Here is your open thread for the evening. The Islanders are pretty much the only local sports team in action, so you’re on your own for entertainment tonight. Have at it.
The Yankees opened the season with maybe the most dominant bullpen trio in baseball history. For a few months a lead after six innings was close to an automatic win. Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman protected basically every lead they were given. The Yankees weren’t very good overall, but they always had the advantage in the late innings.
Things changed dramatically at the trade deadline. The Yankees were far back in the wildcard race with no real indication they could make a run in the second half. So, the front office acted appropriately, and cashed in Chapman and Miller as trade chips. Betances remained and took over as closer. The seventh and eighth innings looked much different the rest of the way.
Return of the Bullpen Handyman
Second base was a priority for the Yankees over the winter. The Brian Roberts and Stephen Drew types weren’t cutting it, and it has been made pretty clear the team doesn’t believe Rob Refsnyder can hack it at the position defensively. At least not on an everyday basis. At the Winter Meetings the Yankees acquired their second baseman of the present and the future by picking up Starlin Castro from the Cubs. Chicago had just signed Ben Zobrist and Castro was superfluous.
The cost to get Castro: Adam Warren. It was a straight up, one-for-one trade. Warren was rock solid for the Yankees from 2013-15 in a variety of roles, but Castro has obvious natural talent, plus he’s young and signed affordably. That was the price they had to pay. I didn’t love the trade, but I understood it. Starlin was good enough with the Yankees in the first half. Warren was a mess with the Cubs, pitching to a 5.91 ERA (5.83 FIP) in 35 innings.
Warren was so bad with Chicago that when time came to complete the Chapman trade, the Cubs were willing to send him back to New York. In fact, Brian Cashman indicated getting Warren back was a key to the trade. “We got a Major League piece that was a high-performer for this franchise for the last few years,” said the GM. “That was important. I think I can represent that was important for Hal Steinbrenner.”
In the past, Joe Girardi used Warren to do whatever was needed at the time. Two innings to bridge the gap between the starter and Betances? Go to Warren. Fill-in eighth inning guy for a day? Warren. Spot start? Warren. He did it all for the Yankees, and when he returned this summer, his job was setup man. In fact, he took over the eighth inning guy after Miller was traded, albeit briefly.
Warren’s first seven weeks back with the Yankees were typical Warren. He had a 2.91 ERA (3.70 FIP) in 22 games and 21.2 innings, with strikeout (22.1%) and walk (8.1%) numbers that were more in line with 2013-15 Warren than Cubs Warren. Of the seven runs he allowed in those 21.2 innings, four came in one game. Otherwise he was rock sold. Warren slipped little at the end of the season — he allowed a run in four of his last seven appearances — though it wasn’t a total meltdown.
All told, Warren finished with a 3.26 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 29 games and 30.1 innings with the Yankees. His strikeout (20.0%), walk (8.0%), and ground ball (44.3%) rates were right where they were from 2013-15 (20.5%, 7.8%, 45.3%). The only difference between this year’s version of Warren and previous versions was home runs. He had a 1.52 HR/9 (14.5 HR/FB%) this season, including 1.19 HR/9 (1.18 HR/FB%) with the Yankees, compared to 0.75 HR/9 (9.1 HR/FB%) from 2013-15.
Home runs were up around the league overall, so I’m sure that contributed to Warren’s long ball issues in 2016, especially since he played in two hitter friendly home parks this year. One thing the Yankees did is get Warren to throw his slider more often. He was at his best from 2014-15 when he threw his slider as often as his fastball. The Cubs had him throwing more changeups and fewer sliders. The Yankees put an end to that.
Maybe I’m just a giant homer, but I don’t think Warren’s success with the Yankees was a fluke. They know him a heck of a lot better than the Cubs and they used him more regularly. Warren routinely went four, five, six days between appearances in Chicago. “I never really had a set role. It’s tough because I pride myself on my versatility, but not really knowing when you’re coming in — that was the hardest thing, the unpredictability,” he said after the trade.
Warren will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2018 — MLBTR projects a $2.3M salary in 2017 — and while there’s little reason to think he won’t be back in pinstripes next year, a trade is always possible. I didn’t think the Yankees would trade Warren last offseason, after all. I’m an unabashed Warren fan. I love that he does whatever the Yankees need and that his arm is resilient. He bounces back after heavy workloads no problem. That’s a nice guy to have in the bullpen.
