• Betting Against The House

    The latest casino project in Las Vegas is going to cost seven billion dollars. That is an incredible gamble (*1), but there are reasons that investors make it. The first is that in the long run, the house always wins. But the second is equally important: in the short run, anyone can win. If that wasnít true, nobody would go to the casino, and there would be no reason to invest.

    Mike Pelfrey, who the Twins will be signing for $11 million over two years, is an investment too. In the long run, heís averaged out to a 4.48 ERA return, but that's like saying a roulette spin will come up blackish-red. Heís thrown about five-and-a-half seasons in the majors, and only once (4.74 ERA in 2011) has he ever come anywhere near that career ERA. Instead, heís crushed it twice (3.72 in 2008 and 3.66 in 2010) and been crushed three times (5.57 in 2007, 5.03 in 2009, 5.19 last year). It doesnít take a lot of advanced analysis to tell you that the Twins are betting against the house.

    But the advanced stats tell us the same thing. Pelfreyís success or failure each year has been almost entirely based on how many home runs he has given up. Home runs are highly dependent on whether or not a pitcher tends to be a ground ball pitcher or a fly ball pitcher, and Pelfrey is the latter. Itís hard for any pitcher to control what percentage of those fly balls turn to home runs, but there is some long-term trend to it, and Pelfrey has been very good at keeping fly balls from turning to home runs. Every year he has pitched in the majors, Pelfrey has been in the top half of pitchers in home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB).

    But the two years he was really good, he was elite in HR/FB, ranking 4th among qualified pitchers in 2008 and 9th in 2010. The other years, he wasnít bad, but merely slightly above average. When Pelfrey has been successful, heís been elite at doing something in which pitchers have very limited control. I donít like to call that ďluck,Ē but I also donít like to call a good run at a blackjack table ďluck.Ē I go with ďsecret sauce.Ē But whatever I call it, I donít rely on it.

    If this was a one-year deal, I could say that the Twins wonít need to rely on it either. But a multi-year deal changes how teams react. If Pelfrey isnít effective, whether itís luck or skill or the wind blowing out in Target Field (*2) this spring, itís going to be hard to push him out of the rotation. Nobody is going to be anxious to give up on a player with that contract, especially given that Pelfrey is by all accounts a good guy and hard worker.

    So the Twins are making a bigger bet than they should have against the house. They might have been emboldened to do so by their success with Kevin Correia, who paid off handsomely in his first year. The Twins have responded by doubling down instead of walking away with their winnings.

    Thatís a natural, human reaction. Itís also why they still keep building casinos.

    ~~~

    *1) We tend to read numbers and blow right past them, but think about what it means to build a seven BILLION dollar casino. Thatís the value of thirteen of MLB teams, including the Twins, combined. And that money needs to be raised and paid UP FRONT in cash. And itís not like casinos never go bust Ė several of them have over the last decade or ended up being partly built and then stalled out. Just what kind of return do you have to anticipate to make a seven billion dollar bet like that?

    *2) Target Field is probably worth addressing. HR/FB rate is also influenced by ballpark, and it would make sense that Target Field would help pitchers, especially right-handed pitchers, in that regard. But itís worth noting that Pelfreyís team, the Mets, also have a home ballpark that has suppressed home runs. For instance, in 2010, the Mets and their opponents hit 110 home runs in CitiField, but 153 home runs on the road.
    This article was originally published in blog: Betting Against The House started by John Bonnes
    Comments 48 Comments
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      If Worley and Gibson are healthy, I think they are both as good as Pelfrey. And then next year Meyer will be up (if not this year). So I think it is possible. Certain? No.

      but again, I don't see the point, unless they think Sano and Buxton are up this year. They could have just rolled those guys (the pitchers) all out there this week to see what they have (or don't) because this offense was awful last year. Adding a great pitcher, or great hitter, that makes sense to me. Adding a stop gap? Not so much.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Do you really see that happening in 2014, though? This season, it's going to be Worley, Deduno, and Diamond fighting for one spot in the rotation. At some point, a pitcher will fail or go down with injury and a second guy will get a shot, probably around the time Gibson is throwing his hat back into the mix.

