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.


Searching for Innings

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In bolstering their pitching staff this year, the Yankees opted to continue their recent trend of bullpen dominance. From Mariano Rivera to Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Andrew Miller, the Yankees have had the ninth inning on lockdown for years. Robertson, Dellin Betances, and others have helped secure the earlier innings over the past few seasons as well. Going into 2016, Betances and Miller will be joined–dubiously–by Aroldis Chapman to form a veritable Fluffy in the late innings. There’s little doubt that the Yankees’ relief corps will be elite in 2016 and just like 2014 and 2015, it’ll be expected to anchor the Yankees’ pitching staff. That proposition isn’t all that bad when considering the talent in the bullpen and Joe Girardi‘s generally awesome management thereof. However, there is a chance for the Yankees’ great relievers to be overworked due to the potential lack of innings from their starters.

The 2016 ZiPS Projections–which Mike discussed here–do not think highly of the Yankees’ starters’ workload. They predict that no Yankee pitcher will reach 160 innings and that 2/5 of the Yankee rotation–CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda–will be under 130 IP. This is obviously a concern, though not a new one. In 2015, the Yankees ranked 12th in innings by starting pitchers and were also 12th in innings pitched per start. It is worth noting, however, the the Yankees’ starters were 5th in fWAR in 2015 despite the lack of innings. Talent, it appears, is not necessarily the problem, but there’s still a problem.

Each of the Yankees’ starters carries some level of concern. Four of them–Sabathia, Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, and Nathan Eovaldi–missed time with injuries last year and the other one–Luis Severino–is going into his first full season as a starter in the Majors. With all that said, it’d make sense for the Yankees to look to bolster their rotation with a trade or free agent acquisition. But, at this point, those options don’t seem likely. The organization doesn’t have a ton to offer in a trade and any potentially impactful starting pitcher is long-gone off the market. Additionally, most of the rotation has enough upside–Sabathia being the exception here–that it’s worth gambling on.

Regardless of that gamble, regardless of underlying talent of much of the rotation, the pressure will be on for the starters to add length to their games this year. The addition of Chapman does help push Betances and Miller back an inning each, but this isn’t a video game; those guys can’t pitch 7-8-9 every single game. Going deep into games is certainly rare these days, and the Yankees and Royals showed last year that you can ride a bullpen to the playoffs (and deep into it). Still, the Yankees need to get more length from their starters. No one’s expecting them to toss 7 innings and hand the ball to someone every fifth day, but upping the average innings by a starter to six would be a good start.

Chapman, five other Yankees file for salary arbitration

(Andy Lyons/Getty)
(Andy Lyons/Getty)

Prior to yesterday’s deadline, the six eligible Yankees filed for salary arbitration. The six: Dustin Ackley, Aroldis Chapman, Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda. A total of 156 players around the league filed for arbitration. Here’s the full list.

Filing for arbitration is nothing more than a formality, and I’m not even sure why the league requires players to do it anymore. Players no longer have to file for free agency. They just became free agents. At some point, maybe in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, players will just go to arbitration and not have to file. Whatevs.

The deadline for teams and eligible players to file salary arbitration figures is this Friday. I’m not sure what time exactly, but it’s usually in the late afternoon, at the end of the business day. The two sides can still negotiate a contract of any size after filing salary figures. Here are the 2016 salary projections from MLBTR:

Ackley: $3.1M (second time through arbitration)
Chapman: $12.9M (third)
Eovaldi: $5.7M (second)
Gregorius: $2.1M (first)
Nova: $4.4M (third)
Pineda: $4.6M (second)

The Yankees haven’t been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang back in 2008. Since then they’ve managed to sign all of their arbitration-eligible players prior to the filing deadline. There’s no reason to think that’ll change this year. Chances are those six will have new contracts by Friday.

Eovaldi and Pineda stand out as extension candidates given the team’s lack of controllable pitching beyond 2017, but there are reasons to pass too, namely the arm injuries they suffered in the second half last year. Gregorius is also an extension candidate, though he’s under team control through 2019 anyway, so no rush.

