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Big Mike Brings Upside to Bottom of Rotation

It might be a stretch to say Michael Pineda was pitching like an ace before being hit with a season-ending suspension. But it's definitely no stretch to say that he had become the team's best starter, and was shaping up as a credible choice to start Game 1 of a playoff series.

Now, Big Mike is back, on a deal that seems almost too good to be true.
Image courtesy of David Berding, USA Today
When the Twins originally signed Pineda, almost exactly two years ago, the appeal was obvious: frontline upside at a very good value, with the caveat of a built-in delay. Now, the same dynamics are essentially at play, except the wait is much shorter and the payoff is much less theoretical.

This time around, the Twins aren't gambling on Pineda returning after a full year off and multiple surgery recoveries. He was healthy and strong before the suspension dropped in September, and while no one would frame his costly lapse as a good thing, there is a clear benefit in terms of workload management.

Pineda threw 96 innings for the Yankees in 2017 before requiring Tommy John surgery. He spent most of 2018 on the rehab trail, totaling only 12 innings in the minors before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Due to this lack of build-up, the Twins were very cautious with the right-hander's workload in 2019 – he reached triple-digit pitch counts only twice in 26 starts, and had multiple phantom stints on the injured list – but despite these efforts, he was on track to approach his previous career high (175 IP, in 2016). At that point, you're worried about how the arm is going to hold up in the highest-stress of settings – the postseason – while entering unprecedented territory for innings pitched.

Now, with this prorated deal, the innings management basically takes care of itself. Pineda's late start means his innings cap for the regular season is around 150, helping him stay strong into October.

With two reigning All-Star starters already locked in, and plenty of flexibility to add more, the Twins can now view Pineda as an impactful low-cost reinforcement for the back of the rotation rather than a critical linchpin for the top.

It took Pineda a while to settle into his groove this year – understandable given the layoff – but after shaking off some early long-ball issues, his consistency was unparalleled on the staff. After the end of April, Pineda posted a 3.46 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 117 innings, adding a spectacular 118-to-22 K/BB ratio. He allowed more than three earned runs just twice in 20 starts over this span, with the Twins going 13-7.

That overall level of performance would make Pineda one of the best No. 3/4 starters for any rotation in the American League. But it sure feels like he has another level, and was just beginning to unlock it before his season reached a sudden halt. In his final 10 starts he went 6-1 with a 2.88 ERA. In his two September turns just before the suspension, he struck out 19 over 12 frames.

The Twins' offseason will be a massive letdown if they don't add at least one more starter who slots ahead of Pineda on paper. But it's entirely possible Pineda emerges as a No. 2 or even No. 1 caliber piece in the rotation – I mean, he's already pretty much done it, ranking among the AL's top dozen starters in fWAR over his final 20 starts of 2019. Pineda's 5.0 K/BB ratio in 2019 was bested by only these eight bona fide studs: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Shane Bieber, Zack Greinke, Walker Buehler, Jacob deGrom.

For anyone who feels a player is irredeemably sullied after a PED-related ban, I call your attention to Jorge Polanco and Nelson Cruz, who moved past such mistakes to become arguably the team's two most valuable players in 2019. Pineda's transgression was deemed by the league to be clearly accidental. There's really no reason think it'll be a further concern. But if it does, or – more likely – Pineda's longtime durability issues resurface, the Twins are well-set with a contract that secures the mountainous hurler at an effectively trivial cost through 2021, at which point he'll be naturally built back up to a 200-IP workload.

Pineda's deal almost certainly won't be the biggest move made by the Twins this offseason, but I'd wager we look back on it as their best.

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9 Comments

Agreed. Great signing for that price....Essentially no downside

 

But if he "emerges as a No. 2 or even No. 1 caliber piece in the rotation"for the post season....we can anticipate very similar results to last year (perhaps even worse if NY and Boston improve their starting rotation).

 

A team loaded with #3/4s and one #2 can do wonders in the regular season, but alas, not the post season.

 

Currently we would be depending on one or two of our 3 starting pitcher prospects to go Full Liriano or Santana this year to provide any hope of making a post season dent.

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tony&rodney
Dec 09 2019 11:08 PM

I like Mike ... to hold down the number four spot in the rotation. This was a very good signing by the Twins, credit due to the front office.

    • DocBauer likes this
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ChuckKnobluntz
Dec 10 2019 12:07 AM
Excited to see Big Mike back at Target Field — really quite shocked how good of a deal we got here. Pineda proved himself last year and now we’re cashing in on maintaining good relations through the PED / diuretic situation. Go Twins!
    • 70charger and DocBauer like this

In the coming back mode, from June to suspension Pneda had a fip of 3.15.If that is who he can be and he is a 3-4 starter, good luck finding 3 better pitchers to fill out your rotation

    • Mike Frasier Law, goulik, DocBauer and 2 others like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Dec 10 2019 06:46 AM

yeah, I said something similar in another thread.Pineda was a completely different pitcher once summer hit last year. He was pitching better than Berrios. This could be an absolute steal at the price.

 

I just hope the FO still manages to bring in at least one more pitcher that is well above average. 

    • Mike Frasier Law, DocBauer, wabene and 1 other like this

I just hope the young pitchers use his suspension to demonstrate that they are ready for the big stage.

 

    • Mike Frasier Law, DocBauer and wabene like this

Thanks, NIck. 

 

Agree that we don't know which slot Pineda will slide into once he gets back in late May.Twins may look awfully good if we see the Big Mike we saw last August. 

 

Personally feel that we are going to see them sign one more starter and that will be it.Wake up every morning and come here to see if today is the day we find out who.Unfortunately, no news this morning.  

Flip hits first half and his second half and we're probably not very excited. Flip Perez' first and second half and we're probably picking up his option. In the age of sequencing, I'm concerned that we're considering Big Mike II a lock. I'm also concerned we're calling him "Big Mike".
Very excited and pleased to have him back! To me, he maybe as important as Odorizzi being back. And yes, I mean that. He has had a nice, solid career with some outstanding runs, including going to an All Star game, FWIW, but injuries have curtailed his career somewhat. Healthy, he has some solid stuff and quality results. We saw that in 2019. He is at that perfect time of age and experience, with good stuff, that his next couple of seasons could be the best part of his career. The same might be said of Odorizzi, for that matter. I thought I had heard somewhere that with his knee fully sound, something that wasn't the case until January sometime last year, that he was getting in some good off season work. I hope that is true. In no way do I expect him to be Sveldt Mike next season, but just a little lighter, just a little better shape, could go a long way.
    • Nick Nelson and wabene like this

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