• What? The Twins considering Mike Pelfrey again?

    When the New York Mets drafted Mike Pelfrey out of Wichita State with the ninth overall pick in 2005, their scouting department was obviously enamored by his big body, big fastball and big projectability. He would develop a breaking ball and become the ace Flushing had not seen in a while.

    Of course, the latter never happened for Pelfrey; instead he struggled to find a semblance of a swing-and-miss pitcher, became the embodied disappointment of Mets fans, had his elbow ligament snap and wound up in Minnesota. Quite the different career path than was envisioned for him eight years ago.

    Now, a free agent coming off a middling season (5-13, 5.19 ERA),
    CBSsports.com’s Jon Heyman, who has a close relationship with agent Scott Boras, reports that the Twins have extended a multi-year offer:

    “They are also known to be a team to have offered Pelfrey a multi-year deal, though the sides are still believed to be apart on the annual salary.”
    So…

    [Slams laptop closed. Goes for a long walk.]

    This is all confusing. The Twins recognize they have a serious problem with their starting rotation - a rotation that has failed to miss bats at a historic rate in the modern era - but continue to pursue the same type of starting pitcher that has created the problem to begin with. As mentioned before, due to his lack of secondary offerings, even a fully healthy Mike Pelfrey fails to miss bats at even the league average rate. Over his career, he has a swinging strike rate of 5.9% while the rest of the game has been closer to 9%.

    I thought we had an understanding here. I thought Jack Goin, the Twins’ manager of Major League Administration and Baseball Research, had sat Terry Ryan down and explained that strikeouts were not only NOT fascist, they were good and that having a lot of them made your starting rotation better. So, why Pelfrey again? The objective should be to look at your 2013 starting rotation real closely then target all the pitchers whose skill sets are the exact opposite.

    Ok, that may be a large overcorrection but, still, why Pelfrey again?

    It is entirely possible that Pelfrey’s agent is using Heyman and the Twins to drum up additional interest in his client. After all, the Twins have not confirmed that there is a two-year offer out to Pelfrey right now. That being said, at the end of last year the Twins coaching staff and Terry Ryan lauded Pelfrey’s second-half improvements. Manager Ron Gardenhire said in September that he believed a lot of Pelfrey’s problems in the later part of the year, such has too many 3-2 counts and long delays between pitches, were easily fixable.

    The Twins said they liked seeing Pelfrey’s velocity increase, which it did from 91.9 in the first-half to 92.7 in the second-half. Gardenhire mentioned specifically that Pelfrey’s secondary pitches improved over the course of the year as his elbow healed, which was true in that opponents had a .700 OPS against his secondary pitches in the first-half while they had a .588 OPS in the second.

    The biggest thing that may be the key as to why the Twins would entertain the notion of bringing Pelfrey back is the huge swing in a statistic that hides behind paywalls called “well-hit average”. This statistic tries to add description to a pitcher’s (or hitter’s) batted balls that goes beyond just the line drive, ground ball and fly ball categories. Video scouts from various companies such as Inside Edge or BIS log whether that ground ball out was smoked to second or a harmless chopper. In theory, when used in conjunction with a regularly distributed stat like batting average on balls in play (BABIP), it should provide insight as to whether a pitcher’s inflated/deflated BABIP was truly unlucky or not.

    In Pelfrey’s case, consider the difference on balls in play between the first half of the year and the second half.

    During the first stretch, Pelfrey was banged around to the tune of .313/.359/.478 over 16 games. According to ESPN’s Stats & Info Department, he carried a well-hit average of .222 -- the highest among all starters with the exception of Joe Blanton (.235). That’s a straight-up beating by hitters. Taking the well-hit average into account, there is no risk of miscategorizing his first-half as “unlucky”.

    Several things played a factor in these results but a recovering rebuilt elbow was likely the most significant hindrance. Admittedly, Pelfrey lacks the necessary secondary offerings to be a truly effective top-of-the-rotation starter, but his strong assortment of fastballs lacked command post-surgery which should be an expected side effect in Tommy John recoveries. So, after 16 starts and a back strain that took him down for two weeks, Pelfrey actually rebounded quite well over the second half. Over his last 13 games, hitters posted a much improved .284/.356/.374 batting line that was built on a well-hit average of .134, one of the league’s best in the latter portion of the season.

