Five reasons that the Twins re-signing of Mike Pelfrey could be a steal

Late last week it was communicated, but not officially announced that the Minnesota Twins have reached agreement with Mike Pelfrey for a 2 year contract.  The contract is for a base amount of $5.5 million per season and with the potential of additional $3.5 million in incentives through the life of the contract.  Additional details about the incentives will be announced when the signing will be official.

There has been a lot of noise in Twins' Territory about this signing, and most of it was negative.   People look at Pelfrey's 5-13 record, accompanied by a 5.19 ERA and by the long time that Pelfrey took between pitches and wonder why the Twins re-signed a guy who is perceived as no better then what they already have.

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 situation and already achieved improvement

Pelfrey threw in his first real game a record 10 months after his surgery.  To put it into perspective, Fransisco Liriano had his Tommy John Surgery on November 6, 2006 and pitched his first spring training game on March of 2008.  Kyle Gibson had his on September of 2011 and pitched his first game on March of 2013.   2013 was a tale of 2 halfs for Pelfrey, even by the crude ERA measurement: His ERA by month was:  April 7.66, May 5.90, June 4.66, July 3.25, August 3.60 and September 7.45.   In other words, if he took 13 months to recover and ignore April and May, those are pretty good numbers.   His September ERA (also aided by a .431 BABIP) could 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 of Pelfrey's fastball that sits at 92-93 and touches mid 90, easily the highest velocity of 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 hardest 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 in this list.   I hope that it is elbow rehabilitation related and the further that 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, that last season he threw only about 10% of the time each.

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 becomes 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%, which 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, you are about to have a high BABIP and a lot of outs will become singles and doubles.   Corner OF defense is something the Twins will have to address in 2014, in order to be successful.

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 to do so, if he wants to add one to his repertoire (and it will be a good idea.)

As I indicated here, yes, he was a human rain delay, but so were his teammates and this was an aberration from previous seasons, 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 that it will improve next season. 

For what is worth, my math predict continuous improvement for Pelfrey, and my analysis on who the Twins should target in free agency had him (and Phil Hughes) in the list of 8.

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 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 dollars...  The real point here is that the Twins will assume the risk they had when they had Nick Blackburn in 2012 and 2013.

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