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  • Finding Positives in Pelfrey

    On Saturday, the news we've been expecting for weeks finally arrived: the Twins have agreed to terms with Mike Pelfrey on a two-year contract. Ever since it was initially reported back in November that Minnesota had made a multi-year bid for the right-hander, there has been little question that a reunion was in store because, frankly, it seemed unlikely any other team would match.

    The move has been met with criticism from many fans and analysts, which is unsurprising considering that Pelfrey pitched quite poorly in his first year with the club. I expected to experience that same feeling of antipathy when the signing was inevitably announced. And yet... I am not.

    To be clear, I'm not a big fan of Pelfrey. Watching him pitch is a grind because he works slowly and uses tons of pitches. For the game-watching fan, he's kind of a drag. But that's secondary to the results he achieves.

    Those haven't been good either, of course, at least not since he put up a 3.66 ERA over 204 innings back in 2010. I didn't like the contract given to Pelfrey last year because I saw little upside in a one-year deal for a guy who wasn't great to begin with and was only 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery. The best-case scenario was that Pelf would get off to a rough start and come around during the latter part of the season boosting his own value going forward.

    That did happen, to some extent. The righty endured a miserable first two months, getting tagged for a 6.66 ERA and .907 OPS while completing six innings just twice in 11 starts. But he looked noticeably better from May through September, turning in a 4.44 ERA while allowing only seven homers in 101 innings.

    The overall numbers are far from dazzling, but that's why Pelfrey was available at such a low price. And at that price ($11 million plus incentives over two years), he stands a good chance of being a solid value for the back end of the rotation.

    Here are a couple key things to keep in mind: He revved his fastball back up to the mid-90s in 2013 despite being less than a year removed from elbow surgery, and on the season he posted a career-high 6.0 K/9 rate (including 6.7 in the final four months).

    Anyone who had become entangled in thoughts of a top-flight talent like Matt Garza is surely disappointed, but in my mind those reports were never realistic. The Twins weren't going to sign another pitcher to a four/five-year deal worth potentially upwards of $75 million after already committing that amount to a pair of hurlers in November. Those printed rumors struck me as a classic example of media being leveraged in negotiations -- either by the Twins (trying to motivate Pelfrey to sign) or by Garza's agent (trying to drum up the market).

    Once Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were on board, I sincerely doubt Terry Ryan was ever truly interested in adding Garza, or Masahiro Tanaka, or even Bronson Arroyo (who, at 36, simply doesn't fit as well with the organization's contention timeline as Pelfrey, who is still 29). Not at the prices they are going to eventually command.

    In all likelihood, the Twins are now done shopping for starting pitching. No one is going to look at their rotation -- which will include Nolasco, Hughes, Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and one returning arm -- and be blown away, but this group is a far more stable one than we've seen the past few years. The first four names are all experienced hurlers who made at least 29 starts in the majors last year. Leaving only one spot open puts the Twins in a position where they can pick the best of their internal candidates rather than counting on total question marks to fill multiple holes.

    I know it's hard to get excited about Pelfrey based on what we've seen. But it's important to view him for what he is: an inexpensive back-end piece whose contract won't constrict the Twins much in terms of years or money. And while last year's deal carried little upside, there's more to be found in this one.

    If Pelf can build on the things he did in the second half of 2013, he could turn out to be a pretty damn good value at around $7 million per year in his age 30 and 31 seasons.
    This article was originally published in blog: Finding Positives in Pelfrey started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 81 Comments
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Good job Nick!
    1. DomeDog's Avatar
      DomeDog -
      Agreed. As a savior of the Twins pitching staff, as in 2013, I don't like Pelfrey. As a back of the rotation guy, he's a nice fit and I feel good about it.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      If you had told me before the off-season started that they would sign Nolasco, Hughes and Pelfrey, I think I would have been satisfied so I'm not going to complain much now.

