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.


The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.

One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:

Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.

To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.

Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.

So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.

The Starters

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
CC Sabathia 89.96 90.93 +0.97
Michael Pineda 93.42 93.65 +0.23
Luis Severino 95.83 95.47 -0.36
Masahiro Tanaka 91.81 91.03 -0.78
Nathan Eovaldi 97.29 96.43 -0.86
Ivan Nova 93.31 92.32 -0.99

There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.

The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.

I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.

The Relievers

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Andrew Miller 94.60 95.41 +0.81
Aroldis Chapman 99.92 100.32 +0.40
Dellin Betances 97.49 97.65 +0.16
Chasen Shreve 91.85 91.28 -0.57
Kirby Yates 93.16 92.05 -1.11

These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.

The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.

Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.

Miscellaneous Arms

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Branden Pinder 92.25 94.35 +2.10
Bryan Mitchell 95.67 96.57 +0.90
Chad Green 94.43 95.32 +0.89
Nick Rumbelow 93.60 93.90 +0.30
Nick Goody 91.54 91.54 +0.00
James Pazos 94.16 93.59 -0.57
Jacob Lindgren 89.78 89.20 -0.58
Luis Cessa 92.53 91.62 -0.91
Johnny Barbato 95.28 93.54 -1.74

These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.

The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):

Barbato (left) via Getty, Pinder (right) via Presswire
Barbato (left) via Getty; Pinder (right) via Presswire

I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.

Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.

Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.

Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.

Yankeemetrics: Near-disaster in the desert [May 16-18]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Not in Scranton anymore
Heading out on their first West Coast trip of the season, the timing was ripe for an extended hot streak: Not only were the Yankees coming off a solid homestand where they won seven of 10 games, but they were set to play the Diamondbacks, a team that they had an 11-4 record against in the regular season, their second-best win percentage versus any franchise.

All that momentum and optimism came to a screeching halt on Monday night as they were creamed by the D-backs, 12-2. The Yankees basically sent out their junior varsity pitching squad – none of the four arms that got into the game were on the 25-man roster at the beginning of the season – and paid the price.

Arizona put a small army on the basepaths – 24 guys, to be exact – and pounded the Yankee pitchers to the tune of six singles, six doubles, one triple and two homers. That’s the second-most baserunners the Yankees have ever surrendered in an Interleague game, and the nine extra-base hits allowed tied the team record for an Interleague game.

Chad Green had a forgettable “Welcome to the Show” moment, allowing six runs on eight hits in four-plus innings. He’s just the second Yankee in the last 50 seasons to lose his major-league debut while giving up at least six runs and eight hits. The other was Christian Parker on April 6, 2001; that was the only major-league appearance of Parker’s career.

Green wasn’t the only Yankee to get his first taste of big-league hitters on Monday night. Conor Mullee also pitched in his first MLB game and looked very much like a rookie. He walked three guys and hit another, allowing one run in an innings’ work without giving up a hit.

There is a silver lining to his wildness, though: the last Yankee pitcher with at least three walks and a hit by pitch in his major-league debut was Dellin Betances on September 20, 2011 against the Rays.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Tiny Mike
In what has become a recurring nightmare for the Yankees, Michael Pineda delivered yet another maddening – and wholly disappointing – performance on Tuesday. Sure, the 27-year-old flashed some great stuff (nine strikeouts in five innings), but he was also awful at times (nine hits and five runs allowed) and threw far too many hittable pitches in the strike zone.

This is the third time in the last two seasons that Pineda has put up such a confusing line of at least nine strikeouts, nine hits and five runs allowed. Since 2015, no other major-league pitcher has done it more than once.

And looking at the sample of all Yankee pitchers in the last 100 seasons, only two others had three such games in their entire careers (Ron Guidry, Lefty Gomez). Somehow Pineda has done this in a span of roughly one calendar year.

Pineda’s ERA rose to an unsightly 6.60 after this latest dud, and coupled with Severino’s 7.46 mark, the Yankees are now the only team in MLB this season with two pitchers that have thrown at least 30 innings and own an ERA over 6.50.

Finally, with two losses in the first two games of this three-game set in Arizona, the Yankees fell to 0-5-1 in series away from the Bronx. The last time they went winless in their first six road series of the season was 1991.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Nasty, Nasty, Nasty Nate
Deep breath in, exhale out. Repeat.

