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5th Starter Candidate: Mike Pelfrey

Last week I looked at the Minnesota Twins’ centerfield position and provided several options for what could happen in spring training. One other position that will be up for grabs in spring training is the fifth starter role. Unless there is an injury, we know that Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson and Ricky Nolasco will be in the rotation on Opening Day. However, there are several candidates for the fifth starter job and we’ll take a look at them over the next week, starting with Mike Pelfrey.
Image courtesy of David Richard, USA Today
The Background

Pelfrey is a big, 6-7, 250 pound right-hander. He was the Mets first round draft pick (ninth overall) in the 2005 draft out of Wichita State. The Scott Boras client came to the Twins before the 2013 season on a one-year contract. He had undergone Tommy John surgery in April of 2012 but reports indicated that he would be ready for Opening Day 2013.

Was he ready? Was he healthy? Either way, the numbers were just not good in 2013. He made 29 starts and pitched 152.2 innings, but he went 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP.

For whatever reason, that performance turned into a two-year extension with the Twins last offseason. Unfortunately, it was another rough season for the veteran. He went 0-3 with a 7.99 ERA and a 1.99 WHIP in five starts before being shut down. He clearly wasn’t healthy as he walked 6.8 per nine in that time.

At Twins Fest, he told a handful of writers, “I feel bad, like I’ve taken money from the Twins. It’s been frustrating. You play this game to play, and compete, and be successful and do it well. Obviously that hasn’t happened.”

He spent the entire 2014 season rehabbing. Recently he said, “Rehab kind of stinks, but we got through it. I felt good. I think if the season had gone maybe another week, I probably could have pitched, maybe out of the bullpen or something just to do it.”

The 31-year-old says that he “got a little extra shoulder program that was more maintenance, strengthening stuff.”

For the first time since 2007, he says, Pelfrey will have to compete for a starting job in spring training. Back then, it really wasn’t a competition. “It was El Duque (Orlando Hernandez) or me, and if he was healthy, it was him.”

The Mets handed Pelfrey the job when Hernandez was injured.

Pelfrey is excited to get spring training and this competition underway. “It’s the first time in a while I have to go in and win a job. I have no one to blame but myself. Staying healthy and not performing… That’s on me.”

The Hope

Though he has never been front-end starter, he has a couple of years that were very solid.

In 2008, he went 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP in 200.2 innings. In 2010, he went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP in 204 innings.

Those aren’t great, elite numbers by any means, but if a 2015 Mike Pelfrey can reach 200 innings with a sub-four ERA, Twins fans should be thrilled. That would be terrific for a fifth starter.

The Alternative

Pelfrey understands that there is some quality competition for the fifth starter job.

“There are some young guys with very good arms. Tommy Milone has a pretty good track record too.”

So what if Pelfrey loses the competition for the fifth starter job. Would he be willing to go to the bullpen? “Ultimately, I probably wouldn’t have a choice.”
However, he would embrace it. He understands that it would be an adjustment as he has never really done it before. However, he would see it as another challenge, one he would be up for. “It’s still the same game, it’s pitching.”

However, he isn’t going to go into spring training thinking about a job in the bullpen. “This is the best I’ve felt since before Tommy John surgery. I’m ready to go in and win a job!”

Pelfrey Percentage

So, if I were to venture a guess for the chances that Mike Pelfrey begins the season as the Twins fifth starter job, it isn’t a simple "No" as many may think. Now healthy, he deserves the opportunity to compete for the position. However, despite being owed $5.5 million for 2015, I would put the odds at only about 20%.

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73 Comments

“I feel bad, like I’ve taken money from the Twins. It’s been frustrating. You play this game to play, and compete, and be successful and do it well. Obviously that hasn’t happened.”

 

And it looks like another $5.5 million this year.  At least he is not fooling himself.

    • Danchat likes this

I almost hope big Pelf can win the 5th starter role out of spring training just to see Twins fans' heads explode. 

    • Danchat, Otwins and HitInAPinch like this

"For whatever reason, that performance turned into a two-year extension with the Twins last offseason."

