Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Michael Pineda is a right-handed starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. The team acquired him from the Seattle Mariners in January 2012, along with right-handed minor-league right-handed pitcher Jose Campos, in exchange for catcher/DH Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi.


MLBTR’s Projected Arbitration Salaries for 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At this time last season, the Yankees were still talking about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season. It was definitely doable, but it would have been very difficult, especially since the team wanted to contend at the same time. Eventually the Yankees abandoned their luxury tax plan and they didn’t even get back to the postseason anyway, so double yikes.

Because Alex Rodriguez‘s salary is coming back on the books and the team handed out four free agent contracts worth $15M+ last offseason, the Yankees won’t be able to get under the luxury tax in 2015 and probably not in 2016 either. It might be possible in 2017, after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and the luxury tax threshold is presumably raised.

Anyway, that’s a really long way of saying salaries for New York’s arbitration-eligible players are less important this offseason then they were at this time last year. When I looked at the club’s 2015 payroll situation three weeks ago, I guesstimated a $12M figure for their arbitration-eligible players. Turns out I was pretty close. Matt Swartz posted arbitration salary projections using his insanely accurate model — he’s been within 5% the last few years — earlier this week, and he has the Yankees’ players at $12.9M total. Not a bad job by me. Here are the projections:

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Pineda (~$1.5M raise), Huff (~$200K raise), and Phelps (~$800k raise) are all arbitration-eligible for the first time. Pineda is getting a nice bump in salary despite missing all that time to injury because a) he was pretty awesome when healthy this past year, and b) he was an All-Star back in 2011, and that pays. Phelps qualified as a Super Two by about a month’s worth of service time, so he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times instead of the usual three. He and Pineda aren’t going anywhere. Same goes for Nova (no raise after lost season). They’ll be tendered contracts for next year.

Rogers, on the other hand, is an oh so obvious non-tender candidate at that salary. He earned $1.85M this past season, which is why his projected 2015 salary is so high. His raise isn’t expected to be that significant. Rogers had his moments in pinstripes (like this one) and his fastball/slider combination is just good enough to keep you interested, but not at $1.9M. The Yankees could always non-tender him and re-sign him at a lower salary, maybe even a minor league contract.

I don’t have any problem with Kelley at $2.5M next season — these days you basically have to throw 30 innings and not run over the closer with a bullpen cart to be worth $2.5M — even though he can be annoyingly inconsistent. At his best, he’s a true eighth inning guy who misses an awful lot of bats. At his worst, Kelley allows like four runs and gets one out. Which makes him no worse than most other relievers, really. His projected salary isn’t nearly high enough to scare me away.

The same goes for Cervelli even though I have no reason to believe he can stay healthy over the course of a full season. Quality catching is hard to find and the Yankees shouldn’t give it away for nothing just because they have John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine (and soon Gary Sanchez) sitting in Triple-A. Even if they don’t want to keep Cervelli at that price, I think another team would give them an interesting enough low-level lottery ticket prospect in a trade. Then again, what do I know.

As for Huff, he actually pitched pretty well this past season by long man standards, posting a 1.85 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 39 innings. That’s usable. Huff’s projected salary is barely above the league minimum, so the decision whether to tender him a contract will come down to other factors like project performance and roster concerns. If the Yankees need a 40-man roster spot this winter — they’ll need one as soon as the World Series is over because A-Rod‘s suspension ends — Huff could be the odd man out.

It’s worth mentioning these contracts are not guaranteed. Teams can release arbitration-eligible players who sign one-year deals before mid-March and only owe then 30 days termination pay. If they release them after mid-March but before Opening Day, it’s 45 days termination pay. The Yankees dumped Chad Gaudin this way a few years ago. They could keep Huff, see how the offseason plays out, then cut bait if a need for a roster spot arises. I’d put my money on Huff being non-tendered.

The Yankees have an uninteresting crop of arbitration-eligible players this winter. There are no real tough decisions here. It’s an easy call to non-tender Rogers and an easy enough call to keep everyone other than Huff. Huff is the only borderline guy and there’s almost no wrong decision there. If they non-tender him, fine. If they keep him, whatever. The arbitration-eligible players won’t make or break anything this offseason. The Yankees have an easy arbitration class this winter, which is good because they need to focus on lots of other stuff.

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2014 Season Review: Big Mike

The 2014 season is over and now we’ll look back at the year that was. Our old What Went Right/Wrong format has gotten stale, so it’s time for a new review format. We’ll review individual players, performances, tendencies, all sorts of stuff in the coming days and weeks.

BIG MIKE IS HERE

You’ll have to forgive me for being skeptical about Michael Pineda coming into the 2014 season, but I know I wasn’t alone. He spent his first two years with the Yankees either injured or in the minors — he was both injured and in the minors at one point late last year — and with each passing day the trade looked more and more like a total disaster for both teams. Both the Yankees and Mariners moved top chips for what looked like zero return. Then the 2014 season happened.

