• Five reasons re-signing Mike Pelfrey could be a steal

    There has been a lot of noise in Twins' Territory about the Minnesota Twins re-signing Mike Pelfrey, most of it negative. People see Pelfrey's 5-13 record, accompanied by a 5.19 ERA and by the long time that Pelfrey took between pitches and wonder why the Twins re-signed a guy who is perceived as no better then what they already have.

    I have always been a Mike Pelfrey fan and here are the reasons why his re-signing could be a steal for the Twins.
    Originally published at The Tenth Inning Stretch

    1. The Tommy John recovery and already achieved improvement

    Pelfrey threw in his first real game a record 10 months after his surgery. To put that in perspective, Fransisco Liriano had his TJS on November 6, 2006 and pitched his first spring training game on March of 2008, sixteen months later. Kyle Gibson had his on September, 2011 and pitched his first game in March, 2013, eighteen months later.

    2013 was a tale of 2 halves for Pelfrey, even by the crude ERA measurement: His ERAs by month were: April 7.66, May 5.90, June 4.66, July 3.25, August 3.60 and September 7.45. In other words, if he had taken 13 months to recover and we ignore April and May, those are pretty good numbers. His September ERA (abetted by a .431 BABIP) could also have been a product of fatigue. He finished the season with a 17.9% K% in the second half, which is really encouraging and easily led the Twins' starting pitchers. If one uses advanced metrics, he also led the Twins starters in FIP (3.99) and WAR (2.1); and those are full season and not second half-only values

    2. He actually has excellent stuff.

    We all know Pelfrey's fastball sits at 92-93 and touches mid 90s, easily the highest velocity on the Twins' 2013 rotation. Here is something very little known: he has a few other weapons that are rarely mentioned. I took all 2013 starting pitchers who pitched more than 150 innings in 2013 and sorted them by Slider Velocity. This is the resulting table:



    As you can see, Mike Pelfrey has the 7th fastest slider in the majors. And this is big news. Looking at the names surrounding him, I cannot see a single name that Twins' fans would not be ecstatic to have.

    However, the other obvious thing from this list is that he has not been throwing his slider enough (only 9.9% of the time) and mostly relies on his fastball (72.6% of the time), unlike his peers on this list. I hope that it is elbow rehabilitation-related and the further he is removed from surgery, the more he will trust his elbow with the slider, like his peers. In addition to the fastball and slider, he has a mid 80s split finger pitch that he throws as a change up and a slow mid-70s curve, each of which he threw only about 10% of the time.


    3. He was hurt by the Twins' defense.

    Again, I took all starters in the majors who pitched more than 150 innings and sorted them by BABIP, high to low and I also indicate WHIP. Here is the resulting table:



    As you can see, Mike Pelfrey had the second worst BABIP in the majors. Normalize his WHIP for a league average BABIP and it comes close to Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson (normalized) levels.

    Why such a high BABIP? If you look at balls in play, he ranks 35th lowest (of the 96 pitchers who pitched more than 150 innings in 2013) in the percentage of line drives surrendered with 20.8%; this suggests that balls were not hit that hard. His fly ball percentage, 36.0 %, is the 35th highest in the same group. When you are a fly ball pitcher and have a combination of Willingham, Parmelee, Doumit, Arcia and Colabello at two out of three outfield positions, a lot of outs will become singles and doubles and you are about to have a high BABIP. In order to be successful in 2014, corner OF defense is something the Twins will have to address.


    4. He has a lot of intangibles on his side.

    Pelfrey will not turn 30 until next month. He is in his prime and will be during the duration of the contract. He does not have a true change up, but has Bobby Cuellar around for 2 years and is young enough, if he wants to add one to his repertoire, to succeed at it.

    As I indicated here, yes, he was a human rain delay, and so were his teammates, but that was an aberration from previous seasons for him, adding a full extra 3 seconds between pitches. I don't know whether that is related to shaking off secondary pitches and preferring the fastball because of the elbow, as shown above, but I suspect it will improve next season.

    For what it's worth, my math predicts continuous improvement for Pelfrey, and my analysis on who the Twins should target in free agency had him (and Phil Hughes) on the list of eight.

    Also, he is a stellar clubhouse guy, a trait that has to be mentioned. At every stop in his career, teammates, managers and coaches have had only the best to say about Pelfrey.

    5. The monetary risk is not very much; this is a very small contract comparatively.

    The annual value of Pelfrey's contact is $5.5 million if he does not meet the incentives. To put the Twins' risk in dollars in perspective: $5.5 million is the exact amount the Twins paid Nick Blackburn not to pitch in 2013. Also, if you believe in WAR-based monetary value, according to Fangraphs, Mike Pelfrey's contribution to the Twins in 2013 (a down season) was worth $10.7 million. The real point here is that the Twins will assume the risk they had when they had Nick Blackburn in 2012 and 2013.
    This article was originally published in blog: Five reasons that the Twins re-signing of Mike Pelfrey could be a steal started by Thrylos
    Comments 58 Comments
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      I am a Pelfrey Believer and hope he proves his doubters wrong.
    1. Joe A. Preusser's Avatar
      Joe A. Preusser -
      I have a nagging feeling that after this year we will all be wishing we'd locked him up for 5 years instead of 2. He will turn in a sub 4 ERA, possibly leading the staff (and that's actually saying something after all the guys we brought in).
    1. Lefty74's Avatar
      Lefty74 -
      I like the logic (and the optimism!). It is hard to find pitchers with Pelfrey's size, FB velo and overall stuff.

