• Finding Positives in Pelfrey

    On Saturday, the news we've been expecting for weeks finally arrived: the Twins have agreed to terms with Mike Pelfrey on a two-year contract. Ever since it was initially reported back in November that Minnesota had made a multi-year bid for the right-hander, there has been little question that a reunion was in store because, frankly, it seemed unlikely any other team would match.

    The move has been met with criticism from many fans and analysts, which is unsurprising considering that Pelfrey pitched quite poorly in his first year with the club. I expected to experience that same feeling of antipathy when the signing was inevitably announced. And yet... I am not.

    To be clear, I'm not a big fan of Pelfrey. Watching him pitch is a grind because he works slowly and uses tons of pitches. For the game-watching fan, he's kind of a drag. But that's secondary to the results he achieves.

    Those haven't been good either, of course, at least not since he put up a 3.66 ERA over 204 innings back in 2010. I didn't like the contract given to Pelfrey last year because I saw little upside in a one-year deal for a guy who wasn't great to begin with and was only 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery. The best-case scenario was that Pelf would get off to a rough start and come around during the latter part of the season boosting his own value going forward.

    That did happen, to some extent. The righty endured a miserable first two months, getting tagged for a 6.66 ERA and .907 OPS while completing six innings just twice in 11 starts. But he looked noticeably better from May through September, turning in a 4.44 ERA while allowing only seven homers in 101 innings.

    The overall numbers are far from dazzling, but that's why Pelfrey was available at such a low price. And at that price ($11 million plus incentives over two years), he stands a good chance of being a solid value for the back end of the rotation.

    Here are a couple key things to keep in mind: He revved his fastball back up to the mid-90s in 2013 despite being less than a year removed from elbow surgery, and on the season he posted a career-high 6.0 K/9 rate (including 6.7 in the final four months).

    Anyone who had become entangled in thoughts of a top-flight talent like Matt Garza is surely disappointed, but in my mind those reports were never realistic. The Twins weren't going to sign another pitcher to a four/five-year deal worth potentially upwards of $75 million after already committing that amount to a pair of hurlers in November. Those printed rumors struck me as a classic example of media being leveraged in negotiations -- either by the Twins (trying to motivate Pelfrey to sign) or by Garza's agent (trying to drum up the market).

    Once Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were on board, I sincerely doubt Terry Ryan was ever truly interested in adding Garza, or Masahiro Tanaka, or even Bronson Arroyo (who, at 36, simply doesn't fit as well with the organization's contention timeline as Pelfrey, who is still 29). Not at the prices they are going to eventually command.

    In all likelihood, the Twins are now done shopping for starting pitching. No one is going to look at their rotation -- which will include Nolasco, Hughes, Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and one returning arm -- and be blown away, but this group is a far more stable one than we've seen the past few years. The first four names are all experienced hurlers who made at least 29 starts in the majors last year. Leaving only one spot open puts the Twins in a position where they can pick the best of their internal candidates rather than counting on total question marks to fill multiple holes.

    I know it's hard to get excited about Pelfrey based on what we've seen. But it's important to view him for what he is: an inexpensive back-end piece whose contract won't constrict the Twins much in terms of years or money. And while last year's deal carried little upside, there's more to be found in this one.

    If Pelf can build on the things he did in the second half of 2013, he could turn out to be a pretty damn good value at around $7 million per year in his age 30 and 31 seasons.
    This article was originally published in blog: Finding Positives in Pelfrey started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 81 Comments
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      You said ceiling. His ceiling is higher than his career average.
      You typically need to adjust .30 to .50 for an NL to AL shift. So his true career average should be in the 4.70 to 5.00 range. Now factor in TJ. 4.00 is not happening.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Because there are already 3-5 candidates for that spot, and they have no LF, CF, SS, DH on the roster, and maybe no C......that's the biggest downside for me.
      But they still have money to sign people for those positions ..... if they can find anyone to sign (I'm sure they could find room on the 40-man for someone really desirable).

