Admit it: after Mike Pelfrey tossed 4 1⁄3 scoreless innings against the Cleveland Indians in a relief effort last summer, you probably wondered what would have happened had Pelfrey faced the Tribe more often in 2016.
If last weekend is any indication, nothing would have changed. Pelfrey made his 2017 regular season debut with the Chicago White Sox on Saturday against the Indians. He recorded two quick outs in the top of the first... then allowed an infield single that ricocheted off his leg and a 400-plus foot home run to dead center field.
Shadow agent, he is not.
Signed to a minor league deal by the White Sox after he was released by the Tigers, Pelfrey is the latest of a number of stopgap options the Sox are utilizing before calling up the prized arms in their farm system. He was called up to replace James Shields, who is on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle.
Chicago White Sox (11-9) at Detroit Tigers (11-10)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-1, 4.15 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (2-1, 3.86 ERA)
Game 22 Pitching Matchup
For those who don’t remember (or willfully tried to forget), Pelfrey’s main pitch is a two-seam fastball that sits in the 93-94 mile-per-hour range. He threw that pitch nearly 70 percent of the time last season, and opponents hit .334 against it. They fared even better against his slider, hitting .486 with a .686 slugging average. Pelfrey threw that mid-80s offering roughly 10 percent of the time. He mixed in a splitter and curveball the other 20-ish percent of the time, with the splitter primarily coming against lefties.
Things may have changed slightly, though. Despite only throwing 10 of 20 first-pitch strikes against the Indians last weekend, Pelfrey relied on his fastball just 54 percent of the time. He upped his curveball and splitter usage, with the latter exclusively used against left-handed hitting.
The curveball usage is the real draw here. Pelfrey threw 15 curveballs in that game, seven for strikes. The low-70s offering is slow and heavy, and generates a lot of weak contact pounded into the ground. Given his propensity to leave fastballs out over the heart of the plate, decreasing that usage in lieu of some potentially more effective off-speed offerings seems like a smart decision.
Key matchup: Matt Boyd vs. all them righties
Prior to Matt Boyd’s start against the White Sox on April 6, I pointed out how they were quite good against left-handed pitching in 2016. I also mentioned Boyd’s previous struggles against right-handed hitters, and wondered if he might struggle against a rather righty-heavy White Sox lineup.
Turns out that was pretty accurate. Boyd had a rough season debut, allowing five runs on five hits and four walks in 2 1⁄3 innings. Partly fueled by that performance, the White Sox have jumped out to a whopping 129 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season, the best mark in the American League. While most of that hot start has come from unlikely sources like Avisail Garcia and the otherwise struggling Tyler Saladino, regression might not come all that swiftly. Boyd has allowed a .357 on-base percentage and .730 OPS to right-handed hitters this season, and has a 6.55 ERA in five career starts against the White Sox.
Despite Boyd’s struggles against right-handed hitting, the Tigers should have a large advantage in this game. Pelfrey has allowed a 5.04 ERA in 123 1⁄3 innings since the start of last season, and looked exactly like the pitcher we saw toil on the Comerica Park mound so often. Tigers hitters have feasted on ground ball pitchers so far this season as well. In a laughably small 137 plate appearance sample, Tigers hitters have a 1.001 OPS against ground ball artists. Unless he starts throwing that slow curveball a heck of a lot more often — don’t tempt him, he might in this game — the Tigers should be ok.
Key word: “should.”
Pelfrey throws seven shutout innings because of course he does.