(Bumped from FanPosts. --Eric)
As of right now, Mike Pelfrey hasn't pitched too good. To be exact, in two starts, one against the Florida Marlins in Florida, and one against the Philadelphia Phillies in Philly, he's pitched 6.1 innings, surrendering 12 hits, 11 earned runs, 2 home runs, and five walks, all while striking out three whole batters. All of that is good for an ERA of 15.63, a FIP of 8.56, and an xFIP of 6.37. According to Fangraphs, he's been worth -0.2 WAR thus far this season. To put that in other terms, Alex Cora has been more valuable in his 8 at-bats with the Nationals. He isn't in Manny Ramirez -0.4 WAR, though, thankfully. Is this reason for concern, though?
Just as many people are now convinced that Mike Pelfrey is a head case loser that needs to be traded as soon as possible, because he's the scummiest scum who ever scummed, last season, plenty of people were convinced that Mike Pelfrey had finished his maturation from pitching prospect to pitching ace. A lot of the same people, I'd bet, too. Two starts into the 2010 season, one against the Washington Nationals at home, and one against the Colorado Rockies in Colorado, Mike Pelfrey pitched 13 innings, surrendering 9 hits, 2 earned runs, 0 home runs, and 4 walks, all while striking out 10 batters. That was good for a 1.38 ERA. Pelfrey eventually ended the season with a respectable 3.66 ERA, 3.82 FIP, and 4.31 xFIP, good for a 2.9 WAR, according to Fangraphs. Just like Pelfrey's great start eventually regressed to the mean, and he ended with a decent season, he will very likely regress to the mean in 2011, and end with a season that is substantially better than the one that he's had thus far, two starts into the season.
Two games into the season, Mike Pelfrey is boasting a very high BABIP, .370 to be exact. This number is high, in general, and is about .60 points higher than his career norm of .308. Invariably, since this number is unsustainably high, his BABIP is going to go down. When his BABIP goes down, there will be fewer batters reaching base. When fewer batters reach base, there will be less guys scoring against him. Likewise, his HR/FB rate is up, at an unsustainable level (20.0%!). In two starts, he's given up two home runs. The "one home run a night" thing isn't going to last. Last year, it took seven starts before the opposition hit two home runs off of Pelfrey, and he ended with a final season HR/FB rate of 5.7%. His season has gotten off inauspiciously, in terms of giving up home runs, but there is no way that that 20% HR/FB rate will continue- especially since he's a groundball pitcher, and a great number of his starts will be at Citi Field, which is harder to hit home runs in than
Joe Robbie Stadium Pro Player Park Pro Player Stadium Dolphins Stadium Dolphin Stadium Land Shark Stadium Sun Life Stadium and Citizen's Bank Park. Fewer home runs, fewer earned runs allowed.
Generally speaking, I believe that Pelfrey catches a lot of heat because he's the Mets' Number 1 pitcher. Being a team's Number 1 pitcher, a lot is expected of you. You're supposed to be the ace of the staff, the best pitcher the team has. Is Pelfrey the ace of the staff, the best pitcher in the rotation? Given that the Mets' rotation is composed of the enigmatic R.A. Dickey (may movement be upon his balls), sophomore Jon Niese, and reclamation projects Chris Young and Chris Capuano, the argument can be made. Personally, however, I defer to the greatness that is R.A. Dickey's 2010 season and believe that he will sustain it, making him our best pitcher. Is Pelfrey not being the best pitcher in the rotation an argument against him? In other words, do the complaints against him because he's our Number 1 pitcher have much substance to them? Was it fair of those other reindeers to make fun of Rudolph, to laugh and call him names, and not let him play in any of their reindeer games, all based on the fact that his nose was red? A pitcher doesn't magically transform into something that he's not just because he's plugged into a certain spot in the pitching rotation. Daisuke Matsuzaka, this season, is Boston's 5th starter. Is he going to magically transform into what most teams pass off as 5th starters (marginal Major Leaguers, right around replacement-level or a little better)? Or, is he going to continue as he's pitched since arriving to the bigs, albeit closer to the back of the rotation than the front of the rotation?
Unrealistic expectations of Mike Pelfrey held by the general fanbase have no impact on how Mike Pelfrey is actually going to perform, on any given start, and over the course of an entire season. Do I think that how Pelfrey has pitched so far has been good? No, it's been pretty atrocious. Do I think that he'll keep it up? No, he'll improve such that his numbers are more in line with previous seasons, and what the various projection systems calculate. That's something we're not hearing much, so far, that Pelfrey is likely going to end the season with an ERA around 4.12 (Bill James, Marcel and ZiPS projections averaged together), a FIP of 3.95, a 5.49 K/9 rate, and a 3.11 BB/9 rate, in about 200 IP. I trust the mathematical computations and extrapolations of these sources more than a two-game small sample size. Given those numbers, Mike Pelfrey isn't really that bad at all. He's not a world-beater, but he never was a world-beater, and I don't think anyone who's aware of how baseball works actually ever realistically expected him to be a world-beater. You need your flashy, really good ace, but after him, you also need your generic, run-of-the-mill pitchers who can pitch a decent amount of innings while keeping you in games. Mike Pelfrey is that man. Nothing more, nothing less.
When might Mike Pelfrey right the ship? Well, tomorrow's game against the Rockies might be a good place to bet. Over the course of his career (that's seven starts and 41 total innings pitched), he's 5-2 against the Rockies, with a 2.63 ERA. He's historically struck out 6.6 Rockies per nine innings, while walked 3.3 Rockies per nine innings. Also, he'll be pitching at Citi Field. Over the course of his career, he's almost two entire runs better at home (that includes Shea Stadium as well) than on the road. He's given up 20 home runs in 402 innings at home, as opposed to the 31 he's given up in 287.1 innings on the road. Opposing batters slug nearly .100 points lower against Pelfrey when he's pitching at home than they do when he's pitching on the road. So, that streak of a home run every game that he dubiously has right now? Expect it to snap. The ERA upwards of 15? Expect it to shrink dramatically.
So, in short: Let's wait a few more starts before pronouncing Pelfrey undesirable and calling for Sandy to jettison him. Over the past couple of years, we've had plenty of reasons to work ourselves into tizzys. There's no reason to purposely work ourselves into one, on a mostly non-issue. As keithprime humorously called it, there's no reason to Joe Beningo-ize ourselves just yet.