2015 Statistics: AAA: 23 G, 35.1 IP, 2.80 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 9.17 K/9, 2.55 BB/9
MLB: 25 G, 27.2 IP, 2.93 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 8.13 K/9, 4.55 BB/9
2016 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration
A 16th-round-pick in the 2011 draft coming out of Long Beach State, Branden Pinder spent his entire young career in the minor leagues, until something clicked in 2015. The 26-year-old right-hander had a solid year in 2014 (2.06 ERA across three levels), after a disappointing season in 2013 (4.42 ERA across two levels). Pinder has had trouble with control, but his control has improved over each season (3.8 BB/9 in 2012, 3.3 in 2013, 2.1 in 2014). Pinder was expected to make his major league debut this season and performed better than many imagined.
Pinder started his 2015 season with the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, where he lasted just two games before he was given his first major league chance, which also lasted just two games. Over the course of the rest of the season, Pinder had five more major league stints for the Yankees, the longest stint lasting nine games in August/September.
It was a tale of two halves for Pinder, as his first half went much better than his second:
Pinder's control really suffered in the second half, with his BB/9 multiplying by nearly four. Pinder got a handful of chances thanks to a combination of injuries and struggles. The Yankees had just three righties in the bullpen for most of the first half: Esmil Rogers, David Carpenter, and Dellin Betances. Outside of Betances, some pretty weak right-handers, no? Eventually, Carpenter and Rogers left the team, while Pinder and Chris Martin found spots in the bullpen.
Along with the number of walks, Pinder also had a bit of a problem with home runs. Pinder's HR/9 in the majors was 1.30, a big jump from 0.76 in Triple-A. Some may attribute this to playing at Yankee Stadium, but the truth is that Pinder's HR/9 was actually lower at home (1.26) than on the road (1.35). Pinder ranked in the bottom-25 of the 500 pitchers who threw at least twenty innings in terms of hard-hit percentage (36.1%). He also struggled against left-handed batters. Right-handed batters only hit .203 against him, but lefties hit .341. Pinder did, however, rank in the top-third in the league in terms of pitches contacted (76.3%). His WHIP was a bit high at 1.52, but his first half (1.13) was much better than his second (1.76).
Pinder took a huge step in the past two seasons, working his way from Double-A to the majors. Pinder still has some control issues to iron out, but his improvement in that category since being drafted is hopefully a sign of things to come. Betances, Andrew Miller, and Justin Wilson have solidified their spots in the back-end of the bullpen, and Adam Warren and Ivan Nova look to be in the bullpen as well, but the rest of the spots will be up for grabs. Pinder will have to compete with Bryan Mitchell and James Pazos, who were on the roster for the wild card game, as well as guys like Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Caleb Cotham, and Jacob Lindgren. But, with Chris Martin and (probably) Chris Capuano leaving the organization this offseason, there are fewer fringe relievers to compete with Pinder, so there's a good chance he gets another look in the majors next season, so long as the Yankees don't make a huge splash in reliever acquisitions.