Michael Pineda: Looking Back and Looking Forward

The flame-throwing RHP brings a 95 MPH fastball to the Bronx and a lot of expectations after being swapped for uber-prospect Jesus Montero. I went through every one of his "condensed games" via MLB.tv to get a first hand look at who we were getting. This will be a scouting report/recap of Pineda's 2011 season and a list of ways he can improve going forward.

First off, he needs to work on his changeup. His fastball and slider are already plus pitches, but he did show a need for a legitimate third pitch. Too often batters were looking for his fastball, and major league batters can catch up to a mid-high 90s heater if they think it's coming. If the threat of a quality changeup were in the backs of their minds, it would make Pineda a far more rounded pitcher.

Speaking of the fastball, it's a tad straight. I'd love to see him learn a cutter and/or two-seamer to help nullify lefties and increase his sub-par groundball rate. (There's a guy in the Yankee bullpen that throws a pretty good cutter, BTW.)

His slider was like Jekyll and Hyde. At times it was a truly superb pitch with late and sharp break that made hitters look foolish. Other times it rolled toward the plate, often at the hitter's waist, and was expectedly crushed. He got away with a number of hanging sliders in the first half of the season (in which he had an unsustainably low .247 BABIP); that isn't going to fly in his sophomore year in the AL East.

That said, it didn't seem like he was helped much by pitching half his games at spacious Safeco Field. I know the stats says he was significantly better on the road, but I only a recall a handful of hits/outs that would've been more in Yankee Stadium. If anything, he seemed a bit more comfortable at home (his "stuff" and command looked better), so maybe it's just a mental thing.

One problem he had was in the first inning, where he had a 6.11 ERA. But he usually settled down after that: His ERA outside of the first inning was 3.23. So call it "jitters," or "re-learning" his mechanics (he's 6'7" after all, and it's often tougher for tall guys to keep their mechanics consistent); whatever it is, he'll hopefully learn and improve on it with a season's worth of pitching behind him. He'll also have fellow 6'7"-er, CC Sabathia, in the clubhouse, who could give him some pointers on keeping his delivery uniform.

He is just 23 years old, and therefore has time to make these adjustments. And even if he doesn't, his two-pitch arsenal is good enough to make him an effective pitcher. But the biggest issue is the changeup: He won't reach his massive potential without refining that pitch.

The reason his record was 9-10 (with a 3.74 ERA) was because he played for the offensively inept Mariners, who averaged 3.47 runs/game in support of Pineda. They were shut out thrice during his 28 starts.

* For comparison, the Yankees were shut out eight times in 162 games (for the mathematically disinclined, that was more than twice as often as the Bombers).

He's the player I'm both most excited and anxious about in 2012. If Montero lights it up in Seattle while Pineda struggles, get ready for a sh-t storm of finger-pointing and teeth-gnashing...

[Sources: BRef, FanGraphs]

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