      Just enjoy those catnaps while he pitches. Yawn.
    1. Otwins's Avatar
      Otwins -
      I am glad that we signed Pelfrey. I would rather watch him pitch than Pedro Hernandez, Cole DeVries, Liam Hendricks, Vance Worley, Andrew Albers, Scott Diamond etc. Should be better this year plus he is not signed for much more than bullpen set-up money. There should be money left to add a catcher and a bat. If there is any threat of rain and he gets behind early I just hope Gardy leaves him in.
    1. shs_59's Avatar
      shs_59 -
      meh.

      I wonder if Pelfrey had any other ACTUAL offers on the table.

      I know for fact, there were other teams in contact with him.

      But I"m willing to venture that he didn't have any other actual offers out there, Thats the Boras magical wand wavering over our FO heads'.

      UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH MEH
      i'm just about ready to watch every 4/5 games for the upcoming yr. on the games the big "pelf" doesn't start in.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Well, the Twins are all about loyalty and Pelfrey said he wanted to return. It's not there he had to fight through others to talk to Ryan. Sure hope Pelfrey uses more off-speed pitches from now on.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      Signing Mike Pelfrey in the 2013-14 offseason feels a lot like signing Kevin Correia in the 2012-13 offseason. Two years and roughly 10-11 million dollars. I hated the Correia signing, and I was wrong. I'm oddly content with the Pelfrey signing. I think he's got more upside, he's known in the organization--compared to Correia a year ago--and he wants to be here.

      I think Twins fans expected the front office to go out and get top of the rotation pitchers in free agency. Terry Ryan did that last year, in going after Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Kohl Stewart. Add Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios, and you see the potential for mid-to-top of the rotation arms emerging in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. Until then, the Twins are positioned to keep and hold back-of-the-rotation workhorses that pitch 200 innings, hold serve with .500 records, and stabilize a pitching staff. Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, and Kevin Pelfrey are all of that, and then some. They have the potential to surprise us with a sub 4 ERA, or a 17 win season. Correia? Not so much...

      I'm okay with this, even though I will be bringing my sundial to the ballpark, to clock Pelfrey as he walks around the mound between pitches.

      All the same, thanks Nick, for encouraging us to Find Positives in Pelfrey.
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      I didn't like last year’s signing because there wasn't a 2nd year added on, he rehabbed on the Twins dime with no further commitment. Now he'll be another innings eater, hopefully keeping the Twins close so the bullpen can take over.

      As far as the slow pitching pace, the Twins knew what they're getting themselves into; they wouldn't have signed him if they weren't ready to live with it. Don’t you think that was part of the discussion during the contract negotiations?? Hopefully Gardy and Rick Anderson can convince him that he can be more effective pitching faster.

      Since I mostly listen to the games the slow pace doesn't matter to me. In fact I think that baseball (and football) are too slow paced to devote 3+ hours too, they're fine if they're playing in the background. When Johan was pitching I always made a point of listening to the Twins, if people don’t like the pace of Pelfrey’s games, don’t watch that game.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Well said, Nick. I'm not a fan of watching Pelfrey pitch. In a word, I hate watching him pitch. It's not only the speed he moves between pitches... It's how many pitches he throws in six innings. Combine those two things and he's an irritating guy to watch.

      But overall, this is a good move to fill the back of the rotation. Is it possible the Twins could get similar results from Worley or Diamond? Sure, it's possible... but last year they took that approach and the rotation collapsed for the third consecutive season.

      This is a good, cheap signing that won't put dreams of pennants in any fan's head but it's the type of move that makes the team better over a 162 game season and doesn't lock them into big money and years for a guy like Garza.

      If the Twins need a Matt Garza next offseason, they can go get that guy... But the way this rotation might shake out this season, they might need an OF or SS more than another starting pitcher.

      Which is why I believe in incremental FA signings in the first place.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      To me, this is a decent gamble. The Twins want to pay for last year's performance and get something substantially better. His arm should be better overall two years removed from TJ, but he will suffer from dead arm here and there, as is typical after such a big innings jump. I expect the deal to really pay off in the second year, when he won't have any lingering effects of TJ or the hole in his innings history it caused.