Back in the day the Yankees brought Warren to Spring Training stretched out and ready to start, and if they don’t trade him this winter, I expect the same to be true next year. The team has a lot of back-end options (Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell) and there’s no reason not to throw Warren into the mix too.
Return of the Yankee Clippard
The Yankees did make one buyer’s trade at the deadline. With Chapman and Miller gone, the team acquired Tyler Clippard from the Diamondbacks to help replenish some bullpen depth. Someone had to pitch the seventh and eighth innings, after all. The cost to complete the one-for-one trade: Vicente Campos, the second piece in the Michael Pineda–Jesus Montero trade back in the day.
Clippard’s days as a dominant workhorse reliever ended a few years ago, though he is still a reliable late-innings option. Just not with the D’Backs, for whatever reason. He had a 4.30 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 40 games and 37.2 innings with Arizona. The D’Backs decided to gut their bullpen and shed salary at the deadline — they traded Brad Ziegler to the Red Sox as well — so Clippard became a Yankee again.
At first, Clippard was the seventh inning guy and Warren was the eighth inning guy. Girardi flipped them before long and wisely so. Not necessarily because Clippard was better than Warren (he was), but because Warren was better equipped to go multiple innings if Girardi needed him in the sixth inning too. It made sense to flip them, though either way, they were the new setup tandem.
Clippard was phenomenal immediately after the trade. He allowed three runs (one earned) in his first 21 games and 19 innings with New York. Opponents hit .164/.253/.224 against him. Like Warren, Clippard hit the skids a bit by the end of the season — he allowed six runs in his last 6.1 innings, including a pair of game-losing homers to Hanley Ramirez and Jose Bautista — but otherwise he was excellent in pinstripes.
All told, Clippard had a 2.49 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 29 games and 25.1 innings in his second tour of duty with the Yankees. His underlying stats were damn near identical to his career rates:
Clippard with Yankees: 24.3 K%, 10.3 BB%, 30.9 GB%, 1.07 HR/9, 7.9 HR/FB%
Clippard career: 26.8 K%, 10.1 BB%, 28.3 GB%, 1.08 HR/9, 8.7 HR/FB%
Clippard is a very unconventional pitcher. His fastball is mostly 91-93 mph these days and he pitches up in the zone with it an awful lot. The deception in his delivery allows him to do that, and the result is a lot of weak infield pop-ups. His pop-up rate was an unfathomable 34.2% (!) with the Yankees. That’s double his career rate, which is one of the highest in history.
The Yankees let Clippard throw his slider again after the trade, which helps explain why he was much more effective in New York than he was in Arizona. Clippard is primarily a fastball/changeup pitcher, those are his moneymakers, but the slider gives him another weapon against righties. Something to keep them honest. He started messing with the pitch last year, shelved it with the D’Backs, and brought it back with the Yankees.
Arizona signed Clippard to a two-year contract worth $12.25M and the Yankees took on the remainder of the deal, so they owe him $6.15M in 2017. Perfectly reasonable. I don’t think Clippard has a ton of trade value — Campos was basically a reclamation prospect trying to regain his form, and I can’t imagine the Yankees could get more in return now — but we can’t rule out a trade. More than likely, he’ll be back next season in a late-inning capacity.
I’ve got 14 questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions at any time.
Michael asks: The Cubs right now have a surplus of position players, and it seems either Jorge Soler or Ben Zobrist will be the odd man out. Do you think the Yankees could look to trade for either one of those guys?
Soler’s going to be the odd man out, I bet. Zobrist does too many things to trade. He can play anywhere and he’s productive. Soler stinks in the field and there are more than a few holes in his swing. The Cubs shopped him around for pitching last offseason — I remember Shelby Miller and Alex Cobb rumors — and I bet they’ll do it again. They’re stuck with Jason Heyward in right, they have Albert Almora for center, and then Kyle Schwarber figures to take over left field again because there’s nowhere else to play him. There’s no room at the inn for Soler.
I don’t love Soler — I think he’s more likely to be the next Juan Encarnacion than the next Yoenis Cespedes — but there’s always a point where it makes sense to take a chance on the talent. I’m not really sure what the Cubs would want in return. Still pitching? The Yankees don’t have much of that to offer. Luis Cessa and Chad Green ain’t getting Soler. Luis Severino straight-up in a change-of-scenery deal? I’d be surprised if the Yankees went through with that.
