The Uncertainty of Michael Pineda

Agent says Granderson's "first choice" is returning to Yankees
Marchand: Rangers inquired about Cano earlier this season
(Newsday)
(Newsday)

It has now been two full seasons since the trade, and Michael Pineda has yet to throw a single meaningful pitch for the Yankees. A torn labrum required surgery in May 2012 and sidelined him until July 2013, when he was activated off the DL and optioned to Triple-A for more seasoning. He was sidelined with shoulder stiffness a handful of starts later and was shut down for the year. That labrum injury is a career-changer.

“Michael Pineda finished healthy,” said Brian Cashman during his end-of-season press conference. “The biggest and most important thing [was] to allow Michael after, say, a 13-month rehab — or between rehab and pitching and stuff for well over a year straight plus — that the rest was the biggest thing that he’d benefit from. So obviously we shut him down as a healthy player in the end.”

Pineda will turn 25 in January and at this point, the Yankees have absolutely no idea what he can provide at the big league level. Andy McCullough spoke to a scout who saw Pineda in the minors this year and labeled him a “back-end” starter with a “sluggish demeanor” and “unreliable command and mechanics.” Was that the result of being exhausted after pitching and rehabbing for a year straight? I hope so, but I’m not very optimistic he will be able to get back to the form that allowed him post historically great strikeout and walk rates for a rookie pitcher in 2011.

“I was very happy with everything he did, so I certainly see him being able to [contribute in 2014],” said minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, who watched over Pineda’s rehab this summer, to McCullough. “I was happy with the way he located his fastball, with some life on it. He threw some good, sharp breaking balls. [He threw his] changeup with good depth and hand speed.”

In ten minor league games this year — two with High-A Tampa, two with Double-A Trenton, six with Triple-A Scranton — Pineda struck out 41 (23.8%) and walked 14 (8.4%) with a 3.32 ERA (~3.75 FIP) in 40.2 innings. Promising, no doubt about it, but you can’t really take too much from minor league games for a rehabbing pitcher. As the scout said to McCullough, Pineda often had to lean on his slider quite a bit to put away minor leaguers. If you want to see what he looks like these days, here’s video of his July 6th start with the RailRiders, his first start after being activated off the DL and officially optioned to the minors:

Minor league video isn’t exactly plentiful, so that’s the best we have. Here’s the rest of his 2013 video archive if you’re interested — it’s mostly interviews and fielding plays and one-batter clips. Still better than nothing I suppose. Pineda did throw a few nice sliders in the video above, for what it’s worth. Not much really; definitely not enough to make me feel any more confident in his ability to help the big league team next season.

“He’ll compete for a job in Spring Training.” added Cashman. “He’s got options and I don’t think it’s healthy for anybody to guarantee anything, so I’m not going to sit here just because he’s Michael Pineda and we have high hopes and say ‘hey, we can pencil him into our rotation.’ He’s got to obviously show that he can stay healthy, and that he’s effective while he’s pitching. We certainly hope that’s going to be the case, but I’m not going to sit here and guarantee anything on that either. It certainly would go a long way towards solving some problems if that was the case.”

Given the injury and how he finished the season, I think the Yankees have to go into next season expecting nothing from Pineda and taking whatever he gives them as a bonus. That was pretty much the case this year — it would be nice if threw a ton of innings and was effective, but they shouldn’t count on him to provide that. It seems likely the club will have at least one rotation spot up for grabs in camp, with guys like Pineda and Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren all competing for the job. If Pineda wins it, great. But he can’t stop them from looking for pitching help or be considering any kind of solution at this point.

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Agent says Granderson's "first choice" is returning to Yankees
Marchand: Rangers inquired about Cano earlier this season
  • jobasphatstache

    Looks like he has a hard time saying no to hot sauce, pork rinds, and brewskies. Let’s see what kind of shape he shows up in this spring. He’s probably toast.

  • jim p

    Even if he is good enough to start, I can’t see how he does 180-200 innings next year. And if we resign Kuroda (don’t think we will), we’d have to find a way to give him rest during the first half of the season.

    Maybe a floating six-man rotation (keep CC & Nova & pitcher-X on their five day schedule) would be the way to handle the first couple of months.

  • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

    The important fact is that Pineda will be 25 years old on opening day.

