• What? The Twins considering Mike Pelfrey again?

    When the New York Mets drafted Mike Pelfrey out of Wichita State with the ninth overall pick in 2005, their scouting department was obviously enamored by his big body, big fastball and big projectability. He would develop a breaking ball and become the ace Flushing had not seen in a while.

    Of course, the latter never happened for Pelfrey; instead he struggled to find a semblance of a swing-and-miss pitcher, became the embodied disappointment of Mets fans, had his elbow ligament snap and wound up in Minnesota. Quite the different career path than was envisioned for him eight years ago.

    Now, a free agent coming off a middling season (5-13, 5.19 ERA),
    CBSsports.com’s Jon Heyman, who has a close relationship with agent Scott Boras, reports that the Twins have extended a multi-year offer:

    “They are also known to be a team to have offered Pelfrey a multi-year deal, though the sides are still believed to be apart on the annual salary.”
    So…

    [Slams laptop closed. Goes for a long walk.]

    This is all confusing. The Twins recognize they have a serious problem with their starting rotation - a rotation that has failed to miss bats at a historic rate in the modern era - but continue to pursue the same type of starting pitcher that has created the problem to begin with. As mentioned before, due to his lack of secondary offerings, even a fully healthy Mike Pelfrey fails to miss bats at even the league average rate. Over his career, he has a swinging strike rate of 5.9% while the rest of the game has been closer to 9%.

    I thought we had an understanding here. I thought Jack Goin, the Twins’ manager of Major League Administration and Baseball Research, had sat Terry Ryan down and explained that strikeouts were not only NOT fascist, they were good and that having a lot of them made your starting rotation better. So, why Pelfrey again? The objective should be to look at your 2013 starting rotation real closely then target all the pitchers whose skill sets are the exact opposite.

    Ok, that may be a large overcorrection but, still, why Pelfrey again?

    It is entirely possible that Pelfrey’s agent is using Heyman and the Twins to drum up additional interest in his client. After all, the Twins have not confirmed that there is a two-year offer out to Pelfrey right now. That being said, at the end of last year the Twins coaching staff and Terry Ryan lauded Pelfrey’s second-half improvements. Manager Ron Gardenhire said in September that he believed a lot of Pelfrey’s problems in the later part of the year, such has too many 3-2 counts and long delays between pitches, were easily fixable.

    The Twins said they liked seeing Pelfrey’s velocity increase, which it did from 91.9 in the first-half to 92.7 in the second-half. Gardenhire mentioned specifically that Pelfrey’s secondary pitches improved over the course of the year as his elbow healed, which was true in that opponents had a .700 OPS against his secondary pitches in the first-half while they had a .588 OPS in the second.

    The biggest thing that may be the key as to why the Twins would entertain the notion of bringing Pelfrey back is the huge swing in a statistic that hides behind paywalls called “well-hit average”. This statistic tries to add description to a pitcher’s (or hitter’s) batted balls that goes beyond just the line drive, ground ball and fly ball categories. Video scouts from various companies such as Inside Edge or BIS log whether that ground ball out was smoked to second or a harmless chopper. In theory, when used in conjunction with a regularly distributed stat like batting average on balls in play (BABIP), it should provide insight as to whether a pitcher’s inflated/deflated BABIP was truly unlucky or not.

    In Pelfrey’s case, consider the difference on balls in play between the first half of the year and the second half.

    During the first stretch, Pelfrey was banged around to the tune of .313/.359/.478 over 16 games. According to ESPN’s Stats & Info Department, he carried a well-hit average of .222 -- the highest among all starters with the exception of Joe Blanton (.235). That’s a straight-up beating by hitters. Taking the well-hit average into account, there is no risk of miscategorizing his first-half as “unlucky”.

    Several things played a factor in these results but a recovering rebuilt elbow was likely the most significant hindrance. Admittedly, Pelfrey lacks the necessary secondary offerings to be a truly effective top-of-the-rotation starter, but his strong assortment of fastballs lacked command post-surgery which should be an expected side effect in Tommy John recoveries. So, after 16 starts and a back strain that took him down for two weeks, Pelfrey actually rebounded quite well over the second half. Over his last 13 games, hitters posted a much improved .284/.356/.374 batting line that was built on a well-hit average of .134, one of the league’s best in the latter portion of the season.

    I know. That doesn’t feel right, right? I triple-checked to make sure I had the stats sorted correctly. Did hitters really not hit the ball as well off Pelfrey as they did against such pitching dignitaries as Ricky Nolasco (.137), Hasashi Iwakuma (.140) or Francisco Liriano (.143) in the second-half of the season, as the aforementioned well-hit statistic suggests?

    Several things to mention here:

    (1) Because this statistic resides mainly behind paywalls, the well-hit average has not been vetted thoroughly by sabr-minded people. This means studies have not been conducted to determine how the well-hit average fluctuates from year-to-year. Is Pelfrey’s second-half decrease a true indication that he was pitching better and that this performance will continue?

