Archive for Michael Pineda
Via Joel Sherman: MLB executive Joe Torre said the league is not planning to suspend Michael Pineda for last night’s alleged pine tar incident. “The umpires did not observe an application of a foreign substance during the game and the issue was not raised by the Red Sox,” said Torre. “Given those circumstances, there are no plans to issue a suspension, but we intend to talk to the Yankees regarding what occurred.”
Pineda, 25, sure had what looked like a brown foreign substance on his right hand during innings one through four (photo). Replays showed nothing on his hand in the fifth inning or later. Neither the Red Sox nor the umpires raised an issue, and it’s a bit of an open secret that most pitchers use some kind of substance to improve their grip. Pineda was just way too obvious about it.
Eight questions this week, so I kept the answers relatively short. If you want to send us anything, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Kevin asks: If Michael Pineda comes back and has a strong year, pitching ~150 innings, wouldn’t it make at least some sense to consider trading him for a young cost-controlled hitter instead of betting on his shoulder long-term?
Oh sure, absolutely. Given the team’s needs on the infield, it definitely makes sense to deal a pitcher with a major arm injury in his not-too-distant past for a young position player. Obviously there would be many more variables here. How does Pineda look in 2014? Do any prospects take a step forward and change the team’s long-term outlook? Stuff like that. Pitchers who have shoulder surgeries tend to continue having shoulder problems, so flipping Pineda for a young infielder next winter definitely makes sense. We just have to see how these next few months play out before we can know how realistic that is.
Dan asks: Let’s say that between being healthy and playing in Yankee Stadium, Jacoby Ellsbury‘s power numbers rebound to where he approaches his career highs, or at least becomes a legit 20 HR guy. Would Joe Girardi move him down in the lineup?
I think so, especially since they have Brett Gardner ready to step right into the leadoff spot. I don’t know if it would make sense to bat Ellsbury any lower than third, but I could see the lineup being Gardner, Derek Jeter, Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, so on and so forth at some point. I guess it depends how the rest of the offense is performing. There’s no harm in having a 20+ homer, 40+ steal leadoff man. That’s quite the table-setter.
Howie asks: I haven’t heard a word about Zelous Wheeler from anybody this spring. He was a good enough prospect for the Brewers to protect on their 40-man roster for a while, and it seems he’s been able to get on base throughout his career. He got a lot of ABs for the Yankees in spring training. Any word on him? Any chance the Yankees give him a call up at some point to see if he can play a major league 3B?
Wheeler, 27, has not even played a full season at Triple-A yet, believe it or not. Only 121 total games at the level across three seasons. Baseball America never once ranked him as one of Milwaukee’s top 30 prospects in their Prospect Handbook and that’s really saying something. The Brewers have had some awful farm systems in recent years. Wheeler has put up nice numbers at Double-A (.276/.377/.428 in 321 games) and decent numbers at Triple-A (.264/.342/.410 in 121 games), plus he’s had a monster spring (.287/.381/.486), so he’s on the map. I don’t think he’ll get much of a chance to help the big league team this year though, at least not without a ton of injuries. He’s at the very bottom of the depth chart it seems.
Nic asks: Ryan Roberts worth to pick-up this late in the spring?
I don’t think so. Roberts had a big year with the Diamondbacks in 2011, hitting .249/.341/.427 (109 wRC+) with 19 homers and 18 steals, but he’s only hit .238/.296/.364 (81 wRC+) in the two years since. That includes a .256/.304/.412 (95 wRC+) line against left-handers, so he e isn’t much of a platoon option. Roberts can play second and third, and the various defensive stats say he’s a good but not great gloveman. He’s very similar to Scott Sizemore and I don’t see much of a point of carrying two Scott Sizemores. One in Triple-A is enough. The Yankees went through all that trouble to acquire Dean Anna and they removed other players from the 40-man roster this winter in favor of him. I say let him play while Brendan Ryan‘s hurt. That’s what he’s there for.
Dylan asks: I’m pretty sure I’m the only guy that ever asks this or even cares, but can we get our yearly Pat Venditte update? I saw he was available multiple times but did he pitch this spring? Does he have a shot at getting called up this year? Ever?
Venditte had surgery on his right shoulder two years ago, and he returned last season to throw 28.2 innings at three different levels (3.45 ERA). He has been brought up to big league camp as an extra arm a few times this spring but hasn’t gotten into a game. Venditte is fully healthy now and throwing with both arms, and I think he’ll start the year with either Double-A Trenton or Triple-A Scranton. It might be Double-A because there are a ton of arms ticketed for Triple-A as it is. Venditte will turn 29 this summer, so he’s not some young prospect anymore. I don’t think he’ll get called up this year, but hey, he’ll be a minor league free agent next winter, so maybe another team will give him a shot. Since he’s gone unselected in the Rule 5 Draft several times, probably not.
