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Yankees 2014 Roster Report Card: Michael Pineda

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The return of Big Mike.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B+

2014 Statistics: 13 GS, 76 1/3 IP, 1.89 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 7.0 K/9, 0.8 BB/9

2015 Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible

No one really knew quite what to expect from 25-year-old Michael Pineda this year. Healthy for the first time since the Yankees made the big move to acquire him in exchange for slugging catching prospect Jesus Montero in January 2012, he flashed brilliance from the get-go in spring training, winning a starting rotation spot. The major shoulder surgery he underwent in 2012 threw his career into jeopardy, as the list of pitchers to return to form after a torn labrum is not lengthy. Nonetheless, Pineda pitched well in the long-awaited first three starts of his Yankees career, dazzling opposing hitters with a sharp-breaking slider that limited teams to just two runs combined through 18 innings.

Pineda slider

Disaster struck in start number four at Fenway Park. He allowed four hits and two runs through just an inning and 2/3, and he made the regrettable decision to slather some pine tar on his neck to get a better grip. While there is a tacit understanding that pitchers can use pine tar on cold nights like those to ensure that their pitches are less likely to drill hitters, it was far too obvious what Pineda was doing. Boston manager John Farrell had him checked, the home plate umpire ejected him, and Pineda did not return to a major league mound until August. He was suspended 15 games, but the crushing blow came when he suffered a right shoulder strain during a simulated game that was supposed to keep him fresh. He suffered setback after setback until at last he was activated for a start on August 13th against the Orioles.

The 6'7" righty went right back to dominating AL lineups upon his return, pitching to a 1.91 ERA and a .483 OPS against from mid-August onward. He reached his apex on September 22nd, when he dominated the O's for 7 1/3 innings of one-hit shutout ball with eight strikeouts. "Big Mike" also struck out a season-high 10 Red Sox in his 2014 finale on September 28th. The message was clear: When Pineda is healthy and has his good stuff working, there are few pitchers in baseball with a more impressive repertoire.

PIneda walked an incredible total of just seven men all season in 76 1/3 innings, and the movement of his pitches made him hard to hit as well, as evinced by his 0.825 WHIP. He was also undaunted by hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, surrendering just five homers on the season (0.6 HR/9). His ERA- and FIP- totals were awesome, too, as his 48 ERA- and 70 FIP- were all far better than league average. The question for Pineda at this point is just if he can stay healthy or not. The shoulder is still a wild card, and it will always be a threat every off-season. Pineda gets near-top marks for outstanding numbers, but  he will have to prove that he can stay healthy for a full season before he can meet his elite potential.