Once upon a time, Mike Pelfrey was considered the Mets’ top prospect. In 2005, the Mets took Pelfrey with the ninth overall pick in the amateur draft, but he didn’t make his professional debut until 2006. In his first year as a professional, Pelfrey pitched for nearly every team in the organization, beginning the year in St. Lucie before playing for Binghamton, Norfolk, and eventually the Mets. In the minors, Pelfrey was mostly outstanding, totaling 10.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and a 2.43 ERA. His cup of coffee with the Mets consisted of four below-average starts, but that wasn’t considered the end of the world at the time. The following year, Pelfrey split his time between AAA and the Mets, pitching to a decent ERA in the minors despite a huge drop in strikeouts and once again putting up below-average numbers with the Mets.
Pelfrey’s first full season with the Mets came in 2008, and compared to his previous stints with the team, it went remarkably well. Over 200.2 innings spanning 32 starts, Pelfrey posted a 3.96 FIP and 4.45 xFIP, even though he struck out less than five-per-nine. In the process, Pelfrey once again got hopes up about his potential performance, but the results in 2009 didn’t match the expectations.
Not much of what Pelfrey was doing on the mound changed – his 4.47 xFIP was virtually identical to his previous season – but his 5.03 ERA wasn’t very pretty. In 2010, the results went back in the other direction, as plenty of Mets fans were calling him the team’s second ace through the first half of the season. Despite a drop-off in the second half of the year, Pelfrey’s 3.66 ERA on the season looked like a step forward. His xFIP, of course, wound up at 4.31, just a shade better than each of the previous two seasons. The rule of thumb was established as follows:
- If Pelfrey’s having an above-average year, he’s not as good as he looks.
- If Pelfrey’s having a below-average year, he’s not as bad as he looks.
And then Pelfrey had a 2011 season that looked a lot like his past few seasons, but the results were worse. His 4.74 ERA looked like a step in the wrong direction, but not much really changed. His 4.55 xFIP was once again very, very similar to what he had done in the past. Mike Pelfrey is a perfect example of Eno Sarris’ point over at Fangraphs that "seasons are also arbitrary endpoints."
As for the upcoming season, Pelfrey’s certainly not exciting, but he should once again be a serviceable member of the rotation. It appears that pitching – especially starting pitching – will be the Mets’ biggest flaw this year, but if Pelfrey were tucked away behind four excellent pitchers, he might not look so bad. If things go his way, the results could look pretty good like they did in 2008 and 2010, and if they don’t, they’ll probably look like 2009 and 2011.