The Yankees avoided the dreaded sweep in Arizona with a bounceback 4-2 win on Wednesday night. They still haven’t been swept in a road Interleague series of three or more games since June 2007 at Colorado.

Nathan Eovaldi pitched an absolute gem, giving up a lead-off double to Jean Segura and then retiring the next 18 batters before being removed after six fantastic innings of work. It was statistically reminiscent of some of the best games ever pitched in franchise history.

The last Yankee to throw at least six innings and allow no more than one baserunner was Mike Mussina against the Red Sox on Sept. 2, 2001. Yes, that was Moose’s epic 13-strikeout, no-walk one-hitter, a.k.a The Carl Bleeping Everett Game.

And the only other Yankee to allow one or fewer baserunners in six innings pitched in Interleague play was David Cone against the Expos on July 18, 1999. Yup, his perfect game.

Brett Gardner gave the Yankees an early 2-0 lead with a first-inning homer to right field, his 20th go-ahead home run since the start of the 2014 season. That’s the second-most go-ahead homers by any Yankee in that span, behind only Brian McCann (22).

Once expected to be a solution, Pineda is now just another part of the problem

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Remember back a few years after the Jesus Montero-for-Michael Pineda trade, when there was that big rush to declare a winner? Pineda blew out his shoulder and Montero had a decent year in 2012, so the Mariners won the trade. Then Montero faded and Pineda returned with a vengeance in 2014, so the Yankees won the trade. There were a few back-and-forths along the way, sometimes on a game by game basis.

Ultimately the need to declare a trade winner is pointless. Now, more than four years after the trade, one thing is clear: neither team got what they wanted out of the deal. Montero did not blossom into the big righty bat the Mariners sought, and Pineda did not develop into a pitcher who could pitch near the front of the rotation. Both showed flashes but have fallen short. We can say that with certainty now more than four years later.

Pineda’s latest dud was a five-inning, five-run mess against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night that looked like most other Pineda starts these days. He fell apart with two outs in the inning, made miserable two-strike pitches, and let things snowball out of control. Nearly a quarter of the way into the season, Pineda ranks 101st in ERA (6.60) and 88th in FIP (4.96) among the 103 qualified starters. You can’t even hang your hat on his peripherals anymore.

“It’s easy to say it will turn, but it’s been too long,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to George King after last night’s game. “We are almost a quarter of the way through his starts. We need to straighten it out, especially in the stretch. He is going through a major bump in the road right now. He gets ahead in the count and the numbers worsen. From the stretch position the quality of pitches are not the same. We need to fix that.”

Pineda is very much a good control/bad command pitcher. He can throw strikes (6.9 BB%) but rarely quality strikes, and there was no better example of that last night than the two-strike sliders he hung to Nick Ahmed and Paul Goldschmidt in the second and third innings. Pineda got ahead in the count, had a chance to escape the inning, then put a cement mixer slider on a tee and paid for it. Throwing strikes is generally good. Throwing strikes down the middle is not.

In a few ways Pineda is a microcosm of the 2016 Yankees. He is so obviously talented with a chance to be an excellent player, but he’s not only not performing as expected, he’s going backwards. Pineda was fantastic around a lat injury in 2014, then he took a step back in 2015, and now he’s taken an even bigger step back in 2016. Sometimes players struggle and that’s just baseball. But with Pineda, he seems to be getting worse with each passing month.

At this point it’s hard to see how Pineda not only factors into the team’s long-term plans, but their short-term plans as well. Pineda is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Yes, there’s a lot of season left and he is under team control next season too, but we’ve been waiting for things to click and for Pineda to turn the corner for a long time now. Again, all he’s done is gone backwards. There have been no signs of progress.

The shoulder surgery a few years back total sucks and it’s impossible to know what kind of effect that has had on Pineda. Maybe he was doomed to disappoint from the start. Or maybe he was headed for the front of the rotation before his arm gave out. Either way, the Pineda the Yankees have right now is not very good and he seems to be getting worse. His inability to emerge as a rotation force is one of the reasons the Yankees have settled into this stretch of mediocrity that is going on four years now.

Yankeemetrics: Let the good times roll [May 9-12]

(Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

It is high, it is far …
The Yankees turned back the clock on Monday night, showing a rare display of offensive fireworks and power in their 6-3 win over the Royals in the series opener. They hit a season-high five homers, all of them in the first three innings. The Yankees entered the week with only 25 homers, tied for the second-fewest in the AL; they’d hit just five homers in their previous 11 games combined.

