It's often said about pitchers who come up from the minors that it takes a little while for the book to go around, and that after some time the league might adjust to them. It's with that in mind that I want to highlight something from ESPN Dallas, brought to my attention by Ryan Divish on Twitter the other day:
Mitch Moreland said he glanced up at the pitch count tracker at Safeco Field before his at-bat in the fifth inning and noticed Michael Pineda had thrown first-pitch strikes to all but two hitters. So he told himself that if he got anything up in the zone, he was going to "let it loose." Pineda served up a 95 mph fastball and Moreland crushed it. He knew it was out the minute he hit it, but admitted he was surprised it went as far up in the seats as it did.
Moreland noticed that Pineda had been throwing a ton of first-pitch strikes. Before long, you have to figure that this'll become common knowledge. Pineda's currently third in the league in first-pitch strike rate, between Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. He likes to get ahead, and he usually does that by putting a ball in the zone.
When hitters anticipate that, they can sit on a hittable fastball and do damage if they get one, as Moreland did Wednesday night. That's the thing about patterns. A good pitcher needs to be able to avoid developing clear patterns.
I don't know that Pineda will need to change anything about his approach to righties. Righties have seen 34% first-pitch sliders, and while Pineda could stand to expand the zone a little bit more, he should generally have the upper hand in these matchups.
But against lefties, Pineda has thrown 82% first-pitch fastballs, mostly up and over the outer half in (or near) the zone. I'm just some guy, but that strikes me as being a bit too predictable. If Pineda keeps this up, and if more lefties start doing what Moreland did, we could start seeing a few more well-hit line drives and fly balls.
The answer's just to mix it up a little more. Phasing in the changeup - even if it's underdeveloped - wouldn't be a bad idea, just to keep it in the hitters' heads. Throwing a few more first-pitch sliders could help as well, as would moving around his first-pitch fastball location. He could even throw some balls. Anything to achieve lesser predictability.
We saw Felix struggle for some time when hitters caught on to his early patterns. Here's to Pineda staying one step ahead of the game.