Upon his arrival in Tampa this week, Michael Pineda announced his objective to reach 200 innings for the first time in his career this season. No pitcher has reached this mark for the Yankees since the 2013 season, when both CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda surpassed that threshold (Kuroda came just one inning short in 2014).
While there is nothing magical about pitching 200 innings in a season per se, it does signify two attributes of a pitcher's performance that year: that he missed few (if any) starts, and that he often pitched his team into and beyond the seventh inning.
In a rotation where three of the likely four other starters have non-trivial injury concerns (Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, and Masahiro Tanaka), and the fourth will be competing in his first full major league season at the age of 22 (Luis Severino), reaching 200 innings would represent a significant contribution from Pineda. He has never pitched more than 171 innings in a season (a high-water mark he reached in 2011, his rookie year with the Seattle Mariners).
Despite Pineda's best intentions entering the 2016 campaign, there is reason to doubt that he ultimately will be able to achieve his objective, because thus far in his Yankees career, he has had difficulty both making all his starts and consistently pitching into the seventh inning. Below are three key issues that Pineda will need to address in order to fulfill both of the necessary attributes to get to 200 innings.
First, to state and move past the obvious, Pineda needs to be injury-free in 2016 to surpass 200 innings. This is something he has been unable to do since his time with Seattle, and given the right labrum tear that he suffered in 2012, it is unclear that he possesses the durability needed for a team to count on him as an innings-eater.
The slightly good news on the injury front is that while Pineda was sent to the disabled list last year with a right forearm strain, which would seem to be unrelated to his shoulder troubles. Nonetheless, while his trip to the DL last July may have been a one-off, Pineda has provided no evidence to date that he is capable of pitching a full season without missing starts.
Pitching from the stretch
Pineda struggles to get outs with runners on base, which hampers his capacity to pitch deep into games. In 2015, he allowed an .854 opponents' OPS with runners on base, along with a 1.27 WHIP and a .359 wOBA when throwing from the stretch. Despite averaging 1.18 walks per nine innings and 94 pitches per start, indicating that Pineda is economical with his pitches, he pitched seven innings or more on just four occasions in 2015.
Given his difficulties working out of trouble, it is unsurprising that Joe Girardi gave Pineda so little leeway late in games to work into the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. To reach his 200 innings goal, Pineda needs to improve from the stretch, and prove that he can get outs in high leverage situations with runners on base.
Navigating lineups more than once
Pineda is a three-pitch pitcher with a cutter, slider, and a changeup. More than 54% of his pitches thrown in 2015 were cutters while another 34% were sliders. This relative lack of diversity in his repertoire caused problems for Pineda as he sought to turn the lineup over, particularly in terms of opposing hitters' ability to square up his cutter. His first time through the order, Pineda's cutter allowed a slugging percentage of .454. That figure rose to .521 the second time, and skyrocketed to a staggering .622 on all subsequent times.
It is possible that fatigue plays a factor in these diminishing results as Pineda pitches deeper into the game, but Pineda's low walk rate and pitch efficiency suggests that hitters are able to adjust and aggressively attack his cutter after one or two at-bats. To remedy this result, Pineda may need to rely more heavily on his changeup to keep hitters off of his cutter in the later innings, or find other ways to make his pitch selection and sequencing more varied.
Although there are hurdles for Pineda to overcome, he has demonstrated the kind of talent in the past that suggests reaching 200 innings is not out of the question. In addition, the motivation for Pineda should be there as well, as he is set to become a free agent after 2017, and will be in line for an enormous payday if he can display greater consistency over the next two campaigns than he has over the previous two.
Pitchers who reach this threshold do not do so on talent alone though. They grind through at-bats, work out of difficult spots, and find a way to get their teams into the seventh and eighth innings. For Pineda, reaching his goal will require more than simply staying healthy. He will need to make adjustments that allow him to be more effective with runners on base, and after having turned a lineup over.