The mental side of Michael Pineda’s two-strike, two-out issues

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Aside from Dellin Betances, arguably no pitcher in the Yankees organization has better raw stuff than Michael Pineda. He sits in the mid-90s with his cutter even after shoulder surgery, and his slider is allergic to bats. Pineda ranked seventh among the 73 qualified starters with a 27.4% strikeout rate last season. He was fifth with a 10.61 K/9. That speaks to the sheer quality of his stuff.

And that’s a big reason why Pineda is so frustrating. His cutter/slider combination is so obviously excellent, yet the results don’t match. He’s more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe. Shaky command definitely explains some of the disconnect between his stuff and results. A nasty slider is no good when you hang it right out over the plate, something Pineda did far too often last season.

There is also a mental component to pitching, and while I hate focusing on it — bad results means he’s stupid, right? (as if a clubhouse can be confused for a Mensa meeting) — it is definitely part of the game. Focus is important, especially for a pitcher when things start to go south. Pineda had some big time problems with two strikes and two outs last year, and at one point pitching coach Larry Rothschild said it was a matter of focus.

“I need to have better focus when I’m pitching. I need to finish after I get two outs. When I get two outs or two strikes, I need to finish,” said Pineda to George King earlier this week. “(Rothschild) always tells me, ‘You have a good fastball, a good slider and good changeup. You need to focus, especially with two outs.'”

Looking at Pineda’s career overall, his issues with two strikes and two outs are limited to last season. He had no such trouble in those situations in his previous big league seasons. Here are the numbers (Pineda didn’t pitch in MLB in 2012 or 2013 due to his shoulder surgery):

Two Strikes Two Outs
2011 .136/.203/.210 (59 OPS+) .233/.298/.316 (77 OPS+)
2014 .176/.200/.239 (73 OPS+) .176/.186/.318 (48 OPS+)
2015 .202/.244/.349 (86 OPS+) .227/.263/.362 (76 OPS+)
2016 .187/.246/.286 (104 OPS+) .325/.383/.598 (172 OPS+)
MLB AVG .176/.246/.276 (100 OPS+) .241/.319/.395 (100 OPS+)

OPS+ provides important context. Pineda held hitters to a .187/.246/.286 batting line with two strikes last year and wow that sounds great, except the league average was .176/.246/.276. A guy with Pineda’s slider should not be league average in two-strike counts. He should perform like, well, the 2011-15 versions of Pineda. That guy had no trouble with two strikes or two outs.

Now just because Pineda had no trouble with two strikes and two outs in the past does not necessarily mean last year’s issues were a fluke. Confidence is important, and if his confidence took a hit last season, it could still need to be rebuilt this year. Something like this could snowball pretty easily. Get two quick outs, then a bloop falls in, and all of a sudden it’s “here we go again.”

“It’s hard to look at the (stats) with the stuff he has. We continue to remind him to finish innings. Two-out runs seem harder to recover from than solo homers (earlier in the inning),” said Joe Girardi to King. Rothschild added Pineda “tried harder to do more” to close out innings.

I can definitely buy that. There were times last season when Pineda seemed to try so hard to execute a perfect two-strike pitch — rather than just focusing on making a quality pitch — that he messed up and hung it out over the plate. Not every pitch needs to be perfect, especially when the hitter is on the defensive with two strikes. How do you get Pineda out of that mode? Damned if I know. That’s up to Girardi, Rothschild, and Pineda to figure out.

Last season Pineda allowed 52 of his 98 runs with two outs, or 53%. That is completely and totally bonkers. The league average is 36%. Pineda with a league average number of two-outs runs allowed would have had a 3.99 ERA in 2016, not a 4.82 ERA. That’s a huge difference! We’re talking about getting that one last out here. Get the out and the threat is over. Its impact can be enormous.

Because Pineda’s problems with two outs and two strikes were limited to last season, I’m hopeful he can get over them going forward. That doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done on the mental side. Of course there is. This problem won’t fix itself. Getting over the hump is a win-win. The Yankees will get a more effective Pineda in 2017 and Pineda will put himself in a good position heading into free agency after the season.

Three pitchers and a contract year

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

The Yankees’ 2017 rotation is on the precipice of change.