      Next season, Correia is gone. The Twins will (theoretically) have two open rotation spots for Deduno, Worley, Diamond, Gibson, and Meyer. At least two of Deduno, Worley, and Diamond will be gone at that point through trade or ineffectiveness.

      I don't see it becoming a problem, really.
      The only problem is options. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Worley, Diamond and Deduno are out of options. Diamond could potentially take a swing-man role int eh bullpen. But Worley or Deduno will get claimed on waivers if they attempt to pass them through. Here's hoping Deduno gets the fifth spot, Diamond gets the swing job and Worley gets claimed by the Royals. Gibson and Meyer can fine tune in AAA all year for all I care.

      They lose Deduno as well if they sign Arroyo or Garza. But he might have some trade value.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      The only problem is options. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Worley, Diamond and Deduno are out of options. Diamond could potentially take a swing-man role int eh bullpen. But Worley or Deduno will get claimed on waivers if they attempt to pass them through. Here's hoping Deduno gets the fifth spot, Diamond gets the swing job and Worley gets claimed by the Royals. Gibson and Meyer can fine tune in AAA all year for all I care.

      They lose Deduno as well if they sign Arroyo or Garza. But he might have some trade value.
      Switch Worley and Deduno and I agree. I think Worley has a much better chance of succeeding over the course of a season than Deduno.

      Here's what I see happening:

      1. Nolasco
      2. Hughes
      3. Pelfrey
      4. Correia
      5. Worley

      Bullpen: Diamond

      Question mark: Deduno, who may start the season on the DL.

      First guy that goes down will be replaced by either Deduno or Gibson.
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      I sure hope we have the problem of so many guys performing well that we don't have room for them all. Man, I would love to have that problem.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      I sure hope we have the problem of so many guys performing well that we don't have room for them all. Man, I would love to have that problem.
      Yes. It doesn't make sense to complain that Pedro Hernandez is getting starts in 2013 and then complain that the Twins have too many options in 2014.

      None of their 5/6/7 "options" are particularly good nor have they earned a full-time spot in the rotation. Let them battle in Spring Training, dump the worst of the three, and move on with the season.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Switch Worley and Deduno and I agree. I think Worley has a much better chance of succeeding over the course of a season than Deduno.

      Here's what I see happening:

      1. Nolasco
      2. Hughes
      3. Pelfrey
      4. Correia
      5. Worley

      Bullpen: Diamond

      Question mark: Deduno, who may start the season on the DL.

      First guy that goes down will be replaced by either Deduno or Gibson.
      I wish I shared your optimism on Worley. To me, he's Nick Blackburn II. I saw nothing last year that would inspire confidence in him. Too many hard-hit balls, not enough easy grounders.

      Deduno misses bats. Unfortunately, he also misses the plate too much. But even when they put it in play, it is such weak sh*t that they can't get it out of the infield. I saw him get eight out of the first nine outs on choppers between the pitcher and first baseman in one game. It was a thing of beauty. He has the kind of movement that, even when they make contact, he just gets easy grounders.

      If Deduno hadn't pulled his groin in the rainstorm in the WBC final game, he would have easily been the top starter for the Twins last year. As it was, he was their top starter in the second half. Worley started the year as the designated top starter and finished with a middling stint in AAA. If it were me, I'd DFA him now to make room for Pelfrey. But they have too much invested in him with Revere to do that.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Yes. It doesn't make sense to complain that Pedro Hernandez is getting starts in 2013 and then complain that the Twins have too many options in 2014.

      None of their 5/6/7 "options" are particularly good nor have they earned a full-time spot in the rotation. Let them battle in Spring Training, dump the worst of the three, and move on with the season.

      For a team with limited (self imposed or not) financial resources, it does make sense, though, to question signing more and more pitching. If you now go out and sign a 4th starter...couldn't that money have been used on an every day player?

