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Entries in Michael Pineda (3)

Friday
Dec202013

Jesus Montero Hacking His Way Back to Triple-A

Few trades in recent memory have been as sexy -- and subsequently disappointing -- as the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda deal consummated by the Yankees and Mariners in January of 2012. Back then, it looked like an old-fashioned challenge trade of potential franchise cornerstones -- your hitting prodigy for my fireballing ace. Instead, Pineda has yet to throw a single pitch in the majors for New York, missing the entire 2012 season following labrum surgery and trying to regain his stuff in the minors late in 2013. Montero, meanwhile, has played like a minor league lifer (career 0.3 Wins Above Replacement) and is buried on the Mariners' 2014 first base/DH depth chart behind the likes of Corey Hart, Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak. The 6-foot-3, 230 pound Montero's squatting days are already over, due to a mix of injuries (a torn meniscus in his left knee in 2013), downright Doumitian glove work, and the arrival of well-rounded top prospect Mike Zunino.

It's hardly a shock that Montero, who also served a 50-game PED suspension last year, is no longer catching. His work behind home plate has long been panned, and even his most ardent supporters were only hoping that he could fake it in a Mike Piazza kind of way. Montero can't, as his career caught stealing rate (14 percent) is barely half that of the league average (26 percent), and his called strike rate on pitches thrown in the strike zone (76 percent) is the lowest among all backstops over the past three years, save for Ryan Doumit

Montero's predictable slide down the defensive spectrum wouldn't be so bad if he had developed into the devastating hitter that scouts had long prophesized. But that hasn't happened: in 732 major league plate appearances, he has a park-and-league-adjusted on-base-plus-slugging percentage that's three percent below average. Ditching his catcher's mask raised the bar on Montero's bat -- as a DH/first base type, he has to swat homers and get on base to be worth a roster spot. It's hard to say who the 24-year-old is at this point. He's not a catcher, and he's not a slugger. Which is why he'll almost assuredly be a Tacoma Rainer in 2014, assuming GM Jack Zduriencik doesn't sell low on the former top-five prospect.

The hulking righty hitter has already proven that he can mash fastballs at the highest level. But if Montero is to escape Triple-A purgatory and eventually join Robinson Cano in the middle of the M's lineup, he'll have to start laying off curveballs, sliders and changeups thrown off the plate. The stud once likened to Piazza and Miguel Cabrera is now drawing parallels to young hitters undone by their hacking like Jeff Francoeur and Delmon Young.

Against fastballs, Montero looks like a seasoned pro. While he chases heaters slightly more often (28.7 percent) than the average hitter (25.4 percent), he's also slugging .514 (about 80 points above the MLB average). Fourteen of Montero's 22 career homers have come off fastballs. When pitchers challenge him, Montero makes them pay with decent plate patience and serious power.

They rarely challenge him, though, as Montero has seen the fifth-lowest percentage of fastballs (42.2 percent) among AL hitters logging 500-plus plate appearances from 2011-13. There's a good reason for that approach -- Montero gets himself out against breaking and off-speed stuff by chasing pitches off the edges and in the dirt.

Montero's swing rate by pitch location versus breaking and off-speed pitches, 2011-13

MLB average swing rate by pitch location versus breaking and off-speed pitches, 2011-13

Montero has chased 42.2 percent of curves, sliders and changeups thrown outside of the strike zone, way above the 31.7 percent MLB average. That puts Seattle's hoped-for cleanup hitter in the same neighborhood as Francoeur (44.1 percent) and Young (44.8 percent), among other bad-ball swingers.

It's no secret that plate judgment is paramount for batters, but the difference between swinging at a ball and a strike is, well, striking. When hitters swing at a breaking or off-speed pitch thrown out of the zone, they slug .187. When they swing at a strike, they slug .474. Chase a curve, slider or changeup off the plate, and you hit like a pitcher. Swing at a strike, and you're suddenly Pedro Alvarez

Montero isn't a lost cause, but his plate approach needs a serious overhaul if he's going to rake in the majors. Currently, pitchers can toss soft stuff galore and watch with glee as he buries himself in the count or makes weak contact. There's no reason to let him pull a fastball into the bleachers when he's so eager to lunge at unhittable junk. Montero could still become a Paul Konerko-esque slugger, overcoming a rough big league introduction and crushing enough pitches to make a difference at a bat-only position. Short of learning to lay off soft stuff, though, Montero will join free-swingers like Francoeur and Young in top prospect infamy.

Saturday
Jan142012

Pineda's Power Stuff

Challenge trades involving top young players happen about as often as Halley's Comet sightings, but a bright light shone across the Bronx and the Pacific Northwest last night as Michael Pineda and Jose Campos were traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.

Pineda, 23 this month and coming off a superb rookie season, didn't come cheap. Montero is just 22 and while the 6-foot-3, 235 pounder has little chance of sticking at catcher over the long haul, he has a career .351 OBP and a .493 slugging percentage at the Triple-A level and raked in a small big league sample in 2011. But in Pineda, the Yankees get five years of team control over a power pitcher with a sinister, if still developing, repertoire.

The 6-foot-7, 260 pound right-hander was almost exclusively a fastball/slider pitcher as a rookie, going to his heater 60 percent of the time and his hard breaking ball 32 percent. His changeup was nearly nonexistent, but Pineda dominated with those two plus-plus pitches.