The main reason anyone would state that is due to the rebuild/transition and the newfound reliance on young arms. The Yankees will be handing as many as two spots in the 2017 rotation to younger pitchers like Luis Severino or Chad Green, and there are some strong pitching prospects on the way in 2018 and beyond.

Perhaps the biggest potential change will be with the three veteran starters. In an intriguing twist, all three — Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia — are in contract seasons of one form or another. However, each faces a different kind of contract year as each step into a crucial season which could decide the next stage of their careers.

The Opt-out

When the Yankees signed Tanaka in 2014, the opt-out at the end of the 2017 season was a long way away. Now, as has been discussed, it will be a major storyline for this entire season.

How could it not be? Tanaka has been undoubtedly the Yankees’ best starter for the last three seasons and will presumably be that again this year. He has established himself as one of the best starters in the American League and just had his most impressive season in terms of combined performance and health. Sure, he may give up one too many home runs every once in a while, but he is a force on the mound and we now know he can get through 200 innings (or 199 2/3 innings, but who’s counting?). The photo above is of him fielding because he’s a strong fielder, a smaller but important aspect of his game.

Tanaka will be 28 years old for the entire 2017 season and turns 29 on Nov. 1, just in time for free agency. For a pitcher in his prime, that is just about the perfect time to hit the market, particularly one that has so few solid starters making it there. Here’s the issue: His elbow could tear at any moment. He has made it through the last two seasons just fine, but it’s a concern for every Yankees fan that Tanaka’s elbow is too fragile to be worth another long-term commitment.

If Tanaka uses his opt-out, he would have to undergo a physical with any team he signs with and that would include a peek at his ole UCL to see whether it is holding up. Is that worth the risk for him? Probably. Most pitchers have some wear and tear with the ligament and it’s not likely to be that much different. He’ll still get a long-term commitment from someone, quite possibly the Yankees, if he stays healthy in 2017, a big if for a pitcher with a partial UCL tear.

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

One more year?

Believe it or not, Sabathia is about to begin his ninth season with the Yankees and his next win will make it so he has more wins with the Yanks than he did with Indians. We are now five seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance and it’s pretty clear the CC of old is not the CC of now. The 36-year-old lefty with eight 200-inning seasons doesn’t seem all that likely to post another one.

The good news is that he’s coming off his best season since that All-Star season in 2012. Shocking to many, he was actually an above-average pitcher for 180 innings in 2017, taking a page out of the Andy Pettitte book of aging gracefully. Using a cutter like his former teammate, Sabathia has regained the ability to get righties out at a decent enough clip after a few years of the platoon advantage destroying him. He’s actually effective and can get through six innings against the toughest of lineups in the AL East.

Similar to Pettitte, Sabathia is on the downside of his career and could be done at any moment. Guys don’t usually go out on top and some just fall apart without a moment’s notice. He’s going year-to-year and whether there is a spot in the rotation for him depends on his ability to keep up his 2016 numbers and hold off the prospects for another year. If CC can provide another year of 30 starts and an ERA around 4.00, he’d be worth another one-year deal, right? He’d have to settle for well less than his current $25 million salary, but that’s to be expected.

Sabathia was raised on the west coast, so perhaps he’d be inclined to go back to the opposite coast in free agency, but he’s lived in the New York area for nearly a decade now and seems to enjoy to his current digs. Another solid season and it’s not hard to see him in pinstripes for his age-37 season as well.

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

The question mark

OK, so what do we expect out of Pineda in 2017? It’s really tough to pin down exactly what the 6-foot-7 righty can provide in his fourth season with the Yankees. Last year, he was the third best out of these three veterans (is it fair to call Pineda a vet now?) with a 4.82 ERA, but his 3.79 FIP was quite solid. In fact, it was his second straight season lagging well behind his FIP (4.37 ERA, 3.34 FIP in 2015).

Basically, Pineda is a sabermetric nightmare. The guy who strikes out opponents at an extremely high clip (best K per 9 in the American League last year) and doesn’t walk many is exactly what teams desire in their starters and what has led to his low FIP. Yet Pineda can’t seem to turn his sterling peripherals into, you know, actual performance. He’ll have games like this one or this one where he puts everything together and is the ace many thought he could be back in 2012. Or he’ll give up hit after hit with shaky command and be pulled five runs into a loss.

