As far as he is concerned, pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who underwent Tommy John surgery last year, will not pitch again for the Minnesota Twins this year. It should not be his last time in a Twins uniform, however, even though he joined the team on a one-year, $4 million contract.
The team would be wise to re-sign him in the offseason.
“Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) always says he wants me to end it on a positive note,” Pelfrey said after pitching six innings and surrendering one run against the Detroit Tigers on September 23. “Maybe if that had happened three starts ago, I would have finished (the year out), but it didn’t.”
Three starts ago, on September 11 against the Oakland A’s, Pelfrey only went three innings and gave up seven runs. The team ended up losing 18-3.
“I don’t care what level you’re at,” he said at the time. “You can’t fall behind the count and then throw balls over the middle of the plate, which obviously I did a lot, and it gets to the point where hitting becomes contagious.”
It has been an up-and-down season. Although he won 10-plus games with the New York Mets for three years straight (2008-10), he was brought in primarily to eat up innings and give the team’s lineup—which was supposed to be more productive—a chance to win the game every night.
“We’ve seen some bright spots and we’ve seen some regression to where he can’t find the strike zone, but I think those were all fixable,” says manager Ron Gardenhire. “The velocity is there, the secondary pitches are getting better. His arm feels great.”
The pace of game has really hurt Pelfrey. His starts tend to last upwards of three to four hours. This is something that any reasonable person would like to correct.
“Those things are all fixable,” continued Gardenhire, referring to velocity, secondary pitching and pace of game. “The pace of the game, the 3-2 counts, that’s fixable,” he reiterated, “and that means I would have to stand behind the rubber and yell at him every time he goes 3-2.
“That’s how we fix that.”
Pelfrey was hit-and-miss all year long...but had more misses that he would like. Assuming he is shut down, Pelfrey finishes the year 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA—his highest ERA since becoming a full-time starter in 2008.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it and pretend that I had a good year,” he said. “It definitely didn’t work out the way I wanted it for the team or for anybody else.”
Despite having a down year, the Twins would be wise to re-sign him next season.
Yes, that’s right, they should re-sign him. Stop yelling at your computer screen and hear me out: He wants to play in Minnesota, he has the potential to be a 10-game winner again, and, at the very least, he can eat up innings.
It’s a smart move, even if it doesn’t seem like it initially.
He Wants to Play in Minnesota
Pelfrey is a quiet guy. He speaks in hushed tones, often taking as much time between sentences as he does between pitches. He’s as calculating as he is reserved.
At 6’7” and 250 pounds, he is kind of the Nikola Pekovic of the Twins—a gentle giant when he’s not playing.
He is the kind of person that gets eaten alive in New York.
While he does not say anything bad about his time in Queens and has in fact embraced members of the New York media when the Mets visited Target Field, he went as far as to say that he would be crushed if the Twins dealt him at the trade deadline. He has been adamant that he wants to return to the team next season.
“I want to come back and I’ve expressed that to Andy, Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) and (general manager) Terry [Ryan],” he said. “Ultimately, it’s obviously in their hands with what direction they want to go, but I told them I’d love to come back.”
There are many reasons why a player would like to play for the Twins: It’s a franchise that had success from 2002 to 2010 in a sports-crazy city where, for the most part, there are not unreasonable expectations from the fans or media.
At the same time, Minnesota has fallen on hard times recently. It should be appreciated when a player wants to stick it out with the team even amidst the chaos losing brings.
Pelfrey is a fit here. He is a Midwestern guy who is soft-spoken like many of his teammates.
While fans may criticize the Twins' locker room for being too quiet, when the team has enough talent, it is a great environment—the guys just keep calm and go about their business professionally.
And make no mistake: Pelfrey is a gifted pitcher.
He Has the Potential to Improve Dramatically
Pelfrey was chosen with the No. 9 overall pick out of Wichita State in 2005. He made his debut a year later, going 2-1 with a 5.48 ERA as a 22-year-old. He became a full-time starter two years later in 2008. He won 13 games that year, 10 the next and 15 the year afterwards.
In 2011, the year before he had Tommy John surgery, he went 7-13 but managed to pitch 193.2 innings. He had an ERA+ of over 100 in 2008 and 2010, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Like any surgery, Tommy John affects all pitchers differently, but many come back stronger when they are a year removed from it. Pelfrey appears to be a prime candidate to do just that. He probably came back too early, eager to get back on the mound, and labored through a lot of innings this year.
“They told me to shoot for May 1, but I’ve been blessed...to come back and feel as good as I do,” he said after his April 4 start, an 8-2 win over the Tigers in which he didn’t give up an earned run in 5.1 innings pitched. “Hopefully as the year goes on I’ll continue to get a little bit stronger.”
He only lasted two innings in his next start, a de facto homecoming in Kansas City, and did not pitch six innings until his sixth start. That was on May 5.
Pelfrey has a propensity to want to throw baseballs. Not just when he’s on the mound. I mean all the time. This seems like it would be a good thing for a pitcher, until you consider the wear and tear it does on a surgically repaired arm.
“I was a guy during BP, I picked up ball after ball and was throwing with [closer Glen] Perkins or [reliever Josh] Roenicke or whoever would catch it,” he said in June. “[Anderson] told me I’m not allowed to do that anymore; I gotta give my arm a break.
“I’ve done that with my last two starts and I felt good,” he said referring to a 6.1-inning outing at Kansas City on June 6 and a seven-inning effort he had on June 12. He had 97 and 112 pitches, respectively, on those nights. “I felt like I could keep going, I felt strong.”
With a whole offseason to rest and the lessons learned from this season, specifically not to throw a baseball every time he sees one, he should come back stronger than ever next season.
He Eats Up Innings
Pelfrey is probably not going to turn into an ace or No. 2 guy like the one he was probably drafted to be, but it’s not hard to see him as a serviceable No. 3 if all goes well.
Keep in mind that he will only be 30 years old next year, right in the prime of his career, and the Twins might have to use a No. 3-caliber pitcher higher in the rotation than normal until prospects Alex Meyer, Trevor May and J.O. Berrios reach the majors or they make a big signing.
This is what frustrates Twins fans. Having pitchers throw pitches designed to get groundouts, which is designed to reduce pitch counts, is a good strategy for a guy later in the rotation. Recently, however, bottom-of-the-rotation guys have been used higher than they should because of the recent pitching woes. It’s made “pitch to contact” a curse word in Twins Territory.
It may happen again next season, but it’s still worth having somebody in the rotation who can plow through innings and keep the team in the game. Even if Pelfrey doesn’t improve drastically next year, he should be able to provide between 180 and 200 innings in 2014.
He hit 150 innings against Detroit, activating a $100,000 bonus, but his 152.2 innings are the lowest since he became a full-time starter as well.
“Obviously I got over 150 innings tonight, but that’s probably 30 less than I’ve had in my career in a full season, which is terrible,” admitted Pelfrey after the Detroit game. He threw over 200 innings in 2008 and 2010 and pitched 184.1 and 193.2, respectively, in 2009 and 2011. “I set my goals a lot higher than that going into the year, and I didn’t reach them.”
It’s hard not to see improvement in Year 2, especially given what Pelfrey has already done in the major leagues.
It would nice to see him make that improvement in a Twins uniform.
All quotes were obtained firsthand.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.