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Michael Pineda And The Left-Handed Batter Thing

Drawn-in infield
Drawn-in infield

Before Michael Pineda was even named to the team, we talked a lot about what to expect from him as a rookie starter in the Major Leagues. And it's not like our minds were changed much when he wound up breaking camp. The majority opinion, as far as I could tell, was that Pineda would likely be able to control right-handed hitters with his fastball and slider, but that he would probably run into problems against lefties because he hadn't yet developed much of a changeup. Fastballs and sliders tend to show big platoon splits, and usually don't make for great weapons against opposite-handed batters.

That was the thinking coming into the season, and when Pineda owned righties and struggled with lefties in his debut, we thought, yeah, pretty much. There was nothing there we didn't expect, and all we really wanted to see from Pineda over the year were signs of progress.

Well Pineda's thrown 102(!) innings now, over 16 starts. He's faced 198 right-handed batters, and 210 left-handed batters. I figured now might be a good time to re-visit his platoon performance. Has he truly met what most of us expected?

On the surface, no, he hasn't. Righties have a .558 OPS against Pineda so far, with five home runs. Lefties have a .596 OPS against Pineda so far, with three home runs. That certainly doesn't seem to show much of a split.

But the split is revealed when you dig a little deeper. For example:

Righties: 56 strikeouts, 15 uBB/HBP
Lefties: 43 strikeouts, 20 uBB/HBP

And more:

Righties: 33% grounders
Lefties: 29% grounders

Righties: 69% contact
Lefties: 78% contact

Righties: 3.04 xFIP
Lefties: 4.04 xFIP

When you put it all together, you can see that Pineda's performance looks a good deal worse against lefties. He's generated fewer swings and misses with his fastball, he's generated fewer swings and misses with his slider, and he hasn't compensated by getting them to put the ball on the ground more often. This is pretty much along the lines of what we expected to see.

With that said, one should be careful not to exaggerate. While Pineda has posted worse peripherals against lefties, he hasn't been bad against lefties, in large part because of this:

Righties: 68% strikes
Lefties: 68% strikes

Michael Pineda is not shy about throwing strikes to anybody. His changeup has sucked when he's thrown it, but both his fastball and slider have gone for strikes against righties and lefties alike. Throw in the fact that lefties have still swung and missed with above-average frequency and you can see how Pineda has managed to hold his own.

I don't have a single conclusion to this. I have a few conclusions. They are:

  • Michael Pineda has posted worse numbers against lefties, and could use a better changeup
  • Michael Pineda has still survived against lefties, and doesn't necessarily need a better changeup
  • We'll have to re-visit this subject at the end of the season when the samples are bigger and Pineda faces some opponents over again

Michael Pineda is a hell of a talent with plenty more room to grow. And the fact that he's done this much without really developing the third pitch we figured he'd need speaks to the level of his ceiling.