New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda has followed a dismal start to the season with two quality starts but the question is: how?
Michael Pineda could best be described as an enigma for the New York Yankees. One start he could embarrass you and your family, the next you could find him leaving in the third inning after a cataclysmic outing.
Entering his start against the Detroit Tigers on June 2, Big Mike owned the worst ERA among qualified starters (6.92) and had lost six of his previous seven outings thanks to the surplus of pitches he was leaving up in the zone.
Not only that, but it seemed as though his start against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 28 would serve as his last strike especially after giving up six runs on nine hits in only 3.2 innings of work.
Then, something clicked.
Pineda heaved 5.2 innings of one-run ball against a threatening Tigers’ lineup featuring eight strikeouts and left the game after 96 pitches with the game knotted at one apiece. It was also just the third time all season he refused to allow a walk and the first time he allowed two runs or less on his miserable campaign.
“Michael can be dominant,” manager Joe Girardi told ESPN. “When Michael is on, he can be really dominant. I’m hoping this continues a roll for him.”
What he did then was prove he still belongs in the rotation. Then, came step two: prove that it wasn’t a fluke and he proved it very well last night against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
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In this winning effort, it seemed as though Pineda has used his start in Detroit as his 2016 turning point to help carry him to new heights.
For the first time this season, Pineda pitched into the seventh inning and surrendered a season-low four hits en route to his second solid outing in a row. Gone are the talks of him losing his job, and in are the thoughts of how well the Yankees will perform if he begins to pitch like we anticipated.
But how? How can Pineda go from a batting practice ace to a pitcher back on the rise in a mere two starts? Bryan Hoch spoke to him and found out exactly what made everything come to place for the 6’7″ right-hander.
Pineda has been working with pitching coach Larry Rothschild in these last few starts in order to change his arm angle which prompted more action on slider and fastball. The lowering in slot has brought back the cutting action on his fastball and has made his slider even more difficult to square up.
Brooks Baseball and Fangraphs will show us that it has helped him solve his command issue, as his walk percentage has declined significantly since the change in arm angle.
Brook’s Baseball provides us with an advanced sabermetric statistic that also backs up how this change in arm angle has helped Pineda minimize the collateral damage that would occur.
The stat provided by Brooks Baseball is the batter’s isolated power against Pineda. What that measures is simply, power. While his slider has always wrecked havoc for hitters, the arm slot change has appeared to have benefited his fastball, the source of this year’s problems for the 27-year old, and changeup as well.
Pineda has always been accurate, but the problem was figuring out the difference between location and command, an art in which he seems to have mastered now.
Still, there are some things that must be worked on. Pineda’s K-BB%, which measures how often a hitter walks or strikes out on a per plate appearance, was 20.2% in 2015, good enough for fifth-best among pitchers with a minimum of 120 innings. Now? That number is at 18.1%.
While these kinks are being worked out there is every reason to believe that Pineda’s confidence will continue to be on the rise. Besides, according to backup catcher Austin Romine, that has never been an issue.
“It was key. When he gave up the home run to Calhoun, there was no overall emotion. There was no giving up,” said Romine told ESPN “He rebounded great from that. I think it checked him a little bit, and it made him get back on what we were doing.”
The inability to be phased after Calhoun’s dinger helped Pineda retire the next seven Angels batters he faced to hold on to the lead. Doesn’t sound like the same pitcher we saw prior to his Detroit outing, now does it?
Could this have just been a rough stretch? Signs point to it. The righty had an 11.9 % swing and miss rate a year ago, which was good for fifth-best in the AL. He sat only behind Chris Archer, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Chris Sale in that category. Now that is an illustrious group of starting pitchers.
If Pineda builds off his last two starts and continues to take strides in the right direction, there is absolutely zero reason not to believe that he will be a driving force as the Yankees attempt to climb up in the standings.