The Pelf on the Shelf

Writer’s Note: Mike Pelfrey ranked 139th on Zach Sanders’ rankings.

You aren’t going to draft Mike Pelfrey. You probably won’t pick him up in season. You may not even use him as a two-start option.

But Pelfrey isn’t as bad as he looked last year, and in fact may have some untapped upside that the Twins could be getting on the cheap after re-signing him to a two-year, $11 million deal.

Pelfrey missed nearly all of the 2012 season after having Tommy John surgery, and rushed back to join a Twins rotation in shambles just a year later. It was obvious he wasn’t right from the get-go, and he said as much himself — though much later on.

Take a look at his ERA by month:

Apr. – 7.66
May – 5.90
June- 4.66
July- 3.25
Aug.- 3.60
Sept.- 7.45

If one believes the narratives of early season troubles as working through the rust of a missed season due to major surgery, and the late season woes as those based on fatigue, well, one can make a pretty compelling case that the middle of Pelfrey’s season portrays at least some sort of upside not immediately seen from a 5.19 ERA and 5-13 record.

A glance at Pelf’s PITCHf/x actually portrays a more flattering picture than one might anticipate. The only pitch Pelfrey threw that got hit extraordinarily hard is his splitter — .361/.443/.459 which he threw with the lowest frequency of all his offerings. No other pitch Pelfrey threw permitted an opponent’s OPS of higher than .800. And he wasn’t exactly battered with the split, either. He allowed 19 singles, and just one each of all the extra base varieties. It’s easy to see why Pelfrey sticks with the splitter in that vein, when one considers the singles in light of a 58.2% groundball rate on that pitch. That slash line comes with a .389 BABIP too. Essentially, the splitty is doing what it is supposed to do, just not generating the proper results. At least not yet.

Pelfrey is also throwing rather hard. And while that alone isn’t noteworthy, it’s good to see that his high-end fastballs and sinkers (96.3 and 95.5 mph, respectively) are getting close to his pre-injury values.

Another good thing to see is how good Pelfrey’s slider was last year. And maybe this is part of the reason I still think Pelfrey could be a good two-pitch power reliever, sort of cut from the Luke Hochevar mold. Not only would his fastball play up — and perhaps routinely sit at or around 95 — but he also has a slider that allowed a 2013 line of .254/.262/.356 and has allowed a career mark of .256/.290/.383.

With an AAV of $5.5 million, I think the Twins can afford to give Pelfrey another spin in the rotation, and see if any of these underlying tendencies take hold in one of the better pitchers’ parks in the league. If that doesn’t work there’s still a good chance he could pan out as a good reliever. At the end of the day fantasy-wise, he’s just on a long list of guys to keep an eye on, but not roster.

In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

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10 years ago

bad signing, either way.

Ruki Motomiya
10 years ago
Reply to  FeslenR


10 years ago
Reply to  Ruki Motomiya

he’s not a good pitcher, even for an innings eater.

Ruki Motomiya
10 years ago
Reply to  Ruki Motomiya

It’s a 2 year, 11 mil deal, so Pelfrey needs to be worth about 2 WAR over the contract to pay for it. FanGraphs says he was worth 2.1 WAR last year and even an ERA closer to his xFIP, such as Steamer predicts, predicts 1.4 WAR, so something like 1.4 WAR each of the next two years produces some surplus value. And while Pelfrey isn’t great, he has some decent innings eater potential, and provides very cheap depth.