Meet the Yankee: Michael Pineda

I was slumming through some video on MLB.com this morning, and I stumbled across this recent Yankees on Demand feature about Michael Pineda. He talks about the trade that brought him to New York, what he’s working on, stuff like that. His English is pretty good considering he’s only been in the States since 2008. Anyway, check it out. It’s a good way to kill some time on a lazy Sunday.

Optimism running high in Yankees’ camp

Right now, every team is a contender. Even the Houston Astros, losers of 106 games and with nary an off-season upgrade, could make waves this year. It would take about a dozen things breaking their way, and at least half of them would be of the greatest improbability. But even then, chances are we’ve seen crazier things happen in baseball.

With the Yankees, though, the sense of optimism is justified. After winning more games than any other AL team in 2011, they’ve upgraded the team in the off-season. Acquiring both Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda to the rotation is exciting enough. Add to that a few optimistic reports from camp in Tampa, and it’s pure spring ecstasy.

The wave of optimism started before the Yankees officially opened camp. A few players showed up early, Phil Hughes among them. After a disappointing 2011 season, marred by injuries and ineffectiveness, Hughes reportedly dedicated himself to conditioning this winter. Reports surfaced last week that he showed up in much better shape, much to everyone’s relief.

Yesterday Chad Jennings added fuel to the fire when he quoted Joe Girardi on Hughes’s progress. “I think his curveball has been a little bit more crisp. I think there’s more arm speed there. I think the ball’s coming out better.” A healthy and effective Hughes in that last rotation spot would be a boon for the 2012 Yankees.

Another player with high expectations who delivered a disappointing 2012 is Alex Rodriguez. In December we learned that A-Rod underwent an experimental knee procedure — the same one that Kobe Bryant underwent after last season. Bryant, but most accounts, has bounced back considerably this year. He’s playing more minutes and is putting up superstar numbers. That makes it much easier to imagine A-Rod returning to form in a similar manner.

(That A-Rod is dedicated enough to bring his own food to restaurants is another optimistic sign. He knows the tabloids follow him everywhere, and surely knew they’d catch on to this and try to make it seem embarrassing. But all it is, is a guy dedicated to his nutrition so he can play baseball at the most elite level. Rock on, A-Rod.)

Want the mother of all optimistic reports? How about the one Buster Olney filed on Tuesday about Michael Pineda? Even Brian Cashman admitted that if Pineda never develops a changeup and doesn’t become an ace, he’ll have made a mistake trading Jesus Montero for Pineda. So it warms the hear to see the following paragraph:

But after Pineda arrived in the Yankees’ camp, pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked with him to alter the grip on his changeup. Rothschild mentioned to Martin that Pineda’s changeup is a work in progress before the veteran catcher crouched to work with Pineda in a bullpen session Monday, and Martin was taken aback by how good Pineda’s changeup is already. He turned to Rothschild and said, “Larry, what are you guys talking about?”

In other words: Pineda already has made strides with the changeup, a sign of his aptitude.

It’s not just the big names that are making splashes this spring. This morning Joel Sherman, in a column about Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame chances, drops some gems. By his account, Jones seems more determined than ever. He believes that the adjustments he made to his swing last season will help him not only mash lefties, but also handle righties as well — something he did well during his prime years. Apparently, one of the reasons Jones chose to come back to the Yankees, despite more lucrative offers from other teams, was Kevin Long’s influence.

The most telling line in the column, as Sherman writes it: “[Jones] told hitting coach Kevin Long last year to inform Yankees GM Brian Cashman that he was returning in 2012 to take someone’s job.” Can you imagine what the Yankees lineup would look like if Jones were indeed to the point where he could legitimately take at-bats away from Brett Gardner?

These types of stories appear every spring. They help us warm up from the cold of winter — metaphorical cold, of course, given this winter’s behavior. Still, the odds are long that all of these factors fall into place. It’s wonderful to jump back into baseball and imagine the Yankees with an effective Phil Hughes in the rotation, with an ace-like Michael Pineda behind CC Sabathia, with a back-to-form Alex Rodriguez, and with a rejuvenated Andruw Jones. It’s really the only thing that gets us through the last parts of the off-season and through the preseason. The harsh reality might be a bit less exciting, but it’s still nice to bask in these stories now, while they still bring us hope.