    (2) Even with the significantly improved well-hit average, the end product was an ugly 1-6 record with a rotund 4.76 ERA and a near .300 batting average in the second-half that contributed to the overall blah year.

    (3) Who knows if the Twins have examined him from this perspective. The organization clearly has access to these reports so they should put this into consideration if thinking about r-signing him. If they have broken it down to this level, I would be more accepting of an eventual Mike Pelfrey re-signing.

    In the end, going through this exercise reassured me that there is some small, faint glimmer of hope that the notion of bringing back Mike Pelfrey is not a completely bonehead move. If he signs for a two-year, $8M per deal similar to the average annual value of Jason Vargas, Pelfrey has proven in the past that he can be a mid-rotation guy (albeit one without the sexy strikeouts) and the second-half numbers could be indications that he will be that again in 2014.

    But that’s it, that’s the ceiling: a mid-rotation guy. The Twins rotation and fans need more than that.
    This article was originally published in blog: What? The Twins considering Mike Pelfrey again? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 62 Comments
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      I would have zero problem if they signed Pelfrey for the number 3 spot and got 2 more guys better than him for the top of the rotation. This team needs 3 starters. Pelfrey can be the third.

      About strikeouts: He led the Twins with a 14.9 K%. The second half that became 17.7. (also his GB/FB rate went up to 1.3 the second half.)

      Nolasco's K% the last 3 seasons: 16.6, 15.0, 19.8. In the NL while facing pitchers. So their K% are comparable.

      Pelfrey was the Twins' best starter last season. His .337 BABIP did not allow that to translate into ERA and W-Ls, but his 3.99 FIP while recuperating from Tommy John surgery is very hopeful. Plus he is a good presence in the clubhouse by any and every report out there. He might be a bargain compared to the likes of Arroyo (15.1 K% in the NL last season btw) for the number 3 spot for a few seasons...
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      I believe I commented not his here before, but it may be worth saying again.

      Mike Pelfrey had a FIP much better than his ERA. There is a group on pitchers that do that on a consistent basis. One characteristic is that their numbers with runners on base are poorer than with the bases empty. Is this bad luck or a skill? The skill part comes in being able to pitch equally well from the stretch. The ability to hold runners on. The ability to work quickly enough to aid your defense.

      FIP only counts strikeouts and walks. It doesn't care in which situations they come. It doesn't matter to FIP that Pelfrey's k/bb ratio is much poorer with runners on base.

      Kevin Correia is the polar opposite. He actually has done better with runners on base his last two seasons. He is very good at holding runners on. FIP doesn't care about this.

      Maybe it's not a skill. Maybe it's just random. Maybe the only thing pitchers control is strike outs, walks and home runs regardless of game situation. Maybe not.

      If pitching with runners on base is a skill, is it possible that Pelfrey can have the peripherals of a number 3 pitcher without really being one?
    1. Smcginnity's Avatar
      Smcginnity -
      I am totally ok with them bringing back Pelfrey. But, it should be a precursor to two bigger moves (i.e. Garza and Arroyo/Hughes).
    1. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      Twins need pitchers, does not matter if they sign 2 or 3, but Pelfrey only fits as a third pitcher.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Nice writeup Parker. While I hope Pelfrey wouldn't be the top pitcher the Twins signed, I wouldn't be surprised if that was exactly what happened.
    1. pierre75275's Avatar
      pierre75275 -
      i really hope there is no truth to this and its avicious rumor. I would much rather they sign feldman then pelfry
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      I was more interested in the rumor that the Twins have NOT reached out to Scott Baker. It is telling that they've talked to everyone but him.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      About strikeouts: He led the Twins with a 14.9 K%. The second half that became 17.7. (also his GB/FB rate went up to 1.3 the second half.)
      When it comes to leading the Twins in strikeouts, that is sort of like being the tallest midget (sorry to offend any little people in this forum). The overall 14.9% strikeout rate on the season was still well below the league average of 19.9%. Given his skill set and pitch repertoire/selection, he will likely not exceed 15% over the course of an entire year.

      I do believe the increase in the strikeout rate (even though his missed bat rate changed little) was definitely a product of his arm healing and better spotting of his fastballs. That is a good thing and potential that next season can be the same as the second-half of last season.

      FIP only counts strikeouts and walks. It doesn't care in which situations they come. It doesn't matter to FIP that Pelfrey's k/bb ratio is much poorer with runners on base.