Part One: Spring Training

Pineda, who turned 25 in January, came to Spring Training this year fully healthy for maybe the first time as a Yankee. Who knows what was up with his shoulder back in 2012? He came to camp in shape (unlike 2012) and with a chance to win a rotation spot. The Yankees weren’t going to hand Pineda anything after he missed the entire 2012-13 seasons and I didn’t blame them one bit. Back in February, he was a total unknown who had to earn his roster spot.

In camp, Pineda had to compete against the likes of David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno for the final spot in the rotation, and he flat out smoked ‘em. He allowed three runs (two earned) in 15 innings while striking out 16 and walking one, but, most importantly, he looked healthy and strong. The ball was coming out of his hand well, his slider was filthy, and even his changeup looked promising. There was no competition by the end of Spring Training. Pineda won the job with ease and everyone was looking forward to seeing what he’d do in the regular season.

Part Two: Finally

Eight-hundred-and-two-days after the trade that brought him to New York, Michael Pineda threw his first meaningful pitch for the Yankees. He made his first start in pinstripes on April 5th, in the team’s fifth game of the season. Here’s how it went:

Pineda held the Blue Jays to one run on five hits and no walks in six innings in his first start for the Yankees, and PitchFX says his fastball averaged 94.17 mph and topped out at 95.94 mph on the night. Considering the nature of his injury and the long layoff, I don’t think we could have asked to see anything more out of Pineda that game. He was great. Also, keep the “no walks” thing in mind. It’s going to become a theme.

Five days later, in his first career start at Yankee Stadium, Pineda held the defending World Series champion Red Sox to one run in six innings, striking out seven and walking two. Six days after that, he threw six shutout innings against the Cubs as part of a doubleheader sweep. Pineda had a 1.00 ERA and 2.69 FIP though his first three starts and looked very much like the future frontline starter the Yankees were hoping he’d become at the time of the trade.

Part Three: You Guys, You Can’t Spell Pineda Without P-I-N-E

During his nationally televised start against the Red Sox, the various networks caught Pineda with what looked like pine tar on the palm of his right hand. It was there in the early innings but not later in the game, after the internet caught wind of it and screen grabs were all over the place. Here’s what he had on his hand:

Michael Pineda

The Red Sox didn’t say anything because, frankly, many pitchers use some kind of foreign substance to improve their grip, so calling out an opposing player puts your pitchers at risk of being called out at some point in the future. It’s sort of an unspoken code. I won’t say anything if you won’t.

Two weeks later, in his fourth start of the season, Pineda gave Red Sox manager John Farrell no choice. He had a giant glob of pine tar on his neck in the second inning after getting hit around a bit in the first, prompting Farrell to come out of the dugout and bring it to the attention of the umpires. He had no choice. It would have been irresponsible for Farrell to not say something at that point.

The umpires looked at Pineda, found the pine tar, and immediately ejected him from the game. He admitted afterwards that he did use pine tar — “I know I made a mistake today,” he said following the game — and was later suspended ten games, the standard punishment for this sort of thing. Fair or not (fair!), suddenly Pineda’s dominance in his first three starts was brought into question.

Part Four: Hurt

Pineda spent his ten-game suspension at the team’s complex in Tampa. While throwing a simulated game to stay sharp, he felt a little something in his back and had to go for an MRI. Tests showed a lower lat strain, though when the Yankees announced he had been placed on the 15-day disabled list, they officially called it a shoulder injury. Regardless of what anyone called it, it was close enough to his surgically repaired shoulder to worry.

The injury was originally expected to keep Pineda out for 3-4 weeks, but that turned into 6-8 weeks after a setback in late-May. Then, in mid-June, Pineda suffered yet another setback to put the rest of his season in question. It was starting to look like those first three starts in April were just a tease. Every time Pineda ramped up his throwing program, he back/shoulder injury flared up and he had to be shut down.

Part Five: The Return

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Eventually, Pineda was able to stay healthy long enough to increase his throwing program and begin pitching in simulated games. He made his first official minor league rehab start with Triple-A Scranton on August 3rd, throwing 58 pitches in 3.1 innings. Five days later he threw 72 pitches in 4.1 innings. Reports indicated that Pineda’s arm strength was fine and his back/shoulder was healthy, so it was just a matter of getting his pitch count up before he could return to MLB.

