Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Contemplating Mike Pelfrey

Mike Pelfrey in action Tuesday: Six innings,
four earned runs, 87 pitches.
I tried out this jest on a couple of coworkers Tuesday before heading to Target Field for the White Sox-Twins game: Would I consume more Kramarczuk sausages than Mike Pelfrey gave up homers?

The sausages won that battle, two bratwurst to one second-inning long ball.

But my gibe at Pelfrey was a bit misplaced. Pelfrey does have a high ERA (6.11). But his home run count isn't that bad; Conor Gillaspie's shot was only the seventh Pelfrey's surrendered in more than 70 innings. That's half the gopher balls served up by Kevin Correia, and still fewer than the total yielded by Vance Worley.

Brandon Warne, in a piece posted before Tuesday's outing, quoted Pelfrey as saying that had he known how poor the results would be in the early going that he wouldn't have been as insistent on pitching so soon after last year's Tommy John surgery. Pelfrey was pitching in the majors less than 11 months after having a ligament replaced in his throwing elbow, and that's an extremely aggressive timeline.

Warne's piece credits Pelfrey with an FIP — Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that attempts to take defense out of the ERA equation — of 4.20, roughly in line with his career ERA entering the season (4.36). This suggests that, premature return or not, Pelfrey has been better than the sour ERA indicates, and I'll buy that.

What's stood out to me has been the lack of durability within games. Come the fifth or sixth inning, Pelfrey frequently holds the lead, but as he tries to get through the sixth or seventh inning, things go south on him.

This happened Tuesday, when he took the mound for the seventh inning carrying a 5-3 lead only to see the first two batters single. It was a sloppy inning for the Twins all told — Clint Thomas overran the second single for an error, and Casey Fien uncorked a pair of wild pitches — but when it was over, Pelfrey had been charged with a fourth earned run and deprived of a quality start.

Ron Gardenhire actually pulled Pelfrey a bit faster than usual Tuesday — 87 pitches; the previous four starts had been 110, 101, 97 and 112 pitches — but it wasn't quick enough to keep the Sox off the board.

Gardy may be trying to milk more outs from Pelfrey than he's capable of providing at this point, but that's justifiable on two counts. One, Pelfrey has to be extended if he's going to get past this "five and fly" point as he continues his rehab journey; two, every extra out a starter gets is one the bullpen doesn't have to get.

The first point is to Pelfrey's benefit more than the team's. The second is more to the team's benefit than to Pelfrey's.

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