According to Cot’s, the Yankees currently have $190.6M in guaranteed contracts on the books for 2016. That covers only eleven players. The six arbitration-eligible players will bump that up to $223.4M for 17 players. Then the Yankees have to pay all the pre-arbitration guys (Dellin Betances, Luis Severino, etc.) plus the rest of the 40-man roster.

Add on the $12M or so each team has to pay towards player benefits and the Yankees are looking at an Opening Day payroll in the $240M range for luxury tax purposes. The team closed out last season with a $241.15M payroll.

Yankees need Michael Pineda and his improved changeup to emerge as rotation anchor in 2016

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

When the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda from the Mariners four years ago, he was a 22-year-old kid coming off a very good rookie season who also had room for improvement. Pineda possessed a rare combination of power and precision. He had mid-90s heat and a wipeout slider, both of which he commanded very well. The command is what separated him from other young hurlers.

Shoulder surgery put Pineda’s career and development on hold. He didn’t pitch at all in 2012 and barely pitched in 2013. It wasn’t until 2014 that Big Mike actually appeared in a game for the Yankees. (He pitched in the minors in 2013.) Everything the Yankees wanted to work on with Pineda was put on the back burner, specifically his changeup. He wasn’t healthy and he didn’t pitch for almost two years. How could he work on developing a pitch?

Pineda, who will turn 27 in less than two weeks, was able to stay reasonably healthy this past season, throwing 160.2 innings in 27 starts. The results were disappointing (4.37 ERA and 90 ERA+) but Pineda did show flashes of brilliance, such as the 16-strikeout game and his 3.34 FIP. His strikeout (23.4%) and walk (3.1%) rates were excellent, and, for the first time in his career, his ground ball rate (48.2%) was above-average.

Back in 2011 Pineda generated a ground ball on only 36.3% of balls in play, which is very low. It was 39.1% during his brief big league stint in 2014. Pineda’s improved changeup appears to be the key to all those ground balls in 2015 — he threw the pitch only 6.2% of the time in 2011. Last year it was 11.4%. This is the changeup Pineda takes to the mound with him these days:

Michael Pineda changeup

That one randomly selected changeup was elevated a bit, but the hitter was way out in front, and that’s kinda the point of a changeup. Pineda has definitely gained consistency with the pitch and it appears he has more confidence in it as well. That confidence part is really important. Remember how Nathan Eovaldi took off once he began to feel comfortable with his splitter and use it regularly? It makes a big difference.

Last season the ball ended up on the ground 60.7% of the time when batters put Pineda’s changeup in play. Back in 2011 that number was only 42.9%. The league average for changeups has hovered around 47% the last few years. Pineda rarely threw his changeup four years ago, and when he did throw it, he didn’t get ground balls. Now he throws the pitch fairly regularly and it gets grounders. It’s no wonder why his overall ground ball rate spiked.

Pineda credits Felix Hernandez for helping improve his changeup — “I have learned a lot from (Felix). He has treated me very well, which I appreciate a lot,” he said to Geoff Baker back in 2011 — but it was the Yankees who got him to refine the pitch and have more confidence in it. After all, Pineda and Felix haven’t been teammates for five years now. Hernandez helped him early in the process. The Yankees did the rest of the work.

Adding ground balls to Pineda’s strikeout and walk rates is really exciting, though, as we saw last year, it doesn’t always lead to the best results. Big Mike was pretty hittable and I think at least part of that is due to him being around the plate so much. Pineda might be one of those guys who throws too many strikes. He could benefit from throwing some more two-strike waste pitches. Not everything needs to be over the plate, you know?

Anyway, even with all those hits allowed last season (176 hits in 160.2 innings), I’ll take my chances with Pineda if he continues to limit walks while racking up strikeouts and ground balls like he did last summer. The changeup helps him keep the ball on the ground, which is huge in Yankee Stadium and the AL East in general. And now that he’s developed that third pitch, the Yankees really need Pineda to emerge as a rotation anchor.

