I was not excited about Michael Pineda joining the Yankees. There, I said it. My feelings had absolutely nothing to do with Pineda himself and everything to do with the fact that gaining him meant losing Jesus Montero, a player I had watched progress since he was signed at 16 years old. Once the initial shock and disappointment wore off, I devoted some time to finding out seemingly everything there was to know about the new Yankee pitcher, and though it didn't really make losing Montero less disappointing from an emotional standpoint, it didn't take that long to become pretty excited about Pineda following up CC Sabathia in the Yankee rotation for years to come.
Below you will find many graphs that detail who Michael Pineda is as a pitcher, and hopefully, if you aren't there already, you will see why there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Pineda being a Yankee.
Michael Pineda is mainly a two pitch pitcher who throws his changeup almost exclusively to opposite handed batters. While the Yankees would certainly like to see Pineda make his changeup more viable sooner rather than later, he proved last year that it is possible for him to be effective in the major leagues without the option of more pitches, though it will be interesting to see how that translates as batters become more familiar with him. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has already said that they will be working to develop Pineda's changeup, which will no doubt help him become a more finished product going forward. If he can improve his 3rd pitch, Pineda has a very good shot at being the ace caliber pitcher that Brian Cashman wanted in return for Jesus Montero.
Pineda has 2 plus-plus pitches in his fastball and slider, both of which were worth 9+ runs above average in 2011. In terms of value, his slider was the 15th best in all of baseball last year, and his fastball was 16th best. Pineda's slider sits at 84.1 mph, while his fastball averages 94.7 mph, a major league best among rookies with at least 100 innings pitched in 2011. With two superior pitches already under his belt, it will be amazing to see what Pineda is capable of if Rothschild and Co. can develop his changeup into a pitch that he can command like his others, which has been the main problem with the changeup for him thus far. If you haven't seen video of him when both his fastball and slider are working, you need to. It's just unfair.
Strikeouts are undoubtedly where Michael Pineda excels the most. He bested league average in both strikeout percentage and strike percentage last season, and has had very impressive K/9 ratios throughout his career. Pineda finished sixth in baseball in strike percentage, and had the 3rd best strikeout rate among starters in 2011, behind only Brandon Morrow and Justin Verlander. Having the ability to miss bats is an invaluable asset for pitchers, especially ones that tend to be more fly ball prone, and all the numbers indicate that Pineda has that ability.
Looking at Pineda's numbers throughout the minors clearly shows why he was thought of so highly by the Mariners, and why Brian Cashman decided to trade the most major league ready prospect in the Yankee system for him. In 2008, Pineda pitched 138.1 innings in A ball with an 8.33 K/9 ratio and a .213 batting average against. The next year was almost completely lost due to a sprained elbow, but in 44.1 innings at Class A Advanced, Pineda had a 9.74 K/9 and opponents only managed to hit .186 off of him. In 2010, Pineda moved through AA and AAA with 77 innings pitched and 62.1 innings pitched at each stop, respectively. At AA, he had a 9.12 K/9 and allowed batters to hit .227 off of him. After moving to AAA Tacoma, his K/9 rose to 10.97 and the batting average against dropped to .225. From an ERA and FIP standpoint, AAA was the first level at which Pineda didn't put up absolutely glowing numbers, but his FIP indicates that the high ERA was largely a fluke.
Prior to the 2011 season, Baseball America ranked Pineda as their 16th best prospect, and he was able to make the major league club out of spring training. He went on to post a 9.11 K/9 and a .209 batting average against (4th in all of baseball), mainly thanks to the fact that Pineda is absolutely devastating to righties, holding them to a major league worst .184 average. His slider alone managed to hold both lefties and righties to a sub-.200 batting average in 2011.
Here's where things get a little interesting. It's surprising to no one that fly balls are kinder to pitchers at Safeco than they are at Yankee Stadium. Last season, Pineda's fly ball percentage was 9.3% higher than league average. That could be a little concerning when trying to figure out how Pineda will adjust to life in the AL East and the short porch of his new home ballpark. He isn't great at inducing ground balls, so it's reasonable to assume that he's going to fare a little worse pitching in a smaller stadium.
However, based on his peripherals from last season, some of the immediate panic over a fly ball pitcher coming to the Bronx might be a bit dramatic in this particular case. His HR/FB ratio last season was actually better on the road than in the friendly, spacious confines of Safeco Field. Pineda's spike in ERA in the 2nd half can be attributed to a few things, including the fact that he had an unsustainably low strand rate, which is really nothing to be concerned for the future. He managed to over perform his peripherals in the 1st half of the season, and under perform them in the 2nd half, so neither sample of ERA alone is really indicative of what to expect from Pineda's future performance. His ground ball percentage also gradually rose as the season went along, which is certainly encouraging going forward. He'll need that improvement to keep the ball in the park in New York.