Heading into Spring Training in 2011, the Mariners had a few players which were generally thought of as "Top Prospects" around baseball: second baseman Dustin Ackley, shortstop Nick Franklin, and big right-hander Michael Pineda. When the games started in big league camp and the 25-man roster began to take shape, it was clear that Pineda would be the one with the best shot at being a part of that roster.
The 22-year-old made five appearances and four starts in big league camp, and impressed by racking up 15 strikeouts and allowing only 20 baserunners (14 hits, six walks) and just four earned runs in 17 innings during those games. By that time, it was already obvious to anyone and everyone around the Cactus League that the 6-foot-7 native Dominican had a real weapon in his fastball. What was not clear was how he would supplement that pitch to keep hitters honest.
SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall was on site in late March to watch his