Bob asks: Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo are two highly rated SS prospects currently on the Yankees Tampa class A farm team. Can you compare and contrast their abilities and potential upside since the their scouting reports seem similar in content? Also, why did the Yankees assign Torres to the AzFL and not Mateo?
I don’t really have an answer for the Arizona Fall League question. The Yankees are giving Torres time at second base and they may have felt the AzFL was a good chance to get him reps there. In some cases, like Greg Bird, it’s easy to understand in the AzFL assignment. In others it’s not so clear. It’s not arbitrary though. The Yankees have their reasons.
Torres is a better prospect than Mateo. For starters, he just out-performed him at the same level (by a lot) despite being 18 months younger. I mean, hitting .273/.355/.428 (121 wRC+) with 33 doubles, 13 homers, 24 steals, 10.5% walks, and 20.4% strikeouts as a 19-year-old in the Florida State League is nuts. Torres had an unbelievable season in 2016. Mateo had pretty much the exact opposite.
Let’s compare Torres’ and Mateo’s scouting grades using the 20-80 scouting scale. Quick primer: 20 is terrible, 50 is average, and 80 is great. Here are their MLB.com and FanGraphs grades (MLB/FG).
These are future grades, not present grades. A present 55 hit tool means you’d expect these guys to hit like .275 in MLB right now, and no. Just, no.
Anyway, these two are pretty close! Mateo has a major advantage in speed but Torres has a touch more power. I’m a bit surprised to see FanGraphs so low on Torres’ overall future potential (45), though they’re the outlier. Almost every report on Torres has been glowing. The bottom line is both guys are excellent prospects. Torres had a better 2016 season and is younger, which is why he’s more highly rated at the moment. The Yankees have both, so this isn’t an either/or situation. Having two great shortstop prospects is pretty awesome.
Wai asks: To continue the discussion on Mike Freaking Trout, if you can choose any one single player to build your team from scratch, would you choose the best position player or the best pitcher? Who would that guy be in terms of today’s baseball?
Best position player. Pitchers get hurt too much. I’d target an up-the-middle player because those positions are so hard to fill. If I were building a team from scratch, my top three cornerstone targets would be Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Francisco Lindor, in that order. I’m not overreacting to Lindor’s postseason. Longtime readers, especially folks who frequent the weekly chat, know I’ve been on the guy for years. He’s a star. Your franchise building block would ideally be an up-the-middle player with two-way impact. Harper’s raw talent is just too great to ignore though, which is why he’s second. (Plus he could probably play a good enough center field if given the chance.)
Adam asks: Can you see any scenario in which the Yanks Reacquire Miller in the offseason if A) Indians win the WS and B) decide they don’t want to pay the remaining salary?
I was talking to someone about this the other day, the possibility of the Indians trading Andrew Miller in the offseason after running him into the ground in the postseason. I could see it. They’re a small payroll club — they were 22nd in Opening Day payroll — and they might not be able to afford a $9M reliever, even with the financial windfall that comes with reaching (and possibly winning) the World Series.
I do think the Indians will keep Miller though. He’s a bargain at that salary. What would he get as a free agent right now, $15M a year? Maybe $18M? The Yankees need young players like Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield more than they need a dominant reliever at the moment, but Miller is so good and he is under control another two years that it would make sense to go after him. Now, that said, the Yankees could just sign Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen this winter and keep their prospects. Either way, I think the Indians keep Miller for at least 2017.
Drew asks: Anthony Rizzo struggled upon his MLB debut with a 30.1% strikeout rate. He always had a lot of power, but the strikeouts were a big concern early on. This takes me to Aaron Judge. Do you think that if the strikeout problems continue well into next season for Judge that the Yankees should consider modifying his approach and develop a Rizzo-esque short, compact protection swing?
The thing is Judge already has a compact swing relative to his size. I’m not sure how much more he can shorten it considering his arms are like four miles long. Rizzo made the adjustments on his own and he deserves a ton of credit from transforming himself into a superstar after it looked like his career might stall out in the minors. Judge’s size makes him extremely unique. I’m not sure how much the Yankees could realistically shorten a 6-foot-7 dude’s swing. Strikeouts are just going to come with the territory with Judge. It sucks, but it is what it is. As long as he smacks some dingers, gets on base, and plays strong defense, they’ll be worth it.