      Kevin Correia is the polar opposite. He actually has done better with runners on base his last two seasons. He is very good at holding runners on. FIP doesn't care about this.
      Good points. Additionally, when it comes to FIP and these two players I left an detailed explanation as to why FIP overvalues Pelfrey's season but undercuts Correia: the home run rates were very different. So Pelfrey gets a 3.99 FIP while Correia got a 4.40. This is definitely a positive in terms of a skill set for Pelfrey but it does explain why he almost annually outperforms his ERA. In the end, using FIP to measure Pelfrey's 2013 performance may not be the best tool to use when trying to project his 2014 season.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      RE: Nolasco, Arroyo and Pelfrey the past three seasons...

      http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.asp...0,978&sort=7,d

      I think that is exactly how they rank in terms of performance but if there is a substantial savings, Pelfrey is not a terrible option.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      RE: Nolasco, Arroyo and Pelfrey the past three seasons... I think that is exactly how they rank in terms of performance but if there is a substantial savings, Pelfrey is not a terrible option.
      Agreed, but it does present a problem if the Twins decide to "substitute" Pelfrey for those guys, rather than "supplement."
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      RE: Nolasco, Arroyo and Pelfrey the past three seasons...

      http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.asp...0,978&sort=7,d

      I think that is exactly how they rank in terms of performance but if there is a substantial savings, Pelfrey is not a terrible option.
      I don't think we can ignore the "substantial savings" bit. On the free agent market, you have to keep an eye on value. If we're not getting significantly more out of a guy like Arroyo (who I'm not opposed to signing) while paying him three times what Pelfrey would get, then we're getting value out of Pelfrey.

      A good value and a good player are, of course, very different things. But for a team with an eye on the bottom line, a world series winner is much more likely to come from home grown players whose costs are controlled, along with a few plug-in pieces that aren't star players but are good values.

      If this saves enough money over a guy like Arroyo to allow the Twins to go out and get a guy like Garza, then I'm all for welcoming Pelf back into the fold.
    1. Rick Niedermann's Avatar
      Rick Niedermann -
      I don't know a thing about FIP. Could care less. All I know is what I saw when Pelfrey pitched. And he was just not a very good pitcher. I don't know how his efforts last year merit a significant raise and extra year or two on his contract. He can't throw a breaking pitch worth diddily squat. He kills the pace of the game. He walks to many. He can't strike anybody out. If the Twins can't do better then that in free agency, they simply aren't trying. Let some other smuck GM believe Boras's garbage. This guy is a number 5 at best and we have 7 or 8 of them already. The Twins need to sign two of the following. Nolasco, Arroyo, Hughes. Then if they want to take flyer of Pelfrey fine. He's a nice guy, liked Minnesota. But we have lot's of nice guys on this team and the team stinks.
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      Sign Big Pelf for a couple more seasons, if he can stay healthy he is an innings eater, and looking back at the past two+ seasons of Minnesota starting pitching, they could use a couple more guys who eat innings. Even with guys like Gibson, Meyer and (maybe possibly) May coming up this season, they'll most likely be on innings limits and guys like Nolasco, and Big Pelf are going to need to shoulder that load.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Pelfrey had 29 starts last year.

      16 of those starts were less than 6 innings.

      He had only 2 starts of 7 innings. Those were his longest outings. He did not get an out in the 8th once in 29 starts.

      He did perform better the second half, but it didn't really help him go longer in games. In the last two months of the season, he made it 6 innings in only 5 of 10 starts.

      He can't finish off hitters. His high pitch counts keep him from going late in games. His short outings are a burden on the bullpen.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      There's something about pelfrey that I like. Maybe its because he's somewhat of an intimidating presence on the mound. He's not afraid to bust players inside. We were force fed garbage like baker/blackburn/slowey for so long, this dude just seems like an upgrade for the 3-4 spot in the rotation.
    1. Trevor0333's Avatar
      Trevor0333 -
      FIP & BABIP can be a very useful tools but it can't always just be assumed that if someone has a high marks in those areas that its just bad luck & will trend back toward the mean.

      Pitchers like Pelfrey who pound the zone with 92 mph fastballs with little movement are going to have many more hard hit line drives hit on them regularly. These types of hit balls are always going to find gaps more often than softer hit balls giving hitters a higher average on balls put in play.

      Honestly I would rather roll with Albers behind Corriea & Deduno than mess with Pelfrey again.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      There's something about pelfrey that I like. Maybe its because he's somewhat of an intimidating presence on the mound. He's not afraid to bust players inside. We were force fed garbage like baker/blackburn/slowey for so long, this dude just seems like an upgrade for the 3-4 spot in the rotation.
      Scott Baker is a much better pitcher than Mike Pelfrey. I don't care if he pitched to guys up, out, down, or whatever... His results are better than Pelfrey, and that's what matters.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I'm sure they're considering him. But I hope it's a fall-back option in case they can't come to terms with guys on their short list (Arroyo, Garza, Kazmir, etc.). Also, if they sign one of those guys, I'd hate it if they signed Pelfrey as well. I think Gibson is a better bet than Pelfrey this year, and he has upside and costs the minimum.
    1. iastfan112's Avatar
      iastfan112 -
      Arroyo's age scares + contract length and cost scare me. While I'd much prefer Garza or Kazmir if it comes down to Pelfrey or Arroyo I'm not going to be disappointed if the Twins choose Pelfrey.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      There should be no fall back plan. Sign big or sign no one.
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