When the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda, it came at a serious price. Shipping out one of the best hitting prospects in baseball isn’t easy but the Bronx Bombers needed pitching. Pitchers like Michael Pineda don’t come around too often, a giant frame with a high 90s fastball and devastating slider.

Pineda is far from a finished project, relying almost exclusively on two pitches, his fastball & slider. The Yankees are working with the big righty to increase his changeup usage this spring, giving him another weapon against left-handed hitters.

The Yankees want Pineda to be more like Henderson Alvarez, in a way. Use the changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Blue Jays hope and dream that Alvarez might follow Pineda’s path to stud status. Could it actually happen?

It is patently unfair to compare Henderson Alvarez to Michael Pineda. Pineda stands 6’7″ and throws the aforementioned 96+ mph fastball. Alvarez, listed at 6’1, added significant velocity last season which sped his ascent to the big leagues but as a Major Leaguer sits closer to 92/93 mph. Both men rely heavily on throwing strikes with two key pitches: fastball/slider for Pineda and fastball/sinker for Alvarez.

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The difference in velocity is pretty clear here, with Pineda pouring his slider in around 85 mph. When Alvarez went to his slide piece (more and more as the season progressed) it wasn’t

On the surface, they are completely different players. Differences aside, each man could benefit from dipping into the other’s bag of tricks from time to time.

Pineda is an extreme fly ball pitcher, throwing his overpowering fastball up in the zone to get swings and misses by the boatload. According to Brooks Baseball, Pineda misses gets 10% whiffs with his big fastball, a figure 16% higher than league average. Alvarez prefers pounding his sinking fastball down in the zone, getting high numbers of ground balls without missing too many bats.

Using ESPN TruMedia’s Heat Maps, the difference in the two pitchers approach becomes very clear. While TruMedia doesn’t differentiate between fastball/sinker like the new Brooks ID system, we see a concerted effort by Alvarez to keep the ball in the zone, working inside to righties and away from left-handed hitters. The big time fastball of Pineda cares not for batter handedness. Like Kenneth said in Out of Sight, when he lets the monster out, you’re going to do what it wants.

Can Pineda pick up the changeup, even an average offering like Alvarez’s pitch, to keep hitters off-balance? How about a two-seamer for Pineda? Something he can still heave with all his might, but thrown to a different part of the zone for more ground balls and changing the eye-level of hitters. His four seam fastball is mighty straight (below compared with Alvarez’s four seamer, well known for its excellent downward movement), adding something that takes advantage of his plus velocity without forcing him to keep throwing an ineffective changeup might be good for business.

For Alvarez to continue improving, he must develop his slider to be a much better pitch. Expecting the 21 year-old hurler to pick up a pitch and have it become one of the best in the game over one winter, but continued refinement of a breaking pitch that misses bats is essential.

While the sky is the limit for Michael Pineda’s career, Henderson Alvarez’s big league career depends on his ability to miss more bats and keep hitters off his fastball. The long ball will haunt both pitchers if they cannot diversify their holdings, so to speak. Each man could stand to pick up a few tips from the other in their respective quest(s) to become the most complete pitchers they can be.

Pitch F/X information courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz and Brooks Baseball.

Comments (6)

  1. Great post Drew. Many have wondered about Pineda moving to New York and how his stuff will play in such a hitter’s park. He’s an incredible talent, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him struggle a little this season until he learns how to get ground balls. His numbers are actually a lot like Brandon Morrow’s..

    I have loved Alvarez since he came up. His ability to get ground balls is huge. He limits his pitch count and gets easy outs while guys like Morrow have to throw lots of pitches to get strikeouts. You’ve nailed it in terms of Alvarez needing to add at least another pitch in order to keep teams honest. If he can even get a passable slider going he could do some big time damage for the Jays this season because his sinker is outrageous.

  2. Really nice piece.

    Pineda is certainly the flashier of the two, with his impressive 4-seam FB and slider combo. Refining a change will be the key for him to keep LH bats from sitting on the heat. He also needs to conserve that arm. Using a slider 32% of the time would worry me if I am the Yankees pitching coach (studies show a high slider usage can lead to arm/elbow injuries). While Brooks doesn’t have it categorized as such, I am wondering how Pineda was able to induce more ground balls in the second portion of last season. Was that the result of a 2-seamer being introduced in his arsenal?

    Joe Maddon and Johnny Damon raved about Alvarez last season (Damon called him a young Pedro Martinez). In my mind, he has a plus sinker, above average 4-seamer and a developping change. But he needs to improve his whiff rate on his out-pitches (only 5.8% on his slider). Even if Alvarez improves upon his slider or curveball, he won’t match the high K rates that Pineda projects to provide. Then again, Alvarez projects to be more dominant in inducing higher GB rates. I doubt they will morph to be one like the other.

    All of this leads me to a couple of questions. Which is the hardest pitch to master if you are a young MLB starter? Change or slider? Or should Alvarez work on his cutter and minimize the slider?

  3. Nailed it Drew!

  4. Not unlike their respective repretoires, there seems to be something missing from your next to last paragraph! Perhaps a few words would clarify your thoughts there.

    In general, I am interested to see how pitchers add something to their arsenal at this level, or even if they have the guts to do so, when every mistake is magnified. The ESPN article on Brandon McCarthy indicates the kinds of troubles he had mastering the 2 seamer against MLB batters.

  5. Great article, lets hope Pineda continues to throw straight heat right down the middle of the plate. I do not see that going over too well in the AL east and the tiny ballparks they play in.

    Pineda vs AL East (2011)
    TOR, 3 Games, 18.2 IP, 11 ER (5.44 ERA), 4 HR, 19 SO,
    BOS, 1 Game, 4.1 IP, 7 ER (15.37 ERA), 1 HR, 1 SO
    TB, 2 Games, 12.1, 3 ER (2.23 ERA) , 0 HR, 15 SO.

    Could be a rough year for Pineda, or he could figure it all out and dominate as well.

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