It’s not like he doesn’t have the stuff. His fastball-slider combo can be downright unhittable when he’s going. 16 strikeouts unhittable. And his peripherals will have many believing he can turn around his high BABIP numbers and become elite like he was for eight starts in 2014. That turnaround might have to come in another uniform if he can’t pull it off this season.

If the Yankees sell this season – an unlikely possibility with the Steinbrenners not wanting to do so in back-to-back years – Pineda could be nice chip for the Yankees and fetch a couple prospects, even if they’re at a lower level as with the Ivan Nova trade. The most likely scenario is that Pineda is in the Yankees’ rotation all season, for worse or for better.

So what does his future look like? Like Tanaka, he’ll be 28 for the entire 2017 campaign before turning 29 next offseason. Unlike his righty counterpart, he’s looking for his first long-term contract. He’ll earn $7.4 million and will have made over $15 million in his career through the end of this season. However, he certainly will be searching for a long-term deal. He’ll be one of the better pitchers hitting the market, particularly for a team thinking they can turn his strikeout-walk ratio into gold. If he pitches similarly to his 2015-16, he’ll still likely be in line for at least a 3-year, $30 million deal on his lowest end. The pitching market is a seller’s market.

One way or another, this will likely be the last time we see Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia headline a Yankees rotation. That’s not to say it can’t happen in 2018, but a lot of things would have to break right. Sabathia could be staring down the last season of his career. Tanaka could be heading for greener pastures or for a surgeon’s table. And how do you solve a problem like Pineda?

Last season became the final year of the old guard among the hitters with Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann, among others, playing their final games as Yankees. I don’t think there will be an overhaul quite like that in the rotation, but as with the stable of prospects on their way from Scranton, it’ll be fascinating to watch how the veterans perform with all eyes on them.

Pineda, Severino among the Dominican Republic’s eligible pitchers for the WBC

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

Earlier today, the Dominican Republic announced their official roster for the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic. As expected, Dellin Betances is on the roster while Gary Sanchez is not. Here’s the roster. Robinson Cano at second, Manny Machado at short, and Adrian Beltre at third is one heck of an infield, eh? Tony Pena has a fun roster to manage.

Both Michael Pineda and Luis Severino are included in the team’s “Designated Pitcher Pool,” which is a new wrinkle in the WBC. Each team will designate ten pitchers who can be added to the roster later in the tournament. They’re allowed to add two pitchers at the end of the first round and another two at the end of the second round. So up to four of the ten extra pitchers can join the roster.

The Designated Pitcher Pool is a pretty blatant attempt by MLB and the WBC folks to get Clayton Kershaw to commit to Team USA. The Championship Game is at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd, and if Team USA advances, they want Kershaw on the mound because it’ll create serious buzz. The rule allows Kershaw to remain with the Dodgers in Spring Training and make the one start for Team USA.

The Dominican Republic won the 2013 WBC, and, based on their roster, they’re going to contend for a title again this year. They’re in a first round pool with Canada, Colombia, and Team USA. Pineda’s rotation spot with the Yankees is secure, but Severino has to win one in camp. I wonder if he’d decline to be added to the WBC roster should the Dominican Republic ask him to join the team. We’ll see.

Update: 2017 Salary Arbitration Filing Day Signings

Didi gonna get paid. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Didi gonna get paid. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Original Post (Friday, 12pm ET): Today is a significant day on the offseason calendar. The deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to file salary figures for the 2017 season is 1pm ET. The team submits the salary they believe the player deserves while the player submits the salary he feels he deserves. Simple, right?

The Yankees have seven arbitration-eligible players on the roster right now. They started the offseason with nine, but Nathan Eovaldi and Dustin Ackley were released when 40-man roster space was needed back in November. Here are the seven arbitration-eligible players and their projected 2017 salaries, per MLB Trade Rumors:

Most arbitration-eligible players around the league will sign a new contract prior to the filing deadline. Last year the Yankees signed Pineda and Ackley before the deadline, but ended up filing figures with Gregorius, Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Aroldis Chapman. It was the first time they failed to sign an eligible player before the filing deadline in several years.

