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.

Mailbag & Poll: Pineda, Non-Guaranteed Deals

Only four questions this week, but three are pretty long. As an added bonus, we’ve got a poll at the end as well. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

"Tell me about it. I've been stuck with this bullpen since 2005." (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Daniel asks: True that Pineda had a poor second half, and it is assumed he’ll build upon his performance last season. My question is how much will Pineda benefit from having a shutdown bullpen this season, even if he doesn’t make strides forward? How much did his bullpen hurt him last season? How many of his baserunners were allowed to score by the Seattle bullpen?

The Yankees had one of the very best bullpens in the game last season, but the Mariners were pretty much middle of the pack in terms of ERA (3.61) and FIP (3.86). Their 6.34 K/9 and 16.6 K% were the second worst marks in the game though, and relievers who can strike guys out tend to do a better job of pitching out of jams than guys who rely on contact. The Yankees, on the other hand, were among the best in baseball at 8.46 K/9 and 22.2 K%.

Seattle’s bullpen inherited eleven runners from Pineda last season, and they allowed eight (!) of them to score (72.7%). That’s pretty nuts, the league average was 31.2% last year. The Yankees were at 24.9%. If only four of those eleven men came across (approximating the 31.2% league average), Pineda’s ERA would have been 3.53 instead of 3.74. If only three of the eleven came around to score (approximating the 24.9% Yankees average), his ERA would have been 3.47. That assumes all those runs were earned, of course. Having a better bullpen should help, but I’d prefer it if Pineda avoided all those baserunners in the first place.

Patrick asks: When a player is signed to minor league contract with an invite to camp, and it’s later described as non-guaranteed, what portion of the contract is non-guaranteed? Are they guaranteed a spot on a minor league team? Do players that don’t make The Show typically accept such a role?

Non-guaranteed contracts also apply to players who sign one-year deals during their pre-arbitration and arbitration years (so Russell Martin‘s contract is not guaranteed this year, for example). For players on minor league contracts, the team doesn’t have to pay them a thing until they add them to an actual roster (other than meal money), either majors or minors. These contracts all have some kind of opt-out clause allowing the player to elect free agency if they’re not added to the big league roster by a set date. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement instituted a uniform June 1st opt-out date, but the two sides can agree to an alternative date. Bill Hall, for example, can opt out his contract with the Yankees on April 4th. He’d rather look for a big league job elsewhere than play in the minors for the Yankees, but that isn’t true for all players. Some do go to the minors, like Dustin Moseley in 2010 or Cory Wade last year.

Guys on the 40-man roster with non-guaranteed contracts can be released in Spring Training without being paid their full salary. The club does need a valid baseball reason to release them though, the union isn’t a fan of players being released for money saving purposes and they will fight it. This year clubs have until March 19th to release a player and only pay them 30 days termination pay, and after that (but before Opening Day) it’s 45 days pay. If someone is on the 40-man roster as of Opening Day, they are entitled to their entire salary. The Yankees released Chad Gaudin in Spring Training two years ago, and only paid him $737k of his $2.95M salary (45 days worth). Guaranteed contracts, which are most free agent and multi-year deals, entitle the player to every cent unless he voluntarily retires or is released due to breach of contract (like Aaron Boone playing basketball).

Mike asks: I’ve followed the Yankee farm system for a long time, but have never followed another team’s farm system in depth. I have noticed that while the 15-30+ range prospects might not posses the star power it seems the depth of the Yankee Farm is really quite impressive. Is this my bias or does Damon Oppenheimer have a gift at getting guys who might not be stars but have a great chance to develop into major league regulars? I see the Yankees producing lots of Brett Gardner types in the future.

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

We all focus on top prospects, and we should because those guys are the cream of the crop and deserve the attention. The best way to compare farm systems is to look further down the prospect rankings though. Don’t just compare the top three prospects, compare the #10 prospects, the #20 prospects, and the #30 prospects. Just as an example, Baseball America ranked Branden Pinder as the Yankees 30th best prospect in their Prospect Handbook, touting him as a power relief arm with a 93-94 mph fastball and a slider that’s shown “flashes of becoming a plus pitch.” The 30th best prospect in the White Sox’s farm system (the worst in the game) is Duane Heath, who had a 4.73 ERA in Triple-A last season and “won’t be trusted as more than a middle reliever.” Big difference between Pinder and Heath, showing the difference in each team’s prospect depth.

