The Pelfrey Madness Extrapolation

Rob Neyer reacts to David Pinto’s reaction to a Dallas News interview with pitcher C.J. Wilson about the Rangers’ defense.

Wilson says:

Now, it’s like people are really excited to play here, to pitch with Elvis Andrus at shortstop, and Mike Young at third base, and Kinsler at second and Chris Davis at first. For me, that’s a big thing for us, is that our defense is so much better that people are excited to be pitchers now for us.

Pinto says:

Better defense means less frustration for the pitcher and less work as he doesn’t need to get four outs in an inning.

Neyer says:

This leads to an obvious question: Are we undercounting the impact of fielding? …  Brainy sorts have made a great deal of progress in separating pitching and fielding, but it occurs to me that there might still be a great deal of work to be done.

I say: This makes me think about Mike Pelfrey and all his supposed mental issues last season.

We know 2009 was stressful for Big Pelf. He became a father. His ERA swelled. He ran laps around Coors Field.

But perhaps more maddening than all that, he yielded a high rate of groundballs in front of an infield that often included Luis Castillo at second and Alex Cora at short, and, to boot, David Wright having a rough year with the glove at third.

When people argue that Mike Pelfrey’s struggles in 2009 were all mental, I usually counter that he was mostly the victim of that awful defense behind him, since many of his rate stats were similar to those in his breakout 2008 season.

But I rarely consider that we could all be right, and that the crummy defense could have made Pelfrey crazy. I mean, after all, it made me crazy just to watch.

One of the weird tidbits in Pelfrey’s statline from 2009 that often goes unnoticed was that he yielded only nine home runs in his first 24 starts, then nine more in his last seven. Randomness? Could be. Did he tire due to the Verducci effect? Possibly.

Or did he tire of watching grounders dribble by his lead-footed infielders and just start chucking it?

I have no answers, of course. I’m not privy to Mike Pelfrey’s mental state and I probably shouldn’t be speculating about it.

But I suppose, like Neyer and Pinto suggest, it’s important to consider all the various ways defense that might affect a pitcher’s game beyond what could be measured.

4 thoughts on “The Pelfrey Madness Extrapolation

  1. Another explanation, even if he wasn’t driven bat sh*t crazy, he may have tried pitching to less contact/inducing fewer ground balls because he knew they weren’t going to be converted to outs and with such a huge park flyballs/line drives might have actually had a better chance of being fielded. But then of course with Beltran going down and the combination of Sheffield/Murphy in the outfield, and Frenchy’s defensive struggles that wasn’t exactly an A+ strategy either.

  2. Gina said what I was going to say.

    Over those last seven starts, Pelfrey had 5.15 K/9 and 3.30 BB/9. Over his first 24 starts, Pelfrey had 5.25 K/9 and 3.20 BB/9. If anything, that just says fatigue at the end of the season rather than pitching away from contact, though I wouldn’t be surprised if a combination of the two existed.

  3. It has seemed to me that the organization has put a real focus this year on helping the pitchers we already have be all they can be, but have missed the biggest issue of all, the thing that could really help the pitchers. They’ve got their clipboards and their cameras charting everything, and they very much wanted a catcher who was (or had reputation as) a strong handler of pitchers.

    But they just insist on thinking of things in “old” baseball terms — the catcher, the pitcher’s focus — and seem to have an allergy to recognizing the real problem, because that problem is best illustrated with the new-fangled statistics, which they hate. The new-fangled stats being false hustle and all.

    Granted, they thought they’d have Reyes back. But there is no excuse for not moving Castillo to the bench, given what was so cheaply available and that 2nd base fielding is so, so important.

    • I’m not even sure thinking in “old” baseball terms is a valid excuse. The Phillies certainly don’t use baseball stats and they still manage to put together a solid fielding team, same with the tigers. And even one new fangled stat, +/-, comes from a crapton of scouts who literally watch every play. You can probably assess a players/teams defense pretty well without using stats, we just don’t seem to use stats, or scouting, or anything that would make any kind of sense.

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