A five-homer game isn’t rare by itself, the Yankees have done that more than 100 times in their history, but to score only six runs … now that’s something. Only six other times have the Yankees scored six or fewer runs in a game they also crushed at least five longballs.

Royals starter Chris Young served up all five dingers before getting the hook in the third inning. He’s just the second pitcher in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to allow at least five home runs and get fewer than nine outs against the Yankees. Rob Bell also pulled off the feat on August 1, 2001 in a game the Yankees won 9-7 over the Rangers at the Stadium.

Aroldis Chapman made his season debut and his left arm looked to be in mid-season form, with six of his 17 pitches hitting triple digits on the radar gun, per Statcast data. Four of those fastballs were 101 mph or faster, matching the same number that all other major-leaguers had thrown in the first month-plus of this season.

Small-ball wins games, too
One day after the Yankees rode the gopher ball to their 12th win of the season, they flipped the script and used a bunch of timely singles, doubles and productive outs to get lucky No. 13. This time it was the Yankee pitchers that were bit by the home run bug, allowing four longballs on the night.

The only other game in the last two decades that the Yankees won while giving up at least four home runs and hitting zero was September 25, 2014 against the Orioles. That’s not an insignificant game, if you remember. It was Derek Jeter‘s final home game, one that ended with The Captain putting a bow on his storybook career with a game-winning, walk-off single in the ninth inning.

Lorenzo Cain would have been the hero in Tuesday’s game, if the Yankees hadn’t pulled out the victory. Cain hit three home runs, becoming the first center fielder to do that against the Yankees since Ken Griffey Jr. on May 24, 1996. He also joined Bo Jackson (1990) and George Brett (1978 ALCS) as the only Royals to go deep three times against the Yankees. Finally, Cain is the ninth visiting player with at least three dingers at Yankee Stadium (including the postseason) — but the only other guy that was on the losing end was Brett.

Little Mike
The Yankees crashed back to reality on Wednesday night as their familiar failures resurfaced in a 7-3 loss to the Royals: ineffective starting pitching (see Pineda, Michael) and awful clutch hitting (1-for-13 with RISP). Their modest two-game win streak was snapped, leaving them as one of three teams (along with the Padres and Astros) this season that haven’t won more than two games in a row.

This is the latest into a season (32 games) that the Yankees have failed to put together a win streak of at least three games since 1925. That team had its first three-game win streak on July 30, in its 95th game, after sweeping the St. Louis Browns.

Michael Pineda‘s struggles in the first inning have become a significant problem – he’s now got a 15.43 ERA and batters are hitting .500/.535/1.026 against him in the opening frame – but his lack of control was also really troubling. He walked four guys and plunked two more, the first time he’s ever done that in a game in his career. The last Yankee to produce a pitching line like Pineda’s (six runs allowed, four walks, two hit batters) was Randy Johnson on April 29, 2006 against the Blue Jays.

(Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

Miracle on 161st Street
Our long national nightmare is finally over. With one swing of the bat, Chase Headley broke out of the most miserable slump of his career and did it in style, drilling a two-run homer to left field in the second inning of Thursday’s game. That was his first extra-base hit of 2016, snapping a 90 at-bat streak that was the longest to open a season by any Yankee player since Roy White in 1973 (93 at-bats). Hey Chase, keep your chin up: White somehow ended that season with 43 extra-base hits (18 homers, 22 doubles, 3 triples).

Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius also joined the homer parade, powering the Yankees to a convincing 7-3 win over the defending world champs. The Yankees are now an impressive 10-1 when scoring at least four runs in a game, the third-best record in such situations, behind only the Cubs (24-2) and Mariners (16-1). That’s the good news. The bad news is that even after Thursday’s victory, no team has fewer games scoring four-or-more runs than the Yankees this season.

Cashman confirms Yankees have not looked into contract extensions for Eovaldi, Pineda

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this week the upcoming free agent class lost its top pitcher when Stephen Strasburg surprisingly signed a seven-year extension with the Nationals. I say surprisingly because Strasburg is a Scott Boras client, and Boras tends to push his top clients to free agency whenever possible. I guess $175M with two opt-outs was too good to pass up.

The Yankees have two starters of their own nearing free agency in Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, though Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman the team has not looked into signing either right-hander long-term. They’re also not looking to trade them right now. “People have expressed interest in the past on those two people, but at this stage, that is not our focus, our focus is contention,” said the GM.