The Yankees still have some high-end star power in their farm system (though trading Jesus Montero took a big chunk of that away), but it’s primarily built on depth. They’ve done a good job of turning mid-to-late round draft picks into potentially useful players, which is far above the usual rate-of-return on those selections. Phil Coke is a useful player but nothing special, though he’s a star compared to most 26th round picks. David Robertson is 17th round gold. The Yankees have a lot of guys like that in the 12+ range of their farm system, including guys like David Phelps (14th), D.J. Mitchell (10th), Bryan Mitchell (16th), Brandon Laird (27th), Tyler Austin (13th), and Nik Turley (50th). The horde of power bullpen arms is just silly — Mark Montgomery (11th), Zach Nuding (37th), Graham Stoneburner (14th), Whitley (15th), Dan Burawa (12th), and Matt Tracy (43rd) among others — and it’s all by design. I don’t know if I’d call it a gift, but Oppenheimer & Co. have done a good job of maximizes those often forgotten late draft picks.

This doesn’t include the international players either, and prior to the CBA changes the Yankees were routinely among the biggest spenders in Latin America on an annual basis. It’s not all big seven-figure signings like Jesus Montero or Gary Sanchez, they’ve got a ton of quality prospects — like Ravel Santana ($150k), Claudio Custodio ($300k), Ramon Flores ($775k), and of course Robinson Cano ($150k) — on cheaper, six-figure payouts. They’re not all stars, but the Yankees have been consistently producing useful pieces for their roster and to use as trade bait over the last few seasons.

Jeb asks: If you could trade a future of uncertain performance (what is currently is) from the team in return for guaranteed bounce back years from all aging players and career years from the remainder of the roster at the cost of having a guaranteed steep decline in performance from each player for the remainder of their contracts, would you?

So the question basically asks a) the best possible year in 2012 plus utter crap in the future, or b) the current situation (a.k.a. reality). I know which one I would pick, but let’s do a poll. I’ll answer in the comments later so I don’t influence the poll results at all.

What would you prefer?
View Results

Mailbag & Poll: Darvish vs. Pineda

(REUTERS/Darrell Byers)

Jesse asks: What are your thoughts on the theory that the reason Cashman did not go all in for Darvish is not because he didn’t like the idea of an imported pitcher, but because there were already rumblings of Pineda in pinstripes?

I’m not sure I buy that. Both Brian Cashman and Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik have acknowledged that talks about the Jesus MonteroMichael Pineda trade started at the winter meetings, which was just about a week before Yu Darvish was officially posted. We all knew he was going to posted so it wasn’t some big surprise, it was just a matter of when. The Yankees most likely had made up their mind about whether or not to pursue him well in advance of the meetings and submitting their $15M bid. I can’t imagine it was a spur of the moment thing.

I don’t think their half-hearted attempt to acquire Darvish had to do with anything more than their questions about his ability to succeed in MLB, with a new ball, a new mound, smaller stadiums, better hitters, a five-day rotation, etc. If they had truly wanted him, Pineda wouldn’t have stopped them. Trade talks were still in the early stages back then and weren’t guaranteed to work out, so they could have gone down both paths and determined which was the better fit at a later time. Passing on Darvish because of Pineda could have easily resulted in them getting neither pitcher.

I’d much rather have Darvish and Montero than Pineda and [insert random DH here], but these things don’t happen in a vacuum. It would have taken over $100M to land Darvish, who isn’t a sure thing. Pineda isn’t either, but he’s also making the league minimum and has an above-average MLB season under his belt. Nine-figure Darvish and dirt cheap Montero for the next six years, or dirt cheap Pineda and say a $5M DH for the next five years? I was a big proponent of pursuing Darvish (not my money!) and there’s a lot more upside in option #1, but also substantially more risk because of the money involved. I can understand why the team went with door #2 even if I don’t necessarily agree with it. This calls for a poll…

Which would you rather have?
View Results

What pitches do the Yankees starters throw?

