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  • Pelfrey & Baker: A Study in Arm Resilience

    Last offseason, the Twins faced a decision with a player who had been part of their organization for nearly a decade. Scott Baker, coming off Tommy John surgery, was a free agent, and the Twins, direly in need of pitching help, were among the teams discussing a contract with him.

    Ultimately, they backed off and let him sign with the Cubs. According to reports, the biggest stumbling block was Baker's unwillingness to include an option for a second year. But of course, the Twins went on to sign Mike Pelfrey to a straight one-year deal at a similar price, so there must have been more to it than that.

    I felt at the time that one of the biggest factors in the club's preference for Pelfrey was a history of far greater arm durability, and one year later, the decision looks smart.

    In comparing Baker and Pelfrey last year, there were many situational similarities. Both were former high draft picks with MLB success in their histories, both were around 30 years old and both would be a little under a year removed from Tommy John at the outset of the 2013 season. Both ended up signing one-year contracts for around $5 million, with no added option years.

    So essentially, in committing a fairly significant chunk of guaranteed money to one of these pitchers, the choice came down to which one was going to bounce back and deliver production right away in 2013 to make good on that investment. The Twins ultimately passed up Baker and signed Pelfrey in late December.

    It seemed clear that Baker had the greater upside. He was the guy who could miss bats, and the one who had been truly exceptional in his best years. He also had familiarity within the organization. But through that familiarity, the Twins knew that his pitching arm hadn't always held up especially well.

    Even before learning in spring of 2012 that he had a torn ligament, Baker had a long history of pesky elbow issues. He had reached 200 innings only once in his career, in 2009, and hadn't eclipsed 172 innings in a season outside of that. A glance at Baker's injury history on Baseball Prospectus reveals a lengthy record of arm ailments dating back to 2009:


    Pelfrey, on the other hand, had a relatively clean bill of health prior to his May 2012 surgery. From 2008 through 2011, he made 31-plus starts every year and averaged 196 innings. In fact, prior to going down with the ligament tear, he never even made one trip to the disabled list. As a well built specimen at 6'7" and 250 lbs, Pelf had been the definition of durability.

    He only enhanced that reputation by returning last year, just 11 months from Tommy John surgery, and logging 152 innings over 29 starts. His overall results weren't very good, but the accomplishment alone is quite noteworthy. Based on my research, there has never been another starting pitcher to return from reconstructive elbow surgery in such a short span and complete a full season. Pelfrey even ratcheted his fastball back up to 93 MPH on average and posted the highest strikeout rate of his career.

    Meanwhile, Baker missed almost the entire season as he dealt with rehab complications. He didn't make his first appearance until September 8th and wound up pitching 15 innings over three starts. That's what the Cubs got for their $5.5 million. Say what you will about Pelfrey's performance -- at least he gave the Twins innings.

    That his arm was able to rebound so well is not wholly surprising considering his history, and bodes well for his new two-year deal. The Twins are chiefly interested in getting quality innings at the back end of the rotation from Pelfrey, and based on his past he seems like a strong bet to at least hold up well enough to deliver the innings.

    Whether those innings will be of the quality variety is unclear to say the least, but if you look closely you can find some positive signs to that end.
    This article was originally published in blog: Pelfrey & Baker: A Study in Arm Resilience started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 34 Comments
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I'm sure Baker's injury history was under consideration, but I'm more inclined to believe that the contracts the Twins gave to Pelfrey and Correia had more to do with the way the Cubs jumped on the market and manipulated it at the begining of free agency. The Cubs wanted the higher upside Baker, but had their preference been Pelfrey, I think the more agressive Cubs would have had him and the Twins then perhaps would have re-signed Baker.

      I don't know that the Twins preferred Pelfrey over Baker as much as I think the Cubs shocked everyone by setting the market for backend/reclamation project pitchers suddenly and aggessively before the Twins or other teams were prepared to react.
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      I'm not as down on Pelf as many here at TD. He came back at record pace and posted a respectable second half. TR is raising the bar. Yes, we have a lot of guys vying for 5th starter, but that is a better problem than we had last year.

      Go Twins!
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      It's a small quibble, but Baker pitched nearly 300 more innings in the minors than Pelfrey, most of those innings at AAA. However, each played three years in college where Pelfrey had 120 more innings than Baker-- if that's because Baker had college injuries then that would certainly advance your point that Pelfrey has the more resilient arm.