      He had no right to be pitching in major league games so soon after TJ surgery, and his results make that plain. When his arm was ready, he was pretty good. I guess if they had kept him out on rehab those two months, his price this year would have been too high. So his horrible first two months in 2013 is a blessing in disguise in 2014-15.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Uh, yes, they need an OF/DH a lot more than another number 5 starter, but what is done is done. Lots of 5-3 games in their future, imo.

      The fact you have to write an article titled this, kind of shows what he's really worth, doesn't it?
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      To me, this is a decent gamble. The Twins want to pay for last year's performance and get something substantially better. His arm should be better overall two years removed from TJ, but he will suffer from dead arm here and there, as is typical after such a big innings jump. I expect the deal to really pay off in the second year, when he won't have any lingering effects of TJ or the hole in his innings history it caused.

      He had no right to be pitching in major league games so soon after TJ surgery, and his results make that plain. When his arm was ready, he was pretty good. I guess if they had kept him out on rehab those two months, his price this year would have been too high. So his horrible first two months in 2013 is a blessing in disguise in 2014-15.
      Calling this a decent gamble and the other story with the headline "betting against the house" has made me think about the risks/reward here. My conclusion is the Twins negotiated a really bad deal. You make a bet when the odds are in your favor, or when the potential payoff warrants the risks. What is the payoff here? I would argue the range of outcomes are somewhere between his floor (last years 5.20 ERA) and his ceiling is probably around his career mark of 4.50. I get that he had two years in the 3.60-3.70 range, but that was three and five years ago, in the NL, and pre TJ.

      So the best case is he is a #4 or #5 starter and the worst case is he is our 7th or 8th best pitcher. If he hits his incentives which are likely based on innings alone, we will pay him $14.5M over two years. So we either pay a 4/5 starter 4/5 starter money or we pay a terrible pitcher $11M and either cut him or trade him and eat salary.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Nice analysis tobi.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Calling this a decent gamble and the other story with the headline "betting against the house" has made me think about the risks/reward here. My conclusion is the Twins negotiated a really bad deal. You make a bet when the odds are in your favor, or when the potential payoff warrants the risks. What is the payoff here? I would argue the range of outcomes are somewhere between his floor (last years 5.20 ERA) and his ceiling is probably around his career mark of 4.50. I get that he had two years in the 3.60-3.70 range, but that was three and five years ago, in the NL, and pre TJ.

      So the best case is he is a #4 or #5 starter and the worst case is he is our 7th or 8th best pitcher. If he hits his incentives which are likely based on innings alone, we will pay him $14.5M over two years. So we either pay a 4/5 starter 4/5 starter money or we pay a terrible pitcher $11M and either cut him or trade him and eat salary.
      Your floor is about right. Your ceiling is way too low. Pelfrey's ceiling is probably around a 4.00 ERA for a season, as evidenced by his peak July/August months where he posted an ERA of ~3.5 (fueled by an unsustainably low BABIP so I'm tacking a half run back onto those numbers) while posting a career high K/9 (don't like using K/9 but FG is being a pain this morning). A little better than league average. One year post-TJ is probably a boon for him, not something to be used to lower his ceiling.

      Pelfrey lives on a flat fastball. Guys coming off TJS often throw harder than ever for a season or two... An extra 1-2mph on Pelfrey's flat fastball will only help him, not hurt. The downside of TJS is that guys often struggle with their "feel" pitches, mostly breaking balls. Well, Pelfrey doesn't rely on feel pitches.

      Still not good but easily worth $5.5m a season, just like Kevin Correia in 2013.

      Given Pelfrey's makeup, he's also a strong candidate for the bullpen, something everyone seems to be ignoring. He's basically LaTroy Hawkins.
    1. mcrow's Avatar
      mcrow -
      I'm not sure why there has been all the hate about resigning him. The guy was coming off of surgery and was clearly getting stronger as the season went on last year. I think it's a good move to get a back of the rotation guy that could potentially be a solid 4th-5th starter so you are not relying on the younger guys so much.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Your floor is about right. Your ceiling is way too low. Pelfrey's ceiling is probably around a 4.00 ERA for a season, as evidenced by his peak July/August months where he posted an ERA of ~3.5 (fueled by an unsustainably low BABIP so I'm tacking a half run back onto those numbers) while posting a career high K/9 (don't like using K/9 but FG is being a pain this morning). A little better than league average. One year post-TJ is probably a boon for him, not something to be used to lower his ceiling.