It’s important to note exchanging figures today doesn’t mean the two sides have to go to an arbitration hearing. They can still hammer out a contract of any size at any point. In fact, the Yankees were able to sign Gregorius, Eovaldi, Nova, and Chapman not too long after the filing deadline last year. New York hasn’t been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang during the 2007-08 offseason.

We’re going to keep track of today’s Yankee-related arbitration news right here, assuming nothing crazy like a long-term extension happens. I’m not counting on it. Make sure you check back for updates often. The deadline is 1pm ET, but the news tends to trickle in all throughout the afternoon.

Update (Friday, 11:39am ET): The Yankees and Gregorius have agreed to a one-year contract worth $5.1M, reports Jon Heyman. Exactly as MLBTR projected. Gregorius made $2.425M last season, which was his first of four years of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two. A long-term extension was always a long shot. Didi can’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

Update (Friday, 12:27pm ET): Romine and the Yankees have an $805,000 agreement in place, says Heyman. Quite a bit below MLBTR’s projection, relatively speaking. Romine made made $556,000 last season. This was his first trip through arbitration.

Update (Friday, 4:52pm ET): Pineda and the Yankees have agreed to a one-year contract worth $7.4M, per Heyman. That’s up from his $4.3M salary in 2016. It pays to be a (middling) starting pitcher. Pineda came in just under his MLBTR projected salary.

Update (Friday, 4:55pm ET): The Yankees have a $2.29M agreement with Warren, according to Josh Norris. Almost exactly what MLBTR projected. He made $1.7M a year ago. Warren will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018 as well.

Update (Friday, 5:30pm ET): The Yankees announced they have agreements in place with both Hicks and Layne. They’re one-year contracts. No word on the money yet though. That leaves Betances as the only unsigned arbitration-eligible player. I’m not surprised. Contract talks weren’t smooth last year.

Update (Friday, 7:13pm ET): Betances filed for $5M and the Yankees countered with $3M, according to Heyman. That’s a pretty significant gap. They might end up going to a hearing. Then again, I said the same thing about Chapman last year, and they hammered out a deal. Get that paper, Dellin.

Update (Friday, 7:56pm ET): Layne received $1.075M, so says Bryan Hoch. He was arbitration-eligible for the first of four times as a Super Two this offseason, so he’s under team control through 2020. Then again, Layne is already 32 and he’s been in four organizations the last five years, so yeah.

Update (Tuesday, 6:00pm ET): The Yankees and Hicks agreed to a $1.35M salary for 2017, reports Ronald Blum. Just a touch below MLBTR’s projection. Hicks made $574,000 last season. He will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2019.

The Yankees have fielded offers for Michael Pineda, but it might not be a good time to trade him

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Yankees decided to sell at the trade deadline last year, and it helped them build one of the game’s best farm systems. The selling continued this offseason with the Brian McCann trade and it could continue to, uh, continue with a Brett Gardner and/or Chase Headley trade. Those two have popped up in more than a few rumors this winter.

One Yankee who hasn’t been mentioned in trade rumors but has generated interest is right-hander Michael Pineda. Andrew Marchand reports the Yankees have “fielded plenty of trade offers” for Pineda this winter as clubs look to buy low and get him on the cheap, but so far Brian Cashman & Co. have held on to the frustrating and enigmatic (frustratingly enigmatic?) right-hander.

Trading Pineda makes sense from a big picture perspective. He’ll be a free agent next winter and probably isn’t a long-term piece — so far there have been zero indications the Yankees want to sign him to an extension — so if the Yankees can turn him into a prospect or two, then do it. It would fit right into the rebuilding transitioning plan. Pineda wouldn’t be that hard to replace, right?

At the same time, this might not be the best time to trade Pineda. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Yankees shouldn’t trade him. By all means, if some team comes along and makes a nice offer, go for it. Pineda should not be off limits. I’m just not convinced that will actually happen though. Here are a few reasons why the time might not be right to trade Pineda.

1. The free agent pitching class stinks. But Mike, if the free agent class stinks, isn’t that a good thing for a potential Pineda trade? Yes, in theory. The problem is Pineda himself kinda stinks. He has a 4.60 ERA (91 ERA+) in 59 starts and 336.1 innings over the last two years, and we haven’t see him make any improvements. Pineda is still the same guy right now that he was two seasons ago. If anything, he’s gone backwards.