Drew asks (short version): Greg Bird question. Right now it looks like the 1B is his to lose. What is a viable plan B if Bird needs more time to develop? His MLB sample size is small and now one year removed because of injury. I’m not sold that he can just walk right into the starting role, but I hope I’m wrong.
I think it’s Tyler Austin all the way. I really do. If Bird needs more time in minors to get back to being himself following shoulder surgery, the Yankees just might stick Austin at first base everyday. I’ve been beating the Steve Pearce drum for a while and maybe they’ll sign him or someone like him, but I would bet against a huge money signing like Edwin Encarnacion. The Yankees want Bird to be the guy at first base, but they’re not going to push it. If he needs more time in the minors, they’ll give it to him. Austin and I suppose Rob Refsnyder are the backup plans. Maybe they’ll pick up a James Loney type (groan) to stash in Triple-A next year too.
Travis asks: If the deadline for adding players to the 40-man (for Rule 5 protection) has passed, and a trade occurs which sends an eligible player to a new team (that has room on the 40-man), can that player be added by his new team or does the new team have to wait to see if he is claimed?
Eligible players can not be traded between the 40-man roster deadline — that’s usually November 20th — and the actual Rule 5 Draft. So if the Yankees don’t add, say, Dietrich Enns to the 40-man this offseason, they can’t officially trade him until after the Rule 5 Draft. The workaround here is the ol’ player to be named later move. The Yankees could trade Enns as a PTBNL between the 40-man deadline and the draft, then wait until after the Rule 5 Draft to actually name him. That happens a few times every year.
P.J. asks: If James Kaprielian pitches well in the AzFL and builds upon that when the minor league season resumes if there a chance he will join the Yankees sometime during the 2017 season even if it’s as a Sept. 2017 call up? Or is 2018 the earliest we will see him in pinstripes.
It’s possible he arrives in 2017, though I think the Yankees will be very conservative with Kaprielian next year given the injury this year. They might limit his starts to four or five innings or so for a few weeks early in the season before really turning him loose. There’s still definitely a chance Kaprielian can reach Triple-A next year, in fact I expect it to happen as long as he stays healthy, though they may not push him to the big leagues. He has the ability to force the issue though. The most important thing is his health. Let Kaprielian get a full season in and see where he’s at come September.
Adam asks: GM Al Avila said there would be changes coming to the Tigers this off-season. How can that benefit the Yankees?
Avila kinda sorta hinted at a rebuild, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch still wants to win and soon. And even if they do decide to rebuild, the only players on their roster I’d really want are potential building blocks: Nick Castellanos and Michael Fulmer. Those are guys you keep and build around, right? Fulmer is self-explanatory. Castellanos is starting to tap into his power and the Yankees have a long-term need at third. He stinks defensively, but you can make it work for another few years. I don’t want the Yankees to take on big salaried veterans like Justin Upton or Justin Verlander. Castellanos and Fulmer would be the guys to target.
Steve asks: The new CBA is obviously a factor here, but are the Yankees now clear of their bonus limits from the 2014-2015 spending spree? If they can, do you see them overspending one more time before an inevitable international draft?
Yes. The current signing period, which began this July 2nd and ends June 25th (or thereabouts) is the last one in which the Yankees are limited to bonuses of $300,000 or less. They’ll be able to spend freely again during the 2017-18 signing period when it opens next July 2nd. MLB is pushing for an international draft as part of the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the report said the draft wouldn’t happen until March 2018. That gives the Yankees one last chance to spend wildly on international amateurs and I think they’ll do it. We could see another huge international spending spree a la the 2014 haul against next year. It could be the team’s last chance to do it.
Luke asks: In the last mailbag you guessed some sort of Aaron Hicks/Mason Williams timeshare in LF if Gardner gets traded in the off season. You also speculated that Frazier could end up in CF long-term with Ellsbury in LF (due partially to Ellsbury’s shortcomings). If Gardy is traded, why wouldn’t we jettison Ellsbury to LF now? Hicks and Williams are clearly better defensively, and Ellsbury’s arm (lack thereof) makes me want to break down and cry.