      Pelfrey lives on a flat fastball. Guys coming off TJS often throw harder than ever for a season or two... An extra 1-2mph on Pelfrey's flat fastball will only help him, not hurt. The downside of TJS is that guys often struggle with their "feel" pitches, mostly breaking balls. Well, Pelfrey doesn't rely on feel pitches.

      Still not good but easily worth $5.5m a season, just like Kevin Correia in 2013.

      Given Pelfrey's makeup, he's also a strong candidate for the bullpen, something everyone seems to be ignoring. He's basically LaTroy Hawkins.
      His career ERA is 4.48 over 1,050 innings (85% of which were in the NL and pre TJ). I think an ERA of 4.00 is highly unlikely. Let's call it what it is, a bad risk/reward and quite frankly, an unneccesary contract. We have younger, cheaper options who have more upside. In addition, our offense was ranked 25th last year and we haven't addressed it. We could have used this money in a more productive manner.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      Not a fan of Pelfrey's, partly his slow pace, but really his mannerisms on the mound (like when he hocks up a lung 2 or 3 times between pitches, I mean what is that?). He was a bad pitcher last year, but that's how bad Diamond and Worley were last year, bad enough to make Pelfrey look like the better option. I really can't disagree with the thinking Pelfrey is the more likely candidate to give you decent innings this year versus those two or Deduno (coming off as shoulder injury) or Albers. I think I'd have been willing to risk that rotation spot on trying to find something workable amongst all of them, but c'est la vie, when your pitching is horrible, even small improvements are meaningful.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Because there are already 3-5 candidates for that spot, and they have no LF, CF, SS, DH on the roster, and maybe no C......that's the biggest downside for me. Brock, he has three years with an ERA over 5, one with a 4.74, and two with an ERA under 4. What are the odds he pitches better than Gibson, Deduno, Meyer, Diamond, Worley....asked another way, what are the odds he pitches so much better than them that it matters in the outcome of games?

      If you have limited resources, how to best spend your money is an issue......or maybe we think they don't have limited resources, and this signing is not what is keeping them from signing any offense.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      His career ERA is 4.48 over 1,050 innings (85% of which were in the NL and pre TJ). I think an ERA of 4.00 is highly unlikely. Let's call it what it is, a bad risk/reward and quite frankly, an unneccesary contract. We have younger, cheaper options who have more upside. In addition, our offense was ranked 25th last year and we haven't addressed it. We could have used this money in a more productive manner.
      You said ceiling. His ceiling is higher than his career average.
    1. mcrow's Avatar
      mcrow -
      Quote Originally Posted by ericchri View Post
      Not a fan of Pelfrey's, partly his slow pace, but really his mannerisms on the mound (like when he hocks up a lung 2 or 3 times between pitches, I mean what is that?). He was a bad pitcher last year, but that's how bad Diamond and Worley were last year, bad enough to make Pelfrey look like the better option. I really can't disagree with the thinking Pelfrey is the more likely candidate to give you decent innings this year versus those two or Deduno (coming off as shoulder injury) or Albers. I think I'd have been willing to risk that rotation spot on trying to find something workable amongst all of them, but c'est la vie, when your pitching is horrible, even small improvements are meaningful.
      There's still going to be a spot for one of the young guys to make the rotation unless they sign Arroyo. The fact of the matter is we don't have many prospects that are good enough to pitch in the majors and the couple that might be ready are iffy proposistions.

      Pelfrey had a rough first half but was significantly better the second half which typical of people coming off of that surgery. Also, I don't really carry what a guy is doing on the mound so long as he's getting outs.
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