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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. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Penz View Post
      One quick thought. We now have a log jam of guys who could go after the 5th spot. Worley, Diamond, Gibson, Deduno, Meyer and TBD all have a chance. This troubled me for a moment but now I think this is how it should be. For a few years we have seen the team have to dig pretty deep and hope for quality replacements at pitcher. This year the Twins will have that battle for the 5th spot and have others working in the high minors who have the potential to be quality arms. Its a nice surplus.
      Agreed, although now I don't think Meyer has a chance until 2015, really. We already knew he had virtually zero chance of breaking camp in 2014 with the big club, but with four vets under contract and plenty of scraps for the fifth spot, I think Meyer will be seeing plenty of AAA action before being promoted.

      But yeah, going into the last two years, you had to squint past injury and ineffectiveness just to project 5 starters. Even if the upside is low, it's good to have real depth for once.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      You typically need to adjust .30 to .50 for an NL to AL shift. So his true career average should be in the 4.70 to 5.00 range. Now factor in TJ. 4.00 is not happening.
      Pitchers routinely come back from Tommy John surgery and reach the same level (or better) as before these days. Pelfrey had essentially returned to form in the second half of last season and will now be two years removed. TJ is not a mark against him.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      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.

      Actually this morning I sat down and wrote 5 reasons why this deal could be a steal for the Twins, and it is too long to reiterate them all here, that's why the link (and one of the 5 is what Nick mentions: His visible improvement as he got further away from the surgery) but another was that the risk was very small for the Twins.

      To put the risk into perspective: This is exactly what the Twins paid Nick Blackburn not to pitch in 2013. How much did that hurt the Twins? Not. That. Much.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Pitchers routinely come back from Tommy John surgery and reach the same level (or better) as before these days. Pelfrey had essentially returned to form in the second half of last season and will now be two years removed. TJ is not a mark against him.
      Not to mention that adjusting for league ERA without the overall context of MLB runs per game is a mistake. In Pelfrey's career, this is what has happened to average runs scored per game:

      2013: 4.17
      2012: 4.32
      2011: 4.28
      2010: 4.38
      2009: 4.61
      2008: 4.65
      2007: 4.80

      Just tacking on a half run to his NL ERA totals is a mistake. Overall, teams are scoring fewer runs than they were in Pelfrey's NL seasons, which basically offsets the supposed "AL shift".
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      The biggest effect of the FA signing is to eliminate the perception (reality?) of playing minor league talent and charging major league prices. Those signed aren't "all-star" caliber, but they have legitimate major league experience compared to most of those employed for the past two seasons.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Actually this morning I sat down and wrote 5 reasons why this deal could be a steal for the Twins, and it is too long to reiterate them all here, that's why the link (and one of the 5 is what Nick mentions: His visible improvement as he got further away from the surgery) but another was that the risk was very small for the Twins.

      To put the risk into perspective: This is exactly what the Twins paid Nick Blackburn not to pitch in 2013. How much did that hurt the Twins? Not. That. Much.
      And if Pelfrey falters as a starter, he's still a valuable bullpen arm. He should be able to ratchet that fastball into the mid-90s out of the bullpen.

      As opposed to Nick Blackburn, who was basically useless if not starting games.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kwak View Post
      The biggest effect of the FA signing is to eliminate the perception (reality?) of playing minor league talent and charging major league prices. Those signed aren't "all-star" caliber, but they have legitimate major league experience compared to most of those employed for the past two seasons.
      That's true. In addition, I think the Twins knew that fans were starved to see them open up the checkbook a bit. So perception has something to do with it.

      But I also think (and hope) that performance has something to do with it. There's risk involved with any FA acquisition. There's no guarantees that Nolasco or Hughes or Pelfrey will work out -- but at least with multiples the risk goes down a little because SOMEONE (or more than 1 someone) should provide some stability in the rotation.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      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
      Agreed. Good article, though I had to stop reading at that point because I don't have time t
    1. amjgt's Avatar
      amjgt -
      I hope we don't sign Garza.

      Sincerely,
      All the people complaining about Pelfrey's pace of pitching
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      Agreed, although now I don't think Meyer has a chance until 2015, really. We already knew he had virtually zero chance of breaking camp in 2014 with the big club, but with four vets under contract and plenty of scraps for the fifth spot, I think Meyer will be seeing plenty of AAA action before being promoted.

      But yeah, going into the last two years, you had to squint past injury and ineffectiveness just to project 5 starters. Even if the upside is low, it's good to have real depth for once.

      You may end up being correct about Meyer. For the sake of his and the team's 2015 I hope very much that he gets a could chunk of MLB experience this year.
    1. mcrow's Avatar
      mcrow -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Penz View Post
      You may end up being correct about Meyer. For the sake of his and the team's 2015 I hope very much that he gets a could chunk of MLB experience this year.
      I'm sure both he and Gibson will see significant time in the majors. There are always injuries and pitchers who end up being disappointing.