Pineda’s underlying stats are really great, which is why he’s so frustrating. Over the last two seasons the guy has a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 5.2% walk rate, numbers that are incredible for a starting pitcher. And yet, Pineda seems incapable of limiting hard contact and is far more hittable than his cutter/slider combination would lead you to believe. He’s a tough guy to figure out. He really is.

Pineda is not a long-term buy. He’s a one-year rental, and if you’re looking for a one-year rental, the free agent market offers plenty of alternatives. Why trade an actual prospect(s) for Pineda when you could sign, say, Jason Hammel, who has reportedly received nothing but one-year offers? Jake Peavy, Jon Niese, Doug Fister … you could sign one of those dudes for a year and possibly get similar-ish production as Pineda.

Of course, the difference between Pineda and guys like Hammel and Peavy and Fister is upside, or the illusion of upside. Pineda will turn 28 in two weeks and is right in the middle of what should be the prime of his career. All those other guys have seen their best days already. Still, if given the choice between trading a prospect(s) for Pineda or giving up nothing but cash to get Hammel or Fister for a year, how many would take Pineda?

(Counterpoint: It only takes one team to say “I’ll take Pineda over the free agents, here’s a quality prospect or two” for a trade to happen.)

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

2. Offers could be better at the trade deadline. Teams seem much more willing to be patient and let things play out in the offseason. Give the fifth starter’s spot to the unheralded prospect with great stats and only 23 innings above Double-A? That sounds like a great idea in December and January. He’s a Rookie of the Year sleeper candidate! Everyone else is underrating him!

Things are often much different come June and July though, once that prospect has a chance to fail and, well, fails, because baseball is all about failing. Teams are ostensibly more willing to pay big to get the help they need at the trade deadline, when the standings are staring them in the face and fans are impatient and there’s more urgency. That’s why a half-season of Aroldis Chapman fetches four prospects in July while a full season of Wade Davis fetches one Jorge Soler in December. Yeah.

There are risks with keeping Pineda and waiting until the deadline to trade him, obviously. His value would tank should he get hurt or pitch poorly, two things Pineda is known to do from time to time. But, if he stays healthy and pitches averagely, the Yankees might be able to turn him into a nice young player at the deadline. Teams always need pitching. It’s not like the demand will disappear.

3. The Yankees are short on pitching themselves. As it stands, the Yankees are poised to go into the season with two kids at the back of the rotation. Trading Pineda would make it three and, uh, yikes. That could get a little dicey. Sure, the Yankees could trade Pineda for prospects then sign one of those many one-year free agent candidates I mentioned earlier, but any time you add a second step to the equation, things get complicated.

The Yankees insist they’re trying to contend while rebuilding, and nearly all the moves they’ve made this offseason support that plan. Subtracting pitching would go against the “trying to contend” idea. The Yankees need to add pitching, really. Going young in two rotation spots makes me nervous, even if I am excited about the youth movement. I worry about innings limits and five-and-fly starts and things like that. Imagine going young in three rotation spots. Gosh.

* * *

Like I said earlier, if another team comes along and makes a good offer for Pineda this offseason, then trade him. Carrying him into the season in hopes of getting better offers at the deadline is too risky to pass on a quality offer now. I don’t think that good offer is coming in the next few weeks though, in which case keeping Pineda is not just the best option, it’s the only option.

The Very Talented and Very Frustrating Michael Pineda [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s hard to believe Michael Pineda just completed his fifth season with the Yankees. It still feels like he just got here. Of course, Pineda didn’t actually pitch in two of those five seasons because of his shoulder surgery, but still. The trade was five years ago. Man, time flies. That was such a wild day, the day of the trade.

The Yankees hoped Pineda would emerge as an ace or something close to it by now. The idea was he would take over at the top of the rotation as CC Sabathia slipped with age, but it hasn’t happened. The shoulder surgery surely plays a role in that, but that’s not all. Pineda’s stuff actually came back very well following surgery. About as well as you could have reasonably expected. It hasn’t translated into consistent success on the field though.

