Detroit Tigers: Reason for Optimism with Mike Pelfrey

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Sep 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey (37) delivers a pitch during the fourth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey (37) delivers a pitch during the fourth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Detroit Tigers signed Mike Pelfrey to help fill out the rotation. Pelfrey’s signing didn’t elicit the same fanfare that a big name would have, but he has a legitimate chance to succeed with the Tigers.

Some Detroit Tigers fans weren’t overjoyed with the arrival of Mike Pelfrey. Detroit inked the former Minnesota Twin pitcher to a two-year, $16 million contract. After all, the team had already signed Jordan Zimmermann while a number of other high-profile free agent starters remained available.

Yet, with Spring Training just around the corner, Pelfrey is slated to slot in behind Justin Verlander, Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez in the team’s rotation.

A 32-year-old coming off an 11 loss season may not be a headline-grabbing signing, but there is something to be said for what Pelfrey can bring to the Detroit rotation.

Track Record

The former New York Met’s numbers don’t jump off the page at you.

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For his career, Pelfrey has a 61-81 record and a 4.52 ERA. Of the 81 losses, 31 of them came during the past three seasons with the Minnesota Twins. The pitcher’s best season came in 2010 with New York when he posted 15 wins and a 3.66 ERA.

Reason for Optimism

Despite an uninspiring season last year, which included the aforementioned losses, Pelfrey has a chance to succeed in Detroit. The first reason is that his FIP last year was an even 4.00. Only Justin Verlander and David Price (for a half season) posted a lower FIP in 2015 for the Tigers.

Right off the bat that isn’t a bad investment considering the stability Al Avila needed to add to the rotation this offseason.

For most of last year, Pelfrey was much better than his ERA and FIP suggested. With the exception of a shaky end to the season, the right-handed pitcher was largely solid. His only exceptionally poor months were June and September. Other than that, Pelfrey posted ERAs of 2.25, 3.21, 4.30 and 3.62 in the other four months of the season.

What’s more, his horrendous looking June (5.35 ERA in six starts) was mainly due to a pair of dreadful starts. Pelfrey was tagged for eight runs in Texas against the Rangers. He allowed eight more runs on a rare day when the Reds’ offense decided to go bananas. Outside of those two starts, the 32-year-old only allowed five runs in his other four June starts.

In addition, Pelfrey has the potential to succeed with a good defense behind him. In 164.2 innings pitched last season, the veteran led the Major Leagues with the lowest home run-per nine inning rate at 0.6.

On Detroit’s defense, there isn’t really an exceptionally-poor player. This should be extremely helpful to Pelfrey who, according to FanGraphs, had the third-highest BABIP in the league. This number was partly responsible for Pelfrey’s high ERA.

Also… The Contract Isn’t That Bad

The San Francisco Giants just handed Jeff Samardzija and his 47-61 career record to a reported five-year, $90 million deal. The Kansas City Royals just signed Ian Kennedy, who has a 4.25 ERA since 2013, to a reported five-year, $70 million deal.

All in all, makes you feel a bit better about Pelfrey’s contract.

Next: Tigers #12 Prospect: Wynton Bernard

The Reality of the Situation

So Mike Pelfrey was better than his numbers indicated last season. Does that mean he’s going to be the next Doug Fister, in terms of evolving from a decent pitcher on another club to a frontline starter in Detroit? Probably not, but what he is going to do is provide value as a dependable, innings-eating rotation option.

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