Alexi Ogando vs Michael Pineda: Which Breakout Hurler Will Be Better in 5 Years?
If you're a fan of pitching, 2011 represents an especially exciting time for mound enthusiasts across the American League West.
The pitching-laden division boasts the four lowest team ERAs in the AL, and each team is loaded with talented arms, especially within the ranks of their starting rotations.
Not only are there great starters populating each staff throughout the West, but the vast majority of the regular starting pitchers in the division are under 30 years of age. This unique scenario ensures that there will be talented hurlers plying their trade within the division for several years to come.
In Anaheim, only Dan Haren (30) and Joel Pineiro (32) have crossed the threshold into their fourth decade on earth. The Rangers have only C.J. Wilson (30) and Colby Lewis (31) beyond 30, and Seattle only has Erik Bedard (32). Amazingly, not a single pitcher to have started a game for the 2011 Oakland Athletics is older than 27. The future of pitching in the West appears bright, indeed,
While several of the names are familiar, with Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, and Trevor Cahill headlining the crop of talented youthful hurlers, several other thrilling new arms have emerged early in 2011.
Two of the most exciting young starters to burst onto the scene this season are Texas's Alexi Ogando and Seattle's Michael Pineda. Though Ogando debuted last season as a member of the Rangers' bullpen, he is in the midst of his first year as a starting pitcher at any professional level. Pineda, a 22-year-old rookie, has seized his opportunity with both hands, and has provided the Mariners with a co-ace to complement 2010 Cy Young Award-winner, Felix Hernandez.
Both right-handers have met early success while already becoming integral members of their respective team's pitching staff. The 27-year-old Ogando was victorious in his first seven decisions of the season, and has pitched at least six innings in 12 of his 14 starts in 2011.
Pineda has been similarly dominant, also winning seven games so far, and peppering his name across leader boards in nearly every pitching category. Like Ogando, he has also been a friend of his bullpen, only failing to go at least six innings in two of 14 starts. Though they may just be forging their own reputations throughout the league, each hurler has become as close to a "sure thing" as possible for their managers.
Each of the emerging right-handers looks to have a bright future ahead of him, but which pitching star might shine the brightest? Let's take a look at some varying factors to see if we can determine which talented hurler will be better five years from now.
Stuff: Advantage Pineda
Michael Pineda and Alexi Ogando are fairly similar pitchers in regards to their stuff. Both are heavily reliant on their high-octane fastballs and wicked sliders, with each possessing a changeup that remains a work in progress.
Ogando, throws mainly a four-seam fastball which he is using 67.5 percent of the time. So far in 2011, it is averaging 94.6 MPH. He complements the fastball with a slider that averages 80.5 MPH, which he uses 28.1 percent of the time. Occasionally, 4.3 percent of his pitches, he'll toss an unrefined changeup, simply to keep hitters off his two primary pitches. The change averages 86.3 MPH, and still needs some work before it becomes a regular part of his arsenal.
So far this season, Ogando has a 64 percent strike rate, with 15 percent of his strikes resulting in swings-and-misses. He has only a 58 percent first-strike rate, something he can likely improve upon. Opponents are making contact at a 79 percent rate against him.
Pineda relies heavily upon his blazing fastball as well, but less so than Ogando. Though his overall fastball percentage is 57.2, mixed into that are seven percent two-seam fastballs and 3.7 percent cutters. With a 96.3 MPH average on his two-seamer, and a 95.7 MPH average on his cutter, Pineda is able to keep hitters guessing more often, and they aren't able to sit on a straight four-seamer. He also throws his 84.5 MPH slider 30.4 percent of the time, as well as the occasional rough changeup to keep opponents honest. Only used 1.3 percent of the time, Pineda's changeup is certainly in need of some work as well.
In 2011, Pineda is throwing 68 percent strikes, 67 percent on first pitches of an at bat, with a 19 percent swing-and-miss rate. Opposing batters are making contact 74 percent of the time.
Though they are similar in styles, the edge has to go to Pineda since he throws three types of fastballs that all move in different directions. When you're averaging 96 MPH with each type, that diversity can be an incredible weapon that keeps hitters guessing until the last moment, and when you have velocity of that caliber, time is of the essence. With more diverse stuff and better command, all at age 22, I would expect Pineda to progress more as he matures and be the better pitcher in five years time.
Experience: Advantage Pineda
Michael Pineda graduated the Seattle Mariners' minor league system this spring, when he won a starting job in the big league rotation.
During his impressive minor league career, which began when he was 17, and spanned five seasons, he hurled 404.1 innings spread over six levels of professional baseball. Overall, he posted a 2.49 ERA, struck out 396 batters, and displayed superb command with a low 2.1 walks per nine innings. His 1.083 WHIP and 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings were positive indicators that he was nearing Major League readiness. So often, young hurlers, especially power pitchers, display strikeout aptitude, yet struggle with command, but Pineda was blessed with both attributes.
Alexi Ogando on the other hand, only has limited experience as a pitcher, since he was signed as an outfielder. Also, his involvement in the human trafficking scam that caused him to barred from entrance into the United States for five years, hindered his development as a pitcher. He was limited to small doses of action in the Dominican Summer League for those five years.
