Michael Pineda and the unspoken innings limit

Spring Training Game Thread: Yankees @ Blue Jays
AP: Yankees to open season with $204M payroll

It took a little longer than we all would have liked, but Michael Pineda has finally earned a spot in the Yankees’ rotation. He was officially named the fifth starter yesterday, sending David Phelps to the bullpen for the time being. Pineda didn’t win the job by default, he won it fair and square by pitching well in camp and, most importantly, showing he was healthy. His delivery was free and easy, unlike two springs ago.

“He threw extremely well. It was what we wanted to see from him. He improved with each outing, and at times was dominant. We really liked what we saw,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings. “We weren’t sure what we were going to get from Michael. You look at a lot of other years, maybe one of those guys makes it as your fifth, because they all threw extremely well. But Michael, we thought, probably had the best spring.”

Pineda is still so young, turning only 25 back in January, but he also missed most of the last two seasons following shoulder surgery. That’s a lot of missed development time and lost experience. Losing your age 23 and 24 seasons hurts, no doubt about it. Pineda hasn’t had a chance to improve his changeup and he hasn’t had the opportunity to gradually build up his innings total like most young pitchers. The Yankees, however, do not seem all that concerned about him physically.

“He does not have an innings limit on him,” added Girardi. “We will watch how he’s doing and we’ll make judgments on what we have to do. This is a guy that has been to 175 innings before, so we know that he’s capable of handling that. It’s just, we’ve got to see how he’s responding.”

Pineda threw only 40.2 innings last season (plus an unknown amount in Extended Spring Training) but he did throw 171 innings for the Mariners back in 2011. I’m not sure how relevant that number is now after the shoulder surgery and completely lost 2012 season. It seems like the Yankees would want to ease him back into things given the nature of his injury, and despite Girardi’s comment, I think they will. It would really surprise me if they ran him out there with no regard for his workload.

While Pineda’s surgically repaired shoulder is the real concern here, fatigue can be just as problematic. His shoulder might be totally healthy, but he may still simply run out of gas in August or September following the long layoff. I don’t think you can throw 171 innings one year, 40.2 innings over the next two years, then jump right back up to 180+ after that. Maybe Pineda can, who knows. Late-season fatigue is a concern and that’s why guys like Phelps and Adam Warren will be important.

The Yankees went through an innings management nightmare with Joba Chamberlain a few years ago and more recently we’ve seen Stephen Strasburg’s workload become a daily topic. The Nationals were up front with everything and they had to answer questions about it every time he pitched. Maybe the Yankees are trying to avoid that distraction. If there’s no limit, there are no questions to answer. Pineda’s workload obviously has to be monitored given his injury and layoff, the Yankees just seem to be playing it cool.

Spring Training Game Thread: Yankees @ Blue Jays
AP: Yankees to open season with $204M payroll
  • Cool Lester Smooth

    Yeah, I think they shut him down towards the end of the year if/when he gets gassed, but there’s no point in telling everyone about it right now.

    • Havok9120

      If they do it correctly, there won’t be a hard limit anyway. It’ll all depend on how he’s feeling/performing. So there’s nothing to tell right now.

    • ALZ

      I think it also depends on how the team is looking. I thought it was the wrong move by the Nats to shut down Strasburg that year, because their team looked so good, and I thought they should push to the WS.

      • Chris H

        I value Pineda’s long term health much more than the 2014 season, if he shows signs of tiring at the end of the year they should shut him down regardless of where the team is.

      • Ed

        I think 2008 tells us how they feel on that sort of thing.

        They were willing to let Pettitte pitch through shoulder pain (bad enough that they scheduled regular MRIs to verify it wasn’t getting worse). When Joba got hurt, they shut him down instantly, rehabbed him very slowly, and then limited him to a very small relief role the rest of the way.

        I think they’ll risk injury on a guy like Kuroda, but they’ll be overly cautious with Pineda. Remember, the Yankees never go all in on one year, they aim to win repeatedly.

  • Rob S.

    I thought it was generally accepted that it’s safe to extend a pitcher to innings limits they have reached previously. I agree with the Yankees mindset to not set arbitrary limits prematurely. Pineda is young and strong. If he does wear down then the Yankees can cross that bridge when they get there. Personally I’m more concerned about Kuroda wearing down than Pineda.

    • ALZ

      Yes, but is what he did 3 years prior still relevant, with a long layoff. If he had 2 seasons of 150, 170 still relevant, but he lost lots strength with that layoff.

    • Chris H

      When you have your shoulder cut into and operated on I think hard rules go out the window, they shouldn’t make up their minds about anything involving Pineda before hand.

    • Ben

      Yeah, but does that rule apply when the innings limit they reached previously led to a serious shoulder injury? I mean, can we really say that he “handled” 171 innings under those circumstances?

  • Pinedamaybegreata (formerly Monterowasdinero)

    He seems to have his head on straight now. If only his cap was….

    Taking it start by start is the way to go. Pitch count and innings limit seems random.

  • Alex Rodriguez

    I’m excited about his potential, but it could also turn disasterous. At least an ERA of 4.10 or below is good enough for me.

    • ALZ

      I’d take that. He is expected to be the #5 starter. And that is a whole lot better than Hughes.

  • I’m One

    This is a guy that has been to 175 innings before, so we know that he’s capable of handling that.

    Yeah, and we all know what happened after those 175 (really 171) innings.

  • TWTR

    Obviously, if/when they skip some of his starts it will be a tell.

  • I’mJustJoking

    This “ends in A” rotation has me pretty excited. If Phelps was smart, he would have changed his name to David Phelpsa at the end of last year. It was the only real way he would have made it into the rotation.