      The other pitcher I believe will surprise in a positive manner is Gibson. He has very good velo and should be ready to make a big step up in 2014. I read the article stating he led the league in strikes being called balls......the umpires know this now and I think they will adjust. He has as much ability as any pitcher on the staff, now we need him to put it to good use!
    1. Trevor0333's Avatar
      Trevor0333 -
      Do Genies grant 5 wishes?
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Trevor0333 View Post
      Do Genies grant 5 wishes?
      Depends. Jeannie granted unlimited wishes IIRC...
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      I can't stand how slow he is but have no problem accepting all of the points made here. It would not surprise me if he significantly outperformed Hughes. They should have added a 3rd year team option. Having said this, I also would not be surprised if the change of scenery has a positive effect on Hughes.
    1. TwinVike61's Avatar
      TwinVike61 -
      Excellent article Thrylos! I think we all thought he came back too soon last spring and would be viewed more favorably if he put those stinking April and May numbers in the minors first. If they had better options to trot out there to start last season like they do this year we would have a better opinion of Pelfry.
    1. Lonestar's Avatar
      Lonestar -
      FWIW, a partial scouting report from Long Live Shea Stadium blog dated March 10, 2011-- just the bad part since Thrylos handled the Good.

      The Bad: The biggest knock against "Big Pelf" is that he can't strike hitters out, and last year was no exception. His K/9 rate was below 5, and his career average is 5.1K/9. He simply doesn't have the ability to miss bats, and hitters only swung and miss 6% of the time last year; as a reference, league average was 8.5%. Still throws his fastball a lot (69%), because his slider is still a below-average major league pitch, and even though he added and threw his split finger last year (14% of the time), it wasn't a league average pitch. He started to throw a curve-ball a little more last year (5.5%) and that was a decent pitch for him.

      http://longlivesheastadium.blogspot....frey-2011.html

      He's not going to master the change up at age 30. Perhaps he will master the splitter. Except the Twins eschew the splitter.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Pelfrey did strike out 6.0 batters per nine innings in 2013, probably reflective of the elevated K trend in mlb. IIRC, Pelf had the highest K rate of Twins starters--probably the ultimate "damning with faint praise".
    1. bertrecords's Avatar
      bertrecords -
      The problem with this analysis is that Mike Pelfrey does not have excellent stuff and has never had excellent stuff. Velocity does not equal stuff. Over his career, he has one pitch that nets a positive linear weight score. That pitch is his fastball even though it did not give good results in 2013. The slider, despite the velocity has been a below average major league pitch if you add up his entire career. In 2007, 2009 and 2012, it was slightly above average probably due to luck. Pelfrey has never been a good major league pitcher because he has no pitches that create wins for his team. The place to see the data is at Fan Graphs under Pitcher Fx Pitch Values. http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx...203&position=P Francisco Liriano is the pitcher with the great slider. Compare Liriano and Pelfrey's slider-- look at wSL/C -- and it is easy to see how Liriano was a winnel for the Pirates and how Pelfrey, unless he develops a pitch he has never had in his entire career, is destined to continue to be a loser for the Twins.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      Coming back from TJ in 10 months is dang impressive. So many pitcher's rehabs are littered with setbacks and "shutting it down" when things dont feel quite right. Ask the Cubs about their dealings with a certain former Twins pitcher. Pelfrey's got guts. That counts for something in my book.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      Both Pelfrey and Nolasco have sabermetric stats that say they should be better than they actually performed/perform. I would take the stats saying they would be worse, but they perform better, instead. In a heartbeat. Coming back and pitching after TJ surgery so quickly will only impress me if they actually perform well. The first two months would have been just as well served in rehab, than pitching that poorly. I believe it takes just as much guts to be smart, and not hurt your team, as it does to play and hurt your team. Many players are dishonest about their injuries these days, and it does not help the team at all. Mostly it hurts the team.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Thrylos, great take on Pelfrey. You're way more bullish on him than me but you have some valid points. Two things I think you missed though:

      1. Given his age, I think it's unlikely that Mike will add a changeup. It's possible, though.

      2. If he fails as a starter, he is a prime candidate for the bullpen. He's a big, hard-throwing righty that should be able to crank it up into the mid-90s from the pen. I doubt he'll be Glen Perkins but he should be more than serviceable in that role and at $5m a season, that's not an outrageous price to pay a guy who comes into the seventh or eighth inning for the team 60 times a season.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by bertrecords View Post
      The problem with this analysis is that Mike Pelfrey does not have excellent stuff and has never had excellent stuff.
      Compare Liriano and Pelfrey's slider-- look at wSL/C -- and it is easy to see how Liriano was a winnel for the Pirates and how Pelfrey, unless he develops a pitch he has never had in his entire career, is destined to continue to be a loser for the Twins.
      I was with you until that last sentence. You're right about his stuff and his slider, but he's also shown he can be a valuable contributor. He's not the next All-Star ace, but he has plenty of opportunity to provide surplus value at his $5.5M salary. I think he'll definitely outperform his salary over the next two years and it was a smart signing.