We’ve talked about possible extensions for Pineda and/or Eovaldi in the past and honestly, my opinion seems to change by that day. Is that normal? I hope so. Both Pineda and Eovaldi can become free agents following next season, and, like everyone else, they have their pluses and minuses. They both offer high-end stuff, but the results aren’t always there. Eovaldi has flashed dominance more often, especially of late.

The way I see it, the Yankees have two options with Pineda and Eovaldi: trade them or extend them. They don’t have to do it right now, just at some point before they hit free agency. Letting them walk as free agents for nothing more than a draft pick — assuming the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t eliminate draft pick compensation — is a non-option to me. These are assets that need to be maximized.

Not many starting pitchers have signed extensions a year before free agency. Strasburg is an outlier. So, if the Yankees do decide to extend Pineda and/or Eovaldi after the season, there are few benchmarks to reference. Here are some recent extensions signed by pitchers a year before free agency:

  • Josh Tomlin: Two years, $5.5M.
  • Rick Porcello: Four years, $82.5M.
  • Homer Bailey: Six years, $105M.
  • Charlie Morton: Three years, $21M.

None of that helps us at all, unfortunately. Pineda and Eovaldi are most similar to Bailey in that they’re still young guys who can market themselves as being on the upswing. Does that mean the Yankees should offer them $17M a year? Of course not. Bailey had not yet had a major arm surgery like Pineda (shoulder) and Eovaldi (Tommy John surgery) and that’s not insignificant.

My feeling right now — and this is subject to change — is the Yankees should sign Eovaldi long-term and trade Pineda. Eovaldi has been better this year but that’s not the only reason. He’s a year younger, he doesn’t have major shoulder surgery in his recent history, and I think he has a better pitch mix with his fastball/splitter/slider. I feel more comfortable plopping a boatload of money in front of Eovaldi than I do Pineda.

The Yankees would be foolish to not at least gauge the trade market for Eovaldi and Pineda at some point. The free agent market is weak, so everyone is going to look for pitching via trades, and the Yankees could get themselves a surprisingly big haul. It doesn’t cost anything to listen. They also have to find some pitching for themselves beyond next season, and if Eovaldi and Pineda weren’t Yankees right now, we’d be looking at them as possible targets.

Stephen Strasburg’s extension and the Yankees

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg managed to agree to a contract extension in the middle of a start last night. While he was on the mound against the Tigers, news broke Strasburg and the Nats had a seven-year extension in place. The deal is worth $175M and includes opt-outs after the third and fourth years. The contract will be made official later today.

Massive contracts like this change the baseball landscape. Strasburg was on track to become a free agent after the season and pretty much every team with money to burn and a hole in their rotation was going to be interested. The Nationals opened their wallets and paid up. If nothing else, their fans now a least have some hope they will do the same with Bryce Harper in a few years. For now, here are some ways the Strasburg deal affects the Yankees.

Wow Does The Free Agent Pitching Class Stink

Strasburg was, by far, the best pitcher scheduled to become a free agent after the season. I wasn’t expecting the Yankees to make a run at him or any other big name free agent — that might not happen until they reset their luxury tax rate — but you can never truly rule this team out on free agents. What if they win 70 games and finish in last place? Would it surprise anyone if the Yankees respond by spending $400M in free agency? Nah.

The Yankees need pitching the same way every team needs pitching. With Strasburg off the board, here is a quick list of the best starters scheduled to become free agents after the season (full list):

Clay Buchholz
Andrew Cashner
Bartolo Colon
R.A. Dickey
Jeremy Hellickson
Rich Hill
Mat Latos

There are some options and opt-outs that can come into play (Gio Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Derek Holland, Edinson Volquez are the notables) but that’s the list. You really have to squint your eyes to find a difference maker in that group. I’m really surprised Strasburg and Scott Boras decided to forego free agent with that class. He might have gotten $200M on the open market.

The Yankees have quite a bit of money coming off the books after the season and spending on a free agent starter to beef up the rotation seemed possible. Maybe not a huge money deal, but a little something, you know? Now that Strasburg is off the board, there’s going to be much more competition for the mid-range arms. Someone’s going to end up betting a lot of money on Buchholz and Cashner not being enigmas going forward.