Frank asks: I know it’s “only Spring Training” but something has to be said about the number of runs the Yankees have allowed this Spring. As of today, they’re only behind the Rays for fewest runs allowed. Yankee pitchers haven’t really got lit up this Spring. Encouraged?
It doesn’t mean anything. I know that’s the cliche but it’s true. A total of 33 pitchers have thrown a combined 266 innings for the Yankees this year, and, assuming Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno get the last two bullpen spots, 124.2 of them have them have been thrown by guys who will not be on the big league roster. Almost half (46.9%, to be exact). Bruce Billings has thrown the same number of innings (8.1) as Hiroki Kuroda, just to drive the point home. (Kuroda’s thrown in minor league games a few times, hence the low innings total.) Remember, many of those innings were against hitters who won’t sniff MLB this year. It’s neat that the Yankees have pitched well this spring — they have the second most strikeouts (234) and second fewest walks (59) among all 30 teams — but ultimately it means nothing. Spring Training stats for one individual player mean little and they mean even less for a group of players.
Dustin asks: John Ryan Murphy for Marcus Semien. Would you do it? Would the White Sox do it?
Pretty sure I’d do it. Semien, 23, hit .284/.401/.479 with 19 homers, 24 steals, and more walks (98) than strikeouts (90) in 137 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year before getting a cup of coffee in September. He actually made his big league debut in Yankee Stadium. Here’s the box score. Baseball America (no subs. req’d) ranked him as the 91st best prospect in the game last month, and in their subscriber-only scouting report they said he has pushed “beyond his original utility profile” because he’s hit so much. Semien is said to fit best at second or third base, and given the Yankees’ need for both short and long-term infield help, he’d make a lot of sense. It is a bit of a concern that he was considered a future utility man as recently as 12 months ago, but not enough to deter me completely. The White Sox desperately need a catcher and Murphy would fit well for them. I don’t know if they’d pull the trigger though.
Jonathan asks: Since Jeter came into the league, what would be the best 25 man roster that could be put together by the collection of Yankees that have come and gone or are currently on the roster? (Lineup, Bench, Rotation, Bullpen)
The Play Index was made for stuff like this. Here is the highest bWAR at each position (min. 50% of games played) during Jeter’s career, starting in 1996, his first full season. Some of these are obvious (click the link on each position for the full results):
- Catcher: Jorge Posada (42.6 bWAR)
- First Base: Jason Giambi (22.0)
- Second Base: Robinson Cano (45.1)
- Third Base: Alex Rodriguez (52.5)
- Left Field: Hideki Matsui (20.4)
- Center Field: Bernie Williams (35.1)
- Right Field: Paul O’Neill (16.6)
- Designated Hitter: David Justice (3.6 WAR)
- Bench: Frankie Cervelli (2.9), Brendan Ryan (0.5), Miguel Cairo (2.0), Tim Raines (3.3)
- Rotation: Andy Pettitte (48.7), Mike Mussina (35.2), CC Sabathia (22.1), Roger Clemens (21.3), Orlando Hernandez (19.1)
- Bullpen: Mariano Rivera (56.4), Ramiro Mendoza (11.5), David Robertson (9.6), Mike Stanton (8.7), Joba Chamberlain (7.1), Tom Gordon (7.0), Jeff Nelson (6.5)
If you’d rather use the second best player at one of the other positions than Justice at DH, it would be Brett Gardner (19.3). I’d put him in left and Matsui at DH for obvious reasons. If you want a second lefty in the bullpen, Boone Logan (3.2) would replace Nelson. I picked actual bench/part-time players for the bench and yes, during the Jeter era, Ryan has the second highest bWAR among Yankees shortstops. Crazy.
That’s a pretty excellent team otherwise, no? Not like we should have expected anything different. Nice mix of dynasty guys and more recent players, though not so much on the pitching staff. Only three guys on that staff joined the team after 2006. Of course, the more recent guys haven’t had as much time to accumulate bWAR. Anyway, there’s a the rest of the team around Jeter.
It took a little longer than we all would have liked, but Michael Pineda has finally earned a spot in the Yankees’ rotation. He was officially named the fifth starter yesterday, sending David Phelps to the bullpen for the time being. Pineda didn’t win the job by default, he won it fair and square by pitching well in camp and, most importantly, showing he was healthy. His delivery was free and easy, unlike two springs ago.
“He threw extremely well. It was what we wanted to see from him. He improved with each outing, and at times was dominant. We really liked what we saw,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings. “We weren’t sure what we were going to get from Michael. You look at a lot of other years, maybe one of those guys makes it as your fifth, because they all threw extremely well. But Michael, we thought, probably had the best spring.”
Pineda is still so young, turning only 25 back in January, but he also missed most of the last two seasons following shoulder surgery. That’s a lot of missed development time and lost experience. Losing your age 23 and 24 seasons hurts, no doubt about it. Pineda hasn’t had a chance to improve his changeup and he hasn’t had the opportunity to gradually build up his innings total like most young pitchers. The Yankees, however, do not seem all that concerned about him physically.