      I think the broader decision to cut ties with Baker was political. The facts and circumstances surrounding Baker's 2012 spring training injury was much more contentious than the online news stories from the time would suggest. Not to get too conspiratorial or negative, but I distinctly remember either a Kris Attebery or a Gladden talking about it on a radio show at the time, and that very influential people in the FO or coaching staff basically felt that Baker's injury was in his head and that Baker just needed to "man up" and pitch. That statement caught my ear. Then in a 180, Baker had the second opinion and the surgery. I don't know, maybe that says more about me that I can be loudly critical of episodes like that rather than always looking at the bright side of things. (being critical vs. looking at the bright side of 3 straight horrible seasons is another topic)

      But whatever, disputes like this happen behind the scenes in most/all organizations. I think Pelfrey and Baker are both in the right places and that both will be effective in 2014.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hosken Bombo Disco View Post
      very influential people in the FO or coaching staff basically felt that Baker's injury was in his head and that Baker just needed to "man up" and pitch. That statement caught my ear.
      That would be Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson. They are all on the record saying that Baker should try to pitch through this...
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      I dont blame the Twins FO one bit for thinking it was all in Baker's head. There always seemed to be something ailing Baker's arm, and the organization had grown tired of it. Baker may have better stuff than Pelfrey, but I'll take Pelfrey any day over Baker. He's durable. He's a gamer. He's not whiny and wimpy. And it seemed any time Baker got his pitch count in the 90's, his whole body language changed. Afterall, once you get close to 100, you're supposed to be tired, right? Classic new age "6 innings and I've done my job" pitcher.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      I dont blame the Twins FO one bit for thinking it was all in Baker's head. There always seemed to be something ailing Baker's arm, and the organization had grown tired of it. Baker may have better stuff than Pelfrey, but I'll take Pelfrey any day over Baker. He's durable. He's a gamer. He's not whiny and wimpy. And it seemed any time Baker got his pitch count in the 90's, his whole body language changed. Afterall, once you get close to 100, you're supposed to be tired, right? Classic new age "6 innings and I've done my job" pitcher.
      Baker career: 6.03 innings per start

      Pelfrey career: 5.89 innings per start
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      I felt at the time that one of the biggest factors in the club's preference for Pelfrey was a history of far greater arm durability, and one year later, the decision looks smart.
      No it doesn't. It looks as stupid today as it did a year ago. With Baker there was at least the hope that he could return and pitch with some above average results. He could then perhaps have been re-signed or traded at some point.

      Pelfrey on the other hand had no upside. Even when healthy he hadn't been good, there was no hope that he would be an above average pitcher. So at best you get a #4 or 5 starter with the risk that he is God awful or doesn't pitch. Well, we got the God awful. How did that help the Twins exactly?

      If the Twins had signed Baker and gotten God awful (or no innings at all), at least we could have said they were trying to put a good pitcher on the field.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      Baker career: Far more talented than Pelfrey, but a head case.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      No it doesn't. It looks as stupid today as it did a year ago. With Baker there was at least the hope that he could return and pitch with some above average results. He could then perhaps have been re-signed or traded at some point.

      Pelfrey on the other hand had no upside. Even when healthy he hadn't been good, there was no hope that he would be an above average pitcher. So at best you get a #4 or 5 starter with the risk that he is God awful or doesn't pitch. Well, we got the God awful. How did that help the Twins exactly?

      If the Twins had signed Baker and gotten God awful (or no innings at all), at least we could have said they were trying to put a good pitcher on the field.
      1. While you can argue the Twins took a risk with Pelfrey, it was still better than signing Baker because at least Pelfrey took the mound. Last time I checked, it's hard to get anything for a guy in trade if he doesn't pitch until September.

      2. Pelfrey was an above average pitcher in 2010, just one season before he missed a season due to TJS.

      You can argue whether Pelfrey is good enough, whether the Twins should have signed him, or a host of other things, but under no circumstances can you argue that Scott Baker was a better signing, particularly in hindsight because he didn't pitch. I'll take the guy who sucks but is playing over the guy who can't play at all. That's just common sense. You can always bench the sucky guy if something better comes along.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      Baker career: Far more talented than Pelfrey, but a head case.
      So now somewhat injury-prone players are automatically headcases?

