Worry About Pelfrey’s Velocity Drop?

Yesterday, I attempted to argue in simple terms that Mike Pelfrey is a good candidate to bounce back sometime soon — using nothing but strikeouts and ERA, basically. Simple stuff. Reader-person David, in the comments section hereabouts, made a good argument that there are some things to worry about with Pelfrey that go beyond that, and maybe he won’t bounce back. Let me just quote him here:

His GB% and FB velocity have declined. Last year, he admitted to pitching hurt. Pitchers who don’t miss bats tend to fall apart quickly (CM Wang). Freddy Garcia is making 1.5M and he has an identical xFIP to Pelfrey.

Frankly, I think his downside is worse than his upside (3 WAR pitcher) at this point.

Good points. I countered, since we entered the world of advanced metrics, that Pelfrey’s SIERA (allegedly the most accurate future-ERA predictor) is a career low this season, and his fastball velocity declined from 2009 to 2010 and Pelfrey pitched better in 2010 anyway.

But that’s not really the point of this post. The point is that this got me thinking about fastball velocity, specifically declines in fastball velocity and how they affect pitchers. In 2010, Mike Pelfrey’s fastball averaged 92 MPH; this season it’s down to 91.5 MPH. Breaking it down further, his four seam fastball has dropped from 92.0 MPH to 91.4 MPH, while his two seamer has fallen from 91.7 MPH to 91.4 MPH. So he’s looking at a drop in 0.6 MPH on one pitch and a drop of 0.3 MPH on another. For the sake of this argument, we’ll assume that these declines are actually happening, and it’s not just pitch f/x registering his slower, not-sinking sinkers as four seamers (which I think has happened sometimes) or some other mishap on occasion this season.

I don’t know what a drop in velocity means, but thankfully, someone has already looked into this stuff. Last year, Mike Fast wrote an excellent piece for the Hardball Times about declines and increases in fastball velocity. You should check it out, but to quote a small part of Fast’s conclusion:

. . . a starter’s run average would increase by about 0.25 for every mph lost off his fastball, and 0.45 per mph for a reliever.

Pelfrey has lost less than a full MPH off his fastball, and let’s just go with the 0.6 MPH figure that’s fallen off his four seamer. Going with one MPH equals 0.25 runs per nine inning, that figure works out to a 0.15 rise in Pelfrey’s run average per nine innings, which should be a little less than 0.14 rise in his ERA. A 0.15 rise in his run average, over 200 innings, works out to three extra runs. Even if you figure a slight decline in fastball velocity affects Pelfrey twice as much as a normal pitcher, that’s just six runs over 200 innings, and his ERA should only rise 0.28 runs. Pelfrey’s ERA is a full run higher this season than last season.

Rhetorical question time: Does fastball velocity matter? Of course. Are declines in fastball velocity good signs? No. But I don’t see how a 0.6 MPH decline in Pelfrey’s fastball velocity explains much. Jered Weaver’s velocity has dropped 0.4 MPH this season; his ERA is a full run lower. CC Sabathia’s fastball velocity is down 0.8 MPH since 2009, and he’s having arguably the best season of his career. I see how a drop in velocity probably explains some of Pelfrey’s struggles this season, but it’s not as worrisome as his inability to get good sink on his two seamer:

Where Pelfrey threw his sinker to righthanded batters, 2010 (catcher’s view):

Where he has thrown his sinker to righthanded batters, 2011(catcher’s view):

Red is where a lot of pitches go, blue is where fewer go. I’m going to assume that low and inside is the happy area, and square in the middle of the plate is bad. Pelfrey has a lot of sinkers in the middle of the plate both seasons, but almost no low and inside pitches this season, which explains the home runs, the low GB%, ect. His sinker just isn’t sinking, and that’s the biggest part of his struggle. Fastball velocity matters for Pelfrey, but I don’t think anywhere near as much as movement — and it’s not like he’s lost four MPH or three MPH or even one MPH. He’s lost 0.6 MPH. It’s all about the sink, and I think he’ll figure it out and pitch better.

13 Comments

Filed under Mets, Words

13 responses to “Worry About Pelfrey’s Velocity Drop?

  1. If anything, the fact that “his sinker just isn’t sinking” is even more alarming for a pitcher of Pelfrey’s type and dovetails nicely into my point…

    The loss in velocity doesn’t just hurt his effectiveness, it’s a red flag and a rather significant one IMO. By the decline of his “stuff”, it would look to us that Pelfrey hasn’t recovered from whatever shoulder trouble he evinced in May 2010. The fact that this “may” still be an issue 14 months later is a rather alarming possibility.

    Though I wouldn’t necessarily cry if they kept him at 6M next year (the Mets have bupkis for rotation depth), I would really hate to be the one putting money on a bounce-back. Pelfrey is a different pitcher right now than he was a number of a years ago, so you can’t expect the results to follow in the same manner.

  2. I’ve done zero research on this, but perhaps the earlier drop in velocity didnt hurt Pelfrey’s performance because it was still high enough to be effective. But what if this previous drop in velocity now puts Pelfrey below a threshold where he can no longer be effective with the “stuff” with which he throws?

  3. “Okay, maybe he’s hurt, but if he got hurt last season continuing into this season, why didn’t his stuff decline then? Why did his sinker suddenly stop sinking this season, a full year later?”

    Excellent points all. The answer is nobody but the Mets knows what’s going on. The point is Pelfrey is a different (worse) pitcher this year than he was last year and that’s not a good sign. He might’ve altered his mechanics to be able to pitch without pain. Heck, he might not even be hurt.

    Player X
    2007-90.5
    2008-91.2
    2009-90.0
    2010-88.0

    Can you guess who that is? Just because Pelfrey hasn’t lost 3 MPH doesn’t mean he isn’t in the midst of an irrevocable decline. The Mets will be operating with a budget between 100-120M next year. They can’t afford to take unnecessary risks with mediocrities.

    I think we can agree to disagree on this topic, no?

    • Patrick Flood

      I’m not looking it up, because I like guessing . . . John Maine?

      Yeah, agree to disagree. This was pretty civil for the internet, no? If they had better pitching depth, nontendering him would make more sense. But otherwise it’s Niese, Dickey, Gee, and whatever happens to be left of Santana for next year, and that doesn’t sound so hot.

      • Player X is Ollie (though John Maine’s decline was similarly gradual until it all fell apart).

        “But otherwise it’s Niese, Dickey, Gee, and whatever happens to be left of Santana for next year, and that doesn’t sound so hot.”

        Sure. We definitely agree that the Mets have no rotation depth, though I believe Sandy and friends could find a pitcher just as good as Pelfrey at a fraction of the cost.

        “This was pretty civil for the internet, no?”
        Is anyone (rational) really going to get that hot and bothered over Mike Pelfrey?

  4. Velocity drop has been Pelfrey’s problem for more tha just a year. In the minors and in his first or second year, he was consistently around 95. In the last 2 or 3, hardly ever. The rest is just conversation. Overall, it’s much more than the .5 MPH discussed in this post. Like with most pitchers, a significant drop of velocity equals a significant drop in effectiveness or potental.

    This is the case with Pelfrey. His ceiling has dropped considerably. I don’t see him as a keeper at this point. On to the next.

  5. He was pitching consistently from 93-95 mph his last start.

  6. The thing that consistently bothers me about Pelfrey isn’t his contribution, compared to his price (i.e. his value). 200 luck-driven inconsistent innings leading to mediocre results is probably worth the $4 million he’s getting paid.

    My problem is that I don’t think Pelfrey is good enough to be a contributing starting pitcher on a team that can compete in the NL East, in large part because he’s so volatile. A pitcher who will pitch 198 innings in 33 starts by going 6 IP and giving up 3 runs per start (ERA 4.50) has *much* more value than a pitcher who throws 192 innings by going 16 starts of 7 IP at 1 run/start and 16 starts of 5 IP and 5 runs/start (ERA 4.50).

    Mr. Consistent gives the team a good chance at winning every start, but Mr. Inconsistent gives the team, say 14 guaranteed wins and a very low chance of anything better. Mr. Inconsistent will probably have the same personal numbers — including on the advanced stats, like xFIP and WAR — but will have much less value to a team because of the low ceiling of *team* wins he can help provide.

    Mike Pelfrey may be a highly consistent ‘true talent’ of 4.50 xFIP. But his very inconsistency in actual results makes him much less valuable than the numbers would otherwise suggest. I would make him the Darren Oliver/Pat Misch-like ’6th starter’ and try to get him 100 low-leverage IP out of the bullpen and the occasional spot start.

    If sucker GM can be convinced to value him as a legitimate starting pitcher — and will compensate the Mets accordingly — I’d trade him and look for higher-risk/higher-reward alternatives (e.g. Schwinden, Capuano, Young, Heilman).

    • Patrick Flood

      I see what you’re getting at, but I don’t know if that’s true. My guess would be that someone who goes seven innings, one run in half his starts and then five innings, five runs in his other starts might be just as effective as Mr. six innings, three runs. If your team scores exactly four runs every night, then it’s obviously Mr. Consistent you want, but offenses don’t score the same number of runs every game. They score two runs one night, seven the next, then none, then five.

      I know that a pitcher who gives up 20 runs in one start and one run in all his other starts is better than someone with the same ERA who distributes those same runs evenly. So an inconsistent pitcher like that is better than a more consistent one, and I assume that remains true to a point. I don’t know where that tipping point is though, maybe Pelfrey’s found it.

      Baseball-Prospectus has support neutral winning percentage, which is what it sounds like and would be useful for this. But I think they’ve changed how they calculate it, and they’ve just made their statistics impossible to navigate.

      I do agree that they should trade him if someone values him as a for-real pitcher. My original point was that it’d be more likely to happen when he’s pitching better, and he’s eventually going to start pitching better.

      • I certainly agree that if the uncompromisable goal is to trade Pelfrey, now is not the time to do it.

        I didn’t realize that someone had come up with a statistic to measure the differences in value (if any) of consistent mediocre pitching versus supberb-and-awful pitching; if you wind up finding a good explanation of it somewhere, I’d like to take a look at it.

      • Patrick Flood

        *Googles for a minute*

        Okay, yeah, here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/statistics/snwl/snwlart/

        Under the part labeled “Value of ‘flaky’ and ‘steady’ pitchers,” it says, “run-prevention stats such as ERA and APR tend to undervalue flaky pitchers, and overvalue consistent ones, at least when you consider them pitching for an average team.”

  7. Patrick Flood

    Also, just to frame the discussion here, if you take Pelfrey’s awful April out of the equation, he has a 3.81 ERA this season. Arbitrary end points and all that, but still. He does have a 3.81 ERA in May, June, and July.

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