The numbers don’t lie. Statistically, Mike Pelfrey -whom I had considered to be the most overrated National League pitcher in my April 4 preview- has been among the best in all of baseball. To date, he has won nine of ten decisions, with one save (the 20-inning affair in St. Louis on April 17). The nine wins are not a fluke; Pelfrey’s earned run average is a stellar 2.39.
Yet, even on the verge of his first All-Star appearance, he is still not the ace of the New York Mets’ staff.
W L ERA G GS CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO
Pelfrey 9 1 2.39 14 13 0 0 1 86.2 75 23 23 3 31 59
Santana 5 3 3.13 14 14 0 0 0 92.0 81 33 32 7 30 59
That doesn’t mean Pelfrey won’t be that pitcher at some point in the immediate future. He has pitched well enough to keep the Mets (36-28, ½ game behind the Atlanta Braves) in the hunt, and just may be leading the charge if September should matter at Citi Field.
On the vast majority of major league teams, Pelfrey would be that player. But these Mets happen to feature Johan Santana, who -after beating the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday- is now the best 5-3 pitcher in pro ball. Of course, had the offense not taken a mid-season sabbatical, the Venezuelan left-hander might have won another five games. Santana has started 14 games, and allowed two runs or fewer nine times.
Still, on five occasions -including last night- he has yielded four runs or more; Santana only prospered in Cleveland –his first win since May 23- because the Mets’ five-run fifth inning provided a marginal cushion. As a result, Jerry Manuel didn’t remove him until the end of seven, with the Mets ahead, 7-4.
This was Santana’s third consecutive start with more walks than strikeouts, and he has already surrendered four more homers than Pelfrey in six fewer innings. In other words, if that 11-5 loss in Philadelphia on May 2 (ten earned runs on eight hits, including four home runs) wasn’t such an albatross…
There have been whispers about his once golden arm. Last August, Santana required arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips in his left elbow. The procedure effectively sidelined him until this spring.
If there were lingering effects, Santana would’ve already missed a start or two. And, he wouldn’t have been able to consistently reach the magical 100-pitch count. Only three times has the lefty failed to do so in 2010, and twice he was blown out. On May 13, Santana was already into the seventh inning when he fired his 98th pitch at the Marlins. Innings haven’t been an issue, either; in each of his last eight starts, Santana has lasted into the seventh.
Thus, while it is easy to speculate that his on-field issues (and 5-3 record) might be the product of a degenerative elbow, Santana has generally received poor run production.
In seven of the 14 starts, the Mets have scored two runs or fewer. Between May 13 and June 2, he started five times, allowed three runs and won just once. Santana tossed shutout ball over 15 innings, spanning consecutive games (May 28 at Milwaukee and June 2 at San Diego) and received two no-decisions for his efforts.
And, so it goes.
If Santana pitches poorly, the skeptics will hint that there is something physically wrong. If he pitches well, an inept offense will invariably deprive him.
But, make no mistake. While Pelfrey has been the wild card on this fragmented staff, it is Santana who is still the ace.