The Yankees didn’t wait that long. Phelps went down with an elbow injury and the team didn’t want to give Esmil Rogers another spot start, so Pineda was activated off the disabled list after his second rehab start with the RailRiders. In his first game back, on August 13th at Camden Yards, Pineda held the Orioles to one run on two hits in five innings. He threw only 67 pitches and clearly started to labor in the fifth inning. The Yankees were careful with Pineda earlier in the season — he threw 83, 94, and 89 pitches in his first three starts in April — and they were going to do the same following the injury.

There were no more setbacks once Pineda returned. No more pine tar (that we know of!) and eventually no more pitch limits. No more nothing. Just pitching. Pineda took the ball every fifth day once he was activated and he was dominant nearly every time out. He allowed six runs (five earned) in his next four starts and 25.1 innings, striking out 15 and walking just one. After the Rays tagged him for four runs in 7.1 innings on September 11th — easily his worst non-pine tar start of the season — Pineda allowed just three runs (two earned) in his final three starts and 19 innings.

In his final start of the season in Game 162, Pineda struck out ten Red Sox and allowed just one run in 6.1 innings. He closed the year with a 1.89 ERA and 2.71 FIP in 13 starts and 76.1 innings. Eight of those 13 starts were walk-less. Eight! Pineda walked just seven batters (!) in those 76.1 innings, a 2.4% walk rate that was the second lowest among the 206 pitchers who threw at least 70 innings in 2014. (Phil Hughes was the lowest at 1.9%).

Pineda’s strikeout total (59, or 20.3% of batters faced) was surprisingly low given the quality of his stuff, though it didn’t hurt his performance at all. He’s a weak contact guy who gets a lot of easy pop-ups, so while his .233 BABIP was low this year, he’s exactly the type of pitcher you’d expect to post a lower than usual BABIP. All those pop-ups and fly balls off the end of the bat are high-percentage outs, especially when Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are covering two-thirds (more, really) of the outfield.

Pineda did hold his fastball velocity through to the end of the season, averaging 93.21 mph in and topping out at 96.27 mph in Game 162. His overall season velocity was 93.39 mph, on average. It is worth noting, however, that Pineda did tend to tire later in games once his pitch got up to 70-75 pitches or so. Here’s his velocity chart by inning, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Michael Pineda velocity

There’s a definitely downward trend there, after about the fourth inning. Most pitchers lose velocity as their pitch count climbs within a game, this isn’t unusual, but because Pineda’s season was interrupted by the injury, we don’t know if this is permanent or something he’ll grow out of once he truly has a chance to get into midseason and is further away from shoulder surgery. We’re just going to have to wait and see next year. Nothing we can do.

Pineda did add a cut fastball to his arsenal this year and it was very effective. It wasn’t a show-me cutter. Pineda would cut the ball outside to righties and to both sides of the plate against lefties, but stick with his true four-seam whenever he elevated for a swinging strike or wanted to bust a righty inside. His changeup also showed a lot of progress as well. The pitch averaged 88.49 mph this season, so it was a hard changeup, and at its best, it moved like this:

(GIF via IIATMS)
(GIF via IIATMS)

The pitch didn’t move that like all the time of course, but it did it often enough to make you think it’s only a matter of repetition and time before he gets a good feel for it and can throw it like that consistently. Besides, his fastball-slider and now cutter combination is good enough to get by as it is. Adding the changeup would be an extra cherry on top.

When the season started, Pineda was an injury risk and we had no idea what to expect when he was actually on the mound. He is still an injury risk, he didn’t exactly assuage any concerns about his durability this year, but at least now we know Pineda has the ability to dominate. That’s a pretty big question he answered in his 13 starts. Pineda still has frontline stuff and frontline command following shoulder surgery, the two things that made him so special as a prospect and great as a rookie in 2011. It’s easy to forget how good this guy was expected to be before the shoulder injury.

The trade has not gone as planned for either the Yankees or Mariners at this point, but the Yankees finally received some return this season. Everyone hoped Pineda would be a top of the rotation starter by time his third year in pinstripes rolled around, but instead his career in the Bronx is just getting started. That’s life. The injury this year was a major bummer, but, when he was on the mound, everything Pineda showed was tremendously encouraging. He aced the performance test with fly colors. Hopefully next year he can ace the health and durability test.

Girardi’s Press Conference Notes: Coaching Staff, A-Rod, Offseason, Prospects, Leadership, More

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees wasted no time jumping into the offseason this year. Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference on Monday afternoon, the day after the team closed out its regular season. Usually they wait two or three days. Not this year though.

There was no major news announced during Monday’s televised press conference — no coaching staff changes or surprise injuries, etc. — though Girardi did talk at length about all sorts of stuff. Especially Alex Rodriguez. People love talking about A-Rod. Here’s a recap of Girardi’s state of the team address.