Following Larry’s examination of the best pitches in the Yankees’ rotation, we received an email from a reader who asked an excellent question.

I was wondering if you guys could do some kind of guide to what pitches each of our pitchers throw and how often.

Thanks to FanGraphs, identifying these pitches and frequencies becomes much easier. Previously, to identify a pitcher’s entire arsenal would require quite a bit of video watching, and would likely also require an outside resource. Frequency was out of the question, unless you had a paid subscription to a service such as Baseball Info Solutions. Now FanGraphs aggregates all of that data.

Today we’ll look into what the Yankees’ seven starters throw, and how frequently they throw it. But before we do, a few disclaimers. First, we’re going by Pitch f/x data here, since it’s captured on high-speed cameras. The Baseball Info Solutions data, also available on FanGraphs, gets recorded, from videos, by stringers. There’s much more room for human error there. Also, the Pitch f/x data includes more pitches, so there’s a more accurate breakdown.

At the same time, Pitch f/x isn’t error-free. It often misclassifies pitches, and consistently. For example, before 2010 it didn’t do a good job of separating different types of fastballs. I’ll try to combine personal knowledge of arsenals with the Pitch f/x data in order to provide a clearer look at each pitcher’s repertoire. Remember, too, that you can look into this yourself; the data is available on every FanGraphs player page.

[Read more…]

The best pitches in the Yankees rotation

(Sabathia by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty; Pineda by Leon Halip/Getty)

Inspired by the excellent Red Sox blog Over the Monster, today I’m going to take a look at which Yankees starting pitchers throws the “best” pitch among each pitch category. As there are a variety of factors involved in determining a given pitch’s overall effectiveness, “best” in this instance is going to be subjective. In the interest of simplicity, I’m ranking the hurlers by their respective Whiff rates, as the ability to generate a swing-and-miss is probably the most transparent indication of pure stuff.

All of the data in the tables you’ll see below is from the 2011 season, and should be mostly self-explanatory. I’ll be the first to admit that a one-year sample is less-than-ideal, but I tried to run a three-year search and TexasLeaguers.com didn’t take to that request too kindly. The columns headed by “w” and “w/100” are the pitch type’s linear weights (representing the total runs that a pitcher has saved using that pitch) and linear weights per 100 pitches (the amount of runs that pitcher saved with their fastball over the course of 100 fastballs thrown), which provide some level of insight into a pitch’s relative level of effectiveness but should not be analyzed in isolation, as they are subject to the whims of both sequencing and BABIP.

Four-Seam Fastball

And right off the bat we have a prime example of the problems one can encounter with pitch type linear weights. If you sorted this table by wFF, Phil Hughes would come out on top. How on earth is that possible, you are likely asking yourself. I’m not entirely sure myself, as I don’t think anyone that saw Hughes pitch last year thought much of his fastball. However, he did get some people out, and presumably the vast majority of those outs came via his four-seamer, because, as you’ll see later on in this post, everything else he threw last season was pretty awful, at least by pitch type linear weights. Lending further credence to this notion is the fact that Hughes yielded a .282 BABIP on ground balls on his heater, compared to a .360 BABIP on ground balls on the curve, .444 on the cutter and .556 on his changeup.

As far as Whiff% goes, it should be quite heartening to see that the Yankees’ two newest rotation acquisitions outperformed everyone else in the rotation by a rather substantial margin. While both will likely see a decrease in their Whiff rates with the move to the AL East, at least they’re starting from a high baseline.

Slider

We know Ivan Nova threw a slider more than 3.9% of the time last season and so this table is a bit misleading. However, the pitch did become one of the keys to his improved second-half performance, and so there may be a case to be made for Nova having one of the better sliders on the team. Of course, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia might have something to say about that. In any event, the Yankees’ front four in the rotation all boast pretty big-time sliders; bad news for opposing lineups.