 

To be fair he came back from TJ surgery quicker than anyone in history and started the year with a 7.5 ERA after 5 starts.  Over 11 starts in July and August he had an ERA of about 3.45 and then it was reasonable that fatigue set in over the last month.  I don't know why he isn't more successful. He seems to have pretty good stuff.Command and pace of his pitching are his downfall.Really hope May has a great spring and off to a fast start in April and takes hold of that 5th spot.

I hope the competition is fiercely fought raising everybody's game. Ultimately Pelfrey earns a bullpen job does exceedingly well and we trade him for a fresh live arm.
    • birdwatcher and Eephus like this

I really have no problem with him getting an opportunity. As I wrote, I think his chances at about 20%, and the could be high. But, at the end of the day, I wouldn't be upset if he got the job. He's not old. Getting him to provide some value for the season's first three months might mean they can get a C-prospect back for him in June or July. 

    • birdwatcher likes this
The collective barf in this thread is going to be quite the mess to clean up.

Good luck in the 'pen, Pelf.
    • birdwatcher and Kwak like this

He should make the team if he proves to be one of the best six relievers on the team. 

 

And getting something back for him should not be a factor in whether he plays or not. I have serious doubts of getting anything back, it would be a salary dump, best case.Time to get the kids some innings, both in the rotation and pen.

    • h2oface likes this

Referencing the Thread "Interview with AGM rob Anthony", I concluded that the 5th SP job is Milhone's to lose.Thus, Pelfrey's chance is neglible."Going North" as a relief pitcher?--very high probability.The Twins spent beaucoup for veteran pitchers in an attempt to become competitive--Pelfrey is part of that spending.he will "get a chance" to earn (a little bit) of that largesse spent on him.

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TCisNotaBear
Feb 05 2015 08:46 AM

I hope he wins the job and comes out filthy. If he has a good first half at that price the Twins could flip him for a low B level prospect. He could go on to pitch for a team that has a chance at the playoffs and the Twins could continue to get some future value out of a bad contract offer. 

    • birdwatcher likes this

I'd stick him in the pen ASAP and I suspect that he will be (at least) the set-up guy.

 

Here is the problem with giving him the opportunity to win a starting job:As the starters need to stretch out and pitch longer during Spring, the late inning Relievers need to get accustomed to pitch back to back days during Spring. Those two are different programs.So, if they are going to test him as a starter and he loses the job, the only thing he can do to begin the season is the mop up role.And the more he does that, the less chance he has pitching late innings.

 

Lots of discussion about the Twins' rotation in 2014 and the need for improvement, but arguably the pen was a bigger problem, since the Twins' relievers' FIP was higher than the starters' and ranked worse in the pen rankings than the rotation did in the rotation rankings.And they did zip to address the problem(other than getting rid of Burton.) Pelfrey's stuff will translate well in the pen and the Twins likely need him more in the pen. Have May and Meyer battle for that last rotation spot...

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Halsey Hall
Feb 05 2015 09:03 AM

I think if Gardy and Anderson were still here the decision would already be pre-determined, but maybe not so with Molly and Neil Allen.I'm probably the loner here, but I give Pelf a good shot at making the rotation.I've heard he's topped out at 95 on the gun.He's got the experience, the drive and hunger to be a starter.I just hope they give him a chance. 

    • birdwatcher likes this
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HitInAPinch
Feb 05 2015 09:22 AM

Nice article, although I'm not completely sold on Gibson or Nolasco, either.I'd call this a 3 spot competition.Hughs and Santana get a pass based on contract length and good performances last year. 

 

Recovery from TJ differs a lot amongst pitchers.Maybe this is the year for Pelfry and I hope he makes it.I just don't see him as a bullpen alternative.Nolasco, with his shorter delievery, maybe. 

I'm definitely not one who believes that spring training performance should be a big factor in decision-making, but I don't know how else they settle this. 

    • Brock Beauchamp and birdwatcher like this

I'm definitely not one who believes that spring training performance should be a big factor in decision-making, but I don't know how else they settle this. 

