The 2012 New York Mets still have a lot of question marks going into the upcoming season. While Jason Bay's hitting, David Wright's trade possibility and the health of Johan Santana are going to be three big topics of discussion throughout the entire season, no other Met is as big of an X-factor to the team's potential success than Mike Pelfrey.
Pelfrey was the Mets' Opening Day starter in 2011 but did not live up to his expectations at all. After going 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA during his career season in 2010, Pelfrey struggled the following year with a 7-13 record and a 4.74 ERA. His other numbers between 2010 and 2011 were not too different, though, with the only exception being the fact that he gave up nine more home runs in 2011.
The 2011 Mets' offense not giving Pelfrey enough run support that year could have affected his record in a significant way, but it was clear that Pelfrey was lacking command more often last year than in 2010.
He has always been a sinkerballer, but in 2011, he began to incorporate more secondary pitches in an attempt to fool opposing hitters more, due to the fact that he is not a high-strikeout pitcher. In fact, Pelfrey at one point was throwing seven different pitches, which is probably too many pitches for a relatively young pitcher like him to be able to master thoroughly. Some pitchers may have been able to do this, but Pelfrey likely is not one of them.
As a result, Pelfrey should go back to his bread-and-butter pitches, which are his sinker and curveball, just so he can feel more confident. Pelfrey as a pitcher is all about his confidence. He may not be the most visibly emotional player on the field and has rarely lost his temper completely, but it has become pretty clear that if he gets in a bad situation and starts giving up a lot of runs and/or allowing many base-runners, he will almost always struggle to get out of trouble.
Also, when Pelfrey's command is not there on a given day, he has often let his frustrations get to his head and cause him to try to do too much to battle out of a situation. The reason why this hasn't worked is because he is not that kind of power pitcher that can use pitches with high velocity to get through difficult innings. He also is not exactly a control pitcher, so the fact that he doesn't have the greatest weapons in the world to trust at any given moment could explain why Pelfrey has lacked confidence at times and has let the difficult innings get to his head.
Hopefully, Pelfrey's biggest goal in 2012 will not be to try and win over 15 games or improve his single-season stats to another level. Instead, what he really needs to find is his own unique identity as a pitcher.
Again, Pelfrey has looked lost at times on the mound and is likely confused as to what kind of pitcher he is. He might even be trying to be both a power and a control pitcher all into one, but this simply will not work for him.
Pelfrey needs to just be who he is as a pitcher and not try to be a Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson at every moment. He is Mike Pelfrey and he needs to discover who he really is as a pitcher. Just because one pitcher is successful in a certain way doesn't mean that any pitcher can achieve similar amounts of success just by following what that one pitcher did. Each pitcher is unique and is gifted in different ways.
If Pelfrey could discover all this within himself, it could make a world of a difference for years to come. He needs to trust his own pitches that he has used for years instead of trying to learn so many new pitches on the go. If he just pitches like himself, the sky is the limit for his potential.
All in all, if Pelfrey really dedicates this season to figuring out his pitching identity, he might be able to get past his mental strength issues over the next few years. This is not an instant process and will take multiple seasons to accomplish.
With the Mets not being under any pressure to succeed whatsoever, this is the perfect time for Pelfrey to look in the mirror and discover who he is as a major league pitcher for a team in the nation's largest city. If he succeeds in doing so and pitches well this year, significant progress will be made, but he will have to pitch well in 2013 as well to see if he truly discovered his pitching identity.
Pitching well in opposite seasons will not be good enough in order to become a solid and reliable starting pitcher. So far, Pelfrey has had success in even-numbered seasons and has struggled in odd-numbered seasons. History thus states that Pelfrey will pitch well in 2012, but again, in order to see if Pelfrey has improved as a pitcher, the next two seasons both need to be successful before one could consider someone like Pelfrey to be an elite pitcher.
With the track record he has had, Pelfrey should have a solid season in 2012, but if that does not end up being the case, the Mets may need to trade or release him to benefit the team going forward. The Mets currently have three great pitching prospects developing in the minor leagues and these next two seasons could make or break Pelfrey's chances of staying with the Mets in the future.