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  • What History Can Tell Us About Michael Pineda's Innings Total in 2019


    Matt Braun

    The 6’ 7” beast Michael Pineda took the mound the other day in Fort Myers and fired off two scoreless innings to go with his two previous scoreless innings, giving him an easy to calculate ERA of 0.00 so far in spring training. Pineda last pitched in the majors for the Yankees but you might have also recognized him by his nicknames “Big Mike” or “Large Mikeal” or “Why is That Mountain Moving?”

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    When he was signed in the offseason following the 2017 season, it was with the understanding that his value would mostly be in the 2019 season and he would most likely not pitch in 2018 for the Twins as he continued to rehab from Tommy John surgery. His two year $10 million deal essentially works as a one-year deal and set the blueprint for Garrett Richards to sign a similar contract with the Padres this last offseason. Although, Pineda might have had better offers from Rick Spielman to start at guard for the Vikings for the upcoming season.

    Pineda could prove to be an important bridge in an uncertain Twins starting rotation. While most teams would be happy with a 1-2 punch of Berrios and Gibson to lead the rotation, the names after them aren’t quite as exciting. Odorizzi is fine but should ideally be your fourth starter and the number of candidates for the fifth spot is as long as Santa’s nice/naughty list but has more naughtys than I care for. So getting 160-170 quality innings from Pineda could prove key to leading a strong Twins team in contending for the AL Central title against the Indians. But what does history have to say about starting pitchers who have had such an extended absence due to injury? Pineda’s last major league outing was on July 5, 2017 which is a good 20 months ago. Is it realistic to assume that he can come back and be the normal Pineda in 2019?

    I looked through the long list of recent MLB starting pitchers who underwent TJ surgery between 2011 and 2017. I cut it off at 2017 because those players have not had their full season of performance yet following their surgery. Then I found the guys who hadn’t played in MLB in over 15 months after their surgery to get a sample size of guys more similar to Pineda. And finally, I only included pitchers who started the season on the major league squad so that they would have a full season of work on their plate as their first taste of the majors after surgery like Pineda and so that their innings totals wouldn’t be skewed. The list of players goes as follows:

    Bronson Arroyo, Zack Wheeler, A.J. Griffin, Robbie Erlin, Lance Lynn, Matt Harvey, John Lackey

    An interesting assortment of names, sure, but these are the most similar comps to Pineda that have come about in recent history as far as time off goes. Here they are broken down by innings totals in their first full year back from injury:

    60-80 innings: Bronson Arroyo

    80-100 innings: Zack Wheeler

    100-120 innings: A.J. Griffin, Robbie Erlin

    180-200 innings: Lance Lynn, Matt Harvey, John Lackey

    Well, that’s certainly something. Arroyo was old and bad at this time so take that with what you will. Wheeler was seemingly in witness protection for a few years there as he was suffering from Mets-itits before breaking out just this past year. Griffin missed some time due to injury in his first year back which ultimately hampered his innings total but that could very well be a problem for Pineda as well this upcoming year. Lance Lynn, Matt Harvey and John Lackey all had seemingly normal years immediately following their extended recovery, but Harvey also presents himself as a cautionary tale of why innings limits exist for players recently removed from surgery. He went over his innings limit in 2015 and has not been the same pitcher since.

    Personally, I find this data to actually be rather optimistic. While no pitcher was within that 160-170 innings total that I mentioned before, a few pitchers were able to come back and have normal years even after an extended break due to recovery. While I don’t want to go as far as thanking Lance Lynn for what he did, he is among those who represent a ray of hope that Pineda can be consistently relied upon in 2019.

    Now, you might have noticed that I did not mention Robbie Erlin yet. Erlin worked this last year as a swingman for the Padres, or the Giants, be honest, you don’t know whether or not Robbie Erlin actually exists much less the team he plays for. But Fangraphs tells me that there allegedly was a player under the pseudonym “Robbie Erlin” for the Friars last year who got his innings out of the pen and as a starter, and I find that very interesting. The Padres most likely observed the Harvey fiasco and decided it was best not to follow that same path so they artificially reduced Erlin's innings totals by limiting his chances at getting a large number of outs.

    Why do I find that interesting? The crafty Twins have recently been rather vague about their plans for getting outs in the 2019 season. Instead of referring to Fernando Romero as a reliever, they said that they will transition him to get him ready for “shorter stints”. Instead of saying that Adalberto Mejia is a starter, they said that he will be stretched out for “extended outings”. While GM talk is nothing new, the new wave of baseball strategy has been focused on getting the most outs you can in the most efficient way possible. Hell, Craig Counsell in his infinite wisdom just refers to his pitchers now as “out-getters”. You can say that baseball is getting more progressive in their old and archaic categorizing of pitchers, but it seems to me that teams are catching on to the most effective ways to get outs in today’s game.

