believe his six-week stretch of brilliance is some fluke. All along, Mets people believed his problems were mostly because of a lack of confidence. Now having found success, he is carrying himself with a bit of a swagger.

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle watched Pelfrey dominate his ballclub twice in the last month, and he came away talking about a star in the making.

"He's a different pitcher than the guy we saw last year," Hurdle said over the All-Star break. "His fastball has such late, violent movement, and you can see he knows he can beat hitters with it now. He's becoming a big-time pitcher, and he makes their rotation awfully tough."

To that, an NL scout added: "I really believe Pelfrey can be be a No.1 starter. He's blowing people away with just his fastball, his four-seamer up in the zone, and his two-seamer that runs so hard down and in on righthanders. If he ever gets more consistent with his off-speed stuff, he'll be one of the best in the league.

"To me, he's their second-best pitcher behind (Johan) Santana right now. And I say that knowing that (John) Maine and (Oliver) Perez can go out there with no-hit stuff on any given day."

Whatever happens, it should be interesting to watch Pelfrey for the rest of the season. At some point he is sure to hit another speed bump or two, and I'd like to see him handling those without losing his newly won and well earned confidence.

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 (5)

Big Pelf has a nasty hook when he can command and locate the pitch. In the past two games I've seen him throw one curveball in each game for a strike that was just nasty and buckled the hitters. It's not a big 12 - 6 curveball, but it's off-speed tight curve with late movement. It looks very Pedro-esque to my eye. It will be a very effective strike out pitch to use when the hitters are looking for the sinker. It's just a matter of time before he regains constistency in command and location and can integrate it more into his arsenal.

I think his change up is what needs the most work. He still struggles to throw that pitch for strikes. Often it's not anywhere near the strike zone. He's going to need to be able to throw the curve and change for 1st pitch strikes or the hitters are going to start nailing him him on the 1st pitch 4 seamer he's been throwing to get ahead of the hitters.

Astoria, his struggles with his curveball have been because he's just dusting it off after Rick "NO CURVEBALLS!" Petersen tried to purge it out of him over the past two years. It wasn't until Petersen realized his job was on the line that he let Pelfrey go back to it.

Mike, I agree about that negative Pelfrey article. The author forgot to mention that in the two games (vs. Yanks and vs. Rockies in Coors) where he walked alot of batters- the umpires in both games weren't giving him the strike zone (and in the Rockies game, neither pitcher got it). And that Yankees game was your usual umpiring Yankee-friendly crap. Take the walks out of those two games, and you've got a vastly improved Pelfrey.

In short: the negative article was definitely going with a conclusion, and then finding "facts" to back it up.

Oh, also Astoria, you'll like this: Pelfrey's fastball and sinker are 95-98 MPH. His curveball is 85 MPH. For all intents and purposes, his curve IS his offspeed pitch! Hitters are going to fear him when he gets his location going.

Astoria -- Agreed on the changeup. For one thing, he'll need that to control lefties.
Jason - I didn't find the article completely negative, but it did seem he had that conclusion in mind all the way.

Still think he needs to throw a decent change or learn a splitter.

Mike - Our rotation is getting real crowded, now that we know we have a Good Pelfrey and a Bad Pelfrey to go along with Good Ollie, Bad Ollie, Healthy Pedro, Achey Pedro, and Flying South to Check On His Ailing Father Pedro.

Meanwhile, Healthy El Duque reappeared for a few innings yesterday in the minors, and was quickly replaced by Hurt Yet Again El Duque. I'd just about forgotten we still had him under contract.

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