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Minnesota Becoming Spoiled in the Fifth?

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 22 May 2019 · 1,377 views

minnesota twins michael pineda
Michael Pineda made a start for the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night in California against the Los Angeles Angels. He gave up a home run to Mike Trout during the second at bat of the game, the opposition was leading 3-0 entering the 3rd inning. That was your que to go and do a quick Twitter search, and it wouldn’t have been pretty. The reality is we’re seeing a shift in expectations.

Entering play on May 22 the Twins pitching staff owned the 7th best fWAR in baseball. The 3.68 ERA of Minnesota starters was 7th in the sport and 4th in the American League. No longer is this group the pitch to contact, look for worm burners, pray for rain type of collection. There are strikeout arms at the disposal of Rocco Baldelli everyone stands to benefit from a systemic change throughout the organization.

This isn’t to give Michael Pineda a pass. His first six starts in a Twins uniform were to the tune of a 6.21 ERA and .913 OPS against. He made it through the sixth inning just once and failed to advance beyond the fourth on two separate occasions. Having missed all the 2018 season, and over half of 2017, some level of rust was to be expected. Add in that three of those starts came against the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies and it’s fair to see where danger may have been hiding.

Since his lackluster start Pineda has turned a significant corner. There’s no one foolish enough to suggest he’s a staff ace but a 4.50 ERA across 24.0 IP (four starts) is more than enough from the fifth guy in your rotation. He’s cut the opposing OPS down to .757 and while the homers still plague him, the 22/5 K/BB is plenty respectable.
Over the course of his career Pineda has always been a guy to get bitten by the longball. He’s got a career 1.3 HR/9 and has been at 1.7 dating back to 2016. He’s also always posted strong strikeout numbers and limited the number of walks. Avoiding damage by making a good number of longballs fall into the solo variety is a safe way to give them up if you’re going to toe that line.

There’s also a velocity decrease at play that could be hampering some of Pineda’s output. On the season he owns a 92.5 mph average, which is down from his 94.6 mph career mark. He didn’t see much warmth during Minnesota’s April, and the 93.3 mph averaging representing a season high came during an away game in Houston. As the summer trudges on, that will be something to monitor.

The rest of his peripherals suggest that we’re looking at a pitcher simply being dogged by the big blast. His 42.9% hard hit rate is a career worst by quite a bit, and it’s spiked the 46% fly ball rate and 18% HR/FB mark. He needs to keep the ball in the yard more, but so far has danced around danger well. A .286 BABIP is workable, and more fly balls kept in the yard should be convertible outs.

We’ll have to wait and see how future starts play out, but this is currently trending in the right direction. A 4.50 ERA isn’t going to have fans putting him in the discussion of Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, or Martin Perez, but it’s a solid mark you can be happy with. We aren’t looking at a Ricky Nolasco, Tommy Milone, or Hector Santiago situation here. Despite a fanbase that seems to still be treading carefully and waiting for the bottom to fall out, there’s a lot of handwringing over the production of a 5th starter that’s doing his job appropriately.

If you want to go out and throw your hands up each time Pineda toes the rubber and gives up three or four runs, be my guest. As much as I won’t be the one to stop those claims, I’ll also caution that he’s not an ideal fit for the bullpen, the depth behind him is currently uninspiring, and the most important factor is that he’s doing his job just fine. Minnesota could certainly afford to upgrade the fringes of its pitching staff, but that’s more matter of practice than it is an indictment on any one player.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

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