Sinker/Two-Seam Fastball

While Pineda probably threw some two-seamers last season, I’d surmise that some of his four-seamers may have been misclassified, as a 10.6% Whiff% rate on a two-seamer/sinker is pretty damn high when you consider league average is 5.0%-5.4%. Not to mention the fact that the player with the best wFT/100 in MLB last season (Doug Fister), had a 5.4% Whiff% on his two-seamer. Sabathia probably has the best sinker on the team, although Kuroda is in that conversation as well if he can get his GB% back above 45%.

Changeup

It should surprise no one that Sweaty Freddy had the best changeup on the team given his slow-slower-slowest approach, although Sabathia’s is also pretty great. No one else in the rotation has a particularly effective one, although Burnett’s did generate a slightly above-average Whiff% last year. Surprisingly, despite a rather diverse arsenal, Hiroki Kuroda is the only starter on the team that doesn’t throw a change at all. However,  in his case he presumably partially makes up for it with his splitter, which can function like a hard change.

Curveball

No surprises here; Burnett’s curve is the only thing keeping him away from the glue factory, but as everyone knows you can’t get very far with one working pitch. Nova’s curve is probably best described as a work-in-progress; while there were times in the second half that Phil Hughes looked like he was employing a harder (and more effective) curve and other times where his curve looked terrible. Stop me if you’ve heard the one about Hughes needing to improve his curveball to become an effective Major League starter.

Cutter


Still not sure how Hughes’ cutter went from well above-average (11% Whiff% in 2009; 11.5% Whiff% in 2010) to nonexistent last season. No one on the team really employs the cutter with any regularity.

Split-Fingered Fastball

The splitter is a fun pitch that Yankee fans don’t get to see too often, and this coming season we may have two members of the rotation featuring one (albeit in very different forms). Prior to Freddy Garcia, the last Yankee starter I can think of off the top of my head that threw one is Roger Clemens (Ed. Note: Jose Contreras threw a forkball, which is kinda like a splitter but slower). Per linear weights, neither Freddy nor Kuroda fared all that well with their splitters last season, but they still generated plenty of whiffs with the pitch.

So who boasts the best pitch in the Yankee rotation? Probably either Sabathia, with his heater or slider, or Pineda and his heater. I certainly wouldn’t argue against any of those three.

It’s Official: Montero & Noesi for Pineda & Campos is a done deal

Ten days after we learned that an agreement was in place, the trade is finally official. The Yankees announced this afternoon that they’ve acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi after all four players passed their physicals. During the conference call, Brian Cashman said Montero “may very well be the best player I’ve traded,” while Pineda said “I never thought I would become a New York Yankee so early into my career.” It’s pretty funny that he assumed it was an inevitability.

The Yankees now have an open spot on the 40-man roster, but that will be filled rather quickly. We’re still waiting on the Hiroki Kuroda signing to be finalized, but last we heard he was still in Japan enjoying the offseason. His physical might not happen for a while. Andruw Jonesnew contract still isn’t official yet either. Make sure you check out our Depth Chart to see where the team’s roster stands. So long Jesus and Hector, and welcome to the Boogie Down, Michael and Jose.

Pineda speaks for first time since trade

Jesus Montero is finally in Seattle for his physical, meaning the four player trade that will bring Michael Pineda to the Yankees should become official within a day or two. Christian Red of The Daily News caught up with Pineda in the Dominican Republic recently, the first time the young right-hander has spoken publicly since the two sides agreed to the deal.

“It’s a tremendous team,” he said. “It’s very exciting for me … I’m not scared. I’m always focused, working very hard every day. I don’t think about anything else on game days. I’ve never pitched in New York or at Yankee Stadium, but I’m dying to. We’ll see what happens. I’m going to work very hard to do my job.” Pineda said he feels “good about [his] changeup,” and is well aware of the short porch in the right field at Yankee Stadium. “I’ll just keep it low. Keep it low and everything will be fine,” he said. Easier said than done, my friend. Check out the entire article, it’s worth your time.