“He does not have an innings limit on him,” added Girardi. “We will watch how he’s doing and we’ll make judgments on what we have to do. This is a guy that has been to 175 innings before, so we know that he’s capable of handling that. It’s just, we’ve got to see how he’s responding.”
Pineda threw only 40.2 innings last season (plus an unknown amount in Extended Spring Training) but he did throw 171 innings for the Mariners back in 2011. I’m not sure how relevant that number is now after the shoulder surgery and completely lost 2012 season. It seems like the Yankees would want to ease him back into things given the nature of his injury, and despite Girardi’s comment, I think they will. It would really surprise me if they ran him out there with no regard for his workload.
While Pineda’s surgically repaired shoulder is the real concern here, fatigue can be just as problematic. His shoulder might be totally healthy, but he may still simply run out of gas in August or September following the long layoff. I don’t think you can throw 171 innings one year, 40.2 innings over the next two years, then jump right back up to 180+ after that. Maybe Pineda can, who knows. Late-season fatigue is a concern and that’s why guys like Phelps and Adam Warren will be important.
The Yankees went through an innings management nightmare with Joba Chamberlain a few years ago and more recently we’ve seen Stephen Strasburg’s workload become a daily topic. The Nationals were up front with everything and they had to answer questions about it every time he pitched. Maybe the Yankees are trying to avoid that distraction. If there’s no limit, there are no questions to answer. Pineda’s workload obviously has to be monitored given his injury and layoff, the Yankees just seem to be playing it cool.
The rotation order for the start of the 2014 season is set. Joe Girardi announced on Tuesday that Michael Pineda will be the team’s fifth starter, falling behind CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and Masahiro Tanaka. Girardi also said Pineda “does not have an innings limit on him,” which is surprising following shoulder surgery. Maybe that’s just their attempt to avoid a Strasburg-ian season-long distraction.
With Pineda in the rotation, both David Phelps and Adam Warren will shift into the bullpen, though they will not necessarily be long relievers. Girardi confirmed Vidal Nuno will also be considered for a relief role. Because of the way the schedule shakes out, the Yankees will need Pineda right away this year. No off-days to skip his spot. Tanaka and Pineda will make their first starts of the season in Toronto from April 4-5, then their Yankee Stadium debuts from April 9-10 against the Orioles and Red Sox, respectively.
Pineda, 25, has missed most of the last two seasons following shoulder surgery, but he came to camp healthy this spring and pitched very well, allowing only three runs (two earned) with a 16/1 K/BB in 15 innings across four appearances. His fastball has sat mostly in the 88-91 range, but he’s touched 92-94 and his slider has been ridiculously sharp. Pineda did not magically develop a changeup while on the DL the last two years, so that part of his game is still very much a work in progress.
The Yankees have used at least eight starters every year since 1975 and I have no reason to think 2014 will be any different. No team gets through the season with five guys. Phelps, Warren, and Nuno will all presumably start games at some point, just like they last season. Hopefully the team doesn’t need to dip any deeper into the pitching well beyond those three. Obviously Sabathia and Kuroda are a bit of a concern given their 2013 performance and age, respectively, but the other three starters are all young and full of potential. It’s exciting.
Huge mailbag this week. Nine questions and nearly 2,000 words. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
Terry asks: With Jimmy Rollins seeming fallen out of favor with Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies, do you think it would make sense to see if the Yankees to put together some sort of trade package together with Ichiro Suzuki being the centerpiece? Do you think he would be open to playing 2B? He’d have to be an upgrade over Brian Roberts and would allow him to become a role player. They could be held relatively healthy by splitting 2B and now there is a SS back up that can hit.
Rollins and Sandberg had a bit of a falling out earlier this spring — Sandberg benched him for four straight Spring Training games to send a message, believe it or not — and there has been some talk that the team may try to trade him. Rollins told Todd Zolecki the rumors don’t bother him though; he has 10-and-5 rights and can veto any trade. Maybe he’d be willing to accept a trade to join the veteran-laden Yankees, who knows. He wouldn’t be the first long-term someotherteam to do it (Ichiro and Lance Berkman).
There are four problems with the 35-year-old Rollins. One, he just isn’t that good of a hitter anymore, putting up a .252/.318/.348 (84 wRC+) line last season. Two, he has 0.1 career innings at second base (in 2002) and would have to learn the position on the fly. Three, he’s owed $11M this year and his $11M option for 2015 vests with only 434 plate appearances this season. Four, he’s kind of a jerk with a tendency to run his mouth (remember this?). The Yankees seem to actively avoid those players. Would he be an upgrade over Roberts? Probably. Is he worth the headache? Probably not.