Including those seasons in the Dominican Republic, Ogando only had thrown 111.2 innings as a professional, and the vast majority of those were in the summer league, not within the structured minor leagues in the US. Though he fared extremely well in his short minor league career, striking out 156 in those 111.2 innings, with a 1.37 ERA and a 0.913 WHIP, it's difficult to evaluate those results statistically due to the nature of the league and its competition.
While Ogando was dominant in his limited action, he made only six starts prior to this year, so he is learning on the job.
With Pineda's head-start on Ogando in terms of pitching experience, I would expect Pineda to be a polished product in five years, just as he is entering his prime at 27 years old.
Body Type: Advantage Pineda
Of course, a pitcher's physical stature isn't necessarily critical to Major League success, but it's certainly not something to discount either.
We've seen pitchers like Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Johann Santana have very successful big league careers, but generally, when trying to forecast whether a hurler has the physicality to produce a long, fruitful career, the taller, strong-bodied type guys often win out.
Alexi Ogando is an athletic, former outfielder who stands 6'4" and is listed at 195 lbs. As with most tall, lanky starters, there are always questions whether his body can withstand the rigors of pitching 200 innings a season and display long-term durability.
Michael Pineda, just over a year ago, was a tall, lanky hurler, much like Ogando, and was listed at 6'5", 180 lbs. There was concern over his physicality, and some wondered whether his future might lie somewhere in a relief role, to alleviate the strain on his skinny frame.
However, the 22-year-old Pineda experienced a growth spurt within that time frame, and is now an imposing physical specimen, that is officially listed at 6'7", 260 lbs. The Mariners couldn't have been more thrilled with the physical transformation that their burgeoning young ace underwent.
Ogando, on his way to 28 years of age, doesn't have the luxury of expecting a growth spurt to fill out his frame.
Though there is nothing wrong with Ogando's size or shape, if I am predicting which hurler's body will hold up over the course of the next five seasons, I choose Michael Pineda and his incredible physical prowess.
Environment: Advantage Pineda
While Alexi Ogando has fared unbelievably well at home in Arlington so far in 2011, he has yet to experience the grueling summer months, during which the average temperature is 95 degrees in July and August. Though the Ballpark in Arlington is a beautiful place to play and take in a ballgame, it can be an unforgiving place in the heat of the summer, when the heat and hot, summer winds can make it uncomfortable to say the least.
In just his last start, Ogando experienced difficulty with the heat and humidity in Atlanta, requiring intravenous administration of fluids to help him get through just five innings. Hopefully that was an isolated event, because otherwise, he might not enjoy his summer.
Michael Pineda on the other hand, has no such concerns pitching in the Great Northwest. During the hottest months of July and August, the average temperature only peaks at 75 degrees, making fatigue due to harsh season seasonal climate much less of an issue.
In addition to the weather, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is a hitter's haven, while Safeco Field greatly favors pitchers. With strong gusts of wind blowing towards right-center field in the Ballpark, it can be a perilous place for a right-handed pitcher, as lefties take aim and try to loft balls into the jet stream.
Like I said, so far, Ogando has pitched unbelievably well at home, going 5-0 with a 1.91 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP, so it hasn't affected him yet. However, we will see how that fortune holds up as the weather heats up and balls fly from the park.
Safeco Field, by contrast, has allowed 1.33 per game in 2011, third lowest in the AL, and last season it was at only 1.15 per game, the lowest amount per contest in the American League.
Of course, some of that can be attributed to the difference in the way both ball clubs are constructed, but there is little doubt that Safeco is beneficial to pitchers while Rangers Ballpark can be a hurler's nemesis.
One Clear Advantage for Ogando: Having Nolan Ryan to Guide Him
If there is one man in baseball that could help guide an inexperienced pitcher and turn him from a lanky hurler into a man capable of dominating from the mound, it is Rangers' President, Nolan Ryan.
At one time a 6'2", 170lb teenager, Ryan became an indisputable legend of the game who pitched an astounding 27 seasons until the age of 46.
A rare club president that is intimately involved with on-field operations, Ryan employs a hands-on approach to his ball club and takes a special interest in the Texas pitching staff.
With such an esteemed member of baseball's upper echelon of elite ballplayers to mentor him, Alexi Ogando would appear to be in capable hands while a part of the Rangers' starting rotation.
Conclusion: Michael Pineda
Though I expect that Alexi Ogando will continue his surprising ascension from outfielder-turned-reliever to top-flight starting pitcher and have a productive career for the Rangers, I think that Michael Pineda will enjoy the greatest success of the two.
Since Pineda has a five-year jump-start on Ogando, and more experience as a starting pitcher, I would expect that in five years time, the 22-year-old Pineda will be 27 and entering his prime as a finely-polished hurler.
With slightly better stuff due to his array of three types of fastballs, Pineda will likely have the advantage as hitters across the league learn to adjust to the two dominant pitchers. Displaying more diversity in pitch-type will make it more difficult for opponents to learn and pick up patterns, allowing Pineda to continue dominating them as he as during his rookie campaign.
As a big-bodied, physical specimen, Pineda also may have the advantage when it comes to stamina and avoiding injury, certainly integral factors involved in maintaining pitching success over several years in Major League Baseball.
Though I feel Pineda will likely be the better pitcher five years from now, both he and Ogando should have great careers ahead of them.