As the Twins get ready to finish up the four game series against the Blue Jays, Michael Pineda will take the mound for what will be his 4th start of the season. The early returns of his two-year contract have looked good so far as he was another cheap, low-risk signing by the Twins new management during the 2018 offseason. As we’ve seen how shaky our bullpen can be, much of the Twins success this year will rely on their starters and specifically could depend on what version of Pineda they get.
Pineda exploded on the scene in 2011 with the Mariners as an All-Star and finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting. Unfortunately, that success was short lived as he spent all of the 2012 and 2013 seasons recovering and rehabbing from a shoulder injury, which can be a career ending or altering injury for a pitcher. Prior to this injury he featured fastball that sat at 95 miles per hour, used an above average slider as his out pitch, and mixed in a circle change-up about 6-percent of the time. Brooks Baseball did count 23 “sinkers” in 2011 (and 36 for his career), but that’s not enough data to glean anything meaningful from and is likely a misinterpretation of the pitch that was actually thrown. After two lost seasons and a trade to the New York Yankees, Pineda finally returned to the mound for 509 innings from 2014 to 2017 before a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament required Tommy John Surgery and miss a season and half. In his time with the Yankees, his velocity never completely rebounded sitting at about 94 miles per hour and his slider didn’t have quite the same bite. Despite this his K-BB percentage held steady and converted in to a ground ball pitcher, although the added ground balls hurt his ERA a little bit which is evident by his xFIP being almost a full run better than his ERA. Velocity and movement are the two things that make a pitcher effective, but can also be less effective after a pitcher returns from an arm injury which has help us set some “norms” for what we we’re looking for from Pineda.
To give it to you straight, the small sample we have on Pineda in 2019 looks good up front but the peripherals should leave you a little tentative. First thing that sticks out is that his fastball is sitting at 92 miles per hour, which isn’t too surprising as he is still getting back into things after recovering from Tommy John, but is something to definitely keep an eye on if he starts to get hit. As far as his other pitches go, his slider has much less movement than in years past but his circle change has the same velocity and movement as usual. Consequently, he has reverted back to a flyball pitcher which has flipped his ERA and xFIP by about half of a run. On the other hand, his K-BB rate is the best of his career and he’s been having success because hitters are making contact on pitches outside of the zone significantly more than usual (71.8 percent in 2019 versus 57.1 percent for his career) which leads to less walks and weaker contact.
It’s way too early to jump to any conclusions on these figures, but it something to keep an eye as he gets back into the swing of things after a year and a half hiatus. Over his next few starts, the two big things to look at are his fastball velocity and how much “help” he’s getting from the opposing hitters. These tendencies should give you an idea on how the rest of the season will look for Pineda.