On April 7, 2009, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated put Mike Pelfrey in his cross-hairs.
He singled out Pelfrey for a potential drop-off in performance based on something that has become known as, "The Verducci Effect."
Mike Pelfrey was ready for me in the Mets spring training clubhouse, as if he knew I was coming.Verducci "red-flagged" 10 pitchers for 2009, and looking at the numbers, his theory can certainly be called accurate, or at least another data point for mapping out a program for young pitcher development.
"Look at me," the Mets right-hander said one day last month. "I'm a pretty big guy." Yes, sir. Pelfrey is 6-foot-7. Thankfully, he is a rather pleasant, mild-mannered guy.
I didn't feel threatened, but my theory about young pitchers getting overworked was precisely in Pelfrey's crosshairs. Pelfrey was familiar with my rule of thumb that pitchers 25 and under are at risk of injury or significant regression in the year after their clubs boost their workload by 30 or more innings.
The Mets pushed Pelfrey, then 24, 48 innings beyond his previous professional high in innings pitched last year. The club preferred not to do it. In fact, the Mets had mapped out a plan to get Pelfrey about 180 innings last year, but injuries on their staff and a tight pennant race forced the Mets to keep running him out there, rolling the odometer on his innings up to 200 2/3.
Here are the pitchers he flagged and their ERA increase from 2008 to 2009:
1. Jon Lester Red Sox: +0.39
2. Cole Hamels Phillies: +1.43
3. Chad Billingsley Dodgers: +0.69
4. Tim Lincecum Giants: -0.29
5. Clayton Kershaw Dodgers: -1.30
6. Dana Eveland A's: +3.66
7. Mike Pelfrey Mets: +1.08
8. John Danks White Sox: +0.50
9. Jair Jurrjens Braves: -0.77
10. Jonathan Niese Mets: Injured
So looking at that list, he was right on 6 of the 9 pitchers (Niese's unfortunate non-pitching injury takes him out of this equation).
Lincecum, Jurrjens and Kershaw are three that have improved since last year, but what of Pelfrey, or Cole Hamels for that matter?
In 2008 Pelfrey had an ERA+ of 113, compared to an ERA+ of 88 in 2009.
He is walking 3.4 per 9 innings vice 2.9 in 2008.
His K/9 is up slightly, however his K/BB is worse.
More troubling are his ERA numbers by month:
4.43, 5.35, 3.52, 2.70, 2.93, 4.06
Compared to 2009:
6.32, 2.92, 6.39, 4.84, 5.10.
It's as if we've been playing, "Where in the world is Mike Pelfrey?" all year long.
Now I won't go as far as saying his jump in innings from 2007 to 2008 is the cause of all of this, but it certainly does make you stop and think.
I only hope that over Pelfrey's final 6 or so starts in 2009 that he finds something to build on going forward.
One thing is for certain, he won't match his 200+ innings total from last year, and that might just be the right approach for the rest of the year--caution. He threw 118 pitches in his last outing, and that, in my opinion, is unnecessary right now.