There was no bidding war with New York or Boston.
There was no mob of reporters wrestling for position to photograph him putting on an Angels jersey for the first time at a press conference.
All that greeted Joel Piñeiro upon his arrival in Anaheim was misplaced anger and disappointment by Angels fans who viewed his signing as an inadequate attempt at replacing John Lackey.
Although his signing should have really been seen as an attempt to replace last year’s fifth starter and career minor leaguer Matt Palmer, fans and analysts around baseball immediately viewed Piñeiro as “Lackey Lite.”
All Piñeiro has done is respond with three quality starts in a row to start the season, a sparkling ERA of 1.77 and a WHIP of 1.08.
The 31-year-old native of Puerto Rico, who signed for $8 million per year, may end up being the biggest bargain of the off-season when you consider Piñeiro had slightly better numbers than Lackey in 2009.
Lackey was considered the best free agent pitcher on the market and was able to start a bidding war, resulting in Boston paying him more than double Piñeiro’s salary at $18.7 million for 2010.
The $10.7 million the Angels saved by letting Lackey go and signing Piñeiro almost completely covered the $11.5 million price tag they paid to sign fellow free agents Fernando Rodney and Hideki Matsui. Matsui currently leads the team in all power categories and Rodney is a perfect 5 for 5 in save opportunities since taking over for injured closer, Brian Fuentes.
Skeptics said Piñeiro, who played the first eight seasons of his career in the American League with mediocre results, had deceiving numbers last season because he played in the inferior-hitting National League.
Piñeiro led the NL last season with the least walks per nine innings. He finished 15-12, with a 3.49 ERA and 1.14 WHIP for the 2009 NL Central champion, St. Louis Cardinals. That was a better record than both Lackey and Cliff Lee.
What the skeptics may be failing to factor into their equation is the devastating sinker Piñeiro has mastered in recent years—a pitch that was not part of his arsenal during his first stint in the AL.
Since adding his sinker, Piñiero has cut his walk and home run totals in half.
In 2003, Piñeiro’s best year in the AL, he allowed 76 walks and 19 HR in 211.2 innings.
Last year, he allowed just 27 walks and 11 HR in 214 innings.
In his first three starts with the Angels, which have come against some of the scariest lineups in the AL (Minnesota, New York and Detroit), Piñeiro and his sinker have picked up right where they left off last season—allowing just three walks and one homer in 20.1 innings.
So much for the inferior league theory.
Transitioning from a pitcher who tried to strike out everyone, to more of a thinking style has also allowed him to go deeper into games—a bonus for the Angels, whose bullpen has suffered some hiccups in the early going.
Angels fans can feel a little bit better about watching Lackey go, after seeing him get lit up for eight runs in 3.1 innings Monday against Tampa Bay. They will feel even better if Piñeiro continues to prove his skeptics wrong with his consistent play.
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