When 207 Strikeouts Aren’t Enough

The good news: Michael Pineda led all qualified American League pitchers with 10.6 K/9 and was second with a 27.4% strikeout rate. Only Justin Verlander (28.1%) was better. Pineda fanned 207 batters in 2016, the 11th highest total in all of baseball and the most by a Yankee since Sabathia fanned 230 in 2011. It was the most by a Yankees’ right-hander since Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina struck out 214 and 213 in 2001, respectively.

Pineda’s most dominant performance of the season came on June 30th, when he held the Rangers to one run in six innings. He struck out 12 of the 23 batters he faced that afternoon because his slider was hellacious.

When Pineda is on, his slider is untouchable. The 207 strikeouts were not a fluke. Pineda absolutely has the ability to miss that many bats. He just doesn’t do much of anything else. Also, Pineda went six innings in that game against Texas, and that’s good for him. He completed seven innings twice in 32 starts this season. Pineda faced only ten batters in the seventh inning this season. Ten! That’s it. He did not throw a single pitch in the eighth inning all year.

Strikeouts do run up pitch counts and that somewhat explains Pineda’s inability to take the ball deep into the game. As does his 7.0% walk rate, which was more than double his 3.1% walk rate last year. Pineda started his Yankees career with 41 straight starts of two or fewer walks. He then had eight starts with at least three walks this past season. Is it possible he was scared out of the strike zone because he was so homer prone (1.38 HR/9)? Maybe!

All told, Pineda had a 4.82 ERA (3.80 FIP) while setting new career highs in starts (32) and innings (175.2) in 2016. His best stretch of the season came from June 2nd to August 16th, when he had a 3.58 ERA (3.29 FIP) in 14 starts and 83 innings. And yet, by September it was clear Joe Girardi had no confidence in Pineda. This was never more evident than on September 9th against the Rays. The Yankees were up 7-2 with two outs in the fifth and Pineda had thrown only 77 pitches, yet Girardi pulled him with men on the corners because he didn’t trust him to get out of the jam. Yeah. Says a lot.

Pineda was New York’s third best starter this season, though that shouldn’t be taken as praise. He was their third best starter by default. Nathan Eovaldi‘s elbow exploded and Luis Severino was awful as a starter. Kids like Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell didn’t throw a whole lot. Pineda was the team’s only starter not to miss a start this year, and he deserves credit for that, but he also rarely pitched deep into the games, and rarely pitched as well as his stuff suggests he should.

Problems with Two Strikes

It’s truly mind-boggling that Pineda struggled in the situation most advantageous to pitchers — two-strike counts! — as much as he did this season given the quality of his slider. You watched that video above (probably). His slider is electric. It really is. And yet, with two strikes:

Pineda: .187/.246/.286 with a 47.6% strikeout rate
MLB Average: .176/.246/.276 with a 41.1% strikeout rate

The strikeout rate is nice, but Pineda’s overall numbers in two-strike counts are far too close to the league average pitcher for a guy with his stuff. Chad Green, whose slider isn’t nearly as good as Pineda’s, held hitters to a .135/.192/.281 batting line with two strikes. Those are the kind of numbers you’re looking for from Pineda.

Anecdotally, it seems Pineda had a knack for hanging two-strike sliders this season. It was almost like he was trying to make the perfect pitch, let himself get out of sync, and left it out over the plate. Here are Pineda’s two-strike sliders this season, via Baseball Savant (click for a larger view):

Michael Pineda two-strike sliders

Lots and lots of two-strike sliders up in the zone and out over the plate. I mean, every pitcher is going to have some of those over the course of the season, everyone hangs a pitch now and then, but Pineda left way too many sliders in the wheelhouse. Last year he held hitters to a .202/.244/.349 batting line with 43.1% strikeout rate in two-strike counts, so this isn’t really a one-year blip. He had some issues in those spots last year too.

Problems with Two Outs

Because struggling in two-strike counts isn’t enough, Pineda had big time issues closing out innings this year as well. Look at this. Just look at it:

Zero Outs: .234/.284/.403 with a 26.8% strikeout rate
One Out: .231/.292/.370 with a 30.4% strikeout rate
Two Outs: .325/.383/.598 with a 25.3% strikeout rate

Good grief. That’s not good, Michael! Pineda had major issues finishing innings this season. He allowed 52 of his 98 runs with two outs this year, or 53.1%. The MLB average is 36.5%. I’m not sure how to look this up without manually scrolling through the play logs of each game, but it sure seemed like Pineda allowed a lot of rallies to start with two outs this year. He’d get two quick outs, then bam, baserunners and runs. So annoying.