      JimCrikket just posted a nice summary of the winter meetings on his Knuckleballs blog (it'll find its way on here sometime soon, I'm sure but here's the link: http://knuckleballsblog.com/2013/12/...-expectations/)

      His points about WHO they could sign for those positions are good ones. What are you going to do with Willingham to add someone else in LF? What CF would want to sign with the Twins given Buxton looming in the near future (and actually, given the possibility of improvement by Hicks, too). He didn't say it but do we really need another DH candidate? What will you do with Doumit? Short Stop seems to be the one place the could upgrade if they signed Drew. And, some depth at catcher would make me feel better, too.

      But given that they are still only at about $83m, there is nothing in the Pelfrey signing that prevents them from trying to make some upgrades to position players. Now, admittedly, if they would manage to sign Garza, there'd be a squeeze .... but that would be a squeeze I could live with.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Because there are already 3-5 candidates for that spot, and they have no LF, CF, SS, DH on the roster, and maybe no C......that's the biggest downside for me. Brock, he has three years with an ERA over 5, one with a 4.74, and two with an ERA under 4. What are the odds he pitches better than Gibson, Deduno, Meyer, Diamond, Worley....asked another way, what are the odds he pitches so much better than them that it matters in the outcome of games?
      They have four options for one rotation spot. At least two of those guys will see significant starts over the course of a season. Without Pelfrey, at least three of those guys will see significant innings in 2014.

      Do you really want to bank on 75% of Deduno (who may be injured), Worley, Diamond, and Gibson performing as well or better than Pelfrey? I don't.

      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      If you have limited resources, how to best spend your money is an issue......or maybe we think they don't have limited resources, and this signing is not what is keeping them from signing any offense.
      Signing Pelfrey should not stop them from acquiring a stopgap offensive bat. It should also be noted that free agents are not stupid... They're not going to want to sign with the Twins knowing that their position is in jeopardy right off the bat. Given the Twins current roster, any free agent signing is going to question whether they're going to get playing time if they stumble out of the gate. It's likely that some players don't want to come here because of that reason, such as Rajai Davis, who reportedly turned down an offer from the Twins.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      What is the payoff here? I would argue the range of outcomes are somewhere between his floor (last years 5.20 ERA) and his ceiling is probably around his career mark of 4.50. I get that he had two years in the 3.60-3.70 range, but that was three and five years ago, in the NL, and pre TJ.

      So the best case is he is a #4 or #5 starter and the worst case is he is our 7th or 8th best pitcher. If he hits his incentives which are likely based on innings alone, we will pay him $14.5M over two years. So we either pay a 4/5 starter 4/5 starter money or we pay a terrible pitcher $11M and either cut him or trade him and eat salary.
      A #4 or #5 starter in this market is worth between $7 and $10 million. They save some dough from that in any event vs. signing Arroyo for 2/22 or Garza for 5/65. That's dough they can use to sign Drew and Suzuki. In isolation, it is a middling move. In the bigger picture, it is a good gamble.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      You typically need to adjust .30 to .50 for an NL to AL shift. So his true career average should be in the 4.70 to 5.00 range. Now factor in TJ. 4.00 is not happening.
      Again, you said ceiling. Mike Pelfrey has pitched two above average seasons (under a 3.75 ERA in the NL). His ceiling is somewhere around a 4.00 ERA in the AL and Target Field.

      Ceiling is not the same as career average.

      If you want to suggest that it's likely Pelfrey will pitch to a 4.3-4.6 ERA, I completely agree. But that's not his ceiling, as evidenced by a couple of seasons where he's been much better than that. The Twins have him under contract for his age 30-31 seasons. He's not an old man.
    1. mcrow's Avatar
      mcrow -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      But they still have money to sign people for those positions ..... if they can find anyone to sign (I'm sure they could find room on the 40-man for someone really desirable).

      JimCrikket just posted a nice summary of the winter meetings on his Knuckleballs blog (it'll find its way on here sometime soon, I'm sure but here's the link: http://knuckleballsblog.com/2013/12/...-expectations/)

      His points about WHO they could sign for those positions are good ones. What are you going to do with Willingham to add someone else in LF? What CF would want to sign with the Twins given Buxton looming in the near future (and actually, given the possibility of improvement by Hicks, too). He didn't say it but do we really need another DH candidate? What will you do with Doumit? Short Stop seems to be the one place the could upgrade if they signed Drew. And, some depth at catcher would make me feel better, too.

