Michael Baron: Finding the value in Mike Pelfrey

In 2011, Mike Pelfrey earned $3.9 million and went 7-13 with a 4.74 ERA in 193 2/3 innings.

Despite the poor season and the likelihood he will earn between $5-6 million through arbitration, Andy McCullough of the Star Ledger says Pelfrey will probably be back with the Mets in 2012; and during the September 20 broadcast on SNY, Sandy Alderson said he expects to go into Spring Training with a similar rotation to what the team with last season, citing the need for growth among pitchers such as Pelfrey, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese.

I said last year that Pelfrey was at a crossroads in his career, given he had yet to find any sort of consistency in his five prior seasons as a big leaguer; and so I question his ability to “grow,” as Sandy said he’s looking for him to do. Pelfrey continued to struggle with not just consistency in 2011, but efficiency as well – despite pitching in 193 2/3 innings this past season. One of his biggest problems is, despite his height, he doesn’t have very good downward action on his pitches and, as a result, he does not get many swings and misses. That results in a lot of foul balls, more pitches seen per at bat, and a hurried escalation in his pitch count.

Pelfrey also has yet to develop consistency with any of the pitches he has utilized over the years (he has used a curveball, slider, sinker, and changeup), and so he’s had issues developing his pitching personality as well.

All-in-all, while he has proven to be durable and a guy who can provide innings, the quality of those innings need to improve if he is to survive in the big leagues. And, in looking at his six-year career, there hasn’t been much “growth” from year-to-year, which makes me question his ability to take those important next steps.

It’s not to say Sandy and his group should invest long-term in a starting pitcher, especially of the caliber of a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. But it’s worth exploring alternatives to Pelfrey, at least before they have to make a decision to tender him a contract. If the Mets are to spend upwards of $6 million on a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, I would like them to maximize the value of those dollars, and I’m not sure Pelfrey’s will provide the biggest bang for the buck. Even if he can provide a level of production in between his 2010 and 2011 seasons, is the value of what he can provide equivalent to the value of his expected 2012 salary? It’s hard to embrace his ability to contribute reliability and innings if the value of those innings aren’t particularly high.

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Erik Bedard, Mark Buehrle, Chris Capuano, Bartolo Colon, Jeff Francis, Armando Galarraga, Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Edwin Jackson, Paul Maholm, Jason Marquis, Kevin Millwood, Roy Oswalt, Joel Pineiro, Javier Vazquez, Aaron Harang, and C.J. Wilson are all eligible for free agency this winter.