I don’t think the Yankees will do that yet. Jacoby Ellsbury is still a capable center fielder and I don’t think they’ll move the big money free agent until it’s necessary. My comment about moving Ellsbury to left wasn’t so much about his current defensive limitations. He’s still really good in center. It’s just that at some point he’ll lose a step and have to move to a corner. Bernie Williams did it. Johnny Damon did it. Are the Yankees better defensively with Ellsbury in left and Hicks/Williams in center? Yeah, probably. It just seems unlikely they will move the veteran right now, especially since Hicks/Williams aren’t guaranteed to stick long-term. They don’t want to move Ellsbury to left only to have to move him back to center because the kids are hitting like .150.
Liam asks: Let’s say CC Sabathia has a similar season next year compared to this season, would you re-sign him? I think he would be good to keep around as a veteran presence for what should be a younger team in the near future.
If Sabathia repeats his 2016 in 2017, yes, absolutely I’d re-sign him. There’s the obvious risk that he’ll continue to decline with age, but pitching figures to be so hard to acquire that rolling the dice with Sabathia another year (or two?) makes sense. The Yankees know him, so there’s no concern about an adjustment period, and that’s not nothing. Also, Sabathia’s family lives in New Jersey full-time, and he might be willing to take less to stay at home. He’s not an ace anymore, but there’s always room for another average-ish innings dude at the back of the rotation. Let’s see how the 2017 season plays out, but right now, yes, I’d re-sign Sabathia if he repeats his 2016 effort in 2017.
Duffy asks: Do you think the Yankees could turn to the Rule 5 Draft to potentially patch up the middle relief corps? The Blue Jays had success taking a mediocre minor league starter and letting his stuff play up in the pen with Biagini. Could you see the Yankees doing the same? Is there anyone you would be interested in targeting?
Teams seems to be getting better at digging up quality players in the Rule 5 Draft. They’re not stars or anything, but Joe Biagini had a nice year in relief for the Blue Jays, ditto Matt Bowman with the Cardinals. Odubel Herrera has been good for the Phillies the last two years after being a Rule 5 Draft pick. The problem for the Yankees is 40-man roster space. Will they have an open 40-man spot on Rule 5 Draft day? It seems unlikely. The 40-man crunch is real. If they don’t have an open spot, they can’t make a pick. My guess is the 40-man will be full this winter, but if it isn’t, sure, they would look to add a bullpen arm in the Rule 5 Draft.
Julian asks: I know a retired number is unlikely, but is it possible that Teixeira gets a plaque in Monument Park?
Possible but unlikely, I’d say. Mark Teixeira was a very good player for the Yankees overall, but he only had one truly great full season, and just the one World Series title. Don’t get me wrong, the World Series is cool, though it would probably take two or three rings for Teixeira to get serious Monument Park consideration. The Yankees have been pretty liberal with plaques in recent years, so maybe he gets in. I would be surprised though.
Here is tonight’s open thread. In addition to the NLCS, you also have the Thursday night NFL game, the Devils, and some preseason basketball. Talk about those games or anything else right here.
(Today is the anniversary of Game Four of the 2009 ALCS, hence the video. Here’s the box score.)
There are, at most, ten more baseball games left this season. It could be as few as six. That stinks. The offseason is fun in it’s own way, but nothing is better than actual games. That’s why we all watch. Anyway, make sure you check out MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook: New York Yankees post. Nice little rundown of what could happen this winter. Here are some other news and notes.
Blue Jays had interest in Beltran
The Blue Jays had interest in Carlos Beltran prior to the trade deadline, reports Gerry Fraley. Toronto skipper John Gibbons confirmed the club considered a run at Beltran this summer. “Beltran was a guy we even talked about. We saw him over the years with the Yankees and what a great hitter he was, a clutch type performer,” said Gibbons prior to the start of the ALDS.
The Red Sox also reportedly tried to acquire Beltran prior to the deadline, and just like with Boston, it’s unclear whether the Yankees would have actually gone through with an intra-division trade with the Blue Jays. Toronto’s farm system is not nearly as good as the Red Sox’s, though I’m sure the two sides could have found a match if they really set their mind to it. The Blue Jays scored eight runs in the five-game ALCS — five of the eight came in Game Four — and they clearly needed another bat. Beltran would have been able to help. No doubt.