      Everyone rode the Correia signing last year (myself as well) with a theme that signing him might be okay if he wasn't the "big" signing of the offseason. This year, Pelfrey (who is better than Correia) was the THIRD best signing. Let's keep the perspective straight here.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by bertrecords View Post
      The problem with this analysis is that Mike Pelfrey does not have excellent stuff and has never had excellent stuff. Velocity does not equal stuff. Over his career, he has one pitch that nets a positive linear weight score. That pitch is his fastball even though it did not give good results in 2013. The slider, despite the velocity has been a below average major league pitch if you add up his entire career. In 2007, 2009 and 2012, it was slightly above average probably due to luck. .
      I agree that velocity does not equal quality, as far as the fastball goes.

      Look at the slider velocity chart and the 12 pitchers who have velocities in the neighborhood of Pelfrey's and give me one single mediocre pitcher. The issue is that he is not throwing it quite enough. As far as luck and wSL/C goes, it is the other way around, because wSL/C does not normalize for BABIP (so I take those measurements with a huge grain of salt.) His BABIP was the second highest in the majors last season and I suspect that is reflected.

      The other reason I do not like the wPITCH/C measurement is that it is not significant enough in low count pitches. Example: in 2013 Pelfrey threw 2727 pitches. 10% or so or 272 are sliders. In the wSL/C (that bundles per 100 pitches, that is what the C is) the N=2.7 Not good. Think about it similarly to UZR/150, which needs a few seasons worth of data to be significant. Despite the high BABIP and the low confidence on the sample size, the 2013 wSL/C was 0.02 (league average) and his best pitch...

      Third (and really important) : Cannot compare slider (or curveball or screwball for that matter) before and after TJ surgery. Different elbows. Pelfrey's slider before TJ averaged around 84 mph. Last season it was 86.3. Totally different beasts. So past performance and wSL/C values do not matter.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      I'm happy with the signing due to the short term and price. The only thing I don't like about it is the opportunity cost. By doing this signing the Twins have limited themselves from picking up a bigger name like Garza, Ubaldo, etc. Probably means they weren't planning to get one of them anyhow though.

      I guess if they find they can get a decent price on one of the free agent starters they could probably flip Correia pretty easily too though.
    1. bertrecords's Avatar
      bertrecords -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Look at the slider velocity chart and the 12 pitchers who have velocities in the neighborhood of Pelfrey's and give me one single mediocre pitcher. The issue is that he is not throwing it quite enough. As far as luck and wSL/C goes, it is the other way around, because wSL/C does not normalize for BABIP (so I take those measurements with a huge grain of salt.) His BABIP was the second highest in the majors last season and I suspect that is reflected.
      Your analysis and understanding of the statistics is solid. The slider is 2 mph faster than it used to be. Pelfrey was unlucky last year. Does that make the slider an out pitch? Throughout Pelfrey's entire career, enough innings such that BABIP has averaged out, Pelfrey's slider has never been an out pitch. Baseball is a wonderful game. The unlikely can happen. Thank you for making a case for it. But, I will believe in Pelfrey's slider only after it becomes an out pitch. Not before.
    1. Andrew Bryz-Gornia's Avatar
      Andrew Bryz-Gornia -
      One thing about Pelfrey's slider though - it's actually a cutter. I discovered this when I did a "look at all the cutters the Twins' staff throw!" for Twinkie Town early during the 2013 season: http://www.twinkietown.com/2013/5/30...t-inefficiency

      Here's the article I found that confirmed that Pelfrey was throwing a cutter rather than a slider: http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/news/art...k_nym&c_id=nym
    1. DaNutz's Avatar
      DaNutz -
      This falls into the category were everything in baseball can't be explained by numbers. Pelfrey's stuff just isn't very good no matter what velocity he is throwing at. You cannot be that unlucky for that long by accident. I do think his signing could end up being decent, but expecting anything beyond that is too much IMO. He is what his numbers have said over the course of his career.
    1. bertrecords's Avatar
      bertrecords -
      Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Bryz-Gornia View Post
      Here's the article I found that confirmed that Pelfrey was throwing a cutter rather than a slider: http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/news/art...k_nym&c_id=nym
      Per Pitcher f/x (in Fangraphs, cited above), the slider was thrown 10.2% in 2013 and the cutter 8.6%. The slider was at 86.2 mph, the cutter at 75.7 mph. Pitch classification is tricky. I am not saying you should necessarily believe Pitcher f/x.
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