• 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. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I don't see it. You're talking about Diamond or Worley? Sure, they could be as good as Pelfrey for part of a season. But they're fifth starters on a bad team.
      Diamond maybe. But Worley was the fourth best starter in a 102-60 team...
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by YourHouseIsMyHouse View Post


      I'm not saying you aren't correct, but I would never pay Pelfrey 10 million a year to do what he did last season.
      This is pretty controversial and why I prefer BR to Fangraphs.
      Pelfrey fWAR: 2.1
      Pelfrey bWAR: -0.3

      He looked below replacement level last season and bWAR reflects that. I like FIP as much as the next guy, but I like it much more as a predictor rather than an evaluator.
      xFIP is the predictor. FIP is a measurement that is trying to take defense, ballpark, and "luck" out of ERA to describe actual performance. Whether it succeeds or not it is arguable and nothing is perfect, but as a measurement, IMHO, describes how someone pitched better that ERA. Also, other pitchers' work and intentional stuff is reflected in ERA.

      Hypothetical Example: Bloop single to left (which could have been caught in a LF had normal range), bloop single to right (which could have been caught in a RF had normal range), intentional BB to load the bases and get the right matchup. Reliever in, Base emptying triple. All 3 runs charged to the starter and included in the ERA. Does that reflect how well the guy actually pitched that inning? With real corner OFs that could have been a zero out there... That's why I don't like ERA-based WAR and prefer FIP-based WAR.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Diamond maybe. But Worley was the fourth best starter in a 102-60 team...
      That was two years ago. Since then, his career has spiraled down considerably.
    1. Steve Johnson's Avatar
      Steve Johnson -
      Let me be a naysayer for the sake of naysaying:

      1) His recovery time tells us little other than he heals fast from Tommy John. How's his pitching? And you can't just pick and choose which months are important like that when we have a long, established history of stats that tells us he's nothing spectacular.

      2) No, he doesn't have excellent stuff. Hitters can hit 90+ fastballs at this level as well as 86+ MPH sliders. Excellent stuff should at some point translate into missed bats, not 10+ hits per 9 innings.

      3) He is going to play infront of a mediocre defense this year too, and it wouldn't hurt him so bad if he missed bats.

      4) I would like to hear how these intangibles will help him produce less base runners. If congeniality won baseball games, the Hall of Fame would have a far different makeup.

      5) So your reasoning is that its okay because you can compare Pelfrey's contract to another error they made? At one point do the Twins realize that these were obvious, avoidable mistakes? When they add up to Robinson Cano's contract? I just want to hear from somebody that Pelfrey had a two-year offer somewhere else because it's doubtful he did.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Diamond maybe. But Worley was the fourth best starter in a 102-60 team...
      Ever notice how average pitching becomes better an a winning team. 2008 Mets and Pelfrey
    1. thetank's Avatar
      thetank -
      Quote Originally Posted by YourHouseIsMyHouse View Post


      I'm not saying you aren't correct, but I would never pay Pelfrey 10 million a year to do what he did last season.
      This is pretty controversial and why I prefer BR to Fangraphs.
      Pelfrey fWAR: 2.1
      Pelfrey bWAR: -0.3

      He looked below replacement level last season and bWAR reflects that. I like FIP as much as the next guy, but I like it much more as a predictor rather than an evaluator.
      It's hard to believe that he is above an average replacement. Seems like he was overpaid as well considering that last year wasn't very good.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      I agree with a lot of your points, but will have to agree to disagree on the conclusion. Worst-to-first just doesn't happen all that often. We can't play the draft pick game forever. The farm is already stocked. It's time to strive for improvements where we can find them and that doesn't usually mean you're in the WS the next year. It's time to start building on some success, fill in from the farm, and make some targeted acquisitions. If it doesn't work, then you restart the cycle.
      I agree with you that worst to first isn't reasonable to expect and that moderate improvements need to be made. But Pelfrey isn't a moderate improvement. He was here last year, was terrible, has been below average for his career, is going to be 30/31 and there were better options out there that would have cost roughly the same amount of money. So by all means let's improve, but let's do it with players who are actually above average. So far this off season we've signed zero of those. How can a team expect to get to the playoffs with a bunch of below average guys?
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I don't see it. You're talking about Diamond or Worley? Sure, they could be as good as Pelfrey for part of a season. But they're fifth starters on a bad team. I'd much rather take my chances on Pelfrey getting back to his good years with a healthy elbow than either of those two guys. The Twins have one slot open for either Deduno or Gibson. Deduno and could spend time on the DL. Gibson has options. They wouldn't lose either of those guys in any event.

