I believed that Mike Pelfrey could be a number two pitcher for the Mets. I believed that, with a solid team around him, and especially with Santana slotted as the ace, Pelf could be a solid number two. And if we added another front line starter? I believed we’d have one of the best number three pitchers in Pelf, then. Basically, I was happy with Pelfrey. Then this year happened. Until about ten minutes ago, I thought this guy could barely hold it together and, nevermind that he’s our “ace,” I just wanted to get rid of him. Now, after some careful analysis, I find I was wrong in both instances. Pelfrey is the definition of average.
Let’s start with the conventional stats. Since becoming a permanent member of the rotation four years ago, he has not been injured and has started an average of 32.25 games per year (using his current projected numbers). For his career, he has a 49-51 record and an ERA of 4.36 with a WHIP of 1.45. You don’t need MLB averages to look at those numbers and know they are as middle of the road as they come. His 1.59 K:BB ratio says much the same, that he is neither a power pitcher nor does he have exceptional command. He averages, in full seasons, about 196 IP. That tells you he is eating a nice number of innings but he isn’t going the distance too often.
Then come the more advanced stats. His quality start percentage is exactly 50% and he has an identical number of cheap wins (wins in non-quality starts) as tough losses (losses in quality starts), with 12. His average game score is 48, compared to the MLB average of 49. His run support, measured either by games (4.4) or per 27 outs (4.2), is barely off the MLB average of 4.6 while he throws just 5 more pitches a game (for an even 100) and lasts just one extra out per start (for an even 6 IP/GS) than the league averages. His strike, contact, and ball in play percentages are all, at most, 2% off the major league averages for those categories. All these numbers tell you his individual average start is, well, average.
Then comes the big picture. For starters, the Mets are 66-73 in games started by Pelfrey over his career, a completely unremarkable number. Over his career, his Win Probability Added (WPA+) is 64.2 while his Win Probability Subtracted (WPA-) is -65.1, for an overall WPA of -0.9*. His career WAR comes out to 0.97. To put that into perspective, Baseball Reference sites a WAR ranging from 0 to 2 as suitable for a “reserve player.”
The most comparable player to Pelfrey through this point in his career since the Mets began play is John Stottlemyre. Since I’m assuming that, like me, you don’t know who the fuck that is, the next most comparable pitcher is Kip Wells. Perhaps even more disturbing about Pelfrey is that his hit, home run, walk, and strikeout rates have changed hardly at all since he became a regular in the rotation. But you don’t even have to look at the numbers for that. Watch him on the mound and you will see that mentally, he just isn’t there. He can’t ride the ups and downs and so he unravels far too often.
So for a guy drafted 9th overall, slotted as a two with a healthy roster, and as an ace sans Santana, we got Kip Wells. Does this mean we should cut him, literally and figuratively? No. But does it mean we should expect him to be the pitcher we thought he could be? Also no. Ideally, we would slot Pelfrey four, where there would be little pressure and his status as a “reserve player” would actually be good value there. More realistically, he will settle in as a three because we won’t have a good enough roster. This is all assuming, of course, that he stays with the Mets beyond this year.
But the absolute most unsettling aspect of all this? I feel much the same way about Niese now as I did about Pelfrey just a couple years ago.
*measured against the average MLB team