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Minnesota Twins: The Case for Mike Pelfrey

Mike Pelfrey, a Former No. 9 Overall Pick, Fits the Twins’ Locker-Room Culture

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | When it was announced that the Minnesota Twins were bringing back Mike Pelfrey on a two-year, $11 million deal, there was a collective uproar from the team's fanbase.

"If this was a one-year deal, I could say that the Twins won't need to rely on [luck]," wrote Twins Daily blogger John Bonnes. "But a multi-year deal changes how teams react. If Pelfrey isn't effective, whether it's luck or skill or the wind blowing out of Target Field this spring, it's going to be hard to push him out of the rotation. Nobody is going to be anxious to give up on a player with that contract, especially given that Pelfrey is by all accounts a good guy and hard worker."

Here is the thing with Pelfrey: There are some years when he pitches like the player the New York Mets saw when they drafted him No. 9 overall in 2005, and there are other years when he pitches like a guy who shouldn't be in Major League Baseball.

In 2008, the 6-foot-7-inch, 250-pound righty pitched 200.2 innings and had a 3.72 ERA. In 2010, at age 26, he went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA and pitched 204.0 innings. In between, however, he had a 5.03 ERA and, in 2011, the year before he underwent Tommy John surgery, he had a 4.74 ERA. In 2009 and 2011, he did not surpass the 200-inning plateau.

Last season, Pelfrey was 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA and only pitched 152.2 innings. He famously received a $100,000 performance bonus for reaching 150 innings, but in person he emphasized that he was upset that he could not reach 200 innings. It is expected that a player will struggle the year after coming off Tommy John -- a major surgery no matter how commonplace it has become in Major League Baseball. Like prospect Kyle Gibson, who was inconsistent at both the major and minor league levels, Pelfrey was adjusting to playing post-injury and will be expected to pitch better a year removed from the procedure.

In the "what have you done for me lately?" culture of sports, fans are in uproar that a player who pitched that poorly would get a two-year deal, but, looking at the big picture, this is an opportunity for the Twins to lock down a steady pitcher while prospects like Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and J.O. Berrios incubate in the farm system.

The problem guys like Bonnes -- who as a regular blogger at Twins Daily that has a podcast called Gleeman and the Geek where he discusses Twins baseball with Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports -- have is that if you look at the advanced numbers, giving Pelfrey $11 million plus incentives is, on the surface, akin to slapping millions of dollars down on a roulette table. In some years he's great and you get return on that money; in other years, he struggles and the team is wondering why it picked red when the ball landed on black.

Bonnes, who calls himself the "Twins Geek," writes that advanced metrics will tell you that Pelfrey, a flyball pitcher, has success when is in the top half of pitchers in home run to flyball ratio (HR/FB). You don't need to understand BABIP, xFIP, or WAR to understand this concept: Pelfrey does well when he doesn't give up home runs and struggles when hitters go yard on him.

It also doesn't take a geek to tell you that whether or not a home run leaves the park takes a little bit of luck. Sometimes players knock one over the "mini-Monster" in right field; sometimes they don't. Sometimes players get robbed by an outfielder; sometimes they don't. Sometimes they hit a ball long and foul; sometimes it ends up in the cheap seats. The fact remains that Target Field is a pitcher's park and there will be a lot of balls that fall short in center or will hit the wall in right.

Bonnes and other bloggers or die-hard fans will tell you that you can just go out and get any pitcher of Pelfrey's caliber on the open market. It's the same logic they applied to Kevin Correia: Why sign a No. 4 or 5 guy for two years when you can get one on a one-year deal almost every year? It's the same reason why Bonnes and Gleeman had to eat crow on their podcast when Correia got off to his hot start last year -- team chemistry.

There are "Twins guys" and there are people who are not. "Twins guys" tend to be quiet and go about their business. The Twins succeed when they have enough talent on the team; they don't when they do not. Correia is a "Twins guy." Pelfrey is a "Twins guy." So is Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, Aaron Hicks, etc. -- basically any player that factors into their long-term plans.

You can fault the Twins for many things -- not getting enough in return for Johan Santana, trading Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps, swapping J.J. Hardy for magic beans -- but one thing they've always done right is create a culture for their players to succeed. Sure, when Pelfrey has a bad year, you can get a pitcher like him on a one-year deal, but that creates a revolving door of poor pitchers and that does nobody any good in the long run.

Successful Twins teams are the ones that have been together for a while and fostered a strong locker-room culture. It's meaningful, therefore, for guys like Pelfrey and Correia to be around longer than just one year. Not only that, but Pelfrey should perform better than Correia in the long run because he has more natural ability and at age 29 is four years younger than his teammate.

"They might have been emboldened to [gamble on Pelfrey because of] their success with Kevin Correia, who paid off handsomely in his first year," Bonnes wrote. "The Twins have responded by doubling down instead of walking away with their winnings.

"That's a natural, human reaction. It's also why they keep building casinos."

On the contrary, the Twins have laid a foundation for a good pitching staff. They finally went out and spent money, bringing in Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million) and Phil Hughes (three years, $24 million). With Correia and Pelfrey also under contract, it creates competition for Gibson as well as two lefties, Scott Diamond and Andrew Albers, as well as Samuel Deduno, a player that truly is a gamble with his whacky fastball.

Minnesota has made many mistakes recently, but maintaining a functioning clubhouse culture is not one of them. That, above all else, is the reason why the Twins were smart to sign Pelfrey for two more years.

Tom Schreier writes about the Twins, Wild, and Wolves on Yahoo Contributor Network. He previously covered Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and can be heard on 105 The Ticket in the Twin Cities. Followed him on Twitter @tschreier3.

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