With rumors of fire sales and financial collapse, these are tough times for the Mets and Mets fans. Projected to finish in last place in the NL East by many sources, the team sits at .500 shortly after at the All-Star Break, despite David Wright, Jose Reyes, Ike Davis, and Johan Santana all missing significant amounts of playing time. I don't think anybody would have predicted that a few months ago. The team is walking a tightrope, however. The next few weeks will determine whether or not certain other players, such as Carlos Beltran, get traded, like Francisco Rodriguez was a few short weeks ago.
One player whose name is not mentioned very often, but whose fate is theoretically up in the air, is Mike Pelfrey. Coming into the year, after a very good 2010 season, Big Pelf was tabbed as the Mets' Opening Day starter. With expectations raised, Pelfrey has, thus far, let everyone down, owning a 4.67 ERA in 20 games started and 117.2 innings pitched. As with other players who have not lived up to expectations, there have been some rumbling to trade Pelfrey ASAP. Is that wise, however?
Pelfrey is having a bad season, and there isn't much on the horizon to reassure anyone that he'll pull out of it. In fact, there are signs that show that his descent from mediocre pitcher to terrible pitcher isn't a fluke, and will continue into the 2012 season. Despite a .283 BABIP, he is still giving up runs left and right- the long ball is especially killing him. Big Pelf sports a 10.3% HR/FB ratio, having given up nearly two times the amount of home runs on the road (11) than he has at home at Citi Field (5).
Despite being a groundball pitcher, Pelfrey has never had a particularly high groundball percentage. In 2008, it was 49.6 %. In 2009, 51.3 %. In 2010, 47.8 %. So far this season, his groundball percentage is a career low 43.3 %. With a lack of a refined off-speed pitch repertoire, Pelfrey has to primarily rely on his sinking fastball, a pitch that does not net him many strikeouts. That fastball is getting slower, too, according to Fangraphs Pitch F/x data. Despite being in the prime of his athletic career, Big Pelf's fastball has trended slower and slower since debuting. In 2008, it averaged 92.8 MPH. In 2009, 92.7 MPH. In 2010, 92.0 MPH. So far this season, his fastball is averaging 91.4 MPH. The ball will continue to be put in play, and will be easier to hit. More balls will be flyballs, and he will continue to be bugged by the long ball problem.
His numbers right now aren't good, and his value is certainly a lot lower than it was a year ago, but his value might be higher now than it will be in another few weeks, a few months, or a year from now. Diminished returns are better than even more diminished returns, or no return at all, and if Sandy can find a taker for Pelfrey, the team might be better off getting something in exchange for him now, as opposed to waiting as seeing his value drop even more.
No doubt, Mike Pelfrey has under performed this season, and even the most ardent Pelfrey apologist would have trouble spinning his season thus far in a positive light. Though not an ace, we know that Big Pelf can do a lot better than the 0.2 WAR he has so far accrued for the season- his 2008 and 2010 seasons demonstrate this, where he was worth 3.0 WAR and 2.9 WAR, respectively. There is no reason to give up on Pelfrey completely yet, especially when he is still relatively cost controlled, and will be so for one more year. Even with Scott Boras representing him, Pelfrey is not going to be granted a large pay raise, or win an exorbitant sum in arbitration if the two sides cannot come to an agreement. He is currently making $3.93 million dollars, and will likely make between $5 and $6 million dollars for 2012. Is Pelfrey worth that? As things stand right now, ZiPS is projecting Pelfrey to end the season with a 4.60 ERA/4.33 FIP in 197.7 innings pitched. These projection numbers, almost to a T, match his 2009 season stats, where he was worth 1.6 WAR:
- 2009: 184.1 IP, 5.22 K/9, 3.22 BB/9, .312 BABIP, 5.03 ERA, 4.39 FIP
- ZiPS 2011: 197.2 IP, 5.10 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, .301 BABIP, 4.60 ERA, 4.33 FIP
So, if these numbers pan out, and he ends the season with a WAR value in the neighborhood of 2009. Estimating that 1.0 WAR is roughly equivalent to $3 or $4 million dollars, Big Pelf making $5 or $6 million dollars for the 2012 season is not an overpayment, and is just about right when looking through the lens of how he did in 2012 (let alone how he's done the rest of his up-and-down Major League career thus far). That's still cost controlled, and at worst (ie, he has another bad season in 2012) the team is breaking even, in terms of payment-to-production. At best (ie, he has a good season in 2012), the team gets surplus value from him and 2012, and that relative low cost makes him attractive to other teams, should Sandy wish to trade Pelfrey then.
There are reasons to be hopeful that Pelfrey will be better in 2012. His control has improved- he's issuing fewer walks than he ever has in his career, and is on pace to accrue the second most strikeouts in his relatively short career. His BB/9 rate currently is 2.68/9, and is projected to rise to 2.78/9, the best of his career. His K/9 rate is 4.97/9, and is projected to rise to 5.10/9, second only to his 2009 K/9 rate of 5.22. Though it's certainly not science, Pelfrey has come back from bad seasons to post good ones. He pitched himself out of a spot in the starting rotation in 2007, only to have a successful 2008 season. On the heels of that 2008 season, he had a poor 2009 season. After that 2009 stinker, Pelfrey came back to have another strong year in 2010. So far in 2011, the success from last season seems to have disappeared, and he's having another poor year. As he's seemingly randomly done before, why can't 2012 be a good year, especially considering none of his peripheral stats are fully out of whack, or seemingly in danger of falling off a cliff?