      But given that they are still only at about $83m, there is nothing in the Pelfrey signing that prevents them from trying to make some upgrades to position players. Now, admittedly, if they would manage to sign Garza, there'd be a squeeze .... but that would be a squeeze I could live with.

      Looking that FA's still ont he market there really are no appealing LF, CF, DH or SS on the market that really makes a lot of sense. Most of what is left are guys in their 30's, many of which are not clear upgrades anyway.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Doumit is bad. Him being on the team, for 1 more year, should not stop them from signing a DH. There is no LF on the roster after this year (heck, maybe this year), unless you think Hicks will learn to hit righties anytime soon, which I do not. There might or might not be a catcher on the roster.

      A good hitter, in LF, would start a lot of games the next 2-3 years, imo. Not sure why signing one seems like a bad idea to them or the Twins. Willingham can DH (for a year)....are FAs really afraid of competing with Hicks, Presley, and Mastro? If so, then I probably would not want them on the team anyway.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by mcrow View Post
      Looking that FA's still ont he market there really are no appealing LF, CF, DH or SS on the market that really makes a lot of sense. Most of what is left are guys in their 30's, many of which are not clear upgrades anyway.
      Which is the case next year too, how old do you expect FAs to be in any year?

      It is true, of those left, there aren't a lot of great options. The good players (other than Drew, imo) have mostly signed already unfortunately.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Doumit is bad. Him being on the team, for 1 more year, should not stop them from signing a DH. There is no LF on the roster after this year (heck, maybe this year), unless you think Hicks will learn to hit righties anytime soon, which I do not. There might or might not be a catcher on the roster.

      A good hitter, in LF, would start a lot of games the next 2-3 years, imo. Not sure why signing one seems like a bad idea to them or the Twins. Willingham can DH (for a year)....are FAs really afraid of competing with Hicks, Presley, and Mastro? If so, then I probably would not want them on the team anyway.
      Doumit shouldn't prevent the Twins from signing a DH... But Willingham should.

      If the Twins can get a stopgap CF (which it appears they tried to do with Davis), good for them. It's a smart move that helps the team on both sides of the ball.

      What the Twins don't need is more position-less bats.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I agree, Brock. That's what I said in the 2nd paragraph, isn't it?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      I agree, Brock. That's what I said in the 2nd paragraph, isn't it?
      Fair enough. That's the reason why I think the Twins should be in on Stephen Drew. He's not a perfect solution but if he can be had for three years (not four, ugh), he makes the team better at a position where he will have no competition in the near future.
    1. mcrow's Avatar
      mcrow -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Which is the case next year too, how old do you expect FAs to be in any year?

      It is true, of those left, there aren't a lot of great options. The good players (other than Drew, imo) have mostly signed already unfortunately.
      What I'm saying is unless they are the type of player that is going to be a big upgrade there is no reason to sign some 30+ year old guy that's maybe a marginal upgrade. I think Drew might be the only positional player left on the market that makes sense for the Twins.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      The A's largely won last year because they decided to upgrade, often marginally, a lot of positions on the field. Settling for AAAA players, or worse, is what leads to back to back to back 95 loss season, imo. Though, that is a philosophical discussion, frankly.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Interestingly, based solely on past MLB performance, Pelfrey might have the highest "ceiling" of our 4 veteran starters now under contract. His 113 and 107 full season ERA+ numbers are better than anything the other three have ever posted as starters, save for Nolasco's 2008.

      Of course, as mentioned by another poster, Pelfrey is also the one guy in the group who's had recent major surgery. And even when healthy, Pelfrey was alternating those seasons with ~80 ERA+ seasons. In fact, all four of the Twins veteran starters have a history of mixing multiple ~80 ERA+ seasons in with their more league-average seasons (95-100 ERA+).

