A few years ago, Joel Pineiro reinvented himself as an earth-scorching sinkerball pitcher possessing exquisite command. That skill set made him nearly a five-win pitcher for the Cardinals in 2009 and earned him a two-year, $16 million contract with the Angels prior to last season. Pineiro pitched well for the Halos in 2010 in between a nearly two-month DL stint for a strained oblique, but he's not burning worms or being as stingy with the walks in 2011.
The 32-year-old righty, who missed most of April with right shoulder tightness, is getting fewer grounders and issuing more free passes as the season progresses:
April/May: 53.1 ground ball percentage, 1.56 walks per nine innings pitched
June: 49.1 GB%, 3.3 BB/9
July: 39 GB%, 3.66 BB/9
Pineiro gets precious few strikeouts (3.9 per nine innings this season, tied with Pineiro's mound opponent on Thursday, Brad Penny, for second-lowest among starters). Without scores of ground balls and great control, he's going to get drubbed.
So, what's the cause of Pineiro's sharply lower ground ball rate and his higher walk rate? You might think it's his sinker, but that's not the biggest reason. Pineiro is getting a lower (but not drastically lower) percentage of grounders with the pitch, while still throwing strikes:
Pineiro's sinker, by month
April/May: 55.1 GB%, 62.7 strike percentage
June: 48.6 GB%, 64.1 strike%
July: 50 GB%, 63.1 strike%
His high-70s curveball and mid-80s slider are different stories, though:
Pineiro's breaking stuff, by month
April/May: 53.8 GB%, 64.2 strike%
June: 53.6 GB%, 67.4 strike%
July: 26.1 GB%, 58.9 strike%
Pineiro's location with his breaking pitches has been way off in July, and batters are often lofting those offerings into the air. Take a look at his curveball and slider location through June:
In the strike zone, and at the knees. Now, look at where Pineiro is throwing his breaking pitches this month:
He's missing low or to the glove side a lot, and when he puts in in the zone, it's higher and over the fat part of the plate.
When Pineiro is inducing weak choppers and giving up few base on balls, he's a quality starter in spite of his microscopic strikeout rate. Without those virtues, he's a batting practice pitcher. To get back on track, he needs to pound hitters at the knees with his breaking stuff.