Pineda threw his fastball at an average speed of 94.3 mph, a mark topped only by Justin Verlander, Alexi Ogando, Felipe Paulino, David Price and Edwin Jackson among starting pitchers. He reached as high as 99.8 mph on the gun and loved to challenge hitters high in the zone with the pitch, trusting that his velocity, big home ball park and quality outfield defense would produce good results. Pineda threw 41 percent of his fastballs high in the strike zone, well above the 35 percent average for starters, and he got a bunch of swings and misses when he climbed the ladder. Take a look at hitters' contact rate by pitch location versus Pineda's fastball, and then the league average:

Opponents' contact rate by pitch location vs. Pineda's fastball, 2011Average contact rate by pitch location vs. fastballs, 2011

Overall, batters missed Pineda's fastball one-fifth of the time that they swung. That ranked in the top 10 among all starters. You'll also note the surprising presence of another Yankee pickup whom we'll look at later today:

Highest fastball miss rate among starting pitchers, 2011

PlayerMiss Pct.
Brandon Beachy 25.2%
Hiroki Kuroda 22.0%
Brandon Morrow 21.8%
Rich Harden 21.2%
Cory Luebke 20.8%
Gio Gonzalez 20.7%
Roy Oswalt 20.6%
David Price 20.5%
Juan Nicasio 20.3%
Michael Pineda 20.1%
League Avg. for SP 14.4%

 

Pineda's second top-shelf offering is a short-breaking mid-80s slider. Many pitchers are reluctant to go to the slider against opposite-handed hitters due to the pitch having a big platoon split (righty starters allowed a .350 slugging percentage on sliders thrown to righties in 2011, and a .386 slugging percentage to lefties), but Pineda had no such qualms. He threw his slider about 27 percent of the time to lefties, and he actually got better results with the pitch against opposite-handed batters:

Pineda's slider vs. right-handed hitters: .191/.226/.313

Pineda's slider vs. left-handed hitters: .155/.212/.268

The key to Pineda's success with the slider against lefties is that he gets them to offer at low-and-inside pitches that practically scrape their shoe tops. Check out left-handed hitters' swing rate against Pineda's slider versus the average for righty starters vs. lefties:

Left-handed hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Pineda's slider, 2011Average swing rate by pitch location for lefty hitters vs. right-handed sliders, 2011Lefties chased 39 percent of Pineda's sliders thrown out of the strike zone, one of the top 20 marks among starters and well north of the 33 percent average for righty starting pitchers against left-handed hitters.

Pineda is a great long-term pick up and will pair with CC Sabathia to give the Yankees one of the best one-two combos in the game, but he might face an adjustment period in New York. All of those high fastballs produce lots of fly balls (45 percent, tenth-highest among starters). That played well in Safeco, which reduces home runs hit by lefty hitters by five percent and a whopping 18 percent for righties, but it will likely lead to more long balls in Yankee Stadium, which boosts homers by 43 percent for lefties and 15 percent for righties.

On the positive side, his new outfielders are also swift (the Yankees had the best collective outfield Ultimate Zone Rating last year, due in large part to Brett Gardner) and the change in competition from the AL West to the East might not be as steep as you think. Per Baseball Prospectus, Pineda ranked in the top 15 among pitchers with 150+ innings pitched in opponent on-base-plus slugging percentage, meaning he had one of the toughest slates of batters faced of any starter. Remember, he didn't get the benefit of facing his own worst-in-the majors offense.

Montero could turn into a devastating hitter, but the Yankees managed to add a cheap, ace-caliber pitcher under contract through 2016 without giving up the multi-top prospect premium paid by Washington and Cincinnati for Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos, respectively. That's a shrewd deal, and one that may well keep the Bombers atop the ultra-competitive AL East.

Friday
May272011

Pineda's Perfect Pitch

Michael Pineda (SEA) is a leading rookie of the year candidate as he owns a 6-2 record and 2.16 ERA after nine starts.  He excels at all aspects of the game as a pitcher, striking out a high number of batters while allowing few walks and home runs.  So far, he's accomplished this with two pitches, a fastball and a slider.

The spin view from the PITCHf/x data allows easy identification of the two pitches:

Michael Pineda, pitch spin by velocity, 2011.The red blob represents Pineda's fastball, while the green area indicates the slider.  The location of the fastball indicates that Michael is not perfectly over the top, but his arm slot is a bit right of center which gives his fast ball a little lateral movement, but also keeps it from dropping too much.  As we've seen with Matt Cain, the high fastball is tough to hit for a home run.

The slider, on the other hand, is almost perfectly straight.  A proper slider is thrown with the spin perpendicular to the flight of the ball, so there is no Magnus force.*  Michael gets very close to the ideal with his slider.

*Update: I want to clarify this statement.  The spin of a slider is perpendicular to the spin of a fastball.  The axis of spin of the slider is parallel to the flight of the ball, which is why batters see a dot as the pitch approaches.

The most impressive aspect of his slider, however, is his ability to repeat that spin:

Michael Pineda, pitch spin by frequency, 2011.The bullseye of the slider is quite concentrated compared to the fastball.  That indicates Michael can repeat the pitch consistently, which makes it much easier for him to spot the ball where he likes.  He hits the strike zone 55.8% of the time with the pitch, which is tied for the best in the league.  He doesn't hang the pitch either, as batter have yet to hit a home run off it, and slug just .211 against it.  For him, the slider is the perfect pitch.