    Much like with the Padres and Erlin, I have to assume the Twins are also very concerned with Pineda’s innings limit. No specific number has become public, but there has to be one. And possibly as a way to limit those innings, we may see the Twins try a bevy of things for Pineda. Maybe they use an opener for him, maybe he is the opener for someone, maybe he occasionally works in long relief, maybe he closes some games! I absolutely would not put it past the Twins to try any number of these strategies to avoid a Matt Harvey situation in the future. Although that also begs the question, do they care? Is Pineda just here as a placeholder for another guy to come in in 2020?

    While it may be morally wrong, how much would the Twins care about ruining the arm of a guy they have no intention of keeping long term? As the season plays out, we shall see the answers to these questions, but keep in mind that it is realistic for Pineda to fire off a full season of work as a starter in 2019.

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    My first impression is that Lance Lynn would be the best comp for Pineda. Big guy, throws hard, a year off after TJ. Pineda is younger than Lynn, so he might heal a bit quicker and stay healthy if the Twins are willing to gradually increase his pitch counts. 

     

    I have a good feeling about Pineda. The Twins may have actually gotten themselves a TJ steal. 

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    Great article.

     

    I could look up the answer, but you probably already have the data. What month did each of these guys have their TJ surgery?

     

    One never hopes for an injury, but I’ve also wondered if the knee injury could be a blessing in disguise. He was able to rehab back to a point of near readiness and then forced to take a break, which allowed for what amounts to an extended offseason before resuming a normal preparation for this season.

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    It will also be interesting going forward. Given the general skittishness of the market and the worry about the ability of a TJ survivor breaking down again, if he has a good year, I could see him having a tough time getting the long deal he probably will be seeking. Of course it only takes one team willing to take a chance.

     

    But at any rate, if he does indeed come back strong, I’d be inclined to reach out to him mid year about his willingness to extend a year.

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    Great article.

    I could look up the answer, but you probably already have the data. What month did each of these guys have their TJ surgery?

    One never hopes for an injury, but I’ve also wondered if the knee injury could be a blessing in disguise. He was able to rehab back to a point of near readiness and then forced to take a break, which allowed for what amounts to an extended offseason before resuming a normal preparation for this season.

    Lynn had his in November 2015-made his debut back in the start of 2017

    Arroyo had his in July 2014-made his debut back in the start of 2017

    Wheeler has his in March 2015-made his debut back in the start of 2017

    Lackey had his in November 2011-made his debut back in the start of 2013

    Erlin had his in May 2016-made his debut back in the start of 2018

    Harvey had his in October 2013-made his debut back in the start of 2015

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    Big Mike needs another comp:  Big Mike Pelfrey...   Hope he is better than that.

    Pelf was actually one of the names in the cutting room when I was making the article, I didn't include him because he had a normal 12-month break but he did toss ~150 innings in his first year back

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    "While it may be morally wrong, how much would the Twins care about ruining the arm of a guy they have no intention of keeping long term?"

     

     

    You should walk that back. It was morally wrong to say something like that.

    To imply that sometimes teams don't act in the best interest in their players' health? I'm not advocating for doing it, but it isn't a rare occurrence at all. 

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    I’m not sure an “innings limit” is accurate terminology. I’d say total pitch limit. 150-160 innings averaging 12-15 pitches per is considerably different than 18-20 pitches per.

     

     

    As you suggested, I’m sure they know what they want that pitch limit to be.

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    To imply that sometimes teams don't act in the best interest in their players' health? I'm not advocating for doing it, but it isn't a rare occurrence at all. 

    Yes it is. In fact, you have no proof of this. None. Go ahead, double down. But it was a crappy thing to say. Irresponsible. 

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    Yes it is. In fact, you have no proof of this. None. Go ahead, double down. But it was a crappy thing to say. Irresponsible. 

    Miguel Sano 2017, Francisco Liriano 2006. Had those teams not been in playoff races, I'm certain both players would have been shutdown for the year. And those were two guys they had for the long run.

     

    Don't count on teams to always act on what's best for the player.

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    I agree with Kelly Vance that this is an irresponsible comment.  

      Will the Twins maybe push him? Possibly.  But it's a complicated calculus, not clearly just a case of "if we cared we wouldn't push, and if we don't care we will." You know that.  You know that Pineda is part of that decisionmaking.  You know that one person's workload and experience and injury is not the same as the next guy. But to suggest that they might be more likely to do that because they won't sign him for 2020?  Gosh, I hope not.  If you write that, you should have some evidence to back up that implication, because it is damaging to Falvine's reputation to even suggest it.

      Besides, from a practical point of view, it's a stupid strategy:  players are a small, tightly-knit guild.  Word gets around, quickly. If the Twins treat a player callously, every other player and agent knows about that in two days, and that is bad for business.  

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    Miguel Sano 2017, Francisco Liriano 2006. Had those teams not been in playoff races, I'm certain both players would have been shutdown for the year. And those were two guys they had for the long run.