The Trade Market: As Buyers

Because the free agent pitching market looks so weak, expect the trade circuit to be busy. No team has too much pitching, but some have more pitching than others, and a few of those clubs figure to cash in an extra arm as a trade chip. The Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Braves, and Indians stand out as candidates to move a pitcher. Sonny Gray is going to be the big name. Jose Fernandez too. Expect to hear a lot of Gray and Fernandez rumors over the next, I dunno, eight months or so.

The Yankees have exactly one starter under control beyond next season (Luis Severino) assuming Masahiro Tanaka opts out, so they’ll be one of the many clubs looking for pitching this coming offseason. They always are. They were looking for pitching this past offseason, remember. Teams looking for an impact pitcher can’t turn to free agency with Strasburg signed. The Yankees will have more competition on the trade market, which seems to be their preferred way to acquire talent nowadays. Not great, Bob.

The Trade Market: As Sellers

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

On the other side of the coin, the Yankees will potentially be in position to take advantage of the seller’s trade market. Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda will be free agents after next season. The Yankees would be foolish not to see what those two could fetch in trades this offseason. Some team could look at Pineda, see a guy with ace ceiling, and pay big. Same with Eovaldi.

Pineda and Eovaldi are both reasonably young. They both have sexy peripherals, they both have big time stuff, and there’s a chance to get a draft pick when they do become free agents. That makes both very desirable in trades. If the Yankees do not plan to sign either long-term term, they owe it too themselves to put them out on the trade market and try to get a nice return this winter. It’s not necessarily about selling to rebuild. It’s about maximizing assets. Pitching will be at a premium.

The Tommy John Discount?

This past offseason Jordan Zimmermann became the first pitcher to sign a $100M+ deal after having Tommy John surgery. (Shin-Soo Choo was the first to do it overall.) Strasburg is the second, and he blew away Zimmermann’s deal. There is no doubt Tommy John surgery presents certain risks going forward, even for guys like Zimmermann and Strasburg, who have thrown hundreds of innings since having their elbows rebuilt.

Both Strasburg and Zimmermann signed deals that were probably smaller than most expected. Heck, I thought Strasburg and Boras were going to try to eclipse David Price’s pitching record $217M deal because he’s a few years younger and the market was less saturated. So many pitchers are having Tommy John surgery early in their careers that now these guys are hitting free agency in their late-20s and early-30s, their prime years. It’s not just the old workhorses getting new elbow ligaments.

The Strasburg and Zimmermann contracts could indicate there is some sort of discount applied to pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery. That’s relevant to the Yankees because Eovaldi and Ivan Nova are due to hit free agency soon, and both have the zipper. Is it possible elbow reconstruction means it would be cheaper to re-sign those two? Two data points like Strasburg and Zimmermann doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, really. It’s just an observation.

* * *

Like I said, I wasn’t expecting the Yankees to be a serious player for Strasburg after the season. His signing does change the pitching landscape though, both the free agent and trade market, and that will affect the Yankees. Fewer available quality starters means more competition, and it also may represent an opportunity to turn players like Pineda and Eovaldi into other assets.

Michael Pineda, Nate Eovaldi, and the struggle to manage contact

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three nights ago Nathan Eovaldi threw the best game by a Yankee this season. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finished the night with two hits allowed in seven scoreless frames. Eovaldi has dazzled at times earlier this season, but it was always followed by the One Bad Inning. He avoided that bad inning Tuesday night.

“Uncomfortable swings. You can tell how good a guy is by the reaction of the hitters. They were swinging at pitches in the dirt. They were swinging at pitches over their heads,” said Mark Teixeira to Randy Miller after the game. “It’s just an uncomfortable at-bat. He’s throwing 97-98. When he needs to throw a strike on the corner, he does. But when he needs to put guys away with tough offspeed pitches in the dirt or high fastballs, he did that as well.”

Eovaldi’s raw stuff and potential are obvious. He’s one of the hardest throwing starters in baseball, and he’s developed a pretty nasty splitter over the last year or so. On Tuesday he mixed in a quality slider as well. Eovaldi’s impressive stuff has not yet translated to consistently impressive results, but every so often he has a game like Tuesday that reels you back in. Most of his starts are spent pitching around hits and trying to find a way to put guys away with two strikes.

Over the years we’ve learned things like strikeouts, walks, and home runs — stuff the pitcher can directly control — are more predictive than traditional stats like wins and ERA and WHIP. That’s DIPS Theory, something the Yankees buy into big time. They targeted Eovaldi because from 2012-14, he whittled his FIP down from 4.13 to 3.59 to 3.37. The team likes high strikeout rates and low walk rates, and the more velocity, the better. Intuitively that’s a no-brainer, but not every team emphasizes it as much as the Yankees.