      I will never, ever understand why Minnesota fans cannot appreciate what they had in Scott Baker.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      You can argue whether Pelfrey is good enough, whether the Twins should have signed him, or a host of other things, but under no circumstances can you argue that Scott Baker was a better signing, particularly in hindsight because he didn't pitch.
      I don't think your reply looked at the conversation in context. Nick posted that his thoughts at the time of the signing were that Pelfrey was being picked over Baker due to durability. Oxtung emphasized the idea of evaluating the deal at the time it was signed.

      I'd have to agree with him, Pelfrey had his surgery later and had never been as good a pitcher as Baker. So it's ONLY with hindsight that you can say the Twins got a slightly better deal. His point, and I agree with it, is that the Twins should've been targeting upside and not durability.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      1. While you can argue the Twins took a risk with Pelfrey, it was still better than signing Baker because at least Pelfrey took the mound. Last time I checked, it's hard to get anything for a guy in trade if he doesn't pitch until September.

      2. Pelfrey was an above average pitcher in 2010, just one season before he missed a season due to TJS.

      You can argue whether Pelfrey is good enough, whether the Twins should have signed him, or a host of other things, but under no circumstances can you argue that Scott Baker was a better signing, particularly in hindsight because he didn't pitch. I'll take the guy who sucks but is playing over the guy who can't play at all. That's just common sense. You can always bench the sucky guy if something better comes along.
      A signing is either good or bad based upon what was known before the signing occured, not because of what happened after. Based upon what was known publicly at the time of the signings Baker was the superior choice.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I'd have to agree with him, Pelfrey had his surgery later and had never been as good a pitcher as Baker. So it's ONLY with hindsight that you can say the Twins got a slightly better deal. His point, and I agree with it, is that the Twins should've been targeting upside and not durability.
      On the other hand, the Twins organization had more knowledge about Scott Baker and his situation than every other team in MLB and they refused to sign him without a second year (reportedly).

      That says volumes about Scott Baker's status going into the season.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      A signing is either good or bad based upon what was known before the signing occured, not because of what happened after. Based upon what was known publicly at the time of the signings Baker was the superior choice.
      What was known publicly about Baker is not the same as what the Twins knew about Baker. They had been working with Baker for years. He had been using their facilities, their doctors, their staff. Nobody knew Scott Baker better than the Twins.

      I think it speaks volumes that they (again, reportedly) wanted a second year or no deal.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      A signing is either good or bad based upon what was known before the signing occured, not because of what happened after. Based upon what was known publicly at the time of the signings Baker was the superior choice.
      That is completely backwards. You sign someone for what you think they can do for you, not what they have done. The results are what makes it a good signing or not. The results are what validate your judgement. If the results meet your expectations then it is a good signing.
      What is known publicly matters little as there is a thing called privacy laws.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      Baker career: Far more talented than Pelfrey, but a head case.
      Moderator's note: the line is purposely ambiguous where the TD Comment Policy on personal attacks comes into play, but this post needs to be the last of its kind.You can discuss Pelfrey versus Baker, but stay *far* away from the line questioning the person.
    1. Tibs's Avatar
      Tibs -
      I agree that Pelfrey was the better signing last year. The Cubs might as well have been paying me those millions of dollars until September.

      Did someone actually say they thought the injury was in Baker's head? I feel like there would be medical evidence showing the injury, and I don't see why he would undergo such a serious surgery if it wasn't needed.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      During the season when Baker got injured there were apparently remarks that Baker needed to toughen up and play through it. He later completely tore his UCL. MRI's are good but they don't show every strain.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I'd have to agree with him, Pelfrey had his surgery later and had never been as good a pitcher as Baker. So it's ONLY with hindsight that you can say the Twins got a slightly better deal. His point, and I agree with it, is that the Twins should've been targeting upside and not durability.
      To an extent, yes. I'm a firm believer that the term "injury-prone" is thrown around way too much. But Baker has had chronic arm problems and went through a surgery that was more significant than the typical Tommy John (if you recall, he was getting another procedure done when they discovered the tear and decided to repair the ligament).

      The red flags were obvious in this case. The Cubs risked it anyway and got bit, just as the Mets did with Shaun Marcum. The Twins targeted durability and they got a guy who held up, and actually threw pretty well in the latter part of the year. The smartest thing would have been to start Pelfrey in Triple-A and let him work out the rust in the minors, but oh well.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      True Nick and I credit the Twins on Baker, but the mentality was wrong. Not to mention I think we all agree swapping Correia and Pelfreys contracts last year would be beneficial now.

      The twins have prized toughness and durability over talent for awhile but that trend seems to be changing for the better.
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