      I guess if they all stay healthy and don't have their "bad" years at the same time, they should still average out to a 90 ERA+, which would represent almost a full run shaved off last year's starter ERA (roughly a 75 ERA+, I think).
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      I guess if they all stay healthy and don't have their "bad" years at the same time, they should still average out to a 90 ERA+, which would represent almost a full run shaved off last year's starter ERA (roughly a 75 ERA+, I think).
      Not to mention that they'll pitch more innings at that improved ERA and the bullpen should thrive, pitching 100-150 less innings and using their best arms in key spots more often instead of scattering innings to the entire pen. Overall, the gain could be really significant.

      League average starters have a lot of value over the course of a season. They probably won't push the Twins to the postseason but the Twins aren't looking at the postseason in 2014. They're looking at 85 wins if everything goes well, 70-80 wins the likely landing spot.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Doumit shouldn't prevent the Twins from signing a DH... But Willingham should.

      If the Twins can get a stopgap CF (which it appears they tried to do with Davis), good for them. It's a smart move that helps the team on both sides of the ball.

      What the Twins don't need is more position-less bats.
      I'd say they are more likely to sign a stop-gap shortstop like Drew than a CF. That has as much to do with the players on the market as team need. I would argue they need both. But it is easier to upgrade at short than CF in this market. Davis was probably the best affordable option, and I wasn't all that fond of his career .300 OBP. I'd almost prefer sticking with Presley. Davis was a marginal upgrade over Presley. And now he's gone. Plus, there is some hope Hicks will bounce back.

      On the other hand, Drew is a clear upgrade over Florimon or Bartlett. Whoever they get to upgrade the offense needs to get on base. Drew gets on base at about a .333 clip. Not great, but better than any of the center fielders on the market.
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      One quick thought. We now have a log jam of guys who could go after the 5th spot. Worley, Diamond, Gibson, Deduno, Meyer and TBD all have a chance. This troubled me for a moment but now I think this is how it should be. For a few years we have seen the team have to dig pretty deep and hope for quality replacements at pitcher. This year the Twins will have that battle for the 5th spot and have others working in the high minors who have the potential to be quality arms. Its a nice surplus.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Penz View Post
      One quick thought. We now have a log jam of guys who could go after the 5th spot. Worley, Diamond, Gibson, Deduno, Meyer and TBD all have a chance. This troubled me for a moment but now I think this is how it should be. For a few years we have seen the team have to dig pretty deep and hope for quality replacements at pitcher. This year the Twins will have that battle for the 5th spot and have others working in the high minors who have the potential to be quality arms. Its a nice surplus.
      Our starting pitching was ranked 29th by ERA. We have signed three pitchers and spent $84M.

      Our lineup was ranked 25th by runs. We have not spent a single dollar and at the moment we are swapping Morneau for Pinto in the lineup.

      In theory, we do have money to spend and signing Pelfrey should not stop us from getting a bat. But this is the Twins and it will.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Not to mention that they'll pitch more innings at that improved ERA and the bullpen should thrive, pitching 100-150 less innings and using their best arms in key spots more often instead of scattering innings to the entire pen. Overall, the gain could be really significant.
      Although, Hughes and Pelfrey are both coming off ~5 IP/start averages, which is less than the the Twins overall average last year. Even in his "peak months" last year, Pelfrey was under 6 IP/start.

      6 IP/start seems like the top end for these four guys, which is what it would take to throw just 100 more IP than last year's starters. And that's when they are all pitching well. If any one of them has an off year, they likely will fall short of that level of IP improvement.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      Although, Hughes and Pelfrey are both coming off ~5 IP/start averages, which is less than the the Twins overall average last year. Even in his "peak months" last year, Pelfrey was under 6 IP/start.

      6 IP/start seems like the top end for these four guys, which is what it would take to throw just 100 more IP than last year's starters. And that's when they are all pitching well. If any one of them has an off year, they likely will fall short of that level of IP improvement.
      I think we can expect to see an improvement from Hughes. Pelfrey, maybe not so much. Overall, the net gain should still be significant, even if it's only 50-60 innings. That's basically one season of the worst reliever in the bullpen.
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