It takes a certain amount of gall to see your favorite team acquire a 6’7 inch fireballing right-handed pitcher coming off a 170 innings of 3.42 FIP as a 22 year-old rookie and immediately worry about his ability to work in a new ballpark. Obviously, the difference between Yankee Stadium and Safeco Field is pronounced.
Every piece (of the thousands) covering Pineda’s trade to the Yankees mentions the potential dropoff in his numbers when moving to the proud home of 290 foot cheapie home runs to right field, the House that Jeter Built. As usual, these worries are not nearly as great as we immediately believe.
Where ballpark factors are concerned, many fans and bloggers tend to err on the side of “hysterical.” Safeco Field is an offensive graveyard yet the 2001 Mariners managed to lead the league in runs scored while sporting a team wOBA of .350. They ranked third in the AL in runs scored at home that season though they hit just 79 home runs on home soil that season (league average was 90 in 2001.) Dave Cameron of Fangraphs said as much on MLB Network’s Clubhouse Confidential this week.
Concerns over Pineda moving to Yankee Stadium remains closely linked to worry about Pineda having a consistent weapon against left-handed batters, as he uses his fastball so heavily and, as you well know by now, hitters starting “figuring him out” in the second half.
First things first: the ballpark concerns. Are they legitimate? The two ballparks rate very similarly in terms of strikeouts and walks but what of the batted balls? Using the Katron Project’s nifty batted ball tool, we can chart all Pineda’s batted balls from Safeco Field onto the graphic representation of Yankee Stadium.
Hardly cause for concern. If the rendering of Yankee Stadium is accurate (which it very well may not be, the posted dimensions don’t really jib with reality, I understand) it doesn’t appear that Pineda got any sort of non-atmospheric boost from Safeco Field.
As for the struggles against lefties and/or pitching in the AL East, consider the below video.
Pineda acquits himself well against the eventual wildcard champs from Tampa Bay. Getting lefties out doesn’t seem like that big a problem. Take a look at the below heat map, showing just how tough a time left-handed batters had with his slow stuff (sliders and changeups) in 2011.
Handling lefties with his off-speed pitches seems like less of a concern when we realize they didn’t really do anything with them in 2011. He can obviously continue working on his change-up and refining when he uses it, but this is a power pitcher unafraid to work off his fastball.
Nor should Pineda shy away from using his best pitch. By improving his changeup, he can feature it in more fastball counts against lefties. Pineda threw fastball 65% of the time when behind 1-0 and 73% of the time when behind 2-0.
Again, Michael Pineda is 23 years old with overpowering stuff. Worrying too much about his ability to translate those skills to a marginally less hospitable environment isn’t really a question. Pineda needs to look no further than the ace of his new staff, CC Sabathia, to see a pitcher who developed a much more diverse arsenal of pitches as he matured. There are certainly much worse role models available for the new Yankees flame-thrower.