Mike Pelfrey is in a no-win situation. If he performs well and the Mets aren’t in contention, Sandy Alderson will look to trade the big right-hander. If Pelfrey is still on the team at the end of the season, he will likely be non-tendered this winter since he’ll receive an increase from his current $5.6875 million salary and the Amazins have some young studs (Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia and Zack Wheeler) waiting in the wings. Big Pelf has fallen out of favor with a lot of Mets fans (see: Opening Day boos) due to his poor 2011 season and failure to live up to his first-round hype and expectations are low. However, while his first outing wasn’t stellar, there was a lot to be happy about.
Pelfrey’s line wasn’t that pretty: 5 2/3 innings, 10 H, 3 ER, BB, 8 K…wait a minute. Mike Pelfrey struck out eight batters in a game? Yes he did, matching a career-high while only allowing one free pass. For a pitcher with a career K/9 of 5.1 and BB/9 of 3.2, don’t expect Big Pelf to punch-out this many batters on a regular basis, but it’s nice to see that he has the ability to get outs via the K.
Let’s take a closer look at Pelfrey’s strikeouts. Listed below are the batters who whiffed against Pelfrey, including the pitch sequence, according to MLB.com Gameday.
T1: Ian Desmond, looking (sinker, sinker, slider, sinker, four-seam fastball, sinker)
T1: Jayson Werth, swinging (sinker, four-seamer, slider, slider, sinker)
T2: Jesus Flores, swinging (slider, sinker, slider, slider)
T2: Edwin Jackson, looking (curve, sinker, sinker)
T3: Danny Espinosa, swinging (slider, sinker, slider, sinker)
T5: Espinosa, looking (curve, sinker, sinker, slider, four-seamer)
T5: Werth, swinging (slider, four-seamer, sinker, slider, sinker, four-seamer, slider)
T6: Roger Bernadina, swinging (sinker, four-seamer, curve, sinker)
Just from looking at the strikeouts, one can tell that Pelfrey threw a lot of sinkers last night. He should be throwing this pitch a lot anyway if he wants to generate ground balls, but it is also a plus that he could get some swings and misses and freeze some batters with it as well. In addition, he threw hard all night, getting his fastball up to 96 mph, mixed in his curve effectively, and even got a pair of strikeouts with his slider. And while it might not be a great accomplishment to strikeout free swingers like Espinosa and Werth twice in a game (coming into last night, the duo had struck out at 25.6% and 24.8% rates in their career, respectively), it is a positive that he could take advantage of these hitters instead of pitching to contact all night.
Furthermore, Pelfrey kept the ball on the ground all night. While he only recorded six ground ball outs, including one double play, many of the National’s hits were on the ground, and only one out was recorded in the outfield. Unless Pelfrey will rack up eight strikeouts a game for the remainder of the season (which he won’t), he will need to continue generating ground balls in order to have success.
Finally, Pelfrey deserves credit for settling down, and, as Terry Collins put it, “battled.” After falling behind 3-0 early, Big Pelf quieted Washington’s offense (with some help from Miguel Batista) and kept the Mets in the game, giving David Wright and Kirk Niuewenhuis time to tie things up. It may not sound like much, but given his sometimes fragile psyche, it would’ve been easy for Pelfrey to completely fall apart and have the game turn into a blowout.
Pelfrey isn’t an ace, and at this rate, never will be. So Mets fans need to accept Pelfrey for what he is and take comfort in the fact that he’ll probably be gone after this season. But in the meantime, Pelfrey will be a fixture in the rotation and hopefully he can build on the last half of last night’s outing.