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Avila: Tigers see 'comeback potential' in Pelfrey

Detroit announces 2-year, $16M deal for veteran righty

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tigers built up their analytics department to help them gather more information and make smart deals. That wasn't what the Mike Pelfrey signing was about.

In announcing Pelfrey's two-year, $16 million contract Sunday night from baseball's Winter Meetings, general manager Al Avila made it clear: What they saw in the former Mets and Twins right-hander wasn't through numbers, but their eyes.

"Our analytics guys, hey, I'm not going to throw them under the bus, because this is not an analytical signing by any means," Avila said. "This is a scout signing. We felt the ability's still there, the comeback potential is still there."

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Having watched Pelfrey since he was chosen just before Detroit's first-round pick in the 2005 Draft and with American League Central-rival Minnesota for the last few years, those scouts had a fairly good grasp on the veteran. And while they didn't see a star, they saw somebody who could fill a need.

"He's a guy that we feel is a good bet for us that he can bounce back and build off of last year," Avila said. "Our intent was to get a guy that can go out there and give us 30 starts, give us some innings, a veteran guy that has good clubhouse makeup, that's a leader on the team, that gives us the opportunity for those young guys [to further develop]."

On the flip side, Pelfrey saw a chance to latch onto a rotation spot with a team on the rebound.

"Entering the offseason, when I talked to my agent, this was one of my top places to be," said Pelfrey, a Scott Boras client. "Four out of the last five years, they won the Central. I know this team isn't very far away. My main thing, this team is really close to winning and getting back. So when I found out that they called, I told him, 'Hey, let's get this done. This is one of the places I want to play.'

"I felt the opportunity was too good to pass up, so we took it."

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Pelfrey, who turns 32 next month, came back from essentially a lost 2014 season to make 30 starts in 2015, posting a 6-11 record with a 4.26 ERA. He allowed 198 hits over 164 2/3 innings with 45 walks and 86 strikeouts. He had the lowest home run ratio among qualified AL pitchers, allowing just 11 homers, but he also ranked third in the AL with 12 hit batters.

His 4.00 Fielding Independent Pitching suggested he was better than the primary stats, and his 2.0 Wins Above Replacement doubled Alfredo Simon's WAR from this past season. His fastball improved from 90.8 mph in a handful of 2014 starts to 93.3 this past season, the hardest he has thrown in a full season in his career, according to FanGraphs. The split-finger changeup he developed seemed to get results.

Still, it's not what Pelfrey -- or the Tigers -- are expecting. To Pelfrey, it was a step.

"I got back to being one of those dependable guys that could take the ball every five days, give the team a chance to win," Pelfrey said. "I expect, getting farther and farther away from [injuries], to get back to where I was even before. I felt like I got stronger and stronger. I kind of wore down at the end. I threw 20 innings in 2014 and bumped it up to 165. There were no problems at the end of the year. I was healthy."

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If Pelfrey can build off of 2015, the Tigers could have a fairly good back-end starter to take pressure off their bullpen. If he struggles, or if he tires down the stretch again, the Tigers essentially buy time for their younger starters to develop and take his place.

"They're all going to be battling for that fifth spot," Avila said, "but those young guys, the ones that are going to need a little bit more time, some of them might be ready later on this year, which is great."

The Tigers can wait for them. The way the starting-pitching market was moving, they didn't want to wait on a signing.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
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