    I know. That doesn’t feel right, right? I triple-checked to make sure I had the stats sorted correctly. Did hitters really not hit the ball as well off Pelfrey as they did against such pitching dignitaries as Ricky Nolasco (.137), Hasashi Iwakuma (.140) or Francisco Liriano (.143) in the second-half of the season, as the aforementioned well-hit statistic suggests?

    Several things to mention here:

    (1) Because this statistic resides mainly behind paywalls, the well-hit average has not been vetted thoroughly by sabr-minded people. This means studies have not been conducted to determine how the well-hit average fluctuates from year-to-year. Is Pelfrey’s second-half decrease a true indication that he was pitching better and that this performance will continue?

    (2) Even with the significantly improved well-hit average, the end product was an ugly 1-6 record with a rotund 4.76 ERA and a near .300 batting average in the second-half that contributed to the overall blah year.

    (3) Who knows if the Twins have examined him from this perspective. The organization clearly has access to these reports so they should put this into consideration if thinking about r-signing him. If they have broken it down to this level, I would be more accepting of an eventual Mike Pelfrey re-signing.

    In the end, going through this exercise reassured me that there is some small, faint glimmer of hope that the notion of bringing back Mike Pelfrey is not a completely bonehead move. If he signs for a two-year, $8M per deal similar to the average annual value of Jason Vargas, Pelfrey has proven in the past that he can be a mid-rotation guy (albeit one without the sexy strikeouts) and the second-half numbers could be indications that he will be that again in 2014.

    But that’s it, that’s the ceiling: a mid-rotation guy. The Twins rotation and fans need more than that.
    This article was originally published in blog: What? The Twins considering Mike Pelfrey again? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 62 Comments
    1. Jham's Avatar
      Jham -
      Quote Originally Posted by jorgenswest View Post
      I believe I commented not his here before, but it may be worth saying again.

      Mike Pelfrey had a FIP much better than his ERA. There is a group on pitchers that do that on a consistent basis. One characteristic is that their numbers with runners on base are poorer than with the bases empty. Is this bad luck or a skill? The skill part comes in being able to pitch equally well from the stretch. The ability to hold runners on. The ability to work quickly enough to aid your defense.

      FIP only counts strikeouts and walks. It doesn't care in which situations they come. It doesn't matter to FIP that Pelfrey's k/bb ratio is much poorer with runners on base.

      Kevin Correia is the polar opposite. He actually has done better with runners on base his last two seasons. He is very good at holding runners on. FIP doesn't care about this.

      Maybe it's not a skill. Maybe it's just random. Maybe the only thing pitchers control is strike outs, walks and home runs regardless of game situation. Maybe not.

      If pitching with runners on base is a skill, is it possible that Pelfrey can have the peripherals of a number 3 pitcher without really being one?
      Very well put. Game situation stats have to be the next frontier of sabremetrics. The term "luck" gets thrown out on this blog to explain discrepancies from predicted outcomes far too often in defense of metrics, but truly, game situations matter. Statistics should try to explain variance and limit there effects. Running FIP with runners on, risp, 3rd x through a line up etc. would give a much better read on where and why there may be some deviation from an expected outcome.

      Actually, one of my big problems with Moneyball in general was a lack of situational analysis. (ie stealing/bunting will reduce run totals by season's end, but it may still be your best chance to win a tie game in the 9th?)
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I don't want Pelfrey back but I agree he could bounce back. My biggest hold up is with the report that the money is far apart. You would have to think that he is then looking for what, $6-8 million per year? That's the reported payout for Hughes. It's likely just a tick under what it will take to get Kazmir. Others keep mentioning Baker. Feldman is probably in that neighborhood. I'm not high on Feldman, but I'd much prefer Kazmir/Hughes/Baker, so I'd hope they'd go that route.