It’s no secret the Yankees have a bunch of health risks in their rotation — Pineda’s one of them! — and they don’t have much quality depth either, not with Adam Warren now on Chicago’s north side. Pineda is the only guy in the rotation who really stands out as having the potential to be much better in 2016 than he was in 2015. He’s creeping up on free agency too, remember. Big Mike has a chance to make himself some big bucks the next two years.

The Yankees acquired Pineda hoped he’d be at the front of their rotation by now. The shoulder injury threw a big wrench into everything, but right now he’s as healthy as he’s going to get, and he’s developed that changeup into a legitimate third pitch. The Yankees need Pineda to use that changeup to step up and become a rotation leader next season. It’s time.

Yankees lack reliability in the rotation, but not upside

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

So far this offseason the Yankees have worked to improve their lineup (Starlin Castro), their bench (Aaron Hicks), and their bullpen (Aroldis Chapman). They’ve been looking for rotation help all winter, particularly a young starter they can control beyond 2017, but so far they’ve come up empty. With another seven weeks until Spring Training, the Yankees still have time to find another starter.

At the moment, the Yankees do have six starters for five spots, so they have some depth. I’d call it warm body depth rather than quality depth, but depth is depth. And the Yankees are going to need that depth too, because no team gets through a season using only five starters these days. Heck, teams are lucky if they get through a season using only seven starters. That’s the nature of the beast.

The concern with the rotation is the dubious health of the incumbent starters. Every one of them except Luis Severino missed time with an injury last season. All of them except Severino and CC Sabathia had an arm injury. Masahiro Tanaka is coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and Michael Pineda still hasn’t made it through a full season in one piece in his four years with the Yankees.

“I think there’s depth there but there’s questions about health,” said Joe Girardi at the Winter Meetings. “You have Tanaka coming off a minor surgery — I guess you can say there’s no surgery that’s really minor when it’s to a pitcher’s arm — you have Michael coming back after throwing a lot of innings last year. (Ivan Nova) should be better a year removed from his surgery. I think until you see him throwing in Spring Training and throwing the ball like he’s capable of, you wonder a little bit.”

The health concerns with the rotation are legitimate. The Yankees don’t have anyone they can reasonably count on to stay healthy and take the ball every fifth day without incident. Yes, all pitchers are injury risks, but you can safely pencil guys like David Price and Zack Greinke and Jeff Samardzija in for 30 starts a year. They have the track record of durability. The Yankees don’t have anyone like that. At least not with Sabathia at this point of his career.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

What the Yankees do have, however, is a lot of upside in their rotation. I feel like this is getting overlooked this offseason. Tanaka is a true difference maker when healthy. He’s an ace on his best days, and even on his worst days he’s merely ordinary and not awful. Severino has all the potential in the world and we’ve seen Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have extended stretches of dominance (Pineda in 2014, Eovaldi in 2015).

I don’t have high expectations for Sabathia, not even with the new knee brace, but at least Nova will be further away from Tommy John surgery. He’s been very up and down in his career. The ups have been really good though! The downs? Well they’re why he’s the sixth starter and not assured a rotation spot. And who knows, maybe the new knee brace is the magic cure-all Sabathia needs. Even becoming a league average innings eater would be a huge upgrade.

Tanaka turned 27 last month and is the third oldest of the team’s six starters. Sabathia is the elder statesman at 35 and Nova’s the second oldest. He’ll be 29 in two weeks. Pineda (26) and Eovaldi (25) are in their mid-20s and Severino’s just a kid at 21. It would be one thing if the Yankees had a rotation full of Sabathias — veteran guys trying to stave off Father Time and remain effective in their twilight years. That’s not the case. The rotation is pretty young aside from CC.

The best way to describe the Yankees rotation is boom or bust. There’s a lot of injury risk and the bust rate is quite high. Much higher than I think anyone feels comfortable with. There’s also the boom potential that is being ignored for whatever reason. Tanaka, Severino, Pineda, and Eovaldi are a helluva quartet. That’s three young power starters with swing-and-miss stuff — now that Eovaldi has the splitter — plus Tanaka, a master at getting hitters to chase.

