Mike Pelfrey will be 26 next Opening Day. He is big, strong and healthy (surely a gigantic positive after this year), he hits the mid-90s on the radar gun, and he had a stretch last year which suggested he had arrived. So what is the problem?
People talk about Pelf needing more pitches. I agree, in the sense that he needs to develop the pitches he already has until he can confidently throw them. If Pelf worked hard on his curve so that he felt comfortable throwing it consistently, that, combined with his mid-90s heat should be more than enough. In college, Pelf was thought to have a fantastic curve, and he seems to have lost faith in it at some point.
His composure appears to be part of the picture too. Pelf never seems scared or hesitant, but he definitely lets things bother him. Indeed, Pelf is about the only Met pitcher in years who actually will brush back an opponent if the situation calls for it. He was ready to rip Utleyâ€™s head off earlier this year.
Obviously it is something beyond the abilities of our dugout braintrust. I am sure our manager would work with Pelf were Jerry not far too busy feverishly trying to conceive of new and novel situations in which to use the sacrifice bunt. Warthen may or not be a good pitching coach, but he quite obviously has not been able to help Mike get out of his season-long funk.
It seems to me, as a fan and an outsider without any insider knowledge, that the trouble with Pelf simply must be a combination of mechanics and attitude. We all remember Wright getting in Pelfâ€™s face, very publicly, in the dugout earlier this year, seeming to exhort him to pound the zone and not nibble. Maybe Wright was telling Pelf to grow a spine, maybe he was telling him not to be afraid to mix up his pitches, and maybe he was telling him to challenge the hitters and trust his defenseâ€”regardless, this moment definitely showed that Wright believes in Pelf and feels that he has the ability to recover the form he seemed to be growing into last year.
It is too early to tell whether 2008 was something like what we saw in 2007 from Maine and Ollie, and to determine that we now have a stable of three guys who peaked early and will never really be that good again. Yes, if the 2008 Pelf and the 2007 Ollie and Maine all show up next year, we will indeed finally see the elusive meaningful October games again. While Maineâ€™s injuries and Ollieâ€™s DNA make their futures extremely uncertain, I feel that it is far too soon to give up on Big Pelf.
Pelf obviously needs a mentor, and should the Wilpons decide to bring back our ineffectual manager and pitching coach, we must hope that they also bring in someoneâ€”as they have with Koufax in the pastâ€”to work with Pelf in the spring. Perhaps a tweak of his mechanics can help him regain the curve he once had, or fully develop his slider or his change. Were this to happen, it might snowball into improved confidence and put Mike back on track to continue the development and promise he showed last year.
Unless we are able to land a Halladay or an AGonz or a Fielder or a player on their level for Pelf, we wonâ€™t be trading him. Far too much potential, and he also lacks Maineâ€™s injury history and Ollieâ€™s mystical grab bag of wonderment. Guys with his size and mph arenâ€™t that common, and throwing his health into the mix makes him remain a very valuable commodity.
I do feel very strongly that the team absolutely cannot again go into the spring with the idea of Pelf/Maine/Ollie as three fifths of the starting staff. I do feel that Pelf will almost surely earn a spot in the rotation, but we must try very hard to sign Lackey and acquire another lesser veteran so that Pelf/Maine/Ollie, if all healthy, can have a spirited competition for two of the last three spots in the rotation, where none of them is guaranteed anything. Considering the mental makeup of these guys, this may be the best thing the organization can do for all of them and for the team.
After watching Pelfâ€™s progress and regression last year and this, and watching how hard he throws (without striking out many batters), he is truly a riddle wrapped in an enigma. It does seem as though 2010 could be a make or break year for him as a Met.
I definitely want him back in the rotation, hopefully after winning a spot in the spring, as the 3 or 4, pretty much regardless of who else mans the 2 and 5 spots. He simply has too much natural ability to give up on him yet.
Is Pelf a number two who had a Verducci-effected off-year? Is he a hopeless head case, the other half of our humorless Stan and Ollie tag team, who should be jettisoned while he still has value? Or is he just another run of the mill 4 or 5 who took some teams by surprise last year? The thought here is that he has all of the tools to be a solid number 3 at least, and just needs some more time and guidance.