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New York Mets in Mike Pelfrey Purgatory

Frustrating season in Flushing can be summed up in two words: Mike Pelfrey


Mike Pelfrey has been erratic at best -- just like the 2010 Mets themselves.

At 54-54 through Wednesday, I think we can conclusively say that the Mets are average.

By definition, they are neither a winning team nor a losing one. They’re .500, a win away from being in the black, a loss away from being in the red.


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That purgatory, in and of itself, can be more frustrating than writing them off as an abject dud or kicking up our feet and enjoying win after win. They’re not the Orioles and not the Yankees. They’re the Mets, a perfectly OK team.

If I were to assign a win and a loss to each side of the quarter on my iPhone’s Coin Flip app and give it a flick of my thumb, it’d be an exact representation of my odds of seeing a Mets victory or defeat on any given night, at least through Wednesday.

You get the idea.

But what’s especially aggravating is the manner in which they’ve reached this even record — a series of extreme highs and lows.

And no player better embodies this extremism than Mike Pelfrey.

This is the nature of baseball, of course. Players are streaky. A hitter with a .333 career batting average doesn’t go 1-for-3 every night, as we all know. He goes 0-for-4 one night and 3-for-5 the next.

But Pelfrey has been a mystery wrapped in an enigma, in the words of my friend Jiggy, to the extent that he’s gone from potential All-Star and Cy Young Award candidate to utter liability, the guy for whom you pencil in a Mets loss when he’s listed as the probable.

Consider Pelfrey’s first 15 starts, through June 25: He was 10-2 with a 2.71 ERA.

Fans were eager to champion the righty’s long-awaited arrival as legit. He’s homegrown, after all, a former top-10 Draft pick. He’d apparently added a splitter to his repertoire, which, to those who can’t verify such claims, is a perfectly acceptable explanation for an uptick in production. It’s not entirely far-fetched; pitchers add to, subtract from and tweak their pitches.

Then, Pelfrey pitched in Puerto Rico against the Marlins on June 30, and everything went to hell. The Mets were beginning a decline back to Earth, but Pelfrey started crashing and burning. In six starts between that fateful night and July 30, Pelfrey put up these hideous numbers: 0-3, 9.59 ERA, 1.107 OPS against.

The Mets have been writing it off as a so-called dead-arm period. I’m not sure I’m buying that — either you’re hurt or you’re not. I went through a dead-arm period in middle school, when my brother’s friends terrorized me with vicious, bruise-inducing punches to the bicep.

So, who is the real Pelfrey? Is he as good as he looked early in the season, or is he the flop we’ve seen for the past month?

Well, as you might expect, he’s neither as good as he was or as bad as he is. Ray Liotta’s Mr. Jung in Blow seemed to be spot-on with that one. Don’t count on a prolonged stretch of a 2.79 ERA, but a month-long 9.59 isn’t accurate, either.

Pelfrey’s season ERA sits at 4.16, a tick higher than his fielding-independent pitching (FIP) number of 4.03. Which means he’s about where he should be. Moving forward, though, things don’t project to get better. In fact, his expected fielding-independent pitching (xFIP) number is 4.50, indicating a further decline.

The question is, how do we predict the manner in which Pelfrey will turn in that production? As mentioned earlier, a projected 4.50 ERA does not mean Pelfrey will pitch nine innings every game and allow 4.5 runs (which, of course, is not even possible). But more pointedly, will he continue to be as extreme as he has been?

If we had that answer, I wouldn’t be writing this column — I’d be in Vegas, laying huge bets. But the peripherals don’t point toward him pitching any better than his career 4.49 ERA, which is scarily in keeping with the aforementioned 4.50 xFIP.

Pelfrey is billed as a grounder-inducing sinkerballer, which seems to be mostly accurate. He’s 21st in the bigs in total groundouts, and his 1.53 groundball-to-flyball ratio is good although not elite. What hurts him, however, is a 1.54 strikeout-to-walk ratio, meaning he strikes out too few and walks too many.

All of which add up to the earmarks of an average pitcher on an average team, one whose fate for any given start may as well be decided by the flip of a digital coin.

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