Dan asks: What does the Glen Perkins extension mean for David Robertson? Also, why would the Twins sign him to that? They already had him for this season, next season, and a team option for 2016. Now they not only raised his salaries for the next three years, they guaranteed the team option and one additional year for $6.5m each.
That Perkins contract (four years, $22.175M with a club option) is a freakin’ steal. He’s a local guy from just outside the Twin Cities, so it definitely seems like he took a hometown discount. Perkins is an elite reliever and probably the second best lefty bullpener in the game behind Aroldis Chapman. Even if he slips and he becomes just a lefty specialist down the line, his highest annual salary during the life of this deal is $6.5M in both 2017 and 2018. That’s just about Boone Logan money.
Because he took such a big discount, Perkins’ extension doesn’t mean anything for Robertson. Robertson will make more this season ($5.125M) as a third year arbitration-eligible setup man than Perkins will as an All-Star closer both this year ($4.025M) and next ($4.65M). Perkins would have been a free agent this past offseason had he not signed his previous extension, and I’m guessing he would have gotten three or four years at $10-12M annually on the open market, even at age 31. Basically double his extension. The Twins did it because it was simply too good to pass up.
Chris asks: When will we know if the Yankees are going to get Tommy Kahnle back via the Rule 5 Draft process? I am hopeful that we will get him back, as he would seem to be a strong asset to have.
There is no set date for Rule 5 Draft players, they can be returned at any point between now (really the first day of Spring Training) and the final game of the regular season. I wrote our Rockies season preview at CBS (shameless plug) and their bullpen is pretty stacked. There’s no room for Kahnle unless someone else gets hurt or traded. He’s thrown 6.1 good innings this spring but nothing that leads you to believe he’s forcing his way into the team’s plans. If Kahnle doesn’t make the Rockies, he’ll have to clear waivers before being offered back to the Yankees. I’m not sure he’ll ever be anything more than an up-and-down arm without a big improvement in his command.
Mickey asks: Assuming things play out with Michael Pineda in the fifth spot and Vidal Nuno stretched out in AAA as the sixth starter, how many times could he be called up without passing through waivers this season and who would/could be sent down to accommodate such a move?
As many times as the team wants. Minor league options really refer to option years. Players get three of them (sometimes four for weird reasons), meaning they go back and forth between MLB and the minors in three different seasons without having to pass through waivers. The Yankees burned one of Nuno’s options last season but can still send him (or any of the other fifth starter candidates for that matter, they have at least one option left) up and down as much as they want in 2014. I suspect that last open bullpen spot will be a revolving door this year. It always is.
Bill asks: Is Francisco Cervelli more valuable to the team being their backup catcher to start the season, or as trade-bait for an upgrade elsewhere?
I think he’s more valuable to the Yankees. A week or two ago when we heard teams are scouting him, we also heard the likely return would be another out of options player. Nothing great. They won’t be able to flip him for Derek Jeter‘s long-term replacement at shortstop or anything. Cervelli has hit this spring and he hit last year before getting hurt. With his trade value down, I think you take him into the season and see what happens. His trade value couldn’t drop much further, but if the bat is legit, it could go up quite a bit. Unless someone blows the team away with an offer (Chris Owings? Please? Maybe?), I’d hang onto Frankie.
Stephen asks: I noticed in your latest post on Jorge Mateo you mentioned he is an 80 runner on the 20-80 scale (that dude must be fast!). Is this common? Are there any (recent or not) Yankee prospects that rank 80 out of 80 on any tools? Was Randy Johnson’s slider an 80? Pedro Martinez’s change up? Etc?
There are a bunch of good primers on the 20-80 scouting scale out there, but here’s a good one from Prospect Insider. Long story short: 20 is terrible, 80 is elite, and 50 is average. Sometimes you’ll see half-grades like a 55 or 75 of whatever. 80s are very rare though and are not thrown around all that often.
Baseball America started including 20-80 grades for individual tools in their Prospect Handbook back in 2011, but for each organization’s top prospect only. Here are all the 80s:
- 2014: Rockies RHP Jonathan Gray’s fastball, Twins OF Byron Buxton’s speed and defense, Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito’s fastball
- 2013: Reds OF Billy Hamilton’s speed, Twins 3B Miguel Sano’s power, Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole’s fastball
- 2012: Angels OF Mike Trout’s speed, Giants OF Gary Brown’s speed, Cole’s fastball
- 2011: Reds LHP Aroldis Chapman’s fastball, Nationals OF Bryce Harper’s power and arm, Trout’s speed
The Yankees drafted both Gray (2011 tenth round) and Cole (2008 first round) but did not sign them, in case you forgot. /sobs
Anyway, that’s it. Fourteen 80 tools in four years worth of top prospects. Five tools per prospect and 30 prospects per year gives us 600 tools total, meaning 2.3% graded out at 80s. Sounds about right. Like I said, 80s are rare and saved for the truly elite. Also, I think it’s interesting that ten of those 14 tools above are speed or fastball, things that can be quantified with a stop watch and radar gun. Saying someone has an 80 hit tool or 80 changeup is much more subjective.
