Friday, February 6, 2015

Can Yankees’ Michael Pineda put it all together in 2015?

When the New York Yankees traded their once top-rated prospect Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda, it seemed like a classic situation which would invoke discussions for years to come as to who got the better end of the deal. Three years later and we are still wondering.

While Montero languishes in the Seattle Mariners organization, troubled by personal decisions concerning his physical condition and mental makeup, Pineda has yet to throw 100 innings in the Bronx.

In 2014, after a long journey working his way back from arthroscopic surgery to repair an anterior labral tear in his right shoulder conducted in 2012, Pineda showed the Yankees a glimpse of what they hoped he would bring from the trade. Pineda was fantastic early on for the Yankees; clearly one of their better pitchers in April. With Masahiro Tanaka also dominating hitters, it seemed like the duo could lead the Yankees into the postseason.

Unfortunately Pineda made some mistakes of his own. Just two games after he was suspected of having pine tar on his body to help him get a grip on the ball in his second start of the season, he was caught by the Boston Red Sox (again) with a glop of tar on his neck and was ultimately suspended 10 games for his actions. Worse, he was injured while working out as he waited to get back onto the field and wound up missing over three months with a strain of the teres major muscle.

Pineda came back in mid-August and was terrific down the stretch. He hurled nine games and allowed two earned runs or less in eight of them. He finished the season with a 5-5 record, a shiny 1.89 ERA (2.71 FIP), 59 K, 7 BB and a tiny 0.825 WHIP in 76.1 innings. It's hard not to imagine what kind of season he could have had if able to stay on the mound.

And like his other rotation counterparts, there is one question with Pineda; how much are the Yankees going to get out of him?

Pineda, 26, has only thrown 295.2 innings in the last four seasons between the majors and minors, so history tells us it's difficult to expect a full season on the hill. The Yankees need 200-plus innings but might have to settle for much less unless Pineda can find a way to keep his recurring shoulder issues from flaring up.

Pineda has two more years of team control after 2015, and keeping him healthy during that time is tantamount to the Yankees success going forward.

Like Tanaka and CC Sabathia, the Yankees might be wise to limit Pineda as much as possible. It's probably not responsible for the club to push Pineda to 200 innings anyway. With the luxury of a very deep bullpen, keeping Pineda on a lower pitch count could be the answer to helping him navigate a full season.

Pineda's impeccable control should certainly aid the process and since he is not a strikeout pitcher, he'll throw fewer pitches in that regard as well. He averaged just below 15 pitches per inning in 2014, which shapes up to about 90 pitches for six innings. It seems like keeping Pineda in the 100-pitch zone on a regular basis (not a strict pitch count) might be a logical starting point for the Yankees.

As for 2015 projections, Steamer, via FanGraphs is optimistic for Pineda's time on the mound with 173 innings in 29 starts. The Yankees would probably be ecstatic with that. It would mean minimal issues on the injury front and something to build on for 2016.

Pineda's performance is not expected to be as crisp as it was in 2014. Steamer estimates an 11-10 record with a 3.90 ERA (4.16 FIP). They show his K/9 creeping up from 6.96 to 7.44 and his BB/9 to rise from 0.83 to 2.12.

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections are slightly more bullish on Pineda's performance – 11-9, 3.11 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 1.11 WHIP in 159.7 innings (28 starts).

If the Yankees receive production anywhere in between these two projections it will certainly benefit the club in the short and long term. The upside from these estimations is a fantastic season, much like he was putting together at both ends of 2014. The downside is more time on the disabled list, and more questions about whether the Yankees were sold damaged goods in 2012.

2014 statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections are for premium subscribers. You can subscribe here.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.