Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Michael Pineda a true ace?

There is little denying the fact that Michael Pineda has been the best pitcher in the New York Yankees rotation this season. He might have been the best pitcher during his time with the club last season as well. Being the best surrounded by mediocrity might make one the staff ace, but does not necessarily qualify one as a “true ace.” Is Pineda ready to be that type of pitcher?

Michael Pineda
Photo Credit: Keith Allison
By my definition there is a difference to being the ace of a staff and a true ace. One can be the ace of the staff yet fail to mark the following check boxes which elevate their status to elite starters. A true ace is one who would take over the top rotation position (or at least share it with another true ace) if placed on any team in the league.

A true ace is not just a pitcher who wins the most games on the team. He’s the pitcher that stops losing streaks. He’s the pitcher that keeps winning streaks going. He puts together long personal winning streaks. He’s the pitcher who adds value to each of his starts. He provides length in terms of number of innings pitched per start each time out. He dominates opposing teams, and doesn’t throw clunkers every four starts. He stays on the mound the entire season.

This is no knock on Pineda, but how many of these measures does he fulfill on a regular basis? He can be dominating as evidenced by his 16-strikeout performance May 10. But, he can also throw a dud, just like he did following that outstanding start (May 15 - five runs on 10 hits). He did put together a five-game winning streak, but he misses the mark elsewhere. Here is a breakdown of Pineda’s starts this season.

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference
Fair warning, this is going to seem like nitpicking to many, but understand the exercise is to show that Pineda has some work to do in order to be considered elite or a “true ace.” In no way am I suggesting he’s done a poor job this season. I simply believe he is getting more credit than he deserves because he is being compared to complete inconsistency among fellow Yankees starters.

Pineda does have three dominating performances to his credit. But notice, he’s pitched after a loss four times and won two of those games. He’s only pitched after an actual losing streak once, and lost.

Within the chart is a column WPA (Win Probability Added) which denotes how much of an influence Pineda had over the outcome of the game. It is read as you would suspect, positive for helping the outcome and negative for hurting the outcome. He’s actually provided benefit to just half of his eight starts this season (0.00 would indicate no influence). Last season he added value to nine of 13 starts.

Pineda needs to last longer on the mound. It is imperative for the ace of the club to give tons of innings. Pineda is averaging 6.4 innings per start. He needs to make that gravitate toward 7.0 innings per start to jump to the next level.

Pineda must limit the number of poor outings he throws. He’s got two in eight starts this season. That’s one every four starts which is far from true ace material. He was lucky to grab a win in one of those games.

Finally, Pineda has to prove he can survive a full season without being injured. An ace starts 30+ games year after year. Pineda has surpassed 20 once, back in 2011.

Where Pineda is dominant is in the strikezone as shown by his 18.33 K/BB ratio this season. In 2014, the ratio was 8.43 which is still superior. This ability strikeout batters while limiting walks shows Pineda has the makings to become a “true” ace. He simply needs to build on this.

I’m not suggesting Pineda has pitched poorly this season; he’s been pretty good, again the best on the team. But, being the best pitcher of a rotation filled with inconsistent arms (outside of Masahiro Tanaka who is hard to quantify because he has been hurt) does not make one a true ace in my book. Pineda needs to elevate his game over the course of a full season to be considered among the elite pitchers in the sport.

The quest begins Friday when he is given another chance to erase a three-game losing streak. Can HE provide the effect to do it? Any “true ace” would.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports 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.