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Mike Pelfrey might be the type of free agent Rockies fans should expect for 2016

Mike Pelfrey has strengths, but his career holds red flags for pitching at Coors Field. Let's evaluate Pelfrey's chances of coming to Denver in 2016.

Mike Pelfrey might fit with the Rockies in 2016.
Mike Pelfrey might fit with the Rockies in 2016.
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Perusing our series of potential free agents that may fit with the Colorado Rockies in 2016 unsurprisingly leads down a road of varied talent. Some free agents are more likely for the Rockies than others, of course, and while you can make a realistic case for any to fit one way or another, today we may have found the—sigh—most realistic short-term option of the bunch: Mike Pelfrey.

Believe me, I understand Pelfrey elicits little excitement among Rockies fans. But these are the Rockies, the year is 2016, and this is the pitching market foisted upon our club in a non-contention year with an organization full of prospects still under development.

So let's do it. Here's everything you (n)ever wanted to know about the pride of Wichita State University, Michael Alan Pelfrey.

Scouting Mike Pelfrey

The last few seasons have been strange for Pelfrey, who missed nearly all of 2012 (thanks to elbow reconstruction surgery), and then nearly all of 2014 (groin, elbow, and shoulder injuries limited him to five starts). In his last three full seasons of baseball—2011, 2013, and 2015—Pelfrey hasn't been particularly impressive, either, but to be fair there are a couple things he's done well.

Here are some stats from his last three full seasons:

2011 NYM 34-33 193.2 220 111 102 65 105 21 7-13 4.74 78 4.47 1.472 10.2 1.0 3.0 4.9 1.62
2013 MIN 29-29 152.2 184 92 88 53 101 13 5-13 5.19 79 3.99 1.552 10.8 0.8 3.1 6.0 1.91
2015 MIN 30-30 164.2 198 86 78 45 86 11 6-11 4.26 97 4.00 1.476 10.8 0.6 2.5 4.7 1.91
CAREER 10 YEARS 217-213 1237.1 1400 664 621 434 703 99 61-81 4.52 89 4.21 1.482 10.2 0.7 3.2 5.1 1.62

From the numbers alone, a few thoughts:

  • He gets hit hard, and allowed nearly 11 hits per nine innings last year. We know how that goes at Coors Field.
  • In 217 career appearances, hitters slash .289/.353/.417 with a .770 OPS against Pelfrey. Again, not an encouraging sign for any pitcher that might fit with the Rockies.
  • Paradoxically, Pelfrey really doesn't allow home runs. His 0.6 home run rate in 2015 was the lowest in baseball. Across his career, just 99 of the 1,400 hits he's allowed have been long balls — a surprisingly strong 0.7 per nine innings. This I can stomach, even assuming the rate would rise a bit in Denver.
  • Walking just 2.5 batters per nine innings in 2015 (and 3.2 per nine for his career) is a relatively encouraging trait; it's good to see a hittable pitcher (kind of) limiting walks. The more you limit free passes at Coors Field, the better chances you have of surviving, I suppose. [Side note: a PR staff member is working on a piece about walk rates at Coors Field which should be published this week.]
  • Not surprisingly, Pelfrey doesn't strike out too many hitters. He whiffed a paltry 4.7 hitters in 2015 and has a career K:BB ratio just above 1.50. In other words, he fools nobody on the mound. If you can't miss bats...
  • At 51.0%, though, Pelfrey had the 19th best ground ball percentage in baseball in 2015, according to FanGraphs. Here's something that works in his favor!
  • Pelfrey also put up the 16th best ground ball-to-fly ball ratio in the Majors in 2015, according to FanGraphs, logging grounders at a 1.93 clip.
  • It should be no surprise Pelfrey gets ground balls considering the pitches he throws; in 2015, he complemented reliance on a sinker (93.3 mph, thrown 73.2% of the time), with a splitter (80.9 mph, thrown 14.5% of the time), and a slider (83.9 mph, thrown 9% of the time). He has a curve ball, too, but uses it sparingly (just over three in every hundred pitches).

Let's compare Pelfrey to another pitcher Rockies fans know well:

Pitcher Career G-GS IP W-L ERA ERA+ FIP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K:BB
Mike Pelfrey 10 years 217-213 1237.1 61-81 4.52 89 4.21 1.482 10.2 0.7 3.2 5.1 1.62
Mystery Pitcher! 9 years 253-212 1281.0 81-81 4.63 89 4.81 1.385 9.9 1.2 2.6 4.9 1.91

Can you guess the identity of the mystery pitcher? (We'll return to this soon.)

