Micheal Pineda: 5 Bold Predictions for His 2012 Season with New York Yankees

Phillip BrownSenior Analyst IIJanuary 16, 2012

Micheal Pineda: 5 Bold Predictions for His 2012 Season with New York Yankees

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    Michael Pineda was traded to the New York Yankees for Jesus Montero and not five minutes after that happened, before anybody really went through and looked deeply into his stats, people said he could not pitch in Yankee Stadium or against AL East power offenses.

    These are legitimate concerns but if you look deeper than stats such as ERA and splits, you can see he was a much better pitcher in 2011 than he appeared.

    Now, what can he do in New York in 2012? Let's find out.

Rough First Start

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    I am going to assume that in order to take pressure off Michael Pineda, he will be penciled in as the Yankees' fourth starter behind CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda for now.

    If that indeed happens, he will pitch in Baltimore in his first start in a Yankee uniform. Now, that seems like an easy start to ease yourself into being a Yankee. The Orioles are a bad team, you do not have to pitch in New York and as the fourth pitcher, there is less pressure.

    If you look deeper into it, Pineda's 0.95 HR/9 and 36 percent ground-ball rate can be worrisome. Camden Yards gave up the eighth-most home runs in the majors in 2011 and the Orioles hit the fourth most in the majors behind only the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers.

    You now see how scary this could be.

    In the end, Pineda should get the win but I would not be surprised if he gives up a few home runs to batters like Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, Adam Jones or Matt Wieters. I project four innings, five earned runs and six strikeouts for Pineda to go along with a win for the Yankees.

Bonus: Jesus Montero Makes the All-Star Team, Fans Ask for Cashman's Resignation

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    This does not directly have to do with Michael Pineda but it is relevant.

    Jesus Montero will start off the season on fire with a .300/.380/.500 slash line to go along with 14 home runs and 46 RBI at the All-Star break.

    Pineda will slowly be starting to be putting together a nice season but it will not matter. Yankee fans will be screaming at Brian Cashman for making this deal due to Montero's high level of production.

    Cashman will not resign or be fired, but fans will let him know how they feel about this trade.

Perfects His Changeup by the All-Star Break

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    Michael Pineda is predominantly a two-pitch pitcher. He has a mid- to high-90s fastball and a hard-biting slider. He also has a changeup, which he used three percent of the time in 2011.

    That changeup is one of the main reasons his home run rate is so high, so if he can work with Larry Rothschild and CC Sabathia on that changeup he will improve greatly.

    Pineda has to first learn how to throw his changeup because it tends not to drop, which makes it batting practice for major league hitters. Then he needs to work on locating it down in the zone because he leaves it in the middle of the zone too much. After he works on giving it movement it will be much easier to locate because he will learn how much it drops, but this will all take time.

    I think by the All-Star break he will have it down.

Top Five in the Majors in Strikeouts Per Nine Innings

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    Michael Pineda has always been able to strike people out. As a rookie he was seventh in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings and he even had an 11.0 K/9 in Triple-A in 2010. Pineda had the fifth-highest swing-and-miss percentage in the majors in 2011, so his strikeout rate is sustainable and not a fluke.

    Pineda already has the fourth-fastest fastball in the majors and has one of the best sliders in the majors; if he can master his changeup his fastball will become more effective and he will raise his strikeout rate.

    A 95-plus-mph fastball, 90-mph slider and 84-mph changeup will baffle hitters.

190 IP, 17-10, 3.55 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 208 K, 64 BB

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    Now we get to the very bold section of this slideshow.

    The 190 innings seems fine since he pitched 171 in 2011, including 113 innings before the All-Star break. The WHIP also looks fine because it is only 0.02 lower than 2011.

    Let's first look at strikeouts. I have him pegged with 208 strikeouts in 190 innings, which is 9.85 K/9. That is 0.74 more strikeouts per nine innings that 2011 and would have placed him third in the majors. With his much-improved changeup and more experience in the majors this seems fairly obtainable.

    His walks are also fine; this has him at a 3.25 K/BB, which is slightly better than his 3.16 K/BB from 2011.

    Now to his ERA, which I am sure is making some of you guys burst out into laughter. There is a great article from FanGraphs that shows how his seemingly worrisome splits do not hold as much water as they first appear to.

    If you look you can see that he was extremely unlucky on the road because his BABIP is .066 higher away from Safeco. He also for some reason has a 10.5 percent HR/FB at home and a lower 7.8 percent HR/FB on the road even though Safeco Field is supposed to be huge and turn home runs into routine fly balls. He also only stranded 64.4 percent of runners on the road in 2011 even though the league average is 75 percent.

    Pineda was a very unlucky pitcher on the road in 2011.

    Now, let's look at his FIP. His FIP on the road is 3.26 but his FIP at home is 3.62. Neither of those are bad at all and he is actually better on the road away from Safeco Field.

    Pineda actually improved as the season went on, despite what his sudden spike in ERA will tell you. His ground-ball rate was from 31.3 percent from March to June and then from September to October it was 45.3 percent. That is a huge improvement. His strikeout and walk rates also remained fairly constant throughout the year.

    After the All-Star break he had a 5.14 ERA, right? Sounds awful. He also had a 3.22 xFIP during that time period, which is actually pretty good.

    If he does keep his ERA this low—which is possible, although I admit it is bold—he can win 17 games no problem. Phil Hughes won 18 games in 2010 with a 4.19 ERA and Ivan Nova won 16 games despite spending a month in the minors with a 3.70 ERA in 2011.

Postseason Dominance

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    When I say dominance I do not mean an ERA around 2.00 with a 12.0 K/9. I mean a winning record and an ERA in the low to mid-3.00s.

    When looking for a comparison I wanted to use, I picked Andy Pettitte in 2009—a 4-0 record with a 3.52 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and a 7.4 K/9. His strikeout rate will be higher but other than that I can see Pineda doing this.

    Assuming the Yankees get to the World Series—which is obviously no given, but I like their chances—Pineda will be able to pitch in four postseason games; I think he will respond to the pressure and win at least three of those four games.

    Is this bold? Yes, he has never pitched in the postseason, but neither did Nova last postseason. In his first game despite the odd rain delay and pitching in Yankee Stadium, he went 6.1 innings and gave up zero runs before Luis Ayala, who according to RiverAveBlues is the "the worst sub-2.00 ERA pitcher in baseball history," let two runs score and they were charged to Nova.

    Why is Pineda any different? He actually has better stuff than Nova and has the ability to consistently strike people out, which Nova does not.