Mike Pelfrey, on the surface, looks like a solid mid-rotation starter. Hes boasted a sub-4.40 FIP each of the last three seasons, an FIP under 4 in two of them, all while also tossing at least 180 innings in each year. Pretty solid production. But is this Pelfrey's true skill? What about his consistently mediocre xFIP that sits in the mid-4's range?Instead of wasting any time, lets just jump right into things that stick out in a negative way about Mike Pelfrey. By FIP vs xFIP standards, hes been able to outperform his xFIP each of the last three seasons. Why? Well, if you know how xFIP works, then it shouldn't be a secret its because of his HR/FB rates. I'm not here to debate whether that is a skill or not, only to point out the interesting home/road splits of Pelfrey's HR/FB rate:
2008 Home: 5.8% .. 2008 Road: 6.8%
2009 Home: 5.8% .. 2009 Road: 14.1%
2010 Home: 3.2% .. 2010 Road: 9.4%
Career Home: 5.2% .. Career Road: 9.9%
Interesting. Pelfrey's HR/FB rate at his home park(s) is significantly lower than his HR/FB rate on the road. I think that might be a product of Shea Stadium and Citi Field being pitcher-friendly parks. Perhaps there is something else at work too, but like I said, I'm not going to delve into that. But it is worth presenting the coincidence of his HR/FB% being suppressed at home versus being much more pedestrian on the road. This has been a major contributing factor in Pelfrey's overall home/road splits (3.76 FIP at home, 4.77 on the road).
Another negative, or flaw, that has stood out to me is his performance versus lefties. These are his career splits:
vs RHB: 5.59 K/9, 2.53 BB/9, 3.51 FIP, 4.03 xFIP
vs LHB: 4.65 K/9, 4.02 BB/9, 4.83 FIP, 5.16 xFIP
Not pretty. On the positive side, Pelfrey added a splitter to his repertoire last season, and it may have contributed to him boasting a career-best 4.54 FIP against southpaws. On the negative side, however, his groundball rate against lefties dropped below 40%, leading to a still-ugly xFIP of 4.92, suggesting Big Pelf' might have benefited from some good luck and not much improvement.
So with those interesting notes in mind, where does that leave Pelfrey's true skill? Well, frankly, without Citi Field, I would venture he looks a lot more like a #5-type of starter than the solid #3 his FIP would say he is. Of course, I could be wrong, and Pelfrey's low HR/FB rates at home might not be a total product of his home park, but that's not for me to debate. The struggles versus lefties are a clear issue, and without much improvement against them, its hard to envision Pelfrey upping his true skill, let alone ever reaching the front-line starter potential people saw in him on draft day. Fortunately, as long as he remains a Met, he'll benefit from pitching a lot of his games in the spacious Citi Field, likely inflating his skill higher than what it might really be. But our belief of what Mike Pelfrey really is -- a solid #3 or an innings-eating #5 -- certainly makes for an interesting debate.