I can’t think of any recent Yankees farmhand with an 80 tool, except for Mateo, I guess. Baseball America had Jesus Montero with both 70 power and 70 hit in 2011, which is pretty close. Brett Gardner is much closer to 65-70 speed than 80. As for big leaguers, I think both Mariano Rivera and Greg Maddux had 80 command, though I am no scout. Barry Bonds had 80 power, Tony Gwynn had an 80 hit tool, Pedro’s changeup was probably an 80, ditto Randy Johnson’s slider. I remember reading a Keith Law post (or maybe it was one of his chats, I forget) saying Justin Verlander had an 80 fastball and 80 curveball during his peak.
I don’t believe there’s an 80 tool on the Yankees right now. Ichiro Suzuki used to be an 80 hitter, no doubt about that. Jacoby Ellsbury is more of a 70 runner than a true 80. Maybe Brian McCann‘s pitch-framing is an 80? He’s excellent at it according to the various metrics, but those are still works in progress.
Frank asks: I see Bryan Mitchell is on the Scranton AAA roster. Seems somewhat surprising, so is he closer to the show than we were led to believe? Is it true that his “new” cutter has possibly propelled him to the top of the pitching prospect class?
I gotten a few questions like this. Don’t read anything into the level a player is assigned when he’s cut from big league camp. That’s only their Spring Training work group. They can be assigned to different levels before the start of the season and most of them well. Mitchell pitched well in camp and he does indeed have a new cutter, but he made only three starts at Double-A Trenton last season. That’s where he’ll head for the start of 2014.
Eric asks: Mason Williams for Wilmer Flores?
I think both teams would say no, actually. The Mets need infielders and Flores is their top MLB-ready youngster — they have him working out at short this spring, something he hasn’t done since 2011 — so I’m not sure they would give him up for a Double-A outfielder coming off a bad season, even if said outfielder’s ceiling is high. I think the Yankees would say no because it’s an underwhelming return for a guy who was arguably their top prospect 12 months ago. I’m skeptical of Flores because he spent parts of six seasons trying to get out of Single-A, and it wasn’t until he got to ultra-hitter friendly Triple-A Last Vegas last summer that he re-established himself as a prospect. Trading an outfield prospect for a young infielder makes sense, but I don’t think Flores would be the guy to target.
Jack asks: I don’t understand why Pineda is considered to have more “upside” than David Phelps inasmuch as at this point Phelps’ fastball is probably a couple ticks higher and his control is markedly better. While Pineda supposed has a better breaking pitch does that one factor offset Phelps’ advantages in velocity and control? At best/worst, their upsides are probably similar.
I disagree that Phelps’ fastball is a couple ticks higher — it definitely isn’t based on this spring alone — and that his control is better. What separated Pineda from most young pitchers was his ability to pound the zone and his throw strikes, something he’s done this spring following shoulder surgery. Their minor league walk rates are identical (2.1 vs. 2.2 BB/9) and Pineda has the advantage at the MLB level (2.9 vs. 3.5 BB/9), for what it’s worth. Pineda has more upside because he’s 28 months younger and because his slider is far better than anything Phelps throws. The shoulder injury might have knocked Pineda’s ultimate ceiling down a notch or three, but Phelps pretty much is what he is. That’s not to say he’s bad, just that he might not be anything more than a back-end arm. Just watch the two, the difference in upside is obvious. You can really dream on Pineda.
I know it’s only Spring Training, but man oh man has Michael Pineda looked good. He looks healthy, his delivery is free and easy, his slider is still vicious, and his fastball gone from topping out at 92 mph in his first outing to topping out at 94 mph in his third. It has only been three games and a total of nine innings, but it’s hard not to be encouraged and excited by what Pineda’s done these last few weeks. He looks as good as we could have possibly hoped.
And yet, despite Pineda’s strong showing, he isn’t the big pitching story of the spring. Masahiro Tanaka has come over from the Rakuten Golden Eagles and after only a few weeks of camp, it feels like he’s been here for years. The transition has appeared to be seamless — I’m sure it’s been difficult for him, how could it not? — and his outings have matched the scouting reports. He throws strikes, has a wipeout splitter, and an underrated slider. When he’s gotten in jams, he’s cranked it up a notch, something we heard he’ll do long before he signed on the dotted line. As with Pineda, Tanaka has looked as good as we could have possibly hoped.
Flying under the radar this spring has been Ivan Nova, at least to some extent. Following yesterday’s outing he now has 21 strikeouts and two walks in 19.2 Grapefruit League innings, and I think the most impressive thing was the way he made adjustments mid-start and rebounded from a terrible first inning against the Astros a week or two ago. It was the kind of bad inning that used to spiral out of control, but instead Nova righted the ship and put together a good start. He’s been healthy and he’s been throwing the ball well. It’s been a strong spring for Ivan.