      Someone might argue they Twins could get a Kazmir/Hughes AND re-up Pelfrey. I guess you could, but I'm hoping for another legit secondary pitcher and then taking a low-risk/high-reward flier on a Haladay, Santana, Neimann, Floyd or maybe Volquez.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Scott Baker is a much better pitcher than Mike Pelfrey. I don't care if he pitched to guys up, out, down, or whatever... His results are better than Pelfrey, and that's what matters.
      I'm not a Baker fan. One of the most mentally weak players I've ever seen. I'll take pelfrey over him every time. Unfortunately there's no stat that measures mental toughness. Gotta use the eye test for that one.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      I'm not a Baker fan. One of the most mentally weak players I've ever seen. I'll take pelfrey over him every time. Unfortunately there's no stat that measures mental toughness. Gotta use the eye test for that one.
      Funny how he's posted multiple seasons better than anything Pelfrey has done in his career, despite being so mentally weak.

      Baker is a better pitcher. Period. He strikes out more, walks less, gives up fewer runs and hits, and goes deeper into games.

      A healthy Mike Pelfrey is a #4 pitcher, maybe a #3 on a bad team. A healthy Scott Baker is a #3 in an average year, a #2 when he's really rolling.

      I will never understand why Minnesota fans didn't appreciate what they had in Baker.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      I will never understand why Minnesota fans didn't appreciate what they had in Baker.
      Because they're consumed with sports radio talk rather than actual analysis.

      If this team got Hughes and Baker along with Nolasco, I'd be one happy little Twins fan.
    1. iastfan112's Avatar
      iastfan112 -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Because they're consumed with sports radio talk rather than actual analysis.

      If this team got Hughes and Baker along with Nolasco, I'd be one happy little Twins fan.
      Assuming the injuries haven't diminished his stuff I'd love to have Baker back.
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      Not only does Pelfrey have no upside, he's absolutely painful to watch. 30 seconds between pitches and constant finger licking.

      I will most definitely skip every fifth Twins game if he re-signs.
    1. Highabove's Avatar
      Highabove -
      Why would Baker want to come back to the Twins? Both Ryan and Gardinhire made fools out themselves insinuating that Baker was unwilling to play through a little pain.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Because they're consumed with sports radio talk rather than actual analysis.
      I was a die-hard fan until they got swept out of the playoffs again in 2010. I probably missed a handful of Baker's starts his entire Twins career. I'm qualified to make an informed opinion on him. I saw a pitcher who benefited from playing in the weak Central with the unbalanced schedule. I saw a pitcher who cracked any time there was pressure involved. Even 163 against Detroit he pitched well when they were behind until the Twins scored a couple runs. Then Scotty went out for the top of the inning and gave it right back. Baker and pressure were never a good mix.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      Quote Originally Posted by Highabove View Post
      Why would Baker want to come back to the Twins? Both Ryan and Gardinhire made fools out themselves insinuating that Baker was unwilling to play through a little pain.
      Baker cried wolf a few too many times.
    1. ChiTownTwinsFan's Avatar
      ChiTownTwinsFan -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Because they're consumed with sports radio talk rather than actual analysis.

      If this team got Hughes and Baker along with Nolasco, I'd be one happy little Twins fan.
      A happy little Twins fan is much better than a sad panda.

      I'd be happy with this too.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Scott Baker is a good man and a good pitcher. He would be cheaper and likely better than Mike Pelfrey. The Twins soured on him because he refused to pitch like Anderson wanted. His out pitch is a high fastball. Without it, he's a 5 ERA pitcher. With it, he's a 4 ERA pitcher. It seems his pitching coach would rather have a 5 ERA pitcher who keeps the ball down than a 4 ERA pitcher who uses his out pitch. For this reason, I highly doubt he signs with the Twins. And it's probably for the best because I'm eager to see him have a healthy season for a team who appreciates a guy who gets outs however he can.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      I was a die-hard fan until they got swept out of the playoffs again in 2010. I probably missed a handful of Baker's starts his entire Twins career. I'm qualified to make an informed opinion on him. I saw a pitcher who benefited from playing in the weak Central with the unbalanced schedule. I saw a pitcher who cracked any time there was pressure involved. Even 163 against Detroit he pitched well when they were behind until the Twins scored a couple runs. Then Scotty went out for the top of the inning and gave it right back. Baker and pressure were never a good mix.
      Except the stats don't back your opinion. His career splits against the central teams have half of them being below his career ERA (CLE and KCR)and the other two above his career ERA (CHW and DET). The "cracked under pressure" notion is subjective.

