2016 Statistics: 32 G, 175.2 IP, 4.82 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 10.6 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 3.2 fWAR
2017 Roster Status: Arbitration Eligible, under control through 2017
Michael Pineda might be the most enigmatic player on the Yankees roster. It seems like every spring training there are dozens of questions surrounding the right-hander. Is he capable of logging 200 innings? Is this the year he breaks out as a frontline starter? Will he finally figure out how to command the strike zone? All of these questions unfortunately were answered in the negative this year, as Pineda had his arguably worst season to date.
The first two months of Pineda’s 2016 campaign were downright disastrous. Through his first nine starts, he owned a 6.34 ERA. His 4.60 FIP wasn’t much better either. As if those numbers aren’t alarming enough, he was extremely home run prone. He posted an outrageous 19.6% HR/FB. Pineda left far too many pitches out over the middle of the zone and batter were taking him deep with frequency.
It was tough to watch Pineda give up so many home runs. The only darkly amusing part, however, was seeing his reactions. How many times did we see him stare, arms akimbo, with a look of disbelief on his face? My personal favorite Pineda Home Run Reaction™ occurred on May 11th against the Royals. He left a cement-mixer slider up in the zone to Salvador Perez, who promptly deposited the pitch into the left field seats. Pineda actually ducked for cover!
Believe it or not, things got worse for the Yankees right-hander. He cratered on May 28th against the Tampa Bay Rays. Pineda lasted just 3.2 innings. He allowed six earned runs on nine hits and only recorded three strikeouts. Following this start, the Yankees threatened a demotion for Pineda. "He's going to have to do better or we're going to have to make some changes there," said General Manager Brian Cashman.
Naturally, Pineda posted a 3.43 ERA (2.60 FIP) over his seven remaining first half starts. He maintained an 11.6 K/9 lowering his home run rate to 0.9 HR/9. He was even giving the Yankees some length. Pineda pitched into the sixth inning in five of those performances. Considering the fact that the Yankees still employed Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, that was good enough. It looked like Pineda had turned a corner, and a promising second half awaited.
What followed instead was more inconsistency. On the whole, he pitched to a 4.15 ERA (3.83 FIP) which is serviceable but not great. That doesn’t tell the entire story, however. He alternated the brilliant with the disastrous. His best start of the second half came early, against the the Orioles on July 20th. He held the high-powered Baltimore lineup to just five hits across six innings. He fanned eight batters as well. According to FanGraphs Game Score Version 2.0, it ranked a strong 70.
He also posted a fine stretch in September, as the Yankees clung to life in the Wild Card race. Over three starts from September 14th - 25th, he managed a dominant 0.60 ERA (2.15 FIP). His strikeout rate was elite, posting a 13.8 K/9. He also kept the ball in the park with a 0.6 HR/9. This is exactly the sort of run that the Yankees wanted to see before the season ended. The kind that would erase some of the question marks and leave you with a little optimism heading into spring training. So naturally, Pineda tossed a clunker to end his season.
In his final start of the year against the Orioles, he only lasted 4.1 innings. He allowed five runs, and gave up two long balls in the process. He did strike out five, but the damage was done. It was the classic Pineda enigma start. He had the stuff to thrive, to dazzle really, but the results didn’t measure up. Instead of building on his recent success, he imploded and had to be pulled in the fifth inning.
Evaluating Pineda’s 2016 season is like riding a roller coaster. There are highs and lows, and you sort of feel like you’re going to fall out the entire time. He gave up an inordinate amount of home runs and could hardly average five innings a start, but he managed to strike out 207 batters on the year. "When you look at he's leading the American League in strikeouts per nine innings for starting pitchers and in saying that how many wins does he have? Six. It's mind boggling. It really is,” said manager Joe Girardi.
Mind boggling is a good way to describe Pineda’s 2016 campaign. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense. His future is uncertain, too. He’s arbitration eligible for the final time, and the Yankees will have to make a decision on their right-hander soon. Will they extend him, let him reach free agency, or trade him? It’s tough to tell. The mystery of Pineda lingers beyond his performance.