      Your comment about the worse draft pick is asinine. If you polled 100 fans and asked them to choose between winning and getting a better draft pick next year, 99 of them would choose winning.
      As Thrylos pointed out Worley has been a good pitcher except for last season. I know that you have the impression that he is a poor pitcher but that doesn't change the fact that he has been a better pitcher than Mike Pelfrey over the last few years.

      As for your polling I disagree. If you asked fans "do you want 1 more win this season, a season which we'll still be below .500, or do you want to draft up to 4 spots higher?" I think you'd get a lot of people answering draft.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      I agree with you that worst to first isn't reasonable to expect and that moderate improvements need to be made. But Pelfrey isn't a moderate improvement. He was here last year, was terrible, has been below average for his career, is going to be 30/31 and there were better options out there that would have cost roughly the same amount of money. So by all means let's improve, but let's do it with players who are actually above average. So far this off season we've signed zero of those. How can a team expect to get to the playoffs with a bunch of below average guys?
      A strong case has been made many times to show that Pelfrey will put up better overall numbers than he did last year. Saying you can't call that an improvement because he was already here seems to ignore context. Even if these signings don't put up above average numbers, I'm pretty sure it will still end up categorized as an improvement.

      Your last line assumes that playoffs is the only acceptable outcome for next year. I'd be okay with even playoff contention and continuing to move forward from there.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      A strong case has been made many times to show that Pelfrey will put up better overall numbers than he did last year. Saying you can't call that an improvement because he was already here seems to ignore context. Even if these signings don't put up above average numbers, I'm pretty sure it will still end up categorized as an improvement.

      Your last line assumes that playoffs is the only acceptable outcome for next year. I'd be okay with even playoff contention and continuing to move forward from there.
      If all you want is an improvement over last season, well that shouldn't be hard to come by. That isn't enough for me. IMO, every move should be made with returning the playoffs in mind. If it doesn't help us get there then don't make the move. There in lies the crux of my problem with the Pelfrey (and the Hughes too) signing. I don't see how he helps get the team there in either 2014, 2015 or beyond. There were pitchers out there who could have helped with that goal.

      If you can show how Pelfrey helps the Twins to the playoffs in 2014 or beyond and how he was a better option than the likes of Colon, Hudson, Haren, Johnson, Kazmir, or any number of other pitchers that have or will sign 1 or 2 year deals I would love to hear it.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      If all you want is an improvement over last season, well that shouldn't be hard to come by. That isn't enough for me. IMO, every move should be made with returning the playoffs in mind. If it doesn't help us get there then don't make the move. There in lies the crux of my problem with the Pelfrey (and the Hughes too) signing. I don't see how he helps get the team there in either 2014, 2015 or beyond. There were pitchers out there who could have helped with that goal.

      If you can show how Pelfrey helps the Twins to the playoffs in 2014 or beyond and how he was a better option than the likes of Colon, Hudson, Haren, Johnson, Kazmir, or any number of other pitchers that have or will sign 1 or 2 year deals I would love to hear it.
      How do you know the Twins did hot try to sign any of the pitchers listed as they all signed before Pelfrey? In terms of helping the team beyond, only Kazmir would fit that role.
      Arroyo wants a 3 year deal, Maholm might be better than Pelphrey, but not by much. Pelphrey is fill in until the replacements mature. 5 mil a year is a little easier to swallow than 10 million dollar question marks.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post

      As for your polling I disagree. If you asked fans "do you want 1 more win this season, a season which we'll still be below .500, or do you want to draft up to 4 spots higher?" I think you'd get a lot of people answering draft.
      This is a philosophical discussion that I think really deserves a separate thread at some point. I tend to agree with you that if this was the choice most fans woud choose the draft. One less win in 2013 would have been the difference between 3 and 4, and living up to our pythagorean record (60 wins if I rememer right) would have had us drafting 2 overall. With what is looking like so much elite talent in the top of the draft, it won't matter that much except that we could have a bit more control over which elite piece we grabbed.