    Most baseball players, especially pitchers, don’t even hit their stride and enter their prime until 27-29. I hope the Yankees stick with him during the growing pains (2014 and 2015 look like good years for that) and are rewarded in the future.

    • JLC 776

      I always like looking at guys like Roy Halladay, who put together several really great seasons (some of his best, in fact) in his early to mid thirties. Pitchers can blossom late and discarding them when they’re young can sometimes be a mistake.

      (please note that I am NOT literally comparing Pineda to Halladay, just making a point about career trajectories)

      • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

        Certainly…look at max scherzer or anibal sanchez as just a few recent examples of guys who struggled or were injured early in their career and then blossomed in their lat 20’s.

      • Gonzo

        Halladay had to change his mechanics though not undergo labrum surgery.

        • Cool Lester Smooth

          Yeah, Sanchez was the one with the exact same labrum surgery.

      • qwerty

        Halladay never had a potentially career ending injury when he was 22.

  • Chris

    If he can be an everyday 4th or 5th man in our rotation in 2 years and after, I would be happy.

  • RetroRob

    Will have a better idea next year what he has in his arm, and at that I can’t imagine more than 130-150 innings. 2015 might be the year he can give the team 200 innings, and that’s built on a lot of ifs.

  • Greg

    has there ever been an example of a bigger trade going bust for both sides?

  • Dohrmann

    If a scout is referencing a P’s visually displayed “demeanor” in his analysis of where in the rotation the guy should slot in, he is probably not a scout you want to listen to. This is “his gf is ugly so he lacks confidence” level BS. The reason an analytical guy like Friedman or Beane has been able to eat the MLB establishment for breakfast on a consistent basis. Friedmand and Cashman are both on the record saying they are asset managers just like a fund manager. If you want to understand their jobs, I would highly recommend learning more about finance.

    I would also note that what us fans know about Pineda and what the Yankees know about him are two different things. They should have infinitely more data points between their quant team, medical team, scouting team, development team, etc.
    While you would be correct in saying you have no idea what Pineda can provide, I’d guess you are incorrect in the Yankees’ case. Certainly they don’t know for sure (nor does any team know for any player), but I’d imagine they have built a model that gives them some rough expectations. He’s going to be more volatile than many healthy players, but we don’t just decide to ignore volatile assets.

    They shouldn’t stop looking for good value acquisitions, no, but there’s also no reason to boil expectations down to a dicotomous outcome: expect nothing or expect something… lots of gray space in there. No value in it and it is just not the way anyone with a couple of years of quant training would do it in this case. (Last year, out at least half a season coming back from major surgery, I do think expectations might have been low enough to expect nothing from him. Now he’s about half a season back and the Yankees should have some expectations for him.)

    • vicki

      sounds like you’re really enjoying your first semester principles of economics class.

  • W.B. Mason Williams

    Saw him at a Trenton rehab start. He was good, but definitely not overpowering.

  • Preston

    I’m not sure if CC, Kuroda, Nova, Phelps and Pineda would be a playoff rotation, but it sure could be fun if things break right. Two guys who have been legit aces, two guys who have showed glimpses of being legit number 2 pitchers and another who if his ERA starts to align more with his peripherals could also be pretty darn good.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    One thing I hate from articles like this is:

    Andy McCullough spoke to A scout who saw Pineda…

    You can get find “A” scout to fit any story you want to tell.

    • RetroRob

      I agree and was going to write same.

      Buster Olney is famous for his “sources close to the team” etc. All that means is if a reporter wants to write some story, all he has to do is find some person that supports his thesis. It’s nonsense.

      That said, it certainly wouldn’t be shocking in his first year back that he has command issues and that his pitches lacked some bite, especially as the season progressed.

  • LarryM Fl

    When the Yankees traded for Pineda. They sent a raw talent who could pound the ball with some catching ability. We received Pineda who was a raw talent with pitching ability. Unfortunately he broke down with a serious injury.

    Before the injury Pineda needed some polishing. Now the raw talent needs to be brought back up to strength and restart the polishing. So the time line has been pushed back for Pineda’s entry to the rotation. The Yankees will have to display patience with him. Maybe the trade will be a winner with a little patience but the front office should have no expectations until he can compete on a regular basis without injury.