On A-Rod

  • “We’ve gotta see where he’s at. That’s the thing we have to do,” said the skipper when asked what he expects from Alex next year. “We have to see where he’s physically at. If he can play the field, how many days will he DH, play the field … I don’t think any of us know about him until we get him in games in Spring Training.”
  • “I thought our guys handled it pretty well (when A-Rod returned in 2013),” added Girardi while acknowledging the first few days of Spring Training will be hectic. “Will there be a number of new guys in there? I’m sure … We’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s not a distraction, but until we get into it we don’t really know. My personal opinion is it won’t be.”
  • “I have a good relationship with Alex. Our team enjoys Alex (in the clubhouse),” said Girardi. “I don’t think that will be an issue. Will he have to deal with some angry fans? Yeah, but we’ll help him get through that.” (Girardi also joked that fans have been hating on A-Rod for years and he’s used to it by now.)
  • Girardi said the Yankees “absolutely” expect Rodriguez to be on the team next year. “He hasn’t played in a year. That’s not easy to do, to sit out a year … Do we expect him to be a player on our team? Absolutely.”
  • Girardi also confirmed they have not discussed having A-Rod work out at first base. “We expect him to be our third baseman,” he said. They’ve stayed in touch via text message over the summer.

[Read more…]

Pineda’s return is more important for 2015 than 2014

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The silver lining to last night’s loss to the Orioles was the return of Michael Pineda, who looked like the April version of himself in his first start off the disabled list. At least until he ran out of gas in the fifth inning, though that had more to do with making only two rehab starts and not getting full stretched out than anything. Pineda was nails in the first four innings, locating his fastball to both sides of his plate and throwing his slider for both called strikes and off the plate for swings and misses.

The Yankees are still kinda sorta in the race for the postseason spot — a wildcard spot, to be specific — and the Pineda we saw last night will be a huge help the rest of the way, assuming he gets fully stretched out in time. The patchwork rotation really has done an admirable job of keeping the team alive, but the Yankees have not had a starter who can go out and shut another team down every fifth day since Masahiro Tanaka got hurt. Pineda is that type of pitcher.

Getting Pineda back will help improve their slim postseason chances (7.6% according to Baseball Prospectus), but, more importantly, it gives the Yankees a chance to evaluate the right-hander heading into next season. The 2015 rotation is completely up in the air at this point thanks to the Tanaka and CC Sabathia injuries. Even if those two get healthy in time for Spring Training, there really is no way of knowing what they can provide next year. Ivan Nova will also be out until at least late-April/early-May following Tommy John surgery, if not longer.

That all makes Pineda ian integral part of the Yankees going forward despite his lack of health these last few years. In a perfect world someone like Pineda, a super talented reclamation project/lottery ticket pitcher with injury problems, would be a guy you want to fill out the back of the rotation. Not someone you have to count on. But, unless the Yankees are planning to spend huge in free agency (Jon Lester and/or Max Scherzer?) or making some big trades (Cole Hamels and/or Ian Kennedy?), that’s exactly what Pineda will be.

These next six weeks or so will finally give the Yankees a chance to see what Pineda can do as a member of their rotation making a regular start. At least hopefully. We have no real reason to expect him to stay healthy other than blind faith at this point. Hopefully he stays healthy, takes the ball every fifth day, impresses, and leaves everyone feeling good going into 2015. If Pineda can help the Yankees get into the postseason along the way, even better. Falling short of Octboer would not be unexpected though.

On a personal level, I feel Pineda Fatigue™ starting to set in. I’m getting tired of waiting for this guy to get healthy and contribute. This is his third year in pinstripes already, and he’s made five starts. I understand that pitchers get hurt and he had major shoulder surgery, but at some point you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution, and we still don’t know where Pineda falls. He’s looked great when he’s actually on the mound, no doubt about it. But he’s no good to the team if he continues to get hurt constantly. Seeing him stay on the field the rest of the season would be a refreshing change.

Outside of getting Tanaka back in September, the best thing for the future of the Yankees would be Pineda staying healthy and showing he can be an effective starter these next few weeks. He’s a potential impact player, something the team lacks at the upper levels of the minors. They just don’t know if he can stay healthy over the course of a full season yet. Well, no, they know he can’t. Nevermind. These next few weeks will show if Pineda can stay healthy for even six weeks at a time, and whether there is any reason to be optimistic about him being a member of the 2015 rotation.

Michael Pineda to return to rotation on Wednesday

Michael Pineda will be activated off the disabled list and return to the rotation on Wednesday, the Yankees announced. That’s what I was hoping for. Esmil Rogers will presumably move back into the bullpen after making a spot start last Friday.

Pineda, who has only made four starts this year, has been out since late-April with a muscle problem in his back/shoulder. If he pitches anything like he did earlier in the year (1.83 ERA and 2.73 FIP), he’ll be an enormous shot in the arm for the rotation and team in general.