      BTW, wasn't the argument last year that NO TEAM could ever go out and sign three free agent pitchers in 1 year and be successful?

      I do wonder......is it his plan to undo last year? Last year he signed bad FAs (imo), and traded the present for the future (though Worley was for the present). Is it his plan this year to sign a bunch of pitching, and deal some combo of Worley, Gibson, Deduno, May, whomever for hitters?
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Reider View Post
      It's difficult to turn the worst starting rotation into an above average rotation in one off season.
      It's even more difficult when you don't add anyone that is above average.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      For a team with limited (self imposed or not) financial resources, it does make sense, though, to question signing more and more pitching. If you now go out and sign a 4th starter...couldn't that money have been used on an every day player?

      BTW, wasn't the argument last year that NO TEAM could ever go out and sign three free agent pitchers in 1 year and be successful?

      I do wonder......is it his plan to undo last year? Last year he signed bad FAs (imo), and traded the present for the future (though Worley was for the present). Is it his plan this year to sign a bunch of pitching, and deal some combo of Worley, Gibson, Deduno, May, whomever for hitters?
      I don't think so... What I think is more likely is that Ryan deals a bullpen arm. Swarzak, Burton, Fein, and Duensing all have value. Dishing off one of them and slotting in Worley/Diamond/Deduno makes more sense than trading a starter whose value is minimal.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I think he'll sign Drew and Suzuki (though not for offense), and hope for rebounds from three of Hammer, Plouffe, Doumit, Hicks and Kubel.

      Other than Arcia, the real offense is coming in a year: Sano, Rosario and Buxton will give this lineup considerable lift. I'm sure he doesn't want to sign offense that will block them.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Just now on Fangraphs:

      Dan Szymborski:
      I'm kind of amused that Pelfrey got a 50% raise for a 78 ERA+.
    1. Mike Frasier Law's Avatar
      Mike Frasier Law -
      When I read the headline, I took your analogy differently, more like what Mackey wrote yesterday: http://www.1500espn.com/sportswire/M...P_ladder121513

      In other words, the Twins are betting against the house in that they are betting that Pelfrey is better than any in-house "filler" option, and moves everyone down a spot on the depth chart. I buy it. I think he allows the Twins to keep people in the minors that need development while not completely embarrassing the major league team. I don't think he blocks anyone that shouldn't be blocked - when a Meyer or May is ready, it will be easy enough to find a spot for them.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Just now on Fangraphs:

      Dan Szymborski:
      I'm kind of amused that Pelfrey got a 50% raise for a 78 ERA+.
      Got to love ERA-based analysis...
      especially from the same place that lists Pelfrey at 2.1 WAR with a $10M+ value in 2013
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      I don't think so... What I think is more likely is that Ryan deals a bullpen arm. Swarzak, Burton, Fein, and Duensing all have value. Dishing off one of them and slotting in Worley/Diamond/Deduno makes more sense than trading a starter whose value is minimal.
      The backend starters and bullpen guys should be packaged together in my opinion. The return should be better even if only minimally better. The Twins can swap two 40-man spots for one or maybe none if the return is youngsters. I didn't like the Lirano/Morneau trades simply because the Twins were on the wrong end of those equations.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I wish I shared your optimism on Worley. To me, he's Nick Blackburn II. I saw nothing last year that would inspire confidence in him. Too many hard-hit balls, not enough easy grounders.

      Deduno misses bats. Unfortunately, he also misses the plate too much. But even when they put it in play, it is such weak sh*t that they can't get it out of the infield. I saw him get eight out of the first nine outs on choppers between the pitcher and first baseman in one game. It was a thing of beauty. He has the kind of movement that, even when they make contact, he just gets easy grounders.

