Ladies and gentlemen, the ace of the 2011 Mets pitching staff: Mike Pelfrey.
With Johan Santana likely out until around the All Star Break, the Amazins will turn to Big Pelf as the team’s number one starter for at least the first half of the season. Last season, the righty posted a 15-9 record, tossing a career high 204 innings and accumulating a 3.66 ERA (3.82 FIP) and 1.377 WHIP. The question is, does Pelfrey, entering his fourth full big league season at the age of 27, have what it takes to lead the pitching staff? The answer depends on when you ask the question.
If you asked me entering the 2010 season, I would’ve said no way. After 2008 showed some promise, Pelfrey regressed in 2009, going 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA (4.39 FIP) and 1.514 WHIP while allowing a career high 18 home runs. Opponents hit .289/.350/.428 against Mike in ’09, and only once did he reach the eighth inning. However, ff you asked me between April 9th and June 25th of 2010, I would’ve said yes. Over those 16 games, Pelfrey went 10-2 (and even saved a game) with a 2.71 ERA, throwing 63% of his pitches for strikes. He produced a WHIP of 1.224 while batters hit .246/.309/.355.
If you asked me between June 30th and August 4th, I would’ve shrieked in horror. In the seven starts he made during that time, Pelf went 0-4, averaging just over four innings per start with a 9.00 ERA and a WHIP of 2.600. He still threw a high percentage of strikes (61%), but opponents crushed him, hitting .437/.497/.627. However, by the end of the season, Pelfrey returned to form. Over his last eleven starts, Mike went 5-3 with a 2.78 ERA and WHIP of 1.090. Batters hit .230/.287/.336 and he continued to pound the strike zone (62%).
There is no doubt Pelfrey took great strides in 2010, as compared to 2009, and there were times where he appeared like an ace. He pitched nine innings against the Padres on June 8th, allowing just one run on five hits in a game the Mets won in extra innings, and on August 10th, he out-dueled Ubaldo Jimenez, tossing seven shutout innings. However, for as great as Pelfrey could be last season, he also had hit meltdowns. Most notably, on July 19th against the Diamondbacks, Big Pelf lasted only one and one-third innings, allowing six earned runs on seven hits and two walks. Every ace has his hiccups now again, but the rough patch Pelfrey had mid-season last year isn’t very becoming of a number one starter. For example, Josh Johnson only had one start last season where he lasted fewer than five innings, compared to Pelfrey’s seven, and he never had anything close to the string of starts that Big Pelf experienced last summer.
Pelfrey’s pitching style stands in contrast to what some might deem as the typical ace. For example, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt all have career K/9′s of 6.7, 6.9, 8.5 and 7.4, respectively. Pelfrey’s is 5.1; consequently, he K/BB ratio is relatively low (1.56) when compared to the Philly aces, although Pelfrey also has a career BB/9 of 3.3 Batters are going to put the ball in play against Big Pelf; last season, opponents made contact 86.8% of the time when swinging at any pitch from Pelfrey, higher than the MLB average of 80.7%. Furthermore, despite having a reputation as a ground ball pitcher, his career ground ball to fly ball ratio stands at 0.99, his home run to fly ball percentage of 4.9% is lower than the MLB average of 7.6%. In short, opponents will put the ball in play against Pelfrey, so he will need a solid defense behind him. The fact that Pelfrey pitches a good chunk of his games in spacious Citi Field doesn’t hurt either.
So is Pelfrey an ace? In the traditional sense, no, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a stabilizing force at the top of the rotation while Santana recovers from surgery. In the mean time, Met fans should be prepared to see that big 6’7″ righty on the mound for Opening Day in Florida