NY Sports Dog: The Myth of Mike Pelfrey's Sinker

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Myth of Mike Pelfrey's Sinker

From my friend and NY Sports Dog Contributor Andy the Lawyer...

Mike Pelfrey had his most effective outing of the spring today, pitching 4 innings and giving up 4 hits and no runs. Notably, however, his groundout to flyout ratio was 3-7, meaning that he really wasn't inducing groundball outs. For several years, the Mets pitching coaches have talked about Pelfrey as though he could be a poor-man's Brandon Webb, inducing groundouts and doubleplays and being effective despite not having great strikeout numbers. But is that really who Mike Pelfrey is?

His numbers do not suggest that he's really a sinkerball pitcher. While his ratios are slightly more groundball oriented than the average major leaguer, they are nowhere near what you see in guys who can "pitch to contact" and induce a lot of ground ball outs. For comparison's sake, here are Mike Pelfrey's career ratio numbers (Groundball/Flyballs and Groundouts/Airouts) compared to Brandon Webb (probably the most prominent sinkerball pitcher in the game), Derek Lowe (a very good front rotation sinkerball pitcher), Aaron Cook (a decent sinkerballer), and the league average:

Pelfrey (career)
GB/FB 1.01 GO/AO 1.43

Webb (career)
GB/FB 1.82 GO/AO 2.91

Lowe (career)
GB/FB 1.69 GO/AO 2.69

Aaron Cook (career)
GB/FB 1.36 GO/AO 2.21

League Average
GB/FB 0.78 GO/AO 1.06

Pelfrey's number aren't terrible, but they are hardly indicative of a guy who can make a living pitching to contact. Pelfrey is only about 20% more likely to induce a ground ball than the average MLB pitcher. That's not a true "sinkerballer" - at least its not a portrait of a guy who can not strike anyone out but still be effective.

Maybe Pelfrey can improve in this regard, but I just don't see it. The real sinkerballers almost have a downward break on their ball - not quite a splitter movement but something close to it. Pelfrey's fastball is straight - it has a slight downward movement because he's tall, but hardly enough that it prevents batters from putting it in the air.

If Pelfrey is going to be a front of the rotation starter, he is going to need to improve his K rates and lower his walks - in short, get an "out pitch" (perhaps his new splitter will be that pitch) and improve his control. It is NOT going to be because he pitches to contact, as its very unlikely that we will see a major jump in his groundball/flyball ratios. Maybe he is doing that this spring - he notably issued no walks and struck out two in his 4 innings of work today. Certainly the Mets rotation needs him to be a #2 or #3 starter to make a playoff run this season.

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