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April 26, 2010

Living On The Edge

Pelfrey Succeeding In Tough Spots

by John Perrotto

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Mike Pelfrey's performance on Sunday night was far from a masterpiece.

The Mets right-hander allowed eight of the 23 batters he faced to reach base, five on walks and three on hits, as he struggled to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters. Yet on a night when he failed to retire two-thirds of the Braves' hitters, Pelfrey showed why he is one of the biggest early-season surprises in the major leagues and kept Atlanta off the board. However, a closer look at his performance shows that Mets' fans should temper their expectations a little bit.

Whereas he would often cave under pressure in the past, the big right-hander was able to bob and weave his way through five scoreless innings as the Mets blanked the Braves 1-0 in a game called due to rain in the sixth inning. It was certainly an adventuresome five innings for Pelfrey on Sunday. He needed to throw 106 pitches to get his 15 outs, an average of 21 pitchers per inning. Pelfrey survived, though, by holding the Braves hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position, two of which ended when Jason Heyward and Troy Glaus grounded into inning-ending double plays.

Pelfrey joined the Phillies' Roy Halladay, the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez and the Giants' Tim Lincecum as the major leagues' only four-game winners while lowering his ERA to a 0.69, which is the lowest in baseball. Not bad for a guy who was 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA in 31 starts last season and one of the many reasons why the Mets finished 70-92.

The biggest key for Pelfrey this year has been his performance with men on base. Foes are just 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position so far this season, and their batting average on balls in play is .077 in those situations. Last year it was .325. Little wonder Pelfrey told reporters after Sunday's game, "I must be living right."

That .077 BABIP with runners in scoring position is unsustainable (league average BABIP is around .290), but there is still reason to be optimistic about Pelfrey's performance this year. He's incorporated a split-fingered fastball, and his strikeout rate sits at a career-best 6.6 per nine. More notable is that he has yet to give up a home run, and keeping the ball in the park has been the key to his success in the past. When he posted a 3.72 ERA in 2008, Pelfrey allowed just 0.5 homers per nine, which was fifth best in the NL.

Pelfrey is not as good as good as his 0.69 ERA indicates, but there is every reason to believe that the 26-year-old will be the solid workhorse he showed he could be in 2008, and maybe a little bit more.

 

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Mike Pelfrey

4 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Matthew Avery

He allowed 10 of 23 batters faced to reach: 5 hits and 5 walks. Two were erased on double-plays, leading to 8 runners stranded. Say what you will, but I think last night's "shut-out" is more on the Braves ineptitude with runners on than anything Pelfrey was doing.

Apr 26, 2010 10:43 AM
rating: -1
 
RedsManRick

Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think I'd be optimistic about a guy who has succeeded on the back of wonderful luck. He still strikes out less guys than average and walks more. His saving grace is his very good (low)GB rate and correspondingly low HR/9.

To say "Pelfrey is not as good as good as his 0.69 ERA indicates" might be the understatement of the young season.

Apr 26, 2010 11:31 AM
rating: 0
 
HeavyHitter

That's it, Pelfrey, you've been relegated to the status of a statistical anomaly. Next!

Apr 26, 2010 16:02 PM
rating: -1
 
mglick0718

What I need to know is: does Pelfrey officially get credit for a complete game (a Mets reliever entered the game and threw one pitch before the game was stopped, but does the top of the inning officially disappear under those circumstances?), or more laughably, a shutout? That had to be one of the luckiest rain-shortened wins ever, with Hanson mowing down the Mets and giving up one unearned run while Pelfrey completely labored through 5. What a stupid rule...

Apr 26, 2010 13:01 PM
rating: -1
 
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