“I’ve seen a guy that’s come into spring training that, it seems like he realizes how good he can be,” Girardi said. “And I think that’s important. I think for all young players, there’s that doubt always a little bit, can I do this on a consistent basis? Can I do it start after start, or game after game if you’re a position player? Do I need to look over my starter? Is there someone always doubting what I can do? I think he’s realized that, you know what, I can be pretty good.”
Joe Girardi said that to Chad Jennings yesterday and was referring to Nova, but he could have easily been talking about Pineda or Tanaka. All three came to camp with something to prove and they’ve answered every question along the way. Just about everything has gone according to plan with these three and that’s pretty great. Usually when you’re talking about three pitchers — I guess this applies to any type of player, really — one will slip up somewhere along the lines. Two out of three is a pretty good success rate in baseball.
But all three guys have done everything they’ve needed to do in Spring Training and it’s really exciting. It’s really exciting for 2014 and for the Yankees going forward, because all three of these guys are young. Nova is the oldest and he just turned 27 in January. Pineda turned 25 that same month and Tanaka turned 25 back in November. The Yankees have an older roster in general and the other two members of the rotation are up there in age — Hiroki Kuroda just turned 39 and CC Sabathia is about 75 in pitching years given all the mileage on his arm — but these three fellas are all right smack in their prime or about the enter the prime of their careers. I’m going to use the word again: exciting.
This is Spring Training and the time of the year for overwhelming and occasionally irrational optimism. I don’t know how any Yankees fan could look at Pineda, Tanaka, and Nova these last few weeks and not start dreaming about a rotation built around their young power arms for the next few years. We know there are going to be bumps in the road, they’re inevitable, but right now everything is going right and that’s something the club needed in Spring Training. The pieces of the next great Yankees rotation are in place. We’ve know that because seen ‘em with our own eyes these last few weeks.
One thing I’ve come to understand over the years is the order of the starting rotation at the beginning of the season means very little. It’s all symbolism. The Opening Day start usually goes to a veteran who has been with the team a while, not necessarily the best pitcher. Being designated as the staff ace and actually pitching like an ace are two different things. Scheduled off-days and rain-outs throw a wrench into the rotation after a few weeks and the order gets all mixed up anyway. It’s fun to talk about, but the importance is small.
Spring Training ends in less than two weeks — the final Grapefruit League game is next Saturday — and the Yankees have started to line up their rotation for Opening Day and the start of the regular season. I’m sure it has actually been plotted out and planned for a few weeks now, but now that we can see the light at the end of the Spring Training tunnel, the plan is a little more concrete. Courtesy of Chad Jennings, here is the rotation through the weekend according to Joe Girardi:
With Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren nowhere to be found, it’s likely both have already made their final starts of the spring. That makes sense, they always seemed to be the distant third and fourth contenders for the final rotation spot. Girardi confirmed Warren will make the team in some capacity a few weeks ago, so he’s headed to the bullpen. Nuno could very well wind up in Triple-A as the sixth starter.
Michael Pineda has been fantastic this spring with the obvious caveats: he’s coming off major shoulder surgery, it’s mid-March, he isn’t stretched out all the way, he hasn’t faced the greatest lineups, etc. Everything we’ve seen so far is encouraging and even though Girardi stopped short of anointing him the fifth starter — “The other guys are throwing pretty well too. We’ve got to figure out what’s best for our team as a whole,” he said to Bryan Hoch yesterday — it sure seems like Pineda is the favorite to start the season in the rotation, relegating David Phelps to the bullpen. So, with that in mind, here’s how next week’s rotation lines up:
- Monday, March 24th: OFF DAY (Nova throws a simulated or minor league game)
- Tuesday, March 25th vs. Phillies: Phelps on regular rest
- Wednesday, March 26th @ Blue Jays: Sabathia on regular rest
- Thursday, March 27th @ Pirates: Kuroda on regular rest
- Friday, March 28th vs. Marlins: Tanaka with one extra day of rest
- Saturday, March 29th vs. Marlins: Nova on regular rest, Pineda???
- Sunday, March 30th: OFF DAY
According to Jennings, Girardi “hinted that someone will pitch at the complex” during the Monday’s scheduled off-day. Nova lines up perfectly for that day, so he seems to be the guy. Phelps, Sabathia, and Kuroda follow with their final Grapefruit League starts on regular rest, then Tanaka goes with one extra day. The team has said they are planning to give him the extra day here and there. It’s also worth noting that regardless of whether he starts Thursday or Friday (or Saturday or Sunday for that matter), Tanaka will have faced only one AL club this winter (the Twins this coming Saturday). I doubt this was a coincidence. The Yankees kept him hidden from the direct competition while still getting him innings against MLB caliber hitters. Clever.
