Based on a recent comment from Brian Cashman, it seems as if the Yankees’ general manager does not believe he has acquired a finished product in Michael Pineda. That revelation has caused some uneasiness among Yankees’ fans, but that sentiment shouldn’t be unsettling. How many 22-year old pitchers come to the major leagues as a polished ace anyway?
There have been numerous PitchFX breakdowns of Pineda’s arsenal, but most of the focus has been on the fact that in 2011 he was basically a two-pitch pitcher: a four-seam fastball and slider. Last season, Pineda threw either of those two pitches just over 90% of time, which was the fifth highest percentage among the 94 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title in 2011 (he ranked eighth for highest rate of four-seamers and fourth for sliders). This limited repertoire has been a source of concern because recent findings have suggested that sliders and fastballs exhibit the most significant platoon splits. In other words, pitchers who feature only the fastball and slider tend to have difficulty with batters who hit from the opposite side of the plate, which normally would be troubling enough, but seems like an even greater concern for the Yankees because of the Stadium’s short porch in right field.
Pitchers with the Highest Four-Seam/Slider Combo
|Brandon Morrow||Blue Jays||179.1||62.3%||29.2%||91.5%|
FF= Four-seam fastball; SL = Slider
Considering the small sample size involved, it seems futile to make broad assumptions about Pineda’s future effectiveness against lefties. Besides, the young righty handled southpaws just fine in 2011. Even though left handers did fare better than their counterparts from the right side, Pineda’s splits really don’t contain any glaring red flags. What’s more, not all fastballs and sliders are created equal, and Pineda’s are among the best in the league. So, while the young fire baller would certainly benefit from the addition of a third pitch, he has already proven that he can be effective without one.
Michael Pineda’s 2011 Sabermetric Splits
Source: baseball-reference.com fangraphs.com
Obviously, the Yankees are expecting Pineda to be much more than just “effective”. Otherwise, Cashman probably wouldn’t have traded Jesus Montero to obtain him. So, if Pineda is going to develop into an ace, a third pitch would certainly help the cause. But, does it have to be a changeup?
Based on 2011 data, there is no correlation between the percentage of changeups thrown and a variety of performance-based metrics (including ERA, xFIP and SIERA), meaning, at the very least, the pitch isn’t a magic bullet. However, most of the game’s best pitchers do, in fact, throw a changeup, which probably isn’t a coincidence. Because the changeup is particularly effective against batters hitting from the opposite side of the plate, it does seem to be the ideal pitch for Pineda to learn.
How Often the “Best” Pitchers Throw a Changeup
Note: Ranking based on xFIP.
The next question becomes how easy will it be for Pineda to develop a changeup? Once again, it’s impossible to answer that question, but one thing Yankees’ fan should know is developing the pitch is not given. For years, there has been talk of Phil Hughes needing to throw the changeup more often, but the right hander still hasn’t been able to master it. Whether or not Pineda can eventually develop the pitch to the point where he can use it effectively will be based on his individual ability, but the process likely won’t take place over night.
Plenty of pitchers have gradually developed a changeup over time, so there is no need to force Pineda’s development. Like any young pitcher, Pineda will need time to refine his arsenal, but unlike most, his blistering fastball and hard breaking slider are potent enough to hold down the fort until the reinforcement arrives. Instead of worrying about how Pineda’s potential might be limited by his lack of a changeup, a better perspective would be to think about how good he’ll be once he develops one. After all, it’s a lot easier to teach a changeup than find an arm as talented as Pineda’s.