Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hope Begins in the Dark

Ben Shpigel writes in today's Times about Mike Pelfrey's tribulations and the debate over whether to send Pelfrey down to AAA to do a little more work. He points out that Jorge Sosa and Philip Humber, two guys who struggled mightily all Spring, are both pitching well (3-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA, respectively). I highly recommend reading the whole article: it's thoughtful and very non-knee-jerk in its analysis.

My own knee-jerk reaction is to leave him up and let him take his lumps. I don't think Pelfrey has anything left to work on when it comes to his mechanics or his game plan. What this appears to be, and what Pelfrey himself admits and Ramon Castro and Rick Peterson go along with, is a mental thing; namely, stubbornness:
Pelfrey consistently left his fastball up and over the plate. With the exception of John Mabry’s three-run homer, which capped the Rockies' five-run third, every one of Colorado’s hits off him came on belt-high fastballs.

"I was too stubborn to throw anything else," Pelfrey said. "I just kept throwing them, and they kept hitting them."
This is not a shrinking violet (to invoke a Keith-ism) that we're dealing with here. And in another context, that kind of grim determination and willingness to stick with your best pitch can be exactly what a pitcher needs to grind out a rough start. It seems clear, though, that in this case Pelfrey was overthrowing to power his way out of trouble, and thereby robbing his fastball of exactly what makes it successful: its sink. Obviously Randolph, Peterson, Minaya, et al, know much more about this than the average fan, but it strikes me that the way to teach Pelfrey to cope with that kind of adversity is let him face it and see the results that come from different kinds of reactions. Going down to AAA, where he'll no doubt face hitters who offer somewhat less of a challenge, seems less likely to give Pelfrey the chance to work his way through difficult spots. It might build up his confidence, but it won't let him develop the coping tools he needs.

Two other points Shpigel brings up, both of which I think argue for Pelfrey staying where he is:
  • One, everyone else is pitching well. Maine, Perez, and Hernandez have each had one rough start, but if they each keep up with their more recent paces that gives the Mets, at 13-7, time to let Pelfrey work through his troubles.
  • Two, Maine went through something similar last season, and indeed still says he needs to work on being less reliant on his fastball. Every Mets fan can see the huge strides he's made with his off-speed and breaking pitches and what that's done for him. He's a perfect peer for Pelfrey to learn from.
Looks like Pelfrey is guaranteed one more start, which will be Monday Tuesday versus Florida. That'll be interesting to watch since, for better or worse, the buzz around it will be that he's pitching for his job (at least provided another decision isn't made in the meantime). How he responds to that pressure will demonstrate an awful lot about how he can be expected to handle pressure on the mound as the season progresses.

I love watching Mike Pelfrey pitch when he's right, and I even like that wrong-headed stubbornness. Remember: that could be his biggest asset one day down the line, maybe not to far from now, when he's facing a tight spot and needs to bear down on a tough batter. Does he stick with his best pitch and dammit all? Or does he get scared off of it and toss in a changeup that he hasn't quite put the full force of his conviction behind? I know what I'd want him to do. He's just got to know that throwing it harder doesn't make it work better. Maybe these first few starts have already taught him that.

Pelfrey's Grip on His Rotation Spot Is Becoming Tenuous [New York Times]


Krup said...

is it just me, or does Pelfrey remind you of Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh?

El Guapo said...

LaLoosh was a straight-up fireballer of the Carlos Zambrano/Daniel Cabrera variety. Pelfrey is a sinkerballer. Although in his time of trouble he seemed to thing morphing into LaLooshhood would save him. I guess I see what you're saying: "They ain't seen my heat."

On the other hand, Paul LoDuca reminds me a lot of a shortish, Italian-American Crash Davis.

Krup said...

then who is Annie Savoy? i guess whoever is bedding David Wright...

El Guapo said...

No idea who Annie would be (and please nobody say Anna Benson) but one of LoDuca's 19-year-old MySpace girls would have to be Millie.