Michael Pineda And The Essence Of Baseball

Seriously though who would want to hit against this

This post is actually two separate, kind of related but kind of unrelated posts sewn together because I didn't feel like writing two posts. See if you can spot the seam! It's barely noticeable!

As baseball fans, a huge chunk of our time is spent developing expectations. We're always trying to figure out what's going to happen in the shorter- and longer-term future. A huge chunk of the rest of our time is spent reviewing past expectations. What went right? What went wrong? How can we use our most recent experiences to inform our expectations down the road?

With that in mind, I want to take you on a little trip to last March. You remember March. Brandon McCarthy was just emerging on Twitter. Carlos Silva pitched himself out of a job with the Cubs and got released. Sean Kazmar got more playing time with the Mariners than all the other Mariners combined. Jose Flores was a somebody.

And Michael Pineda looked more and more certain to break camp with the roster. Oh, a lot of people didn't like that. Not so much because of talent reasons, but because of service time reasons. I don't need to go over them again. A lot of people didn't understand why the Mariners wouldn't start Pineda in Tacoma for two or three or four weeks so as to gain an extra year of control. What's two or three or four weeks?

Have you come with me on the trip? Okay, great. Welcome to last March. Or, as you might call it during last March, the present. What I want you to do now is locate the old you. Let me know when you've done that and gotten through all the pleasantries and explanations. I know this can take a long time to explain.

...

Now that you're familiar, I want you to start talking about baseball. And after you start talking about baseball, I want you to tell the old you two things: during the 2011 season, Michael Pineda and Bartolo Colon will post nearly identical xFIPs, and, during the 2011 season, Michael Pineda and Bartolo Colon will throw a nearly identical number of innings.

After you say those things, observe the reaction. It'll be a doozy.

That would've been an unbelievable thing to hear because Colon was nearly 38 years old, and didn't throw a pitch in 2010. When he was pitching, he was declining and increasingly hurt. Then he stopped pitching entirely. The Yankees basically signed him on a dream, and nobody had any high expectations. To hear that Pineda would more or less match Colon would lead one to assume that Pineda would struggle and get either demoted or hurt.

Instead:

Pineda: 3.53 xFIP
Colon: 3.57 xFIP

Pineda: 171 innings
Colon: 164.1 innings

Pineda, of course, didn't really struggle, and he didn't get demoted or hurt. He lasted the whole season, and he pitched like one of the better starters in the league - much like Bartolo Colon. Colon missed some time due to injury, but Pineda missed some time due to organizational caution, and in the end they came out almost alike.

I love this comparison because it's just so baseball. Truth be told, I've been sitting on it for a short while. I never figured out the right writing approach, so you get this post instead. Baseball can surprise the hell out of you. So much in baseball, in a general sense, is predictable. So much of it fails to take us by surprise. We live on that. We live on the routine. The routine is the noodles. But shit like this is the sauce. Shit like this is what makes us happy to have baseball over and over again.

I've been reading some about Pineda today, and I realized I did a midseason update on his righty/lefty splits. You remember that, during the spring, there was a lot of talk about his underdeveloped changeup, and how that could give him problems against left-handed hitters. I thought now I'd post a few numbers of interest. Pineda started 28 games. What happens if we split those into two groups of 14 games each?

Facing Righties

Strike% Contact%
First 14 68% 73%
Last 14 64% 70%

Facing Lefties

Strike% Contact%
First 14 68% 82%
Last 14 66% 82%

Pineda never really started throwing his changeup very often - not even down the stretch - but still he survived with his fastball/slider approach against lefties, with little sign of the league catching up to him. His split contact rates are identical, and though his strike rate dropped, the drop was half what it was against righties. Even against opposite-handed hitters, Pineda managed to keep from falling behind.

Again, this isn't to say that Michael Pineda needn't bother improving his changeup. It'd be really super if Michael Pineda improved his changeup to the point where he could throw it 15-20% of the time against lefties, because then his performance could be even better. A guy with that body, throwing that hard, with a changeup too? Criminy! But now we have a full season of evidence to suggest that Pineda doesn't need a reliable changeup to be very good. I don't think a whole lot of people thought that would be true seven months ago.

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