Spring Training: What to Take Away from Michael Pineda's Performance Thus Far

Matt AppelContributor IIMarch 22, 2014

Michael Pineda entered this spring as a question mark, but has looked like a major league starter so far.
Michael Pineda entered this spring as a question mark, but has looked like a major league starter so far.Associated Press

"It's a win for both teams."

That was seemingly the league-wide consensus back in early 2012 when the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners completed what appeared to be a deal involving two future superstars: Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda.

Twenty-six months later, Montero came into Seattle camp overweight coming off of a 50-game ban for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, while Pineda has yet to appear in a regular-season game for New York.

The last we saw Pineda, he was capping off a strong rookie year in which he went only 9-10 (pitching for a Seattle team that lost 95 games) but pitched to a 3.74 ERA, 1.1 WHIP, while tallying 173 K's in 171 innings. He was one of the up-and-coming hurlers in the sport. 

Could 2014 be a year of redemption for Pineda, an All-Star in what remains the only year he's ever pitched in the major leagues? Early returns say yes, based on what he's done so far in spring training. With the No. 5 spot in the New York rotation still certainly up for grabs, Pineda has made a very strong case for the job.

In nine spring training innings, the righty has allowed not a single earned run to cross, while striking out 14 and yielding just eight hits and one walk. Pineda shut down the Red Sox on March 18 with four and one-third scoreless innings aided by five strikeouts. Check out the filthiness below, but as a warning, it might not be safe for children of all ages:

But what does Pineda's strong spring thus far mean for both him and the Bombers? At the very least, it helps solve what appeared to be a real question mark for Joe Girardi before the season in the back end of the rotation.

With CC Sabathia coming off his worst year to date, Masahiro Tanaka an expensive unknown and Hiroki Kuroda not exactly getting any younger, a healthy and effective Pineda could provide New York with three or four additional wins that could theoretically be the difference between a return to October and a second straight postseason-less campaign. 

Joe Girardi (background, L) and Larry Rothschild (background, R) could both benefit much from a healthy and effective Pineda.
Joe Girardi (background, L) and Larry Rothschild (background, R) could both benefit much from a healthy and effective Pineda.Associated Press

Now, after his arthroscopic surgery which robbed him of two years, it's still unclear if the velocity on Pineda's fastball, 94-96 mph in 2011, will ever return, as he's been sitting around 90-92 mph this spring. The few ticks off the heater could wind up being a moot point if the Dominican native's slider, his best pitch in his rookie campaign, stays as sharp as it looks right now. 

How good was Pineda's slider back in 2011? By all accounts, standard and advanced, it was pretty darn good.

Opposing hitters managed just a .175 mark against the slider, swinging and missing at an 18.2 percent clip, and were held to a .220 on-base percentage and .294 slugging percentage. Among all rookie starters with at least 120 innings pitched, Pineda had the best slider out of anyone, according to FanGraphs

Regardless of how strong Pineda has looked so far, there still appears to be some rust with the control of his fastball. That is understandable to an extent, as the road to even this point has been a long one for the righty. How quickly he can shake off that rust and if he can stay healthy are the two biggest questions for Pineda and his role with the team going forward. 

Right now, it would appear as if Pineda will open the year in the New York rotation as the fifth option. He'll certainly win any comparison of "stuff" with almost every other team's fifth guy, but that doesn't mean much if he has a hard time taking the mound on a consistent basis. When looking at the Yankees' rotation, the order of it is rather fluid. If Pineda can come anywhere close to replicating the successes of his rookie year, he could quickly ascend in the rotation. 

It is more than conceivable that Pineda's road "back" to 2011 will take more than just this season, and frankly, it might never fully occur. However, going strictly off of what we've seen so far in Grapefruit League action thus far, there is reason to believe that the forsaken deal that went down in January 2012 could wind up favoring the Bombers. Joe Girardi has said, per Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger, that he will announce the team's fifth starter on Tuesday.

Pineda's performance so far has made that decision a lot easier.