Nashville — General manager Al Avila didn’t sugarcoat the Tigers’ signing of right-hander Mike Pelfrey.
“I’m not going to argue the numbers, he didn’t have the best numbers in the world,” Avila said Sunday night after making the two-year, $16 million deal official. “Our analytics guys, I am not going to throw them under the bus. This isn’t an analytics signing; it’s a scout signing.
“We feel the ability is still there. We feel the comeback potential is still there.”
Pelfrey, who will be 32 next month, was 6-11 with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP for the Twins last season. He made 30 starts, but pitched just 1642/3 innings — rarely lasting past the sixth.
But that’s not what the Tigers focused on. Those 1642/3 innings were the most Pelfrey has thrown since 2011, the year before he had Tommy John surgery. His velocity increased from 90 mph in 2013 and 2014, to 93 mph.
They see a guy who, four years removed from Tommy John and two years removed from missing most of 2014 with a nerve condition, who is finally healthy and getting stronger.
Plus, he’s added a wicked split-fingered change-up to his repertoire.
“We think the guy is a good fit,” Avila said. “We think he’s going to bounce back and build off of last year. Our intent was to get a guy who will give us 30 starts, a veteran guy with good makeup who will battle his butt off every day and show our young guys how to do it.”
The analytics staff did like the increased velocity. They also liked that when he is on, he gets a lot of ground-ball outs. And they liked that he keeps the ball in the yard — his 0.6 home runs per nine innings (11 total homers allowed) led baseball.
And Pelfrey liked the fact that he no longer will have to face the Tigers hitters.
“When I talked to my agent, this was one of my top places to be,” Pelfrey said in a teleconference. “Being in the dugout across from those guys the last couple of years, nobody is ever excited to come in and face Detroit.
“I know this team isn’t very far away from winning. When they showed interest in me, I said, ‘Get this done. The opportunity is too good to pass up.’”
Pelfrey said he probably rushed back after his surgery in 2012. He was throwing the next spring training, less than 10 months after the surgery and was pitching regular season games just 11 months after.
Normally, 18 months is the prescribed rehabilitation time.
“I went through the whole year in 2013 without pain, but it was the thing where I would feel good one start and not feel good the next,” he said. “It was an all-year thing. Then in 2014 I had a freak nerve thing. But I told people, last year was the best I felt in a couple of years.
“I was back to being one of those dependable guys who take the ball every five days and give the team a chance to win.”
He started 5-2 last season with an ERA under 3.00. But he faltered badly after the All-Star break (1-5, 4.46 ERA, 1.505 WHIP).
“I wore down at the end,” he said. “I threw like 20 innings in 2014 and then 165 in 2015. But I made it through 30 starts. I showed I could take the ball 30 times. I want to build on that and go deeper in games.”
Few scouts know Pelfrey better than Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd, who began scouting him in high school in Wichita. He pressed the Tigers to draft him in 2005 (the Mets took him one pick before the Tigers in the first round).
Eleven years later, he finally got his man.
“We do have a long history and I know the makings of Mike Pelfrey,” Chadd said. “He’s a quality guy with exceptional makeup. But what attracted him to us was the Detroit Tigers, the club, the field and having a chance to win. That’s what he’s about.”