    The Yankees should continue their quest for pitching with or without Pineda in 2014.

  • Patrick

    “Given the injury and how he finished the season, I think the Yankees have to go into next season expecting nothing from Pineda and taking whatever he gives them as a bonus.”

    Exactly. Well stated by Mike and pretty much sums up expectations for Pineda(nothing).

    Yankees would be well advised to not count on him for anything either.

  • Tom

    The only thing we know is CC and Nova will be in the rotation.

    Phelps, Warren, and Pineda will all battle for a spot and most likely one will be a long man.

    All I do know is that Pineda can’t be worst then Hughes! LOL

    • Algernon Blackwood

      Hughes does seem better at not driving drunk and embarrassing the franchise.

      • Deep Thoughts

        At least off the field, yes.

        • I’m a looser baby so why don’t you kill me?

          Zing!

  • Vern Sneaker

    I strongly doubt Pineda’s going to go from a shoulder surgery in 2012 and just 40 total innings pitched in 2013 to the big club from ST next year. No doubt AAA for a while and hope for the best. Despite his great 2011 first half, to me at this point he’s just a decent but wholly uncertain prospect.

  • Algernon Blackwood

    Until he has more innings pitched than arrests he can’t be counted on for anything.

    Given Jesus’ issues I wonder if Seattle would consider trading him back for Pineda.

    • qwerty

      It doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst part is that the yankees have no position for him. Even if he can be converted to a first baseman, which was what I always thought he was, Tex is still signed on to be our first baseman.

  • dkidd

    i don’t know about the yankees, but i’m greedily expecting more than “nothing” from pineda next year

  • http://twitter.com/IsaacforPrez Isaac

    M-A-S-A-H-I-R-O T-A-N-A-K-A!! CC, Tanaka, Nova, Pineda, Kuroda(?)/Phelps is much better than CC, Nova, Pineda, Phelps, Kuroda(?)/Warren.

    Sign Tanaka and you have three 25/26 year olds with huge upside, and Banuelos is back in AAA.

    • qwerty

      Cashman will never sign Tanaka after the Igawa debacle.

  • trr

    Hope for the best, but I’ve long been of the opinion that Pineda will never make it. He’s still young enough to prove me wrong, and believe me, I hope he does

  • OldYanksFan

    FWIW….
    Our boy Jesus, he of no position who couldn’t even Catch for the last place Seattle, has a MLB OPS+ of 97 and a PED suspension under his belt. In the latest mIlb stint in 2013, he posted a .730-ish OPS.

    I think he’s better than he has shown, but between a known bad attitude and his PED usage, he may not have been much of a loss for us.

  • 1189 is a mandate

    HE IS DONE!

  • qwerty

    How will Pineda start for the yankees when he only pitched 40 innings this year? I don’t even think he’ll be a consideration, no matter how well he does in spring. Pineda will spend the entire season in the minors.

  • Jack C

    Wait a minute here. Are people seeing the same thing I am in this video. Now, I am no mlb scout and I do not profess to be, but what I saw in this video, from the many years I have watched professional baseball pitchers throw the ball, was sheer dominance and command. Now, obviously these were not major league players he was facing, but I’m not even talking about the fact that he struck people out. Just the way he threw the ball. He struck one out with a changeup and one with a fastball also, for all those who keep saying he relies too heavily on his slider. As far as his weight, there are a lot of pitchers who have used that to their advantage. Look at cc. he lost weight and his fastabll disappeared, although I know the offseason surgery didn’t help. Look at david wells. Even joba’s fastball came back to life (although he is a horrible overall pitcher) after he packed on more pounds. I persoanlly could care less if you are 500 pounds as long as you can “pound” the strike zone. My biggest concern is of course his health. I think they need to bring him back fairly slowly but no joba rules. The 100 pitch count thing in mlb today is a joke. Let these guys pitch til they start sucking. It’s in their heads now when they get close to 100 pitches that their stuff will start falling off. Anyway, getting side-tracked. I think that the people who keep saying he won’t amount to anything, they have no faith, etc etc, are all scouts and execs for other teams who secretly think he will be great and want him. The best thing pineda has going for him besides having had great stuff once before, is his age. Only 25. Lot of years to get back to what his potential once was. Good like Pineda. I believe in you.