      I think Hughes and Pelfrey both will hold a spot for the year but they could very well go the other direction as well.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by mcrow View Post
      I'm sure both he and Gibson will see significant time in the majors. There are always injuries and pitchers who end up being disappointing.
      I have no doubt there will be innings available for Meyer in 2014, but I don't think he gets many of them. Remember, he has yet to pitch in AAA, so he's probably a lock for a half season there at least, and he might be on a bit of an innings limit still from the shoulder issues this year (only threw 78 innings plus AFL time in 2013).
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Pitchers routinely come back from Tommy John surgery and reach the same level (or better) as before these days. Pelfrey had essentially returned to form in the second half of last season and will now be two years removed. TJ is not a mark against him.
      I'm generally leaning to the notion that the late-season trend tends to augur well for Pelfrey to produce at something better than his overall 2013 numbers.

      But disturbingly, his 2013 SIERA doesn't confirm his sub 4.00 FIP going forward. The projecting services are not convinced that he turned it around, either. Steamer and Oliver have his ERA and FIP significantly above his career averages and/or worse than his 2013 numbers, ZIPS goes even further to the downside:

      5.01 ERA/4.71 FIP, an ERA+ of only 80 (he was 78 ERA+ in 2013) and a WAR of only 0.1 http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2014-...nnesota-twins/

      I think Brock has it about right, he's going to be paid like Blackburn for the next 2 years, but can easily step aside from the rotation to make way for Gibson/Meyer should he be ineffective and slide into an effective reliever role.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mcrow View Post
      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.
      The Twins are not going to contend next year and 2015 will likely be the first full year of Sano, Buxton, and Meyer. So we should be better but we may not contend in 2015 either. Wouldn't it make sense to give reps to Gibson, Meyer, and Deduno over Pelfrey? Nolasco, Correa, and Hughes are going to start. I think Meyer has a spot in June, his stuff is filthy and the best in our system. Does it make sense long-term to have Pelfrey instead of Gibson or Deduno? Aren't they more likely to be part of the next contending team? IMO, they have an even shot at having the same ERA as Pelfrey next year anyway and we have other holes.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Wouldn't it make sense to give reps to Gibson, Meyer, and Deduno over Pelfrey?
      I never know the answer to that. Is it better to promote too soon (assuming the team isn't good anyway) or is it better to let them get their reps at the appropriate level?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      If they are ready, they should pitch in the majors, imo. Actually, if they are almost ready.....since there are a limited number of pitches in an arm. Not everyone agrees with my contention.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      I never know the answer to that. Is it better to promote too soon (assuming the team isn't good anyway) or is it better to let them get their reps at the appropriate level?
      "Appropriate level" is a loaded phrase in this instance. For example, ZIPS projects Meyer as far and away our second best pitcher in 2014....and May and Gibson as having essentially the same projected value as Correia, Pelfrey, Diamond, et al.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2014-...nnesota-twins/
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      If they are ready, they should pitch in the majors, imo. Actually, if they are almost ready.....since there are a limited number of pitches in an arm. Not everyone agrees with my contention.
      Excellent point, and true per season, as well as in terms of a career, ie, Gibson didn't get his call up until his arm had pretty much been used up (purportedly in finding his "consistency").
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      "Appropriate level" is a loaded phrase in this instance. For example, ZIPS projects Meyer as far and away our second best pitcher in 2014....and May and Gibson as having essentially the same projected value as Correia, Pelfrey, Diamond, et al.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2014-...nnesota-twins/
      That's paper. Real life can be a lot different. It really depends on what they see, how players develop and what happens on the injury front.

      I don't think the Twins will block Meyer and Gibson if they felt they feel they are really ready (Gibson, in particular, is old enough that there's not much use worrying about years of team control).

      I just don't think they want to get caught in the same misery as last year. Maybe the pitching gods will smile on the Twins and they'll have a number of starters who belong in a major league rotation. But my gut feeling is that it will all shake out.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      But disturbingly, his 2013 SIERA doesn't confirm his sub 4.00 FIP going forward. The projecting services are not convinced that he turned it around, either. Steamer and Oliver have his ERA and FIP significantly above his career averages and/or worse than his 2013 numbers, ZIPS goes even further to the downside:
      Those projections aren't looking at his 2013 splits. They may not directly factor in the injury either, except noting his lack of 2012 innings.

      The fact that his 2013 results are a pretty good match for his 2009 and 2011 results (as well as 2006-2007) probably doesn't help either. And it's one reason I am still skeptical of him.
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