What We Learned from Michael Pineda's Long-Anticipated Yankees Return

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What We Learned from Michael Pineda's Long-Anticipated Yankees Return
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There was no television or radio coverage, but we know for certain that New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda made his 2014 debut on Friday night against the Detroit Tigers.

We also know this: It went well.

Like, really well.

Pineda, of course, has been a question mark ever since he underwent labrum surgery in May of 2012. The last pitch he threw in the majors was in 2011, at which time he was still property of the Seattle Mariners and Jesus Montero, the man he would be traded for, was still property of the Yankees.

But all on its own, Pineda's line score from Friday night is an encouraging sight. He pitched in relief in the fifth and sixth innings, allowing no runs on one hit. He struck out four of the seven batters he faced and threw 21 of 27 pitches for strikes.

That's good. But even better, according to those who were there to see it, is that Pineda looked good too.

Here's Joel Sherman of the New York Post with a report on the stuff Pineda was featuring:

Relative to where Pineda was this time two years ago, this is progress.

Back in early March of 2012, Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reported that Pineda was being clocked at 88 to 91 and that even throwing 91 took "some effort." For a guy who, according to FanGraphs, sat at 94.7 miles per hour as a rookie in 2011, that wasn't good.

Now, if you're looking for the obligatory reality check, here it is: 90 to 92 is better than 88 to 91, but it's still pretty far off from where Pineda's fastball was when it was at its best.

That was in the first half of 2011, when he was sitting at an even 95 miles per hour. He sat at 94.1 in the second half, and these figures from Brooks Baseball can show just how much the effectiveness of his fastball suffered:

Michael Pineda's Fastball in 2011
Split Whiff/Swing BAA ISO
1st Half 22.52 .214 .138
2nd Half 18.75 .256 .162

Brooks Baseball

In other words: More velocity than 90 to 92 would be nice.

The bright side, however, is that it's still early on in the spring. Pineda still has time to build his velocity before Opening Day rolls around, and we know via a Newsday report that he was clocked as high as 95 in a rehab start last year. It's likely we haven't seen his best heat yet.

As for Pineda's slider, well, it sounds like it's already about as dangerous as it can be.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

You heard Sherman describe the slider Pineda was featuring on Friday night as a "wipeout" slider. Yankees catcher Brian McCann, however, preferred a different word.

Via Erik Boland of Newsday:

One guy who can vouch for that is none other than the two-time defending American League MVP.

Pineda came face-to-face with Miguel Cabrera with two outs and nobody on in the sixth inning. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com says Pineda started Miggy off with a fastball, and then threw him three straight sliders. Cabrera could only check his swing at the third.

As Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger will tell you, Miggy looked bad doing it:

That Pineda was only sitting between 80 and 82 with his slider velocity means he was slightly off the 84.1 miles per hour he averaged with it in 2011. But it sounds like his slider's electricity is still there, and that's what's important. If his slider still has the kind of life it had in 2011, maybe it can be as effective.

And that, for the record, is really effective. According to FanGraphs pitch values, only 14 qualified pitchers saved more runs above average with their sliders in 2011. Per Brooks Baseball, hitters hit just .172 against it with a .121 isolated power.

It was largely thanks to Pineda's fastball and slider that he was able to put together a quality rookie season, pitching to a 3.74 ERA across 171 innings. That the buzz regarding both pitches is positive is, well, positive.

Another thing that shouldn't be forgotten, meanwhile, is that Pineda threw 21 of 27 pitches for strikes. Joel Sherman tweeted that Pineda's command, not surprisingly, "appeared good." Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com caught up with the man himself, and he was even more enthusiastic:

Solid fastball velocity? Check.

A really good slider? Check.

Quality command? Check.

That'll do for a spring training performance to build off of. But before we go, we'll also check in with some scouts who were just as impressed as the writers and Pineda himself. 

From Marchand:

And Sherman:

And Boland:

Pineda still has much to prove. He has a few more outings left between now and Opening Day, and he'll have to do well in those, too, if he wants to earn the fifth spot in Joe Girardi's rotation. And even if he earns that job, hey, it's a long season.

But after two years of frustration, here's thinking the Yankees are quite thrilled with what they got on Friday night. 

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted/linked.

 

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