Mets should use Dickey, Pelfrey more in Citi

Posted on October 3, 2010 by

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In 2010, the home team in MLB has a .559 winning percentage compared to a .441 mark when on the road.  Through games of Friday the Mets had a .582 winning percentage in home games, an above-average mark and the 12-best in MLB.  On the road, they have a .395 winning percentage, a below-average mark and the 21st-best in the majors.

There are many theories as to why the Mets played better at home.  One thing that is not a theory is the performance of two of their starting pitchers.  Both R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey were world beaters in Citi Field while being much more ordinary in road parks.  Here are their home/road splits this year:

Home

W L ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% FIP xFIP
R.A. Dickey 7 3 2.02 5.38 2.13 0.34 .270 82.8 3.16 3.76
Mike Pelfrey 10 3 2.92 5.23 3.23 0.31 .288 77.8 3.55 4.48

Away

W L ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% FIP xFIP
R.A. Dickey 4 6 3.58 5.32 2.13 0.97 .293 72.6 4.07 3.95
Mike Pelfrey 5 6 4.95 4.61 2.70 0.90 .330 67.7 4.34 4.49

Dickey and Pelfrey combined to go 17-6 in Citi Field, a .739 winning percentage.  But in road games they had a .429 winning percentage.

Winning percentage, while what we are primarily interested in here, is not the best statistic to evaluate pitching performance.  But we have other information to use in the charts above to draw conclusions.

Dickey’s strikeout and walk numbers are almost identical both home and away.  But in road games, he was nearly three times as likely to give up a homer.  Combined with a slightly higher average on balls in play, Dickey ended up allowing 10 percent more of his runners to score away from Citi Field.

Pelfrey had fewer strikeouts and walks in road games.  More batters put the ball in play and his BABIP was 42 points higher away from Citi Field.  And like Dickey, batters hit nearly three times as many homers in road games off Pelfrey compared to home games.  To top it all off, Dickey also stranded 10 percent fewer baserunners in road contests.

Knuckleball pitchers traditionally confound the ERA estimators and xFIP seems to have trouble with Pelfrey, too.  But it is interesting how xFIP is extremely close for Dickey in this split and how it matches Pelfrey almost identically.  And since the main wrinkle with xFIP is normalizing home run rate, let’s take a closer look at home runs allowed.

In 616.1 career IP, Dickey has an 11.8 HR/FB mark, essentially average in the metric.  This year in road games he had an 11.5 percent mark but in Citi Field, it was a paltry 4.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Pelfrey has a 7.3 HR/FB rate in 676 lifetime innings.  This year in Citi Field he did even better than Dickey, as he posted a miniscule 3.4 percent.  Last year in the inaugural season for the Mets’ new park, Pelfrey had a 5.8 HR/FB rate.

Normally, the reaction to splits in such small samples as these would be one of distrust.  But given what we know about Citi Field, which according to ESPN has the lowest HR park factor in the National League this year, perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss the results.

Dickey got a shot in the Mets rotation this year almost out of desperation.  Now he is being counted on as one of the rotation’s mainstays in 2011.  With the injury to Johan Santana, the Mets starting rotation has more question marks than ever.

So, why not try something new?

Why not juggle the rotation to give Dickey as many home starts as possible in 2011?  This year Jerry Manuel altered the rotation to have Dickey start a series, operating under the belief that if opponents saw a knuckleball in Game 1 that it would mess up their timing for the rest of the series.  There’s more evidence that Dickey should be used in home starts than there is that he should pitch the opening game of a series.

Because Dickey throws a knuckleball, he has a better chance than anyone to pull this off, in an era where managers simply do not ask their pitchers to deviate from a five-man rotation.  Older New York baseball fans can tell you how Casey Stengel used to save ace Whitey Ford to pitch in tougher matchups, rather than in a strict four-man rotation.

Let’s use the 2010 Mets schedule for an example of how this could work.

4/5 – H

4/10 – H

4/15 – R

4/19 – H

4/24 – H

4/28 – H

5/3 – R

5/8 – H

5/12 – H

5/17 – R

5/22 – H

5/27 – H

6/4 – H

6/10 – H

6/16 – R

6/22 – H

6/27 – H

7/2 – R

7/6 – H

7/11 – H

This takes it through the All-Star break.  Dickey could have had 15 of his 20 starts at home and only four times pitch on short rest.  Of course, this would necessitate other pitchers going on short (or long) rest, too.

But if the Mets rotation next year has Dickey, Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese and two unknowns or unprovens, would this not be the perfect time to try this?

Right now, no one thinks the Mets are going to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.  If they can maximize the number of times where Dickey can pitch at Citi Field, where he won 70 percent of his decisions (compared to 40 percent on the road), is this not worth at least considering?

If Dickey were able to maintain those percentages from a year ago, as well as maintaining his 2010 pace of getting a decision in 91 percent of home starts and 67 percent of road starts, the home-heavy schedule would result in 11 wins.  But if he kept those percentages and pitched every five days, which using the 2010 schedule would result in 11 home games and 9 road starts, he would have 9 wins.

Two wins may not seem like enough of a payoff to try something unorthodox such as this.  But remember that this is two wins in half a season, and also two wins compared to what our traditional schedule gave with more home starts than road starts for Dickey.  It could easily not be so friendly.  In 2010 Dickey had 11 home starts and 15 road ones.

It is easier to do it with Dickey than Pelfrey, because the knuckleball pitcher should be able to bounce back quicker between starts.  But there would be no reason not to try to get Pelfrey an extra few starts in Citi Field, too.

I understand that this has zero chance of happening.  But it would be nice if during the interview process, they asked perspective managers about the scenario.  Their reaction would give a lot of insight into how they approach the game of baseball, how open they are to different ideas and their willingness to think and act outside the box to maximize wins.

Because the last thing we should want for a new manager is a guy who is going to play everything by the book and show zero creativity in the dugout.  Unless we want a repeat of the Art Howe or Willie Randolph experience.

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Posted in: Perspectives