MLB pushing for international draft
To no surprise whatsoever, MLB is pushing for an international draft as part of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with MLBPA, reports Buster Olney. MLB has wanted an international draft for years now — it’s a way to keep costs down for owners, that’s the only goal here — but the union has yet to give in. I wonder if this will be the year though. Here are some more details from Olney:
Under the terms of MLB’s initial concept, the new international draft system would start in March of 2018, with a 10-round draft held over two days. As the new structure evolved, with terms grandfathered into the process, the minimum age for draft-eligible players would be 18 years old by 2021 … As part of baseball’s proposal, MLB would operate facilities in the Dominican Republic, where international draft prospects would be invited to live to develop their skills and education before becoming eligible.
Two things. One, those kids are going to have to wait two more years to get their payday, no matter how large or small it may be. That sucks. Right now they can sign at 16. Under this proposal they have to wait until they’re 18. And two, this is yet another incentive for teams to be bad. Bad clubs already get the largest draft bonus pools and protected picks. Now they’ll get access to the top international talent without worrying about other clubs offering more money.
This proposal — thankfully that’s all this is right now, a proposal — is great for the teams and owners. They’ll save money and also get two extra years to evaluate these kids before deciding whether to sign to them. It stinks for the players, who have to wait to get paid and risk having their skills erode before they can cash in. You have no idea how many kids sign at 16 only to then fill out physically and lose the electric athleticism that got them paid. An international draft is inevitable. Hopefully MLBPA doesn’t relent this CBA and we get a few more years of true free agency.
Qualifying offer system could change with CBA
The qualifying offer system may also be revamped with the new CBA, reports Joel Sherman. The QO isn’t going away, but the MLB and the MLBPA may make it so players can not receive the QO in consecutive years. That means the Orioles wouldn’t be able to get a draft pick for Matt Wieters this offseason since they gave him the QO last offseason, which he accepted. Something like that.
I can’t imagine MLB and MLBPA will ever completely severe ties between the draft and free agency — they don’t want rich teams to have access to the best free agents and first round talent — so this might be the next best thing. If this proposal goes through, you might see some more players sign one-year contracts so they can go back out on the market with no draft pick attached. I think most guys will look to grab the largest payday as soon as possible though. Being set for life financial is pretty cool, I hear.
It’s hard to believe Michael Pineda just completed his fifth season with the Yankees. It still feels like he just got here. Of course, Pineda didn’t actually pitch in two of those five seasons because of his shoulder surgery, but still. The trade was five years ago. Man, time flies. That was such a wild day, the day of the trade.
The Yankees hoped Pineda would emerge as an ace or something close to it by now. The idea was he would take over at the top of the rotation as CC Sabathia slipped with age, but it hasn’t happened. The shoulder surgery surely plays a role in that, but that’s not all. Pineda’s stuff actually came back very well following surgery. About as well as you could have reasonably expected. It hasn’t translated into consistent success on the field though.
When 207 Strikeouts Aren’t Enough
The good news: Michael Pineda led all qualified American League pitchers with 10.6 K/9 and was second with a 27.4% strikeout rate. Only Justin Verlander (28.1%) was better. Pineda fanned 207 batters in 2016, the 11th highest total in all of baseball and the most by a Yankee since Sabathia fanned 230 in 2011. It was the most by a Yankees’ right-hander since Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina struck out 214 and 213 in 2001, respectively.
Pineda’s most dominant performance of the season came on June 30th, when he held the Rangers to one run in six innings. He struck out 12 of the 23 batters he faced that afternoon because his slider was hellacious.
Strikeouts do run up pitch counts and that somewhat explains Pineda’s inability to take the ball deep into the game. As does his 7.0% walk rate, which was more than double his 3.1% walk rate last year. Pineda started his Yankees career with 41 straight starts of two or fewer walks. He then had eight starts with at least three walks this past season. Is it possible he was scared out of the strike zone because he was so homer prone (1.38 HR/9)? Maybe!
All told, Pineda had a 4.82 ERA (3.80 FIP) while setting new career highs in starts (32) and innings (175.2) in 2016. His best stretch of the season came from June 2nd to August 16th, when he had a 3.58 ERA (3.29 FIP) in 14 starts and 83 innings. And yet, by September it was clear Joe Girardi had no confidence in Pineda. This was never more evident than on September 9th against the Rays. The Yankees were up 7-2 with two outs in the fifth and Pineda had thrown only 77 pitches, yet Girardi pulled him with men on the corners because he didn’t trust him to get out of the jam. Yeah. Says a lot.