      His biggest issue was his inability to stay on the mound due to injury. But when healthy, he was a vastly underrated pitcher by this fanbase.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      I was a die-hard fan until they got swept out of the playoffs again in 2010. I probably missed a handful of Baker's starts his entire Twins career. I'm qualified to make an informed opinion on him. I saw a pitcher who benefited from playing in the weak Central with the unbalanced schedule. I saw a pitcher who cracked any time there was pressure involved. Even 163 against Detroit he pitched well when they were behind until the Twins scored a couple runs. Then Scotty went out for the top of the inning and gave it right back. Baker and pressure were never a good mix.
      As opposed to Mike Pelfrey, who didn't benefit at all from pitching in the national league or Citi Field... And was still worse than Scott Baker in pretty much every way one pitcher can be worse than another.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      I'll admit in 2011 it looked like he had finally completely figured things out, pitching the best baseball of his career, then he tore up his elbow, which inexplicably didnt show up on the mri. If i remember right they didnt find the tear until they cut him open.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      As opposed to Mike Pelfrey, who didn't benefit at all from pitching in the national league or Citi Field... And was still worse than Scott Baker in pretty much every way one pitcher can be worse than another.
      Well we'll see which one pitches better in 2014.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Without Baker, the Twins don't get to game 163 in 2008 or 2009. In terms of WAR, he was the best starting pitcher on those good teams. Over a 5 year period (2007-2011), he average 3.1 WAR per year. That is probably greater than the sum of WAR from the starters in either of the last two years.

      If the Twins believe Mike Pelfrey is capable of being the best pitcher on a good team, they need to sign him soon.

      Note: I used BR WAR figures. His fangraph average for the 5 years is slightly greater.
    1. PseudoSABR's Avatar
      PseudoSABR -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      [Baker] would be cheaper and likely better than Mike Pelfrey.
      I'm not sure we can judge with any kind of confidence what Baker's performance will be, much less, the likelihood of that performance.

      The reason the Twins prefer Pelfrey is that he's been healthy more recently and--arguably--has been more effective than his numbers, and improved as the season wore on. Baker would be fine as a buy low candidate, like Santana or Floyd; but all of those guys have serious questions about how many innings they can actually pitch, and that they woudl pitch what little innings they could any better than Pelfrey is a murky proposition at best.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      Well we'll see which one pitches better in 2014.
      That isn't a fair comparison. Baker is going to be cheaper with higher upside. Hughes should be taken over Pelfrey and Baker should be signed as a cheaper, riskier gamble.

      Pelfrey may indeed pitch better, the problem is will he pitch anywhere close to earning the salary and roster spot, they'll give him. This is a team that should be targeting high ceilings, not high floors.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      I was a die-hard fan until they got swept out of the playoffs again in 2010. I probably missed a handful of Baker's starts his entire Twins career. I'm qualified to make an informed opinion on him. I saw a pitcher who benefited from playing in the weak Central with the unbalanced schedule. I saw a pitcher who cracked any time there was pressure involved. Even 163 against Detroit he pitched well when they were behind until the Twins scored a couple runs. Then Scotty went out for the top of the inning and gave it right back. Baker and pressure were never a good mix.
      If we don't use the eye test but instead use stats, we may question Pelfrey's mental toughness by the 5.59 ERA he had in the first inning last year, his ability to only get ten total outs after the sixth inning last year or the 30 second soap opera that takes place between each of his pitches.

      Those things also show up on the eye test. I doubt Baker is more mentally weak than Pelfrey, but hypothetically if he was, I'd still take the guy who gives up fewer runs, strikes more guys out and goes deeper into games.
©2014 TwinsCentric, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in advertising with Twins Daily? Click here.