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.

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

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.

Comments (13)

  1. Drew,

    Can you explain “in play slug” from the graphic? Does that mean it excludes whiffs by the batter and foul balls that don’t become outs? Or just the fouls?

    • It excludes anything that didn’t turn into a ball in play. A foul out counts, but a foul ball does not.

      • So it has a different definition of in-play than BABIP does — home runs are included in this, right?

        I’m assuming from your response that strike three is not included. Wouldn’t it make more sense that a third strike should count as an in-play out? It seems like a strikeout pitcher like Pineda is therefore underrated by this graphic. How to compensate for this?

        • It has a different definition as it looks for different information. This seeks to show how hard certain pitches get hit. Home runs classify as hard hit balls, no?

          I see what you mean though. I don’t think it makes Pineda look too bad. He only allowed hitters a 0.317 wOBA on balls in play. That ain’t not bad.

  2. I think too much is being made of the single positive year of stats. While I think he can be a good pitcher, I think the many people calling him a future ace (especially in the AL East where he’ll routinely go up against some pretty good line ups) is a bit of a hyperbole. I mean, he could be that ace. But I’m just not that impressed with him.

    I have to admit a slight bias as I drafted him on most of my fantasy baseball teams last year. While he did well for the first bit of the year, his stats sucked through the second half (my fault for not selling high on him).

  3. Drat, part of my reply didn’t make it.

    Your reasoning is sound. I guess I feel like it’s becoming a bit of an either/or thing with him (either he’ll be great or he’ll be terrible). I think it’s more likely somewhere in the middle.

    He’s definitely an upgrade, but I doubt he’ll keep his ERA under 4 this year.

    • I think it’s more likely somewhere in the middle.

      It almost always is. I think his ability to throw strikes and dial up the fastball make him mighty valuable as he gets older. He’s the truth.

      • I’m very curious to see how he does this year. Looks like it will be a good/fun 2012 for the AL East.

        Who do you think will have a better year? Morrow or Pineda? (I feel that Morrow has often been over-hyped, though it does seem like he’s poised for a big year.)

        • I think they have an equal shot, they’re numbers are actually pretty similar. I think Pineda record will be better by virtue of the team he plays for. I think you’ll see Morrow’s WHIP and HR’s come down this year, as he learns to choose his pitches based on the deeper into games he goes.

  4. You can always tell when it’s a Drew post from the writing alone (I think I read too much GB). I know it says the author of the post right under the title but I skipped it in this case.

    I love these types of pieces because it blends statistics with subjectivity. Pineda *should* rip the AL East this year. I hope the Jays don’t shut down whenever the Yankees come to town or else this kid (Pineda) will know some of the mysterious powers of wearing the pinstripes.

    Can anyone tell me what movie that was from? Something about the Yankees always winning because they wear pinstripes. Along those lines.

    • Catch Me If You Can

      Christopher Walken says it to his son Leo DiCaprio about how to be a good con man, in that you distract people with irrelevancies so they don’t focus on substance.

    • Frank Abagnale Sr.: You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?
      Frank Abagnale Jr.: ‘Cause they have Mickey Mantle?
      Frank Abagnale Sr.: No, it’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.

      • Yes! Nicely done. (sidenote: as bad as his monotone acting may be…Leo hasn’t made a bad movie in like 12 years. IMDB it if you don’t believe me.)

        I don’t have a prize but I feel that you are one that prides themselves on knowing things and providing information at no cost. Like Wikipedia…except without all those weird “personal statement” donation ads they have.

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