Anyway, following Tanaka’s start, Nova closes out the Grapefruit League schedule on regular rest next Saturday. What happens with Pineda at that point is anyone’s guess. He could come out of the bullpen to replace Nova, he could throw a simulated game, or he could start a minor league game. The Yankees have options. Pineda will be working on one extra day of rest Saturday and it’s good to give him that little break following his surgery and long rehab. They have to take it easy on him and not work him too hard, too soon.
With that all laid out, here’s how the rotation lines up the following week:
- Monday, March 31st: OFF DAY
- Tuesday, April 1st @ Astros: Sabathia with one extra day of rest
- Wednesday, April 2nd @ Astros: Kuroda with one extra day of rest
- Thursday, April 3rd @ Astros: Nova on regular rest
- Friday, April 4th @ Blue Jays: Tanaka with two extra days of rest
- Saturday, April 5th @ Blue Jays: Pineda with two extra days of rest
Nova’s the only guy who wouldn’t make his first start of the season with extra rest and since he’s young and healthy (and not coming over from Japan), he probably needs the extra rest the least. Pineda could throw a simulated game or pitch in a minor league game on Sunday the 30th instead of Saturday the 29th, allowing him to make that first regular season start on one extra day of rest rather than two. There is such a thing as too much rest, remember. He can get out of rhythm or something like that. Tanaka is used to starting with six days of rest, so the two extra days should be no big deal to him.
The Yankees have indicated Tanaka will start the fourth game of the season rather than the third for two specific reasons. One, they want to split him and Kuroda up since they have very similar styles as fastball/splitter/slider pitchers. (It’s not just a racial thing, you know.) Two, they want to give Tanaka extra rest when they can, and by starting him in the fourth game, he’ll be able to make his third start of the season with an extra day of rest. If he starts the third game of the season, he’d have to make both his second and third starts with normal rest. Anything to help the transition.
Sabathia was pretty terrible last season but he’s getting the nod on Opening Day for past performance. The guy was pretty awesome from 2009-12. Like I said before, the Opening Day start is a novelty more than anything. It doesn’t have any kind of real value to the team. The Game One starter for a postseason series, now that actually matters. Opening Day? Nah, not worth getting upset over. The rotation is all lined up for the start of the season and everyone who needs an extra day or two of rest will get it, and that’s it the most important thing.
As of right now, with a little less than two weeks to go before Opening Day in Houston, the Yankees have not tipped their hand about the fifth starter’s spot. One some days it seems Michael Pineda is the frontrunner, on others it seems to be David Phelps. Then Vidal Nuno chucks four one-hit innings against the Orioles’ mostly-regular lineup to re-enter the conversation. Adam Warren has allowed two runs while striking out nine in 8.2 innings this spring. No one has pitched themselves out of consideration yet.
Having four possible starters for one rotation spot is one of those “good problems” people like to talk about. It’s not really a problem of course, pitching depth is a wonderful thing to have. The baseball gods have taken it upon themselves to remind teams and fans of that the (very) hard way over the last week or so. Look at this recent run of pitching injuries:
- Sunday, March 9th: Kris Medlen of the Braves left his start holding his elbow. After getting a second opinion, he is having his second Tommy John surgery in the last four years this morning.
- Monday, March 10th: Medlen’s teammate Brandon Beachy left his start with what is called biceps tightness. Tests show ligament damage and he is likely headed for his second Tommy John surgery in the last three years.
- Friday, March 14th: Jarrod Parker of the Athletics was scratched from his start with a forearm issue. A visit to Dr. James Andrews revealed a torn ligament. He needs a second Tommy John procedure after having his first in 2009.
- Saturday, March 15th: Diamondbacks’ ace and native New Yorker Patrick Corbin left his start with elbow pain and is currently deciding between Tommy John surgery and rehab, the latter of which never seems to work.
Four the game’s best young pitcher are out for the season and it happened in the span of a week. It doesn’t end there though. Luke Hochevar blew out his elbow two weeks ago. The Padres lost lefty Cory Luebke to his second Tommy John surgery last month and are on the verge of losing prospect Joe Wieland to the same fate. Mike Minor’s shoulder is acting up (the Braves signed Ervin Santana because they had so many injuries), Jon Niese has been dealing with shoulder and elbow problems, Cole Hamels has yet to appear in a game because of a shoulder issue, on and on it goes. Pitchers get hurt, we know this, but this recent rash of injuries around the league has been something else.
Last season the Yankees were the ones hit hard by injuries, though most of them hit the position players. The pitching staff has remained healthy this spring, knock on wood, but that tells us nothing about future durability. CC Sabathia has a ton of innings on his arm, Hiroki Kuroda is approaching 40, Michael Pineda is coming off two lost years following shoulder surgery … it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of those guys missed time in 2014. That and all these pitching injuries around the league are a reminder that the Yankees’ pitching depth — Phelps, Warren, Nuno, etc. — is not really expendable. The Yankees have not gotten through a non-strike season using fewer than eight starters since 1975, so all of those guys figure to be needed at some point this year.
