It’s hard to ignore the numbers. They are pretty glaring. Overall this year, Minnesota Twins starter Mike Pelfrey is 3-6 with a 6.12 ERA in his first 13 starts. He’s allowing over 1.6 base runners per inning. It has been a tough go. In April, he posted a 7.66 ERA. In May, that number dropped to 5.90. Through two Quality Starts in June, he has posted a 4.05 ERA.

The numbers are bad, but it seemed to me from watching that things weren’t quite as bad as they seemed. For instance, in his final two starts in May, he was good through five innings. On May 26, he had given up just two runs through five innings before giving up three in the sixth giving him a final line of five runs in 5+ innings. On May 31, he threw five shutout innings before giving up three in the sixth.

So, I looked into the Game Log and found that Pelfrey has been victimized by the big inning a lot. So far this season, he has given up five runs in an inning once. He has given up three runs in an inning six times. Five times, he has allowed two runs in an inning (but just one did that happen twice in one game). Combined, that is 33 runs out of the 44 earned runs (and 46 unearned runs) he has allowed. 75% of his runs allowed have come during big innings.

You often hear coaches or announcers say, “The team needs to put up a crooked number.” The goal for a pitcher is to give up no runs in an inning, but it’s not reasonable to expect him to do that all the time. If he can limit a team to just one run, rather than allowing a big inning, it most often won’t hurt too much.

Pelfrey has thrown 64.2 innings this year. He has been removed from the game six times in the middle of an inning. So, he has pitched in a total of 68 innings. 12 of those innings, he gave up more than one run. He has given up exactly one run 11 other times. That means that he has pitched a scoreless inning 45 times. He has given up zero or one run in 56 of those 68 innings in which he has pitched (82.4% of his innings). His ERA in those 56 innings is 1.76. However, he has given up 33 runs in those 12 multi-run innings and that’s how he still has an ERA over six through 13 starts though.

I’m not sitting here pretending that we can just forget about those 12 multi-run innings that Pelfrey (and Twins fans) have endured. He would be the first to tell you that he isn’t happy with his season to this point. But a deeper look tells us what has been the problem for Pelfrey. When he has given up runs, often, he is unable to stop the proverbial bleeding. More often than not (12 to 11), when he’s given up a run, he’s allowed more than a run.

That, in my mind, has been the key to Pelfrey’s early-season struggles. And, if he is able to limit the damage in those big innings, we should see his ERA (and his pitch counts) drop more quickly. 

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