Both Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Pineda loses “focus” from time to time, leading to the problems with two strikes and two outs. It’s certainly not a stuff issue, though I do think Pineda could stand to throw his changeup a little more often. It’s an execution issue. I think sometimes Pineda tries so hard to throw a perfect pitch, a nasty slider at the knees, and he screws up. I don’t think it’s that he isn’t trying enough. I think it’s that he tries too hard at times.

I have a theory why Pineda is more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe: everything moves in the same direction. He’s a cutter/slider pitcher, so his two main pitches move away from righties and in to lefties. If you’re a hitter, who know which way the ball is moving. You don’t know the velocity or location, but you know the way it’s moving. That takes one of the variables away.

It seems like Pineda would benefit from adding a pitch that moves the other way, in on righties and away from lefties, like a two-seamer. Even a straight four-seam fastball would help. Just something to keep hitters from expecting every pitch to sweep from right to left. Like I said though, this is just a theory. I could be completely wrong. It just seems like everything Pineda throws moves in the same direction. How could hitters not pick up on that?

Outlook for 2017

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Next season is Pineda’s final year of team control, so he’ll be a free agent next winter. The Yankees have to figure out what they want to do with him pretty soon. If they want to keep him long-term, then it would be wise to explore a multi-year extension this offseason. If they don’t consider him a piece of the puzzle going forward, then they should explore the trade market. They should do both, really, and then figure out which makes the most sense.

Pineda is extremely frustrating because his natural talent is so obvious. The guy is 6-foot-7 and 260 lbs., he’s as strong as an ox, he has a 95 mph cutter, and he has a vicious slider that fools both righties and lefties. You can be born with worse skill sets. And yet, the results are mediocre at best. Right now, at this point of his career, Pineda falls into the A.J. Burnett category of pitchers with great stuff who leave you wanting more, yet you’re afraid to give up on him because he could figure it out any day now.

MLBTR’s projected 2017 arbitration salaries and the Dellin Betances outlier

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

With the 2016 season now complete, we can begin to look forward to the offseason and the 2017 Yankees, and this winter a lot of attention will be paid to arbitration-eligible players. The Yankees have a lot of them. Nine, in fact. Some of them are pretty important parts of the team too.

Yesterday Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors published his annual arbitration salary projections for next season. Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate and it gets more and more precise with each passing season. The numbers might not be exact, but they’re usually in the ballpark. Here’s what Swartz’s model projects for the Yankees’ nine arbitration-eligible players.

That’s $32.8M worth of arbitration salaries next year, which works out to a $14.6M raise over what those nine players earned this past season. As a reminder, players need three years of service time (3.000) to qualify for arbitration in most cases. Some, like Gregorius and Layne, are arbitration-eligible four times as a Super Two. The Super Two cutout this year is approximately 2.127, according to Steve Adams. That doesn’t really affect the Yankees. Anyway, here are some thoughts on the projected arbitration salaries.

1. The Betances projection seems light. The arbitration process is pretty archaic. Old school stats like ERA and saves — especially saves — matter most. Betances has been a setup man for the majority of his career, so he doesn’t have those big money making saves totals, which is going to hurt his arbitration case. We all know Dellin has been one of the two or three best relievers in baseball since Opening Day 2014 though.

Swartz’s model has trouble with elite players with unprecedented resumes. Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into arbitration with two Cy Youngs a few years ago. Betances leads all relievers in innings and strikeouts over the last three seasons by a lot. He struck out 392 batters from 2014-16. Next most by a reliever? Andrew Miller with 326. Yeah. Look at the five highest strikeout totals by a reliever the last three years:

  1. 2014 Betances: 135
  2. 2015 Betances: 131
  3. 2016 Betances: 126
  4. 2016 Miller: 123
  5. 2015 Aroldis Chapman: 115

Yeah. Betances is also a three-time All-Star. Do you know how many other relievers have been to the All-Star Game each of the last three years? None. Not one. Dellin’s the only one. The All-Star Game selections plus the bulk inning and strikeout totals mean Betances is going into arbitration with far more earning potential than most setup men. He could break Swartz’s model, so to speak.

