I wanted a rhyming, catchy title. What can I say?
Over the course of the last month or so, I've heard various calls for Mike Pelfrey to be traded ("Are people still gonna be impressed [by Pelfrey]? Please! Get rid of him already"), dumped ("He's way too inconsistent...TOSS HIM, please!!"), or otherwise let go. I'm not particularly a huge Mike Pelfrey fan or anything, and I'm sure that most people here at AA completely understand and agree with what is written below, but a few of these random comments grated on my nerves for some reason, prompting me to sit down and vent. What is with a lot of the dislike heaped on Pelfrey by the media, and a lot of the fans? Personally, I think it's tied somewhat to higher expectations (He's the "Number Two" guy and should be pitching like a "Number Two"), but that's just an educated guess on my part. Maybe people have other reasons for not liking him to the degree that I've seen people not like him.
Mike Pelfrey is 26, and is still relatively cheap and controllable. No matter how you look at things, that's a plus. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Mike Pelfrey is owed $500,000 dollars for 2010. He is set to enter into arbitration in 2011, instead of entering into free agency. Let's say he gets a raise of 500%, an arbitrary number- he'll still only be making $2,500,000 dollars. Let's say he gets an even bigger raise, a raise of 1000%, another arbitrary number- he'll be making $5,000,000, still a very reasonable salary, from the team's perspective, for a starting pitcher.
Last year, Mike Pelfrey certainly had an off year. It's not because, as has been floated around in the media, or among the general fanbase, because he is a bad pitcher. Rather, it is because of the horrid defense behind him in Luis Castillo having his worse defensive season to date and the revolving door of sub-par shortstops filling in for Jose Reyes- Anderson Hernandez, Wilson Valdez, Ramon Martinez, Angel Berroa, Argenis Reyes, and Andy Green. All of that contributed to ballooning his ERA to an inflated 5.03, while his BABIP was .321, up about .20 points from 2008. Let's put his ERA to the side for a moment, and look at his peripheral stats for a moment- if it's something Mike Pelfrey is doing to make him suddenly suck, there'd surely be something sticking out there.
Let's denote 2008 as his "good year", and 2009 his "bad year". His "good year" was not very much different from 2009, his "bad year". It was surprisingly similar, actually. He made 32 starts, and threw 200.2 IP in 2008. He made 31 starts, and threw 184.1 IP in 2009. Those stats are basically the same (there's a difference of one start and 16.1 innings, which isn't all that much). In 2008, he struck out 110, and walked 64. In 2009, he struck out 107, and walked 66. Not much variance there. In 2008, his ground ball rate was 49.6%, and his fly ball rate was 29.6% (with 12 of those fly balls being home runs). In 2009, his ground ball rate was 51.3%, and his fly ball rate was 30.0% (with 18 of those fly balls being home runs). Again, there's not too much variance in the data, with the exception of an uptick in home runs allowed. His balk rate certainly went up in 2009, from 0 to 6, but that's a piece of data that I don't know can be contributed to anything. If it continued, it's certainly something to note, and be concerned with. So, on that matter, we'll have to see.
The only major variance in his 2008 and 2009 data is ERA, with his ERA being 3.72 in 2008, and 5.03 in 2009. Among all qualifying pitchers, Mike Pelfrey put up an ERA that was 6th worse in the 2009 MLB season by a starter. Only Jeremy Guthrie, Ricky Nolasco, Carl Pavano, and our good friends Braden Looper and Livan Hernandez posted ERAs that were worse than Pelfrey's.
Generally speaking, ERA is a fundamentally flawed piece of data to measure the success as pitchers, however. That's not to say that it should be ignored- 99.9% of the time, when a pitcher has a low ERA, he's doing good, and when he has a high ERA, he's doing bad- but it's a far cry from actually measuring how good a player is pitching. In 2008, Mike Pelfrey's BABIP was .302. In 2009, it was .321. In 2008, balls were being put in play, and were being converted into outs at a larger rate than in 2009. Daniel Murphy exhibited decent range at first, defensively, but the shoddy defense of Luis Castillo, the various infielders filling in for Reyes, and a poor defensive campaign for Wright led to more of Pelfrey's ground balls being put into play for hits, and more of those base runners making it around the bases, to score. Does Pelfrey (or any other pitcher) control what the balls the defensive behind him gets to, and what balls they don't? No, of course not. So, because ERA includes weighs balls that defensemen just barely miss as home runs that are crushed into the night, it cannot be used to seriously demonstrate his pitching ability.
FIP, on the other hand, can. A player's FIP is calculated using home runs given up, walks given up, and strikeouts, all things that the pitcher alone controls. Luis Castillo not being able to reach ground balls up the middle has no impact on his FIP. Alex Cora bobbling the ball, and not being able to throw out the runner as a result has no impact on his FIP. David Wright not being able to field a bunt in time has no impact on his FIP. Instead, Mike Pelfrey and Mike Pelfrey alone controls what his FIP is.
In 2008, the MLB average FIP was about 4.40. Mike Pelfrey's FIP was 3.96, a little better than the average. In 2009, the MLB average FIP was about 4.35. Mike Pelfrey's FIP was 4.39, demonstrating that he was just a tad beneath average. On their own, however, a variance of 3.96 and 4.39 is not very much (.43). In the context of the MLB mean in 2008 and 2009 (4.37), Pelfrey's FIP of 4.17 demonstrates that, in actuality, Pelfrey has been a little better than the average pitcher.
In terms of WAR, in 2008, he was worth 3.0 WAR for the season. His 2009 campaign was worth 1.8 WAR. The only WAR projection data available was from the ‘Fans' section of Fangraphs, which projects Pelfrey to be worth 3.5 WAR, a career high. This would put him, based on other projections made by the same people, in the same category as John Lackey (3.7), Ryan Dempster (3.5), and Carlos Zambrano (3.4). Personally, I don't trust fan projections of that nature. So, assuming that his performance for 2010 is somewhere between the two, that's a mean WAR of 2.4. So, keeping in the same vein, what other pitchers, in the past two years, have been put up seasons worth 2.4 WAR or thereabouts? Nick Blackburn in 2008 (2.5). Gavin Floyd in 2008 (2.4). Bronson Arroyo in 2008 (2.4). Joe Blanton in 2008 (2.2). Aaron Harang in 2009 (2.5). Kevin Millwood in 2009 (2.4). Jon Garland in 2009 (2.4). Jarrod Washburn in 2009 (2.1). A lot of people are very down on Mike Pelfrey, and would be ecstatic to acquire any of those above-mentioned players, simply based on name and/or expectation, not realizing that many are/were only marginally better than Pelfrey.
So, all in all...I don't get it. Mind you, this is from reading "less than educated" Mets website/blogs, listening to WFAN, and other similar things, but still...