When Masahiro Tanaka hit the disabled list in April, Michael Pineda was able to right the ship for the Yankees rotation, finishing the first half with a 3.64 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and a K% of 25%. The assumption was that he was unlucky in the first half and would emerge as an ace-caliber pitcher after the stabilization of some of his peripheral stats. But that, in short, has not happened. In 50.2 innings, he has racked up an ERA of 5.51 since the All Star Break.
Several things have gone wrong for Pineda since the Midsummer Classic. First, he has allowed more home runs, at a rate of almost two homers per nine innings. His home run to fly ball ratio has been an astronomically high 23.9%, which is bound to come down eventually. But simply giving up fewer home runs might not be enough for Pineda. He has also struck out 7.11 batters per nine, down from his first half total of 9.39.
Then there is the issue of luck. His first half FIP of 2.70 suggested that he was an elite pitcher who was getting unlucky. The Yankees have been a below average defensive team according to the popular defensive metrics, but Pineda has also pitched differently than he did in the past. After being an extreme fly ball pitcher in 2011 and 2014, he has reeled in his flyball percentage to below league average at 29.6%.
While pitching to flyballs presents the obvious threat of home runs, flyball pitchers usually give up below average BABIP's. Assuming the converse is true, fans might not want to hold their breaths waiting for Pineda's opposing BABIP to return to league average levels.
On a couple of instances this season, I have written about Pineda and noted that he has completely taken the four seam fastball out of his repertoire, opting for a cutter instead, based on data from Brooks Baseball. Using the same Pitch F/X data as other sites, Brooks Baseball is a great resource that several writers will stand by, and for good reason. However, their algorithm somehow lumped Michael Pineda's four-seam fastball together with his cutter, even though they vary by about 3.6 inches of horizontal movement, according to Fangraphs.
As it turns out, Pineda's cutter is a great pitch, but his four-seam fastball has been hit very well, especially in the second half. According to Baseball Savant, another Pitch F/X based resource that differentiates between the two pitches, Pineda's fastball has been crushed in the second half, to the tune of a .324 average and a .689 SLG%. Unfortunately, that puts Pineda in the same tough spot as countless other pitchers, as he probably would have actually started throwing only cutters if it didn't mean sacrificing his command.
Finally, Pineda has struggled later in games, with hitters putting up respective OPS's of .745, .701, and .845 their first, second and third times facing him, according to Baseball Reference. Combined, all of these factors make Michael Pineda's case a very intriguing one. He did miss time earlier in the year with a forearm strain, so he could still be hampered by his injury. There is also the possibility that he has not built up the stamina to pitch well all season after making 10 starts from 2012-2014.
Unfortunately, his disastrous fastball doesn't have very many close comparisons throughout the league, so it is hard to say whether his troubles could be alleviated simply by locating his fastball elswhere. Perhaps he can make an adjustment in the offseason, but for the time being, Pineda will have to double down on his tendencies as a pitcher and hope for the best. The same pitcher who is sputtering to the finish line right now made the high-powered Orioles offense look silly back on Mother's Day, striking out 16 batters over seven innings. Hopefully, Big Mike can live up to his giant stature and lead the Yankees to a deep playoff run.
*Data is courtesy of Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant, and Baseball Reference.