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The Emergence of Mike Pelfrey?

Mike Pelfrey has given up one run in his last 22 innings pitched, lowering his season ERA to 3.64. His recent results make it seem like he has figured something out and has “turned a corner.” Upon examination, however, we can see that this may not be the case.

Pelfrey has had a roller coaster season. Of his 18 starts, Pelfrey has had a "quality start" ten times. Unfortunately, he’s also allowed six runs twice, five runs twice, and four runs three times. 

But if we look deeper at Mike Pelfrey we see not an inconsistent pitcher, but we see a pitcher who struggles against good teams. Every quality start except for two has come against a team who is 8th or worse in scoring in the National League (with home park taken into account – for example, the Diamondbacks are 7th in scoring at home but 12th in scoring on the road).

Mike Pelfrey’s Quality Starts (with accompanying offensive ranking of the opponent in paranthesis):

vs Colorado (15th)

vs Washington (14th)

vs Washington (14th)

at San Diego (14th)*

vs Arizona (12th)

vs Los Angeles Dodgers (11th)

at St Louis (11th)

vs San Francisco (8th)

vs Cincinnati (6th)

at Colorado (2nd) 


Meanwhile, nearly every other start has come against a much better offensive team:

Mike Pelfrey's non-Quality Starts:

vs Florida (1st)

at Philadelphia (3rd)

vs Philadelphia (4th)

at Atlanta (4th)

at New York Yankees (6th in American League)

at Arizona (7th)

at Los Angeles Angels (12th in American League)

vs Atlanta (13th) 

*To avoid any confusion, let me clarify: the offensive ranking is where that opponent ranks in runs scored, depending on whether the game is at home or on the road. Thus, Washington is the 14th "best" NL offense on the road, whereas San Diego is the 14th "best" offense at home. That is why they are both ranked 14th.

Here we see a picture not of an inconsistent pitcher so much as a mediocre pitcher: he is capable of pitching well against bad teams, but struggles against good teams (note: both games against the American League teams were played in AL parks, so the teams could use the DH. Also, because of the relative strength of the AL as compared to the NL this year, the Yankees’s and Angels’s offensive ranking is misleading: both teams would likely have more runs scored if they played in the NL). This is not necessarily cause for too much concern, as Pelfrey is a young guy still learning how to pitch (and, hopefully for Mets fans, developing a secondary pitch). 

However, this means that we have to take Pelfrey’s most recent three starts with a huge grain of salt. Yes, he has allowed one run over his last 22 innings. Yes, his K/BB ratio during that time is an excellent 16/2, and he’s getting grounders on 63% of his balls in play. But two of those starts have been at home against two of the National League’s worst offenses (San Francisco and Colorado), and the third was in St Louis against the Cardinals, who are 11th in scoring at home.

Pelfrey’s improved control – only two walks over his last 22 innings pitched – is an excellent sign for his future, and the 16 strikeouts also bodes well. He threw more strikes, too: 65.7% of his pitches were strikes in his last three outings, as compared to 61.5% over the whole season. However, he also has been the beneficiary of a tremendous amount of good luck on fly balls this season: only 4.7% of his fly balls have become homers, leading to only four homers allowed (three of which were solo shots) this season. 

It’s happenstance that Pelfrey had three consecutive starts in favorable environments against teams with bad offenses. In order to show that he has truly turned a corner, Pelfrey will have to improve his results against the teams with better offenses. Otherwise, he will remain mediocre all season long, and will be of little help in the playoffs (should the Mets make it).

The emergence of Mike Pelfrey may indeed be coming. But it’s not here yet.