So far in 2009, Mike Pelfrey is undefeated. Thanks in part to David Wright’s three-run homer in the Mets’ home opener which allowed him to walk away with a no decision instead of a loss, Mike Pelfrey has not lost a game in 2009. Backed by great run support (the Mets have scored over 7 runs per game when he has pitched), Big Pelf, as he has affectionately become known by Mets fans, is off to his best start as a Met, even after missing a start due to forearm stiffness earlier in the season.
But all is not well with Big Pelf. The run support is hiding the fact that Mike Pelfrey has not pitched well this season at all. Right now, Big Pelf’s ERA stands at an ugly 5.46, with a WHIP of 1.74. The ground ball is helping him erase some of these outs by turning double plays, but not at that high of a rate (he is only tied for the team lead in double plays with Livan Hernandez at 4, with two coming last night). That’s not even the most alarming part of all of this, and usually, when you’re posting a WHIP of 1.74, that’s a pretty big alarm bell.
No, the big problem is that Big Pelf has not recorded a strikeout since the first inning of an April 25th game against the Washington Nationals. That’s a streak of 17.2 innings without recording a strikeout; that’s 53 consecutive outs recorded without a strikeout. Right now, Mike Pelfrey is striking out less than 2 batters per nine innings, which is obscenely low for a major league starting pitcher; the last time a major league starting pitcher threw more than 150 innings and recorded less than two strikeouts per nine innings was a man named Sandy Consuegra in 1954. For the season, Mike Pelfrey has a total of six strikeouts, which is unacceptable even if you’re the best ground ball pitcher in the majors.
Now, I know Ron Darling says that you don’t have to strike out every hitter, and that’s true. But I think even Ronnie D. would say that you need to strike out more than two hitters per nine innings, considering that he struck out over six per nine during his career. If a pitcher is not getting strikeouts, he is relying on the defense behind him to be near perfect in order to remain a good pitcher, and so far this season, Mike Pelfrey has not been a good pitcher, record be damned. He’s allowing a high number of hits, a high number of runs, and a high number of walks (right now, he doesn’t have a K/BB ratio but a BB/K ratio of 14/6).
As noted above, Big Pelf missed a start against the Milwaukee Brewers due to muscle tendinitis in his forearm. It’s been since that start that his strikeout rate has plummeted, as five of those six strikeouts were recorded in his first two games. I don’t know if Big Pelf’s forearm is still bothering him, and he’s compensating by pitching to a greater deal of contact, or if there is something else involved, but huge drops in strikeout rate usually mean something very bad. Considering Big Pelf had the giant leap in innings pitched last season, the forearm tendinitis that shelved him for one start, and now this drop in strikeout rate, the Mets need to look past the wins, look past the small drop in ERA and WHIP, and look at those strikeout rates and determine if something is wrong, because these small drops are not sustainable if Pelfrey can’t record strikeouts.
If Big Pelf is hurt and trying to pitch through the pain, the team needs to identify this and place him on the disabled list. It’s best to nip this sort of thing in the bud now before Pelfrey makes things worse by trying to gut through it. Sandy Consuegra was able to pitch in the 50’s with low strikeout rates, but then again, he was able to keep his hit, walk, and home run rates low enough to pitch well. Big Pelf isn’t keeping his hits, walks, or homers down that low, and in today’s baseball, you can’t pitch well with a strikeout rate under 2. It’s only a matter of time before things go ka-bloom for Big Pelf, and I hope the team is proactive in trying to identify the reason for the decrease in strikeouts and works to resolve the problem before his arm goes ka-bloom.