Forgotten man Pelfrey’s absence might make a bigger impact than we realize
Added by Guy Kipp on March 11, 2013.
Mike Pelfrey. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
There’s going to be a natural inclination this season to lament the absence of R.A. Dickey every time a New York Mets starting pitcher gets cuffed around, or every time the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner turns in a spectacular outing in his new Blue Jays uniform.
But I suspect there’s a good possibility that R.A. Dickey might not even be the missing starter whose absence is felt the most from the Mets’ 2013 rotation.
While R.A. was getting rocked all over Chase Field by Team Mexico in his first World Baseball Classic start Friday night, earlier that day, Mike Pelfrey was completing three shutout innings for the Twins in Florida against the Red Sox—the second consecutive scoreless appearance for the much-maligned big righty whose Mets career ended early last season when he underwent Tommy John surgery. Pelfrey even struck out five batters, making Mets fans wonder if this might finally be the year that he turns that 95-mph heater into a bonafide strikeout pitch after years of mysteriously high-velocity, low-strikeout performances in New York.
Before his elbow betrayed him—ironically during his best stretch of pitching in a couple of years—Pelfrey was, on the one hand, maddeningly inconsistent, but, on the other hand, more reliable than he ever got credit for. Until last year, Pelfrey was, for better or worse, the kind of pitcher every staff needs: A horse, or, to use the expression that damns with faint praise, an innings eater. Notice, when Cy Young Award winners pitch 230 innings, they’re not “innings eaters.” That distinction is saved for the pitcher who’s never the ace, and is rarely the Opening Day starter, but he’s also rarely hurt, and he always gives you six innings.
The innings eater keeps you from having to bring in D.J. Carrasco in the fifth inning. Enough innings eaters mean you don’t have to give valuable starts to the Chris Schwindens of the world.
Between 2008 and 2011, Mike Pelfrey averaged more than 32 starts and 196 innings. He was 45-45 over those four years. Tantalized the heck out of us, teasing us with a few great starts in a row, then lurching back to mediocrity with a half-dozen excruciating outings. But he took the ball.
And while Mets fans will miss all that made R.A. Dickey such a unique figure on the Mets landscape, an everyman with the charisma and a connection to the fans that was real and rare, Dickey isn’t likely to duplicate the magic of 2012, while Pelfrey is a good bet to at least revert back to the innings-chomping staff horse that the Mets might be lacking in their 2013 rotation.
Who’s it gonna be? Who’ll give the Mets 200 innings and not be subject to the annual Labor Day discussion of being “shut down”? Jon Niese finally made it through September last year. And Matt Harvey certainly has the makeup and the bulldog mentality to be a 200-inning man (after his 4 1/3 innings of no-hit ball against the Tigers Thursday in Port St. Lucie, Harvey said he could have thrown another 50 pitches), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mets treat Harvey the way the Nationals treated Stephen Strasburg last year, whether Harvey wants them to or not.
Johan Santana? You think the Mets will even get 100 innings out of him this year? Or maybe they’ll luck out, and get 50 good innings from him in May and June and be able to package him to a buyer in July.
Shaun Marcum is coming off an injury. So is Dillon Gee, although he threw the ball well in a spring training start last week. Zack Wheeler is being treated with kid gloves for that oblique injury (hey, how come nobody ever got oblique injuries in the 80s? What were they called 25 years ago, before doctors invented the term “oblique” and applied them to so many vague pitching maladies), and he wasn’t going to come North with the Mets in April anyway.
An innings eater would sure be nice to have around. And it says here Mike Pelfrey might be missed just as much in the Mets rotation as R.A. Dickey this season, even if Pelfrey’s run support with the tame Twins isn’t likely to match the robust run backing that R.A. Dickey will get in Toronto.