     

    Don't count on teams to always act on what's best for the player.

    That's BS. And there is a big difference between players playing hurt in a pennant race and abusing a player, knowing it will jeopardize their careers. The Twins have always been on the careful side in my opinion. And if you think the Twins abuse players then why in the world would you want to be a Twins writer? 

     

    And just how did the Twins cause Miggie to hurt his leg by being hit by a pitch?  And just how did the Twins subject Frankie to injury? Injuries happen and Frankie had a violent throwing motion to begin with. 

     

    This was an unfair comment. And untrue. 

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    Lynn had his in November 2015-made his debut back in the start of 2017

    Arroyo had his in July 2014-made his debut back in the start of 2017

    Wheeler has his in March 2015-made his debut back in the start of 2017

    Lackey had his in November 2011-made his debut back in the start of 2013

    Erlin had his in May 2016-made his debut back in the start of 2018

    Harvey had his in October 2013-made his debut back in the start of 2015

     

    So Pineda will have more time since the surgery than Lynn, Harvey, and Lackey, the three guys who threw 200+. That seems like a good sign. 

     

    On the other hand, he will have less time than the three who threw less than 120. That seems like a bad sign. 

     

    I prefer the good sign. 

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    Should the Twins purposefully overuse Pineda next year? Of course not.

     

    I do think that they should not treat him the same as a younger longer term asset though. They should not be shutting him down on the short end of a range of innings as the Nationals did with Strasburg as he passed 150 innings.

     

    It is in the Twins interest and Pineda’s that they push the higher end of that range erroring on the overuse side of that range. Pineda is in his prime. He missed his first shot at a contract with injury. Next off season will likely be his last chance at a significant contract. He needs to show that he is fully healthy and can be very effective at handling a full load. The Twins need those innings. They can’t afford to invest into a one year asset shortened starts or extra days for rest. If the Twins are in contention later in the season they need to keep giving him the ball. If they aren’t in contention, they need to show he can handle the workload so they can trade him at the deadline.

     

    Perhaps the the term overuse in my earlier phrase “error on the side of overuse” carried to much weight. The Twins need to push the upper end of the innings expectation. It is in their interest and Pineda’s.

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    It seems to me that the abuse of pitchers is far more common in the college ranks. I often read about some kid throwing 120-140 pitches in a game. My opinion is that it is very rare in the pros.

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    My first impression is that Lance Lynn would be the best comp for Pineda.

     

    ...

     

    I have a good feeling about Pineda.

    Don't these two statements contradict each other somewhat? Lance Lynn turned out to be a pretty marginal pitcher/signing last year.

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    Should the Twins purposefully overuse Pineda next year? Of course not.

    I do think that they should not treat him the same as a younger longer term asset though. They should not be shutting him down on the short end of a range of innings as the Nationals did with Strasburg as he passed 150 innings.

    It is in the Twins interest and Pineda’s that they push the higher end of that range erroring on the overuse side of that range. Pineda is in his prime. He missed his first shot at a contract with injury. Next off season will likely be his last chance at a significant contract. He needs to show that he is fully healthy and can be very effective at handling a full load. The Twins need those innings. They can’t afford to invest into a one year asset shortened starts or extra days for rest. If the Twins are in contention later in the season they need to keep giving him the ball. If they aren’t in contention, they need to show he can handle the workload so they can trade him at the deadline.

    Perhaps the the term overuse in my earlier phrase “error on the side of overuse” carried to much weight. The Twins need to push the upper end of the innings expectation. It is in their interest and Pineda’s.

    I'm with you.    Twins are already on the hook to pay him more than I would make in a hundred years of actually working.    That's not even counting the 17 odd million he's made before this.   And he's not even thrown a pitch for us yet.   Lets not treat this topic the same as concussion risk.   If he has another major arm injury he will still be able to do everything in life aside from throwing a major league baseball game.   It distresses me a million times more that the two shoulders I've injured playing for nothing that I can't afford to fix will hamper my golf swing.   Protecting his arm is a very nebulous arbitrary thing anyway.    After watching 50 years of baseball I think the odds of him hurting his arm in spring training are the same as him hurting his arm in innings 180-200 and the same as him hurting his arm next spring training whether he throws 120 innings or 200 innings this year.     I don't think its callous that the Twins wouldn't give much weight to what he does in the future as a non Twin.    Its baseball.   There are risks of arm injury every appearance.     Pitch him as long as he is healthy and effective.    If he is not healthy he won't be effective.     

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    Don't these two statements contradict each other somewhat? Lance Lynn turned out to be a pretty marginal pitcher/signing last year.

    My comp to Lynn referred to the general category of pitcher, plus a similar recovery period. Pineda should be a better pitcher than Lynn, if he's healthy. 

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    ****Moderator Note****

     

    Please stop with accusations calling other posters’ and Twins personal morality into question. Please also refrain from policing the site, if you have a concern with a particuler comment please report it.

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