Pineda was New York’s third best starter this season, though that shouldn’t be taken as praise. He was their third best starter by default. Nathan Eovaldi‘s elbow exploded and Luis Severino was awful as a starter. Kids like Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell didn’t throw a whole lot. Pineda was the team’s only starter not to miss a start this year, and he deserves credit for that, but he also rarely pitched deep into the games, and rarely pitched as well as his stuff suggests he should.
Problems with Two Strikes
It’s truly mind-boggling that Pineda struggled in the situation most advantageous to pitchers — two-strike counts! — as much as he did this season given the quality of his slider. You watched that video above (probably). His slider is electric. It really is. And yet, with two strikes:
Pineda: .187/.246/.286 with a 47.6% strikeout rate
MLB Average: .176/.246/.276 with a 41.1% strikeout rate
The strikeout rate is nice, but Pineda’s overall numbers in two-strike counts are far too close to the league average pitcher for a guy with his stuff. Chad Green, whose slider isn’t nearly as good as Pineda’s, held hitters to a .135/.192/.281 batting line with two strikes. Those are the kind of numbers you’re looking for from Pineda.
Anecdotally, it seems Pineda had a knack for hanging two-strike sliders this season. It was almost like he was trying to make the perfect pitch, let himself get out of sync, and left it out over the plate. Here are Pineda’s two-strike sliders this season, via Baseball Savant (click for a larger view):
Lots and lots of two-strike sliders up in the zone and out over the plate. I mean, every pitcher is going to have some of those over the course of the season, everyone hangs a pitch now and then, but Pineda left way too many sliders in the wheelhouse. Last year he held hitters to a .202/.244/.349 batting line with 43.1% strikeout rate in two-strike counts, so this isn’t really a one-year blip. He had some issues in those spots last year too.
Problems with Two Outs
Because struggling in two-strike counts isn’t enough, Pineda had big time issues closing out innings this year as well. Look at this. Just look at it:
Zero Outs: .234/.284/.403 with a 26.8% strikeout rate
One Out: .231/.292/.370 with a 30.4% strikeout rate
Two Outs: .325/.383/.598 with a 25.3% strikeout rate
Good grief. That’s not good, Michael! Pineda had major issues finishing innings this season. He allowed 52 of his 98 runs with two outs this year, or 53.1%. The MLB average is 36.5%. I’m not sure how to look this up without manually scrolling through the play logs of each game, but it sure seemed like Pineda allowed a lot of rallies to start with two outs this year. He’d get two quick outs, then bam, baserunners and runs. So annoying.
Both Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Pineda loses “focus” from time to time, leading to the problems with two strikes and two outs. It’s certainly not a stuff issue, though I do think Pineda could stand to throw his changeup a little more often. It’s an execution issue. I think sometimes Pineda tries so hard to throw a perfect pitch, a nasty slider at the knees, and he screws up. I don’t think it’s that he isn’t trying enough. I think it’s that he tries too hard at times.
I have a theory why Pineda is more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe: everything moves in the same direction. He’s a cutter/slider pitcher, so his two main pitches move away from righties and in to lefties. If you’re a hitter, who know which way the ball is moving. You don’t know the velocity or location, but you know the way it’s moving. That takes one of the variables away.
It seems like Pineda would benefit from adding a pitch that moves the other way, in on righties and away from lefties, like a two-seamer. Even a straight four-seam fastball would help. Just something to keep hitters from expecting every pitch to sweep from right to left. Like I said though, this is just a theory. I could be completely wrong. It just seems like everything Pineda throws moves in the same direction. How could hitters not pick up on that?
Outlook for 2017
Next season is Pineda’s final year of team control, so he’ll be a free agent next winter. The Yankees have to figure out what they want to do with him pretty soon. If they want to keep him long-term, then it would be wise to explore a multi-year extension this offseason. If they don’t consider him a piece of the puzzle going forward, then they should explore the trade market. They should do both, really, and then figure out which makes the most sense.
Pineda is extremely frustrating because his natural talent is so obvious. The guy is 6-foot-7 and 260 lbs., he’s as strong as an ox, he has a 95 mph cutter, and he has a vicious slider that fools both righties and lefties. You can be born with worse skill sets. And yet, the results are mediocre at best. Right now, at this point of his career, Pineda falls into the A.J. Burnett category of pitchers with great stuff who leave you wanting more, yet you’re afraid to give up on him because he could figure it out any day now.