The rotation as is doesn’t make me feel very comfortable because there are so many health question marks. I’m not sure adding a reliable innings guy would make me feel much better though. The Yankees may add a young controllable starter, but, for the most part, they’ll sink or swim with this rotation in 2016. The injury risk is scary. But don’t forget the upside either.

“I think our guys are capable of getting it done. But the thing is, you have to keep them out there for 30 to 32 starts,” said Girardi. “I think our rotation has a chance to be good. But we’ve got to keep them out there.”

Yanks should explore extending Pineda and Eovaldi given price of pitching, upcoming free agent classes

(Getty)
(Getty)

All throughout the offseason, we’ve heard the Yankees are looking for controllable young pitching because aside from Luis Severino, all of their current starters can become free agents within two years. Ivan Nova will qualify for free agency after 2016 while CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka will do the same after 2017. (Tanaka can opt-out of his deal following 2017.)

While the Yankees do have some starting pitching prospects who figure to contribute at the MLB level come 2018 — James Kaprielian and Rookie Davis, most notably — they’ll need more arms. No doubt about it. Looking for young pitching now makes sense. The problem? It’s crazy expensive. Just look at what it took to get Shelby Miller. That package may be something of an outlier, but the point stands. Pitching is expensive.

The upcoming free agent classes don’t offer much help either. Stephen Strasburg will be the best free agent starter next offseason, and the second best is probably Brett Anderson. Francisco Liriano, Alex Cobb, and Clay Buchholz headline the 2017-18 free agent pitching class. Like I’ve been saying, this offseason’s free agent class was the best in years, and that means going forward too.

Given the cost of pitching and the lack of high-end starters in upcoming free agent classes, the Yankees’ best option for controllable pitching behind 2017 might be the guys already on the roster, specifically Eovaldi and Pineda. They’re still in their mid-20s — Pineda turns 27 in January and Eovaldi turns 26 in February — and both have had flashes of success in New York.

At the same time, both Pineda and Eovaldi have been pretty inconsistent in recent years, and both guys have a major arm injury in their history. Eovaldi had Tommy John surgery eight years ago and Pineda had surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2012. Both guys missed time with injuries this past season too — Eovaldi’s season ended in mid-September due to elbow inflammation and Pineda missed a month with a forearm strain.

The injury history and inconsistency are obvious red flags, though they also potentially help keep contract extension prices down. It’s a classic risk vs. reward situation. Eovaldi and Pineda are reasonably young and have the tools to be very successful, but there are enough red flags to justify going year-to-year contractually. I can understand both sides of the argument, extending them or going year-to-year.

Not many pitchers have signed extensions with four years of service time in recent years. Jordan Zimmermann took a two-year deal during the 2013-14 offseason that didn’t delay free agency — it only gave the Nationals cost certainty over his remaining two arbitration years. The last multi-year deal that bought out free agent years for a pitcher at this service time level was Matt Harrison’s five-year, $55M deal in January 2013.

Ideally, I think an extension for Pineda and/or Eovaldi would cover four years, so their final two arbitration years plus two free agent years. An option or two would be cool as well. The Yankees would get control of both through 2019 and the two pitchers would hit free agency at 29-30, an age where they could still land a big free agent deal. MLBTR projects Eovaldi for $5.7M through arbitration next year and Pineda for $4.6M. Using that as a starting point, how’s this for potential framework?

Eovaldi Pineda
2016 (Arb. Year) $5.5M $4.5M
2017 (Arb. Year) $7.5M $7M
2018 (FA Year) $13M $13M
2019 (FA Year) $15M $15M
2020 (Option) $17M ($1M buyout) $17M ($1M buyout)
Total Guarantee $42M + option $40.5M + option

I just spitballed some numbers and looking them over, they seem too low. Wouldn’t you give Pineda and Eovaldi four years and $40M or so guaranteed right now given the current market? Mike Leake got five years and $75M. Jeff Samardzija got five years and $90M. Eovaldi’s currently scheduled to hit free agency at age 27 and Pineda will be 28. The market generally rewards youth, as long as they stay reasonably healthy and effective.

