I have always been a Mike Pelfrey fan and here are the reasons why his re-signing could be a steal for the Twins.
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.