It’s easy for us to starting thinking about a trade whenever the team has an extra something, be it pitchers or catchers or whatever. Heck, just last week I wrote about the possibility of the Yankees trading one of their spare arms to the Braves in the wake of their injuries, thinking it would be one way to improve the infield. Pitching, especially potential starters, have to be treated differently though. You know you’re going to need several extras throughout the season, moreso than any other position, so dealing away a spare arm is always risky. I don’t think we needed all the recent injuries to drive the point home, but it’s pretty clear the Yankees are best off holding onto guys like Phelps, Warren, and Nuno. They will come in handy at some point, probably sooner rather than later.
I can’t think of another high-profile trade that went as bad as quickly as the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda blockbuster two years ago. Both teams have gotten nothing from the deal — an especially painful nothing considering the opportunity cost of trading a top prospect or then-23-year-old starter — as all four players involved have either disappointed or gotten hurt. Some have done both. The trade has gone so wrong for both sides that it’s actually kinda fascinating.
That is all about to change, knock on wood. Michael Pineda, who showed up to his first camp with the Yankees overweight and was arrested to DUI soon thereafter, is finally healthy following a May 2012 procedure to repair a torn labrum, the kind of injury that can derail a promising career. The now-25-year-old made his first Spring Training start of 2014 yesterday and looked very much like an effective pitcher, striking out five of eleven batters faced in 2.2 scoreless innings. He also looked pretty rusty, but that is to be expected after such a long layoff.
“The best thing is, my shoulder is feeling great. When my shoulder is feeling good, I can pitch, I can compete. I’m happy with that,” said Pineda to Mark Didtler following yesterday’s start. His fastball velocity is more upper-80s/low-90s right now, a far cry from the mid-to-high-90s he showed with the Mariners three years ago, but it is only March and he should add a few ticks as the season progresses. That he is already touching 93 is promising. As a fastball-slider pitcher, velocity is pretty important to Pineda.
Now for the kicker: we have no idea what to expect out of Pineda this summer. He looks good now, but how will he look facing actual big leaguers every fifth day? What happens once he get 50 or 100 or 150 innings under his belt? Can he hold his stuff for 100+ pitches per start? These are all questions we can’t answer. Remember, the Yankees said they expected Pineda back last June. That didn’t work out. They can’t count on him for anything. Whatever he provides has to be treated as gravy.
And yet, if the season started today, I’m pretty sure Pineda would be the fifth starter. He’d have to be, right? He’s healthy and throwing well enough, plus he has the highest ceiling of the fifth starter candidates by frickin’ far. Actually, forget about ceiling. Pineda might be the best pitcher for the 2014 season out of the lot, nevermind 2015 and beyond. I also think there’s a “let’s finally get something out of this trade” line of thinking as well. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but I do think that mentality exists.
Even though he’s on a staff with an unknown in Masahiro Tanaka and the enigmatic Ivan Nova, Pineda is the biggest wildcard in the rotation heading into 2014. Probably on the entire roster, really. He could be a non-factor like the last two seasons or he could be their best pitcher. Well, maybe not. That’s probably a stretch. Pineda could wind up being their second best starter though, legitimately too. Not in a “everyone else fell apart so he’s number two by default” way. That ability is there. It’s just unclear if we will actually see it this summer.
The Yankees sunk a ton of money into Tanaka this winter to be the future of their rotation, but that does not lessen Pineda’s importance to the franchise going forward. It would be a big blow to the organization if he is unable to re-establish himself this season. The farm system doesn’t have much impact pitching on the immediate horizon and free agency is becoming a less effective to build a roster with each passing year. Pineda can still be rotation solution in both the short and long-term, but until he shows he’s up to the task, the Yankees can’t count on him.
Right-hander Michael Pineda made his first start and second appearance of Spring Training this afternoon, throwing 2.2 scoreless innings against the Orioles before hitting his pitch count. He struck out five, walked one, and allowed three hits (one bloop, one grounder with eyes, one infield single) while throwing 27 of 48 pitches for strikes. His fastball was anywhere from 88-92 on the YES Network gun and he was almost decapitated by a Delmon Young line drive (GIF). That was kinda close.
Pineda was good but I thought he was obviously rusty. David Cone noted during the broadcast that Pineda’s fastball would cut every so often, meaning his mechanics were a little off. When he missed, he missed down in the dirt rather than up in the zone or over the plate, so that was good. Most importantly, it looked everything was coming free and easy. Pineda wasn’t laboring or overthrowing or anything like that. He was just letting it fly. The rust was obvious and hopefully he shakes that off as camp progresses. Considered he missed nearly two full years following shoulder surgery, Pineda looked strong today.