At the same time, I’m not sure how much higher the Yankees should go given their injury issues. Neither Pineda nor Eovaldi received large signing bonuses as amateurs — Pineda signed for $35,000 out of the Dominican Republic and Eovaldi got $250,000 as an 11th round pick — but they made $2.1M and $3.3M through arbitration in 2015, respectively. They have some financial security and may not jump at an extension.

Either way, the point isn’t the Yankees absolutely should sign Pineda or Eovaldi to a contract extension. It’s that they should at least explore the possibility and see what the other side has in mind. Perhaps both players ask for too much and that’s that, no deal can be worked out. It might have already happened for all we know. On the other hand, if the Yankees haven’t checked in, one or both might be more open to an extension than they realize.

The Yankees aren’t stupid. They know more about Pineda and Eovaldi than we ever will and it’s possible they have concerns about their health and effectiveness, and aren’t willing to assume the long-term risk. Extending both players is just one idea to give the Yankees some controllable starters beyond 2017. The trade market seems crazy and free agency doesn’t offer much help. Paying Pineda and/or Eovaldi might be the best way for the Yankees to get the pitching they need.

A Mutual Turning Point

Pineda's new dance move. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Pineda’s new dance move. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have a lot of important things in common. They both pitch for the Yankees, and do so with their right arms. And when they do so, they both tend to throw hard and have what most people would agree is “good stuff.” Both pitchers are capable of brilliant performances and blowing away hitters. Both pitchers are also prone to giving up too many hits, leaving something to be desired from their outings. Just as importantly, though, both Pineda and Eovaldi are on the same timetable for free agency.

As Mike detailed last month, Pineda and Eovaldi are due some big raises in arbitration (emphasis mine):

Pineda and Eovaldi are both entering their second arbitration year. Pineda earned $2.1M this season and has the biggest projected raise at $2.5M. Eovaldi is right behind him with a $2.4M projected raise. That is fairly standard for good but not great starters going through arbitration for the second time. Given the fact both Pineda and Eovaldi spent time on the DL with arm injuries in 2015, I’m guessing the Yankees will not explore a long-term extension with either this winter.

After this year, each pitcher will have just one more shot at hitting the big, bad free agent market. Their performances last year were certainly confidence-inspiring at points, but on aggregate, hardly enough to sway the team to try and extend them now. Granted, that’s not generally the Yankees’ MO, but they did break the proverbial mode for both Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano in years past. Given how expensive the pitching market has gotten recently, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Yankees try to extend Pineda or Eovaldi, but not before this turning point of a season.

Both pitchers have something big to prove this year. For Pineda, it’s health and consistency. Pineda spent time on the DL during his up-and-down season and needs to put it together this year and finally have that big season we’ve been waiting for since he was traded to the Yankees. Just about every pitcher the Yankees have as a rotation candidate–including Pineda himself–has some sort of question mark attached to him heading into 2016. Stability from Pineda, both in terms of health and performance, is of paramount importance to the Yankee present of 2016 and the future beyond it.

(Steven Ryan/Getty)
(Steven Ryan/Getty)

Eovaldi is in a similar boat with regards to consistency of performance, though perhaps his boat is more about repetition. After his disaster start against his former team in Miami, Eovaldi was solid, pitching to a 1.287 WHIP (fewer hits than IP! Huzzah!) and a 3.44 ERA. There were more positive signs than negative signs for Eovaldi in 2015, but like Pineda, the quality of those negatives may outweigh the quantity of the positives. Eovaldi still isn’t the most efficient pitcher in the league and the results don’t always match the stuff. He’ll need to harness his secondary pitches this year to even make the Yankees think about extending him beyond his free agent years.

The Yankees have generally done well by avoiding long-term extensions with their own pitchers, but few–if any–have been established like Pineda and Eovaldi are now, even with their question marks. Repeat performances by both pitchers in 2016 will probably mean the Yankees pass on extending them. However, if both pitchers can iron out some of their wrinkles, the Yankees will have to think about giving them the Cano/Gardner treatment and thinking beyond 2017.