What’s In A Number?

New faces, new numbers. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

One of the general rules of thumb in Spring Training is the higher the number, the less likely the player is to make the team. Chase Whitley (#96) and Graham Stoneburner (#95) should probably start looking for apartments in Trenton rather than start planning for life in the Bronx. Non-roster players with a legitimate chance to make the team like Bill Hall (#40) and Russell Branyan (#45) were issued numbers a little closer to respectability.

New faces Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda were given some old, familiar numbers. Numbers with tiny little bit of history, either for the Yankees or in general. During the number-issuing process, Andruw Jones got caught in the crossfire. Let’s review…

Michael Pineda – #35
For the first time since Mike Mussina in 2008, someone will wear #35 in pinstripes. Pineda wore #36 with the Mariners last season, but Freddy Garcia has seniority and got to keep his number. Moose was a great Yankee, but not great enough to have his number retired. Keeping #35 out of circulation for three years before handing it over to an extremely talented young hurler like Pineda is a fine tribute in my eyes.

(AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Hiroki Kuroda – #18
Believe it or not, there’s actually a little something behind Japanese pitchers and the #18. It’s the country’s recognized “ace number” according to NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman (and his commenters), a tradition that started way back in the 1930s with Akira Noguchi of the Tokyo Senators. It was later popularized by Tsuneo Horiuchi of the Yomiuri Giants in the 1960s and 1970s. After Horiuchi retired, Masumi Kuwata was given the number and went on to have a lengthy career. The tradition spread and now most staff aces in Japan wear #18, though #11 has started to gain popularity as an “ace number” thanks to Kenshin Kawakami and more recently Yu Darvish. Daisuke Matsuzaka wears #18 with the Red Sox, and the recently signed Tsuyoshi Wada will wear it for the Orioles. So yeah, neato.

Andruw Jones – #22
I don’t know if he got dinner or a watch or something else out of it, but Jones gave up #18 to Kuroda and will now don #22. If you’re the superstitious type, I have bad news for you: the #22 has been worn by some sketchy fourth outfield types in recent years, including Greg Golson (2011), Colin Curtis (2010), Chad Huffman (2010), Randy Winn (2010), and Xavier Nady (2008-2009). Jones is substantially better than all of those fellas, plus I’m not usually one to worry about the bad vibes given off by certain numbers. I expect Andruw to do just fine in 2012, regardless of what number he’s wearing on his back.

* * *

Raul Ibanez will be issued #27 when he reports according to Jack Curry, which can’t be good news for Chris Dickerson. Last year’s #27 is out of minor league options (can’t be sent down without first clearing waivers) and on the outside of the roster bubble looking in at the moment. He’s been given #41.

The numbers 6, 20, 21, 46, and 51 remain out of circulation, and four of the five are likely to get retired at some point. I have a real hard time thinking Paul O’Neill’s number will be retired unless they’re planning some kind of grand, late-90s dynasty number retirement night, where all those guys have their numbers put in Monument Park at the same time. O’Neill’s been retired for eleven years now, it’s time for something to happen with #21, one way or the other.

Girardi Speaks: CC, Rotation, Lineup, A-Rod

New year, same buzzcut.

Travel problems delayed Joe Girardi‘s arrival to Spring Training, but he made it to Tampa safe and sound prior to today’s workout session, the first of the 2012 season. Girardi spoke to the media about the state of his team afterward, so here’s a recap…

Pitching

  • CC Sabathia will get his seventh consecutive Opening Day nod, but after that? “You go [in] with an open mind,” said the skipper. [Marc Carig]
  • Girardi said it’s important that Sabathia maintains his weight, and “stays there or close to it.” It’s most important that he “stays strong,” obviously. [Jack Curry]
  • Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia will battle it out for the fifth starter’s spot, though Girardi said he still envisions the former as a starter. [Curry]
  • “I’m always amazed at how big players are today,” said Girardi about new pickup Michael Pineda. “They’re large humans.” [Mark Feinsand]
  • David Robertson will remain the Eighth Inning Guy™ while Rafael Soriano gets stuck in the seventh inning. I’d like to see Robertson in more a fireman role rather than be married to one inning, but whatever. [Feinsand]