      If Deduno hadn't pulled his groin in the rainstorm in the WBC final game, he would have easily been the top starter for the Twins last year. As it was, he was their top starter in the second half. Worley started the year as the designated top starter and finished with a middling stint in AAA. If it were me, I'd DFA him now to make room for Pelfrey. But they have too much invested in him with Revere to do that.
      While I agree Worley showed nothing last year, dont forget, he was damaged goods when we traded for him, Do I think he will be the pitcher he was his first half season with the Phillys? No , But me thinks there is a 4-5th starter in him if healthy...
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by johnnydakota View Post
      While I agree Worley showed nothing last year, dont forget, he was damaged goods when we traded for him, Do I think he will be the pitcher he was his first half season with the Phillys? No , But me thinks there is a 4-5th starter in him if healthy...
      Pretty much this. Out of Diamond/Worley/Deduno, I think Worley has the best chance of sustained success, though it will be back of the rotation type work.

      Deduno might have a higher peak but the dude is 30 years old and hasn't stayed healthy. It's a mistake to rely on him for anything at this point.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      The good thing is we are having a civil discussion about our starting pitching depth. I was hoping for 2 FA starting pitchers, but not expecting two I like as well as Nolasco and Hughes, and was pretty sure Pelfrey would come back but not at such an attractive price. Game Thread is always fun, but this year it will be better.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Got to love ERA-based analysis...
      especially from the same place that lists Pelfrey at 2.1 WAR with a $10M+ value in 2013
      The flaws in WAR for SPs on Fangraphs is well-documented and makes the stat suspect. If BR had even a positive WAR for Pelf, I could be sympathetic, but alas, his bWAR is -0.3!....and ESPN concurs with the same WAR rating.

      The stats suggest that Pelfrey will be better than last year.....but come on, it's hard for him to be worse. The striking thing that no one mentions much is Pelfrey's K/9 of 5.95 and K% of ~15% with the Twins are higher numbers than in ANY of his 5 healthy years, 2007-2011....This bucking of the trend in the opposite direction from all the rest of the Twins Starters might augur well for 2014, with his TJ-produced "stronger arm."

      His overall performance in those years was all over tha map, almost as maddening as watching him pitch live. The positive spin is Steamer forecasts Pelf building on those 2013 K numbers (K/9 6.14, K% 15.8%) and also coming in at below-career averages in ERA 4.29 and FIP 4.08. If he could come anywhere close to those numbers, Ryan will look like a veritable genius, and the backend of the rotation would be secured (even if still unwatchable with Pelfrey there).
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      The flaws in WAR for SPs on Fangraphs is well-documented and makes the stat suspect. If BR had even a positive WAR for Pelf, I could be sympathetic, but alas, his bWAR is -0.3!....and ESPN concurs with the same WAR rating.
      One can argue on whether or not a FIP-based was has problems, but my point was not that.

      My point was that (for good or bad) at one place at fangraphs, sets Pelfrey's value at $10M plus, while at another place argues that $5.5M is too much.

      Consistency. Either or. Cannot have both.
    1. JP3700's Avatar
      JP3700 -
      The signing itself isn't the problem. In fact, I think there's a good chance that he's worth his contract. In the five years where he pitched a full season, Pelfrey has averaged between 1.1 - 1.8 WAR a year depending on if you use BR or FG. If he is somewhere in the middle and is worth 1.5 WAR each of the two years he's signed, then he is worth every penny.

      The problem is that I don't know what direction the team is going.

      Pelfrey at his best takes the team from 76 to 78 wins, and that win projection may already be optimistic. This is assuming that Pelfrey will be at his best and the other options are replacement level. Both of which aren't even close to being a given.

      More important is that Pelfrey isn't an asset. Teams aren't lining up to acquire 30+ year old below league average starters. You can find those guys every year on the free agent market. However, teams will give you a call about young, cost controlled pitching and possibly offer some real value.

      If the team were in need for a back end starter to fill out the rotation on a contending team, then this move would make perfect sense. But in the position they are in, it makes more sense to give innings to Gibson, Worley and Diamond. Go for it or build for the future. Attempting to reach mediocrity shouldn't be the goal.
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