      That said, there really does seem to be a "win now" vs. "win later" debate going on. Personally, while I like to win now, I don't see it worth it at the expense of long term winning. A boom/bust cycle is fairly normal in sports (unless you are the Yankees) as teams need to have a few bad years to restock on talent.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Do you really think the Twins should throw games and intentionally choose worse players so that they can get a better draft position? If so, I'm on the wrong board.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by diehardtwinsfan View Post
      That said, there really does seem to be a "win now" vs. "win later" debate going on. Personally, while I like to win now, I don't see it worth it at the expense of long term winning. A boom/bust cycle is fairly normal in sports (unless you are the Yankees) as teams need to have a few bad years to restock on talent.
      There are degrees to it as well. I'm not sure many here would sit a 3 WAR player for a negative WAR player.

      But would you willingly pass over an old, 1 WAR player in favor of someone younger? I'm not sure that's a win now vs. win later stance so much as it is prioritizing winning later vs. winning now. I want to win more now, but the prize is still later.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      I don't think we, as super internet Twins fans, get to decide they'll go straight from being one of the worst teams in the league directly to in the playoffs. I'd love that, but I'm not sure it's realistic.

      I do think Pelfrey can provide value in the contract that he signed. Maybe there were some better options, but I don't think it's black and white in that price range and we also don't know the context behind any of those other negotiations. I think, overall, it's a step in the right direction. Get better in 2014 and keep marching forward from there.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Johnson View Post
      Let me be a naysayer for the sake of naysaying:

      1) His recovery time tells us little other than he heals fast from Tommy John. How's his pitching? And you can't just pick and choose which months are important like that when we have a long, established history of stats that tells us he's nothing spectacular.

      2) No, he doesn't have excellent stuff. Hitters can hit 90+ fastballs at this level as well as 86+ MPH sliders. Excellent stuff should at some point translate into missed bats, not 10+ hits per 9 innings.

      3) He is going to play infront of a mediocre defense this year too, and it wouldn't hurt him so bad if he missed bats.

      4) I would like to hear how these intangibles will help him produce less base runners. If congeniality won baseball games, the Hall of Fame would have a far different makeup.

      5) So your reasoning is that its okay because you can compare Pelfrey's contract to another error they made? At one point do the Twins realize that these were obvious, avoidable mistakes? When they add up to Robinson Cano's contract? I just want to hear from somebody that Pelfrey had a two-year offer somewhere else because it's doubtful he did.
      I superlike this post!
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by diehardtwinsfan View Post
      This is a philosophical discussion that I think really deserves a separate thread at some point. I tend to agree with you that if this was the choice most fans woud choose the draft. One less win in 2013 would have been the difference between 3 and 4, and living up to our pythagorean record (60 wins if I rememer right) would have had us drafting 2 overall. With what is looking like so much elite talent in the top of the draft, it won't matter that much except that we could have a bit more control over which elite piece we grabbed.

      That said, there really does seem to be a "win now" vs. "win later" debate going on. Personally, while I like to win now, I don't see it worth it at the expense of long term winning. A boom/bust cycle is fairly normal in sports (unless you are the Yankees) as teams need to have a few bad years to restock on talent.
      Perhaps that is part of the discussion, but there were players they could have signed that helped in both the short term and probably the long term as well. They could have signed above average players and tried to contend this season. Assuming they weren't in contention they could have kept the players and then added a few more pieces next season or tried to flip the players for some good prospects that could help in the future. Either way the key was to add good players.

      On a separate topic, last season the difference between 73 and 74 wins was drafting 7th or 11th. Considering the new qualifying rules that is a pretty big difference. In 2011 the difference between 71 and 72 wins could have meant drafting 9th instead of 5th.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Do you really think the Twins should throw games and intentionally choose worse players so that they can get a better draft position? If so, I'm on the wrong board.
      I think the Twins should do whatever will help bring them back to contention. A higher draft position increases the odds of that happening. I have yet to read how Pelfrey will help. My own opinion, and those that I have read here as well, is that he was signed as a stop gap. A guy with pretty much no expectations that he will be good and really nobody will care how he pitches as long as it isn't as God awful as last season. That's a waste of an opportunity IMO.
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