As best I can tell, the record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible reliever is $6.25M by Jonathan Papelbon back in the day. The lack of saves will probably prevent Betances from breaking Papelbon’s record, though I do think he’s going to wind up with a salary closer to Papelbon’s than the projected salary above. Dellin isn’t a normal reliever and projecting his arbitration salary with a one size fits all model probably won’t work.

2. Eovaldi and Ackley are goners. Swartz’s model projects no raise for Ackley. He made $3.2M this year and the model has him making $3.2M next year. That’s what happens when you barely play and barely hit before suffering a season-ending injury. Given the salary and the lack of production, Ackley is a prime non-tender candidate this offseason. The Yankees might release him after the World Series to clear 40-man roster space rather than wait until the December 2nd tender deadline.

As for Eovaldi, the model projects a $1.9M raise, though that’s pretty irrelevant. He recently underwent major elbow surgery, including his second Tommy John surgery, so he’s going to miss the entire 2017 season. There’s no sense in paying Eovaldi that much money to not pitch next season, especially when he’ll be a free agent next winter. The business side of baseball can be cruel. Eovaldi is hurt and soon he’s going to be unemployed too. The Yankees will non-tender him. Brian Cashman all but confirmed it.

A non-tender wouldn’t necessarily mean Eovaldi’s career in pinstripes is over. The Yankees could re-sign him to a smaller contract with an eye on 2018. They’ve done that before, sign injured pitchers to a two-year deal and rehab them in year one. Think Jon Lieber and Andrew Bailey and David Aardsma. The second Tommy John surgery is much riskier than the first, but with pitching so in demand, it’s probably worth exploring a two-year deal with Eovaldi. Just not at the projected salary.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Extension time for Gregorius? Gregorius made $2.425M this past season and projects to make $5.1M next season, which is a $2.675M raise. His salary projects to more than double. Didi will be in his second of four arbitration years as a Super Two next year, so if we apply similar raises going forward, we get $7.775M in 2017 and $10.45M in 2018. That’s a real quick and dirty way of estimating his earning potential the next three years.

That rough estimate puts Gregorius at $23.325M from 2016-18 before he hits free agency. Is it worth it to explore a long-term extension this offseason? It is if you think his power breakout this past season was real, and there are reasons to believe it is. Gregorius is only 26, remember. He’s entering what should be the best years of his career. A four-year deal that guarantees him $35M or so seems worthwhile for the Yankees. We’re talking about a prime age player at a premium position.

At the same time, the Yankees have a ton of shortstops in the minors, namely Tyler Wade in Double-A plus both Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo in High-A. I wouldn’t worry about that though. Gregorius is a talented young player at a hard to fill position and those guys are worth locking up. If there’s a logjam at shortstop when Wade and Torres and Mateo and whoever are ready, great! That’s a good problem.

4. Big Mike‘s big salary. Being a starting pitcher is pretty good when arbitration time arrives. Even mediocre starters like Pineda get hefty raises. He made $4.3M this past season and projects for $7.8M next year, so we’re talking about a $3.5M raise. That’s despite a 6-12 record and a 4.82 ERA (90 ERA+) in 175.2 innings. That stuff matters in arbitration.

Pineda’s raise has more to do with his 207 strikeouts and AL leading 10.6 K/9. And really, $7.8M is still below market value for a pitcher of Pineda’s caliber. Guys like him will run you $10M to $12M or so in free agency. Probably more these days. It would be worth asking Pineda and his representatives what it would take to get an extension done this offseason, simply because the upcoming free agent pitching classes are so weak.

5. The remain projections are fair. The projections for Warren ($2.3M), Hicks ($1.4M), Layne ($1.2M), and Romine ($900,000) seem just about right. Not high enough to consider a non-tender and not low enough to see it as a bargain. That could change in a year, but right now, they’re fair. Weirdly enough, it wouldn’t surprise me if all four of those guys are on the 2017 Opening Day roster and it wouldn’t surprise me if all four are jettisoned in the offseason. I feel like we’re in for some surprises this winter.