Not Big Mike or Small Mike, more like Medium Mike [2015 Season Review]

BIG MIKE IS HERE

Michael Pineda‘s four years with the Yankees have been eventful, to say the least. He missed the 2012-13 seasons following shoulder surgery, then pitched brilliantly in limited action around a lat strain last year. Despite the injury, what Pineda showed last summer was pretty encouraging. His fastball had life, his slider was nasty, and his changeup was promising.

The 2015 season was supposed to be Big Mike‘s coming out party. He was finally healthy, with the shoulder surgery far in the rear view mirror. What we saw last year was very exciting and it was not hard to dream up a scenario where Pineda was the ace of the staff and one of the game’s most dominant arms. We saw flashes of that this year. Mostly though, we saw inconsistency.

Dominance in Spring

Pineda has had some pretty eventful Spring Trainings with the Yankees. He was overweight and ultimately hurt in 2012. The next year he was still coming back from shoulder surgery and didn’t pitch at all. Last year he came to camp healthy and it was something of a feeling out process. No one knew what to expect from Pineda after two lost years.

This year, Pineda showed up to camp with expectations for the first time in three years, and holy moly was he sharp in Spring Training. Pineda started five Grapefruit League games, allowed three runs in 19 innings, striking out 23 and walking just one. It was Spring Training, we all know the stats mean nothing, but damn. Big Mike killed it in March. It was hard to contain the excitement.

No. 2 Starter

The Yankees decided to start Pineda in the second game of the season, between Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. They lost four of their first five games of 2015 and the one win was Pineda’s start, when he held the Blue Jays to two runs in six innings. He struck out six and walk one. Not a great start but serviceable. It was a cold and rainy night in the Bronx, so it was understandable.

Five days later the Orioles roughed up Pineda, scoring five runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings. He did strike out nine. His next start was okay (three runs in 5.2 innings against the Rays), but, after that, Pineda went on a four-start tear in which he looked like the budding ace the Yankees thought they were acquiring back in 2012.

On April 24th, Pineda outdueled Jacob deGrom and held the Mets to one run in 7.1 innings. Five days later he allowed two runs in 5.2 innings against the Rays, and six days after that he threw eight shutout innings against the Blue Jays in Toronto. Then, five days later on Mother’s Day, Pineda struck out 16 Orioles in seven masterful innings.

The 16 strikeouts were the most by a Yankee since David Wells struck out 16 Athletics on July 30th, 1997. They were the most by a Yankees right-hander since David Cone fanned 16 earlier that season, on June 23rd. There have been only six 15+ strikeout games in franchise history (Pineda, Wells, Cone, Ron Guidry, Whitey Ford, Bob Shawkey) and Pineda is the only one to do it in fewer than eight innings. Here’s the list.

The 16-strikeout game capped off a dominant four-start stretch in which Pineda allowed four runs on 22 hits and one walk in 28.1 innings. He struck out 34. Big Mike had a 2.72 ERA and a 1.90 FIP in his first seven starts and 46.1 innings of the season. Things were a little rocky early, but Pineda settled in and was starting to #shove on a consistent basis.

Small to Mid-Size Mike

Given how the rest of the season played out, it’s fair to wonder if Pineda exerted himself a little too much in that 16-strikeout game. He surrendered five runs in 5.1 innings next time out and showed nothing more than flashes of dominance the rest of the season. Pineda had some truly great starts down the stretch (like this one) but was generally inconsistent and mediocre, if not downright bad.

Following the 16-strikeout game, Pineda pitched to a 5.04 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 20 starts and 114.1 innings. His walk (3.7%) and strikeout (21.0%) strikes were excellent, and he was starting to get ground balls (46.5%), but Pineda was incredibly hit (.284 AVG and .330 BABIP) and home run (1.42 HR/9 and 17.0 HR/FB%) prone. He closed the season by allowing 35 runs in his final 54.1 innings. That’s not good.