I'm going to guess they'll use whomever they already have slated for the spot.

    • Kwak likes this

I'm going to guess they'll use whomever they already have slated for the spot.

 

My 5th spot projection is May.Meyer starts in the pen.Pelfrey has to earn a spot in the pen.

Pelf strikes me as the perfect candidate for the pen. Good fastball that might tick up a couple notches, unremarkable off speed stuff, decent control and command.
    • nicksaviking likes this

My 5th spot projection is May.Meyer starts in the pen.Pelfrey has to earn a spot in the pen.

seriously doubt Meyer makes the team out of spring training in any capacity.

Getting him to provide some value for the season's first three months might mean they can get a C-prospect back for him in June or July. 

If that's the upside, a prospect with a ceiling of maybe a utility player if he makes it at all, then I'm less enthused about investing any time in Big Pelf that comes at any expense in development of our younger players.Has to be completely garbage time when he's providing us "some value".

    • spycake and Kwak like this
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James Richter
Feb 05 2015 11:56 AM

As we get into spring training, some teams will suddenly find themselves with injured starters. Experienced, relatively low-cost starters will have some appeal, particularly if they're only trying to plug a hole for a few months. Good springs from Pelfrey and Milone could give the Twins some currency in that market. Barring a spring trade, though, I hope to see Pelfrey in the bullpen.

    • birdwatcher likes this

I hope that if Pelf wins the job out of spring it is by a decisive margin. If it's razor thin, we'll be hearing one of two things (if not both) by fans in Twins Territory:

 

1. Pelfrey only won the job because of his big salary and the Twins want to recoup some of their investment.

 

2. The Twins should have gone with the younger options (May or Meyer) since they are the future.

If Pelf can win the setup role in spring training and turn into a Wade Davis, then the Twins would only be paying him $500K more than the ChiSox are paying Duke.  That's the only somewhat twisted, slightly reasonable and rose-colored spin I can put on that contract at this point.

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Brock Beauchamp
Feb 05 2015 12:15 PM

I'm going to guess they'll use whomever they already have slated for the spot.

That's not really fair. Going into last spring, people on this board had convinced themselves that Gibson had zero chance of making the rotation out of ST because the Twins already had "their guy" chosen on March 1.

 

I'm willing to give the Twins the benefit of the doubt here. I hope it's an open competition until mid-March and then they start narrowing it down as we approach April. I just want to see the best guy get the job (though I'm hoping that "best guy" is Trevor May).

    • birdwatcher, 70charger and USNMCPO like this

My 5th spot projection is May.Meyer starts in the pen.Pelfrey has to earn a spot in the pen.

 

That bullpen is crowded after adding Stauffer and Graham, while keeping in mind Pressly as well. I would absolutely like May to be the fifth starter, Milone to be traded, and Meyer to start in the bullpen for awhile. I don't think it will work out that way, though.

Also, if Pelfrey makes the team as anything other than a reliever, I will be shocked. And disgusted. It's unfathomable to me that he is a 20% contender for the fifth spot. I mean, good lord. Even before adding Santana, that seemed ridiculous. Now? Wow. It will be terrible if Pelfrey outperforms May and Milone in ST and the Twins roll with that.

That's not really fair. Going into last spring, people on this board had convinced themselves that Gibson had zero chance of making the rotation out of ST because the Twins already had "their guy" chosen on March 1.

 

I'm willing to give the Twins the benefit of the doubt here. I hope it's an open competition until mid-March and then they start narrowing it down as we approach April. I just want to see the best guy get the job (though I'm hoping that "best guy" is Trevor May).

ah, see, I was pretty convinced Gibson would make the rotation myself.  That wasn't a shocker for me.  But we can look back at the CF competition between Gomez, Span and Pridie.  We can look at the rotation competition that Slowey lost even though he posted the best ST ERA out of all the pitchers who were given spots.  They very likely already have a serious idea who they are going to put in the 5 spot, and I imagine injury is the only thing that stops that.


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