As valuable as FIP (and xFIP and SIERA and all that) can be, there are exceptions to the rule. Guys like Bronson Arroyo and Mark Buehrle proved over hundreds and thousands of innings they can outperform their FIP. They did a better job preventing runs than their peripheral stats would lead you to believe. On the other side of the coin, guys like Ricky Nolasco and Edwin Jackson underperformed their FIP. They didn’t prevent runs as well as their strikeout, walk, and homer rates suggested they could.

The exceptions exist because pitchers do have some control over the quality of the contact they allow. Some pitchers, like Arroyo and Buehrle and Mariano Rivera, were able to consistently miss the barrel of the bat and generate weak contact. They did it through location, late movement, and general craftiness. The Nolascos and Jacksons of the pitching world struggle to miss the sweet spot.

Based on what we’ve seen the last few years, Eovaldi and rotation mate Michael Pineda fit into the Nolasco/Jackson category. They’ve underperformed their FIP because have a hard time managing contact:

Eovaldi: 4.22 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 179 innings from 2015-16
Pineda: 4.68 ERA and 3.61 FIP in 182.2 innings from 2015-16

Their strikeout and walk rates are great! But when they make a mistake, hitters square it up and drive the ball with authority. Pineda and Eovaldi don’t get weak contact. Not like Buehrle and Arroyo and other guys.

Here’s a plot of the 99 pitchers who have thrown at least 150 innings since the start of last season. You’ve got FIP on the x-axis and BABIP on the y-axis. BABIP tells us how often the ball falls in for a hit when hitters do make contact, so it covers all the at-bats that don’t end in a strikeout or walk (or homer). You can click the image for a larger view.

2015-16 BABIP vs FIP

“Luck” has become such a crutch word in sabermetric writing — nowadays it’s “sequencing,” which is usually code for “I can’t explain this” — but there absolutely exists some element of plain ol’ luck in baseball. We’re talking about a round ball and a round bat and a big swath of grass. Sometimes weird stuff happens. That’s what makes it fun.

Pineda and Eovaldi, as you can see in the plot, find themselves among a group of pitchers who have posted low FIPs but high BABIPs since the start of the last season. They’re right next to A.J. Burnett, which is a tad disheartening. Those guys have the sexy strikeout and walk rates, but when hitters make contact, the hits are falling in. The true greats — Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, etc. — run low FIPs and low BABIPs.

No one in their right mind is asking or expecting Pineda and Eovaldi to be Kershaw or Arrieta. It would be cool if they were, but come on. What the Yankees do want, however, are those two to do a better job managing the contact they allow. Mistake pitches happen. It’s part of baseball. Not every mistake should be hit 500 feet though. That’s the problem. When they miss their spots, they pay for it and pay big.

Eovaldi and Pineda are classic examples of good control/bad command pitchers. They throw plenty of strikes, we can see that in their low walk rates (7.0% and 3.4% since 2015, respectively), but they are unable to consistently locate on the edges. They’re throwing strikes, and unfortunately sometimes those strikes are right down the middle. Look at the heat map of Pineda’s fastball location since last season, via Brooks Baseball:

Michael Pineda fastball location

Good grief. There should not be that much red down the middle Michael! Eovaldi has a similar problem. He can throw strikes, but far too often they’re in hittable locations, and the batters make them pay. There’s a very fine line between a pitch being squared up and a pitch being nubbed off the end of the bat for weak contact. Eovaldi and Pineda have shown they can’t miss the sweet spot consistently. We see it pretty much every five days.

Command is one of those things that can be taught but is very difficult to learn. And really, there’s more to managing contact than command. Movement and deception play a huge role as well. The very best pitchers have all three. Pineda and Eovaldi have live arms. They’re also missing that something that allows them to be truly great, the thing that makes their run prevention numbers match their peripheral stats. Nolasco, Jackson, Burnett, and others had the same problem.

Because they’re still young and have power stuff, Pineda and Eovaldi are going to continue to get chances and big contracts as long as they stay healthy. It’s good to throw in the upper-90s like Eovaldi and it’s good to have a wicked slider like Pineda. Until they are able to do a better job managing contact and missing the barrel, either through improved command or increased movement or whatever, they seem destined to be the kind of pitchers who always leave you wanting more.