Pineda did miss a little more than a month with a forearm muscle strain, the same injury that sidelined Tanaka and Andrew Miller for a month each earlier in the season. Pineda returned in late-August and finished the season healthy, so that’s good, but he struggled before getting hurt and again after getting hurt. The dominant Big Mike were all hoping to see never really showed up aside from that four-start stretch early in the season, which ended with the 16-strikeout game.

All told, Pineda finished the season with a 4.37 ERA (3.34 FIP) in 27 starts and 160.2 innings. His had great strikeout (23.4%) and walk (3.1%) numbers — Pineda had the third lowest walk rate (behind Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon, the Yankees love their low walk guys) and the second highest K/BB ratio (behind Max Scherzer) among the 89 pitchers who threw at least 150 innings in 2015 — and got ground balls (48.2%) for the first time in his life.

The peripherals were magnificent. The actual preventing runs part? Not so much. Pineda was way too hittable this year for a guy with his stuff.

Before & After

Like I said earlier, it’s fair to wonder if Pineda put a little too much into the 16-strikeout game, leading to his poor performance afterwards. Maybe he threw off his mechanics, maybe he was hiding an injury, or maybe it was something else all together.

Let’s look at some PitchFX graphs to see if we notice any sort of difference before and after that Mother’s Day gem, starting with good ol’ velocity. I’ve boxed out Pineda’s starts after the 16-strikeout game.

Michael Pineda velocity

Looks fine to me. Pineda added velocity as the season progressed, which is totally normal, then it tailed off a bit at the end of the season, around the forearm injury. This looks fine. Pineda was relatively consistent with his velocity before and after the 16-strikeout game before getting hurt.

Now let’s look at the horizontal movement of Pineda’s pitches since he’s a fastball/slider/changeup guy. The changeup goes left-to-right and everything else he throws seems to go right-to-left. Even his fastball is more of a cutter.

Michael Pineda movement

Okay, now maybe we’re on to something. Pineda’s slider lost horizontal movement as the season progressed. Going month-by-month, the pitched averaged 4.54 inches of break in April, then 4.00 in May, then 2.47 in June, then 1.31 in July, then -0.45 in August — that basically means he was throwing sloppy backup sliders more often than not — before rebounding to 1.32 in September.

The swing-and-miss rate on Pineda’s slider actually went up as the season progressed — it had a 17.5% whiff rate in April and peaked at 26.1% in August before the forearm injury — but the whiff rate on his fastball dropped. It went 7.8% in April to literally 0.0% in August. No swings and misses on the pitch that month.

A pitcher’s arsenal is not just a collection of individual pitches. They all play off each other. The fastball sets up the slider and vice versa. That’s what makes it so tough. The hitter reads fastball out of the hand, starts his swing, then the thing slides out of the way. Pineda’s slider was less slider-y as the season progressed, and it hurt his fastball more than anything.

The slider wasn’t sliding less just because. There’s a reason behind the change, and, looking at the PitchFX data, it appears Pineda’s arm slot changed after the 16-strikeout game. Check it out:

Michael Pineda release point1Oh boy. That first data point after the 16-strikeout game is pretty scary. Pineda’s vertical release point dropped significantly — four and a half inches according to PitchFX, to be exact — immediately after the 16-strikeout game. It bounced back for a few starts after that, then began to trend downward and zig zag all over the place around the forearm injury.

We don’t know if Pineda exerted himself a little too much on Mother’s Day. The PitchFX data shows his slider didn’t slide as much and his vertical release point dropped, but correlation does not equal causation. It could be a coincidence. Remember, we already talking about a pitcher who has had major shoulder surgery. His arm may never work the same across a full season.

Whatever it was, Pineda did not meet expectations this season. He wasn’t terrible, the overall numbers are okay, but the Yankees were expecting high-end performance from Pineda. He was being counted on to be one of the leaders of the staff. We saw flashes of that and nothing more.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Pineda is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player for another two years and there’s always a chance the Yankees could use him in a trade this offseason. For now, he’s penciled as one of the five starters next season, except now expectations may be tempered a bit.