As the New York Yankees believe they are a winning ballclub, they will require Michael Pineda to turn his contemporary hot streak into consistency.
By Christian Kouroupakis
For a bulk of this season, the New York Yankees were getting insufficient production from Michael Pineda. Actually, insufficient might be a complimenting way to describe his early woes.
From his first start of this season against the Houston Astros until May 28, it was hard to envision that the Yankees were going to continue to send him out to the hill every fifth day.
Big Mike’s earned run average was at an immeasurable 6.92 (including a May ERA of 7.52) while the opposition owned a .322/.371/.581 slash line against the righty.
He had also given up more home runs than games in which he started while surrendering a 26% line drive rate throughout a period in which his most dominant pitch (the slider) was only producing a 24.4% whiff rate.
It got to the point where the Yankees had to make a decision: send Pineda to the bullpen, to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, or to be patient and keep him in the rotation. They took a risk on the latter route but boy has it paid its dividends.
In his last six starts, Pineda has dropped his ERA from 6.92 to 5.24 by maintaining a 2.75 earned run average from June 2 to Thursday’s demonstration of pure dominance against the potent Texas Rangers’ offense.
Pineda threw 92 pitches in six innings of work and granted just one run to score on a solo home run by Shin-Soo Choo in the first inning. After that, he went on to strike out 12, the most since May 10 of last year when he struck out 16 Baltimore Oriole batters. Based strictly on his authoritative month, the phenom the Yankees traded for back in 2012 could be finally making his appearance in navy blue pinstripes.
Are you not yet convinced on how “authoritative” the last 30 days have been for Pineda? Maybe the fact that he leads the AL in K/9 (12.25), strikeouts (49) and xFIP (57) in June will play the role of persuasive analysis.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of his stellar stretch has been how much the Yankees have improved since he started picking up his production.
Since Pineda’s first start of June, New York is 14-11 which may not seem as much at first glance but when you stretch that number across 162 games that total is 90 wins, therefore, the Bombers are on pace to be a playoff team when Pineda is showcasing his full potential.
Why am I separating Pineda from the rest of the crowd? For starters, New York is 5-1 this month when he takes the hill and when you look at the 2015 season, you’ll realize this is nothing more than a reoccurring theme.
In the first half of last season, he had a credible ERA of 3.64, with 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.20 WHIP in 106.1 innings. It was also no surprise that his team was sitting 2.5 games in first place in the American League East with their lead growing to a height of seven games entering the trade deadline.
However, he fell off a cliff following the deadline by owning a 5.77 ERA, 7.5 K/9, and a 1.27 WHIP in only 48.1 innings featuring a stint on the disabled list. Following him on his descending trip were the New York Yankees as they dropped the largest divisional lead in franchise history while falling back into a Wild Card spot.
Fast forward to right now; New York is on a quest to make up ground following a dismal 8-16 start and following a series split (that they very well could have won) against the best team in the American League, they now believe they can climb back into relevancy.
The Yankees will hit the road where they are expected to take full advantage of the lowly San Diego Padres with a chance to get over the .500 hump for good. The next step will be to never look back and if a team that made the playoffs last year is going to make it two years in a row, Pineda has to be part of the equation.
“I don’t look so much at the schedule, but every month that goes by that you’re not playing well puts you in a bigger hole,” manager Joe Girardi told Jesse Spector. “That’s the way I look at it, so I think this is an important month. We have to have a good month.”
The Bombers, indeed, had a good month and time is now to make a run. New York was at their best a year ago with a prevalent Pineda in action and are currently playing their best baseball thanks to his assertiveness.
So let’s revisit the question in the title: Just how important is Michael Pineda’s resurgence? Aside from improving the offensive output, he may be the most influential piece to the puzzle.