Let's get to know Big Pelf a little bit. Here he is taking a pie to the face after a complete game victory from way back in 2011:

Here's a funny video of Pelfrey getting pranked, believing he's firing up Wichita State's basketball team during March Madness:

Here's the poor guy taking more abuse from his teammates with the Twins:

And here he is finally getting some revenge, this time on Brian Dozier:

Big Pelf seems like a good dude, so chalk that one up as a positive.

The case for the Rockies to pursue Mike Pelfrey

Credit where credit is due, Pelfrey is a ground ball pitcher through and through. Even though his stellar 2015 GB rate (51.0%) is due for regression, Pelfrey's career rate (48.2%, with just 26.4% fly balls) would fit at Coors Field. His impressive 1.93 GB:FB ratio from 2015 is also an outlier, but even his 1.55 career GB:FB rate is an asset.

Coming off a two-year, $11 million deal with the Twins—and certainly not pitching his way to a significant raise in 2015—Pelfrey likely won't be expensive to pursue. He'll turn 32 before the season, but a one-year deal for Pelfrey to stabilize the rotation as prospects develop (like what Kyle Kendrick did was supposed to do in 2015) isn't going to break the bank, nor will it take attention away from the Rockies' focus on the future.

Employed with a power sinker, a splitter, and a slider, Pelfrey's pitch repertoire fits at Coors Field. If he were to join the Rockies in 2016, it's likely he'll be able to counteract some of the effects of baseball in Denver in a way other recent veterans (Jeremy Guthrie, Kendrick) have been unable to do. Granted, based on Pelfrey's history, nobody's saying he'll put up good numbers at Coors Field, but his pitch selection may parallel the style of pitcher the Rockies would do well to pursue beyond 2016.

The case against Mike Pelfrey

Remember the mystery pitcher? Did you figure it out? It's Kyle Kendrick. Let's look again, with the "better" respective total bolded for emphasis:

Pitcher Career G-GS IP W-L ERA ERA+ FIP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K:BB
Mike Pelfrey 10 years 217-213 1237.1 61-81 4.52 89 4.21 1.482 10.2 0.7 3.2 5.1 1.62
Kyle Kendrick 9 years 253-212 1281.0 81-81 4.63 89 4.81 1.385 9.9 1.2 2.6 4.9 1.91

Pick your stat—Pelfrey has slightly better ERA and FIP marks and gives up fewer home runs while allowing more walks and hits than Kendrick—but the two pitchers are somewhat similar, at least in terms of career results.

That doesn't necessarily mean bad things for Pelfrey; Kendrick had a distinctly bad season in 2015 relative to his career totals. If Pelfrey were to avoid the same notable regression at Coors Field that befell Kendrick, and if Pelfrey could stay healthy enough to pitch all season, the results would be good enough for a non-contender.

Speaking of health, Pelfrey started eight total games in 2012 and 2014 combined due to elbow, groin, and shoulder injuries. The former first-round pick, who will turn 32 in January, threw 164.2 innings in 2015, the most he's logged since 2011. Combine age, a lot of (mediocre) work in 2015, and relatively recent and serious injuries, and red flags of various degrees may well be popping up on Pelfrey.

Mike Pelfrey's fit with the Rockies

It's fun to do these free agent posts, because I start with my own preconceived notions and biases about a player, look at the numbers, history, injuries, contracts, and notes, and often end up on the other side of the argument. I like Wei-Yin Chen a lot, but he's not right for the Rockies. I was really firmly against Mike Napoli, but I've come to realize he might be a decent short-term play.

And with Pelfrey, I've gone from the "hard pass" crowd to, well, he's probably going to be an improvement over the Rockies' free agent starting pitcher acquisition of the past summer. That's not to say Pelfrey will be good. But if he can be not awful, and if he can stay healthy, he serves a purpose on a team that has a lot of questions about rotation depth.

Hand a guy like Pelfrey a few million bucks, let him pitch for a year, watch the losses pile up as Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman, Eddie Butler, Tyler Matzek, and others develop at their respective levels, watch the Rox make a few more trades to acquire young pitching and other prospects, and let's just move on to 2017 already.