Position Players

  • Girardi is leaning towards a 3-4-5 of Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, but he qualified it by saying: “I’m not married to that.” Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson figure to remain atop the lineup. [Feinsand & Carig]
  • Girardi doesn’t have a clearly defined plan for A-Rod regarding his rest and time at DH, and he’ll probably play it by ear. He does expect Alex to have a big year, though not necessarily 45 homers big. [Carig & Curry]
  • “I anticipate it will be [Frankie Cervelli],” said the skipper when asked about the backup catcher. Others like Austin Romine will get a shot to take the job in camp though. [Erik Boland & Carig]

Miscellany

  • “If not for [A.J. Burnett], we may not win that World Series,” said Girardi about his departed right-hander. “I felt A.J. did everything we asked him to.” [Marc Carig]
  • “I thought our guys came in good shape,” Girardi said. “I thought they were all ready to go.” [Chad Jennings]

[Photo via Bryan Hoch]

Cashman Speaks: Scandal, Mo, Sabathia, More

Duke Castiglione cares not about your personal bubble.

Happy pitchers and catchers day. Joe Girardi was/is late for a scheduled meeting with the media because of a lengthy flight delay, but Brian Cashman did hold court with reports. Here’s the round up of the news and notes…

  • “It’s not going to affect my job,” said Cashman when asked about his divorce and stalker, calling the situation “very difficult.” He doesn’t believe his job is in jeopardy. (Dan Barbarisi)
  • Cashman confirmed that Mariano Rivera will be late to camp. “What am I going to do? He’s Mariano Rivera,” said the GM. “He’ll get his eight innings in … He knows what he needs to do.” (Bryan Hoch, Pete Caldera & Erik Boland)
  • CC Sabathia and Cashman had a conversation about the left-hander’s weight soon after he signed his new contract extension. Cashman called it a “healthy dialogue,” and the conversation included Girardi and head trainer Steve Donohue. Sabathia lost 10-15 lbs. this winter (though David Waldstein says it looks like more) and will focus on maintaining it throughout the season. (Marc Carig & Boland)
  • Michael Pineda will not start the season as the number two starter, with Cashman citing his need to improve his changeup as a reason why. My prediction? He’ll be the four on Opening Day, which is completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things. (Boland)
  • Andruw Jones will report to camp before the rest of the position players because he’s working his way back from offseason knee surgery. He had a small tear repaired and played through the injury last season. (Carig)
  • Brad Meyers, one of the team’s two Rule 5 Draft picks, hurt his shoulder lifting weights over the winter and will be behind the other pitchers in camp. He was a long shot to make the roster already, and this certainly didn’t improve his chances any. (Carig)
  • Not surprising, but Cashman said they want a left-handed hitting DH that can play some outfield. Raul Ibanez is reportedly the top target, though Cashman didn’t mention him by name. The GM also said Eric Chavez‘s return is not a sure thing. (Hoch)
  • Last but not least, Cashman admitted that the Yankees weren’t trying to win the division in 2010. They decided they were better off winning the Wild Card and focusing on getting healthy in September. (Hoch)

(Photo via Mark Feinsand)

Mailbag: Biggest 1-2 Punches In Baseball History

(Photo Credits: Sabathia via AP; Pineda via NY Post)

Daniel asks: Assuming Michael Pineda becomes the number two starter, CC Sabathia and Pineda (aside from being one of the more lethal 1-2 punches in the AL) must be the largest 1-2 in both height and weight we’ve ever seen in baseball no?

I’m a bit of a sucker for completely useless trivia like this, and thankfully we have the B-Ref Play Index to help us find the answer. Both Sabathia and Pineda are 6-foot-7, and CC is listed at 290 lbs. on the official site while Pineda admitted to being 280 lbs. yesterday. The former racked up 6.9 bWAR last season while the latter was at 2.8. So let’s do a search for teams with pitchers meeting those minimum requirements: 6-foot-7, 280 lbs., and 2.8 bWAR.

The results? Nine total teams have had exactly one pitcher satisfy the criteria, and it’s all the same guy: CC Sabathia, with the Indians (2002-2003, 2005-2007), the Brewers (2008), and Yankees (2009-2011). That’s it. Sabathia is such an extreme outlier in terms of size of performance in baseball history, it’s ridiculous. Now let’s relax the criteria a bit to see if we can actually get some results. Let’s use a minimum height of 6-foot-5, a minimum weight of 240 lbs. and a minimum bWAR of 2.5.