    • Yankee$


    • Kevin

      John Ryan Phelpsa

  • J-S

    Am I the only one who realizes that an inning limit is completely stupid ? I mean, if he pitches 100 pitches in 5 innings, it will be okay… If he pitches 70 pitches in 7 innings, he will be shut down for the rest of the year in september ?

    I know that innings are way more easy to calculate than pitches, but it is what really matters…

    • TWTR

      No, it has been examined, for example.

    • gageagainstthemachine

      I’ve always disliked how this is discussed. Innings are not all equal in pitches. However, I think the way they discuss it is because there is enough data to show that over so many innings you pitch so many pitches on your arm. There has to be some kind of average calculated in to be able to use # of innings rather than # of pitches. But you are right, it’s the # of pitches on the arm that is the real total to reflect upon I suppose.

    • Darren

      Jim Kaat (who I really miss) used to talk about this all the time. One high stress inning can take a lot more out of a pitcher than 4 or 5 low stress inning. The same holds true for pitch counts. 90 high stress pitches across 6 innings may take more out of a pitcher than 110 across 8.

      The overall innings limit may be a helpful guideline, but the real work will be done by Girardi and Rothschild in getting an honest answer out of Pineda on an inning by inning and game by game basis. And, of course, not giving in to their own needs and desires by leaving him in when they know he’s stressing his shoulder.

  • Yankee$

    Keep him at around 6 innings per start.
    Skip him opportunistically when a day off allows the rotation to stay set.
    24 starts X 6 innings = 144 innings.
    Move him to Bullpen in October.

  • DERP

    Trade for Cliff Lee at the deadline and move Pineda to the bullpen for the rest of the year. Problem solved and they are better off anyways.

    • TWTR

      14:$25M, 15:$25M, 16:$27.5M club option ($12.5M buyout)

      Unless they are taking the payroll to $300m or more, I would spend the money on younger players, especially non-1B infielders.

      • Yankee$

        Not that I subscribe to the idea, but I wonder if Philly gets to a point where they eat a good bit of that contract (and then Lee replaces Kuroda for the next few years.) Oh wait, somebody in the bronx hocked a loogie at Mrs. Lee.

    • Wheels

      Who would you trade for Cliff Lee?

      • Mike

        A combination of prospects and cash considerations.

        • Havok9120

          We aren’t operating in a vacuum, name some names.

  • PunkPitch

    I really hope the guy succeeds, on a short leash. A very short leash.

  • Mandy Stankiewicz

    the nonstop, non-news story of strasburg’s inning restrictions was insufferable last year–lets promise to never do that with our kid. I can hear those 2 loud words leaving mike francesa mouth already…

    • OB/GYN Kenobi

      Wait. JOBA IS A RELIEF PITCHA is 5 words.

  • dars

    Preston Claiborne gave his job away today, 6 runs allowed without even getting an out. I think the bullpen should be: Kelley, Robertson, Thornton, Phelps, Betances, Warren and Daley or Herndon.

    • RetroRob

      Did Claiborne actually have a spot? I know he pitched with the Yankees last year, was even effective at the start, but I still put him in the fungible category of relievers.

      I believe he was already on the 40-man roster. I seriously think he gave away that spot today. Not sure he’d even be picked up if they removed him and tried sending him back down.

      • Alkaline

        I really liked how Clairborne surprised some people last year, but the shine might be off that pumpkin.

      • Yankee$

        They could flat out DFA Claiborne. Betances’ development and Pineda in the rotation now (Phelps and Warren in the bullpen) could make this much easier.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Had to be on the 40-man. He was never DFA’d last year, not that I can remember.

        He’d be claimed pretty easily if put on waivers, I think. Still young. A small bit of MLB success.

  • RetroRob

    I wonder if the easiest way to keep him in the rotation all year, but also limiting his starts and innings, is to skip his turn through the rotation approximately once a month, six or seven times during the season. Pair him with David Phelps, or Warren or Nuno, so that Pineda starts 25 games, with the other 7 going to one of the other pitchers. On the day he’s skipped, Pineda will be available from the bullpen for an inning which will keep him on rotation, but limit his innings.

    If he averages 6 innings per start and one inning on the skipped starts, he finishes 2014 at 157 IP.

    That’s all quite optimistic on year one back and the Yankees will be quite fortunate if he stays fully healthy all year, but if he does, this might be one way to keep him on a schedule while not blowing out his innings pitched.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if skipping the occasional trip through the rotation was the preferred route here.

    • Alkaline

      I want to see him dominate, but I feel it might be the best for the longer term for him to hit 140.

  • Greg c

    Aren’t 5th starters just naturally limited in innings? It’s a function of the 5+ man rotation, skipping starts to keep the “aces” on standard rest and to get more starts, etc. They never get 30 starts or >150 innings, anyway.

    • Greg c

      5th most-used starters on the team over the last 5 years had 20, 17, 25, 21, 9 starts. The 4th most used starter rarely goes much more than 150 IP.

    • RetroRob

      They are, although the limiting factor is probably the fact that they are 5th starters. Either skill or health has placed them as 5th starters.

      In the case of Tanaka, the 4th starter, or Pineda, the 5th starter, both have ability that could easily allow them to eclipse the average starts and innings pitched by the 4th and 5th starters.

      There was the 2003 Mariner rotation if you’re looking for a single rarity. Freddy Garcia, Joel Pineiro, Gil Meche, Ryan Franklin and Jamie Moyer are the only five-man rotation to start the season as the assigned rotation and to start every game, each starting at least 32 games each, with Moyer and the Sweaty One starting 33 games. Crazy.