>In case you missed it, Mike Pelfrey was a guest on “Mets Hot Stove” with Kevin Burkhardt Thursday night. Pelfrey discussed how he lost 20 pounds during the off-season*, how began his throwing program earlier because he felt his seasons had gotten off to slow starts in the past, and how he worked more on his split-fingered changeup, which he now feels he has good control over. To watch the video over at Sny.tv, click here.
*Um – okay. Someone want to explain this one? Did anyone actually think Pelfrey’s problem last year was that he was too hefty? Did you say to yourself at any point last season, “Gosh. Pelfrey wouldn’t have balked there if he wasn’t so portly. The extra gravity from his tremendous pot belly probably carried him off the mound”? Or, “that single wouldn’t have slipped past Luis Castillo’s glove if Big Pelf had just laid off the Baconnaise, and gone with the Baconnaise Lite instead.”
On the list of reasons why Mike Pelfrey failed in 2009, his weight is far, far down the list – Luis Castillo’s weight is much higher on that list than Mike Pelfrey’s weight. The negative effects from the gravitational pull of my body weight is probably higher on the list than Pelfrey’s weight.
Anyway, here’s a transcription of Pelfrey discussing his new split-change, which occurs near the end of the video:
Mike Pelfrey: . . . a pitch that Dan Warthen and I started working on later in the year was the split finger [change-up], to substitute for the [regular] changeup. That was a pitch I really wanted to work on, and that’s a pitch, as of right now, that’s been pretty good in all my bullpens. There was even times back in Wichita where I threw to hitters a couple times. I think that’s going to be a big pitch for me this year, and I feel pretty comfortable with it.
Kevin Burkhardt: It’s a split-fastball, or a split changeup?
Mike Pelfrey: A split changeup.
Kevin Burkhardt: So do you feel more comfortable with that than you do with your curveball?
Mike Pelfrey: I would say yeah. I think being able to command it, which is always good, I’m able to put it pretty much where I want it around the plate, which is huge.
A third pitch would be big for Pelf, because he often relied too heavily on his fastball in 2009. Pelfrey’s entire game plan consisted of pounding the zone with fastballs, and then more fastballs, and then some more fastballs. And basically nothing else (a crummy slider, maybe a curveball for a ball just to see if he could still throw one – take that Rick Peterson!), but his fastball doesn’t induce enough grounders for him to be an elite ground ball pitcher in the mold of a Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe. Pelfrey has a 50.0% ground ball rate for his career, while Hudson sits at 58.6% and Lowe even higher (Lowe-r?) at 63.4%. Big Pelf is fantastic at preventing home runs, though he tends more to get slapped to death when hitters get all over his fastball – if you recall, when things go bad for Pelfrey, it’s never something dramatic like a three-run homer. It’s more often four or five sharp singles, a couple of walks, and maybe the occasional balk or three to break the monotony. A better infield defense would help turn some of those singles into outs, but if his fastball isn’t working, there really isn’t anything else Pelfrey can pull out of his limited bag of tricks – Pelfrey is sort of like my dog. She knows how to stick her paw out for shake when she wants a treat, but that’s really the only trick she’s got. Pelfrey has fastballs and more fastballs, my dog has shake. They both also lick themselves a lot.
So how does the changeup factor in?
If Pelfrey isn’t going to be a double-play churning, hand-licking, crazy-eyed ground ball machine, then he is going to need to strikeout more batters to become an elite pitcher. He struck out batters at a much higher rate in the minor leagues, but he has thus far failed to overpower major league batters in a similar fashion. Not having a secondary pitch will do that. Also, major league hitter are good – better than the ones in the minor leagues. So that doesn’t help either. It’s difficult to strike major leaguers out, more so with just one pitch, unless your name is Mariano Rivera.
A good, or at least a useful changeup, should it allow Pelf to strike out a few more batters, maybe keep them off the fastball, and could help him make the jump to the rotational innings eater* the Mets need.
*He’ll eat the innings despite the diet.
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