This time around we get 47 different teams with exactly one player meeting the criteria, though it’s only 14 different pitchers: Sabathia (ten times), Carlos Zambrano (eight times), John Lackey (five times), Gavin Floyd (four times), Josh Johnson (four times), Aaron Harang (three times), Chris Young (three times), Carl Pavano (three times), J.J. Putz (twice), Pineda (once), Justin Masterson (once), Mike Pelfrey (once), Guillermo Mota (once), and Jeff D’Amico (once). We still haven’t found a team with two productive pitchers that size though, so let’s drop the weight requirement all together and stick with the 6-foot-5 and 2.5 bWAR minimums.

Okay, now we’re talking. Fifty-four different teams have had at least two players meet the criteria while five had had three: 2003 Cubs (Zambrano, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood), 1997 Cardinals (Matt Morris, Alan & Andy Benes), 1991 Mariners (Randy Johnson, Erik Hanson, Bill Krueger), and both the 1985 and 1987 Cubs (Scott Sanderson, Lee Smith, Rick Sutcliffe). Dan Haren and Jered Weaver have one season meeting the criteria but figure to put a few more together. Same goes for Doug Fister and Justin Verlander. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright have two such seasons together and should be able to add a third this year. Andy Pettitte and Sabathia are the list for their 2010 efforts.

Needless to say, Sabathia and Pineda have a chance to do something never before done in baseball history just by being themselves — physical huge and really effective on the mound. Add in Ivan Nova (6-foot-4), Freddy Garcia (6-foot-4), and Phil Hughes (6-foot-5), and the Yankees have a chance for one of the tallest rotations in baseball history. Poor Hiroki Kuroda (6-foot-1) is going to be stuck looking up at everyone.

Michael Pineda’s First Day

(Ron Antonelli/New York Daily News)

Pitchers and catchers officially report for duty this Sunday, but a number of players are already in Tampa preparing themselves for the upcoming season. One of those players is Michael Pineda, and yesterday would have been a typical pre-Spring Training day had he not been involved in the Yankees’ biggest transaction in more than two years.

“It’s my first day and I’m excited because it’s my first time practicing with the New York Yankees,” said the right-hander, who was all smiles on Day One. “It’s my first time living in Tampa and I don’t know [the area], so I wanted to come early and get in a couple practices before Spring Training starts. I like to come in early.”

Pineda insisted on speaking English to the media, and both Kevin Kernan and Anthony McCarron provided a recap of his first day on the job. He played some light catch in the bullpen — “About 65,” he joked when asked how hard he was throwing — and ran sprints, pretty standard stuff. Like everyone else, Pineda wants to works on some things in camp, specifically his changeup and two-seamer. He also acknowledged that his second half fade last year was the result of fatigue.

“First half, my arm was strong and I was feeling great and the second half, I’m feeling a little tired,” admitted Pineda. “The other teams know me. It’s a long season.”

The Mariners took care of Pineda down the stretch, having him make just three starts during the final 31 games of their season. He threw only 287 pitches after August 27th, and his workload increased by just 31.2 innings from the year before. Of course big league innings are more stressful than minor league innings, but he said he feels fine now and is ready to go. It’s worth noting that while his ERA spiked in the second half, his strikeout and walk rates never wavered.

Pineda also spoke briefly about his relationship with Robinson Cano, who he first met last year when the Yankees were in Seattle and again at the All-Star Game. “My head is (spinning) because I’ve never stayed in New York,” he remembers telling Cano after the trade. “He said, ‘Don’t worry man, I’ll take care of you’ … I love this guy. He’s my friend.” Pineda is also looking forward to picking CC Sabathia‘s brain, and not just because they share the same height (both listed at 6-foot-7). “I want to learn from him and I want to say hi because he’s a great pitcher.”

No player in camp will be under a more watchful eye this spring than Pineda, just like Jesus Montero will be out in Arizona with the Mariners. Fair or not, being the Yankees’ big offseason move comes with pressure in all forms; the pressure to perform, the pressure to say the right thing, the pressure to be perfect in as many ways possible. Pineda’s first day at camp was uneventful in the grand scheme of things, which is perfectly fine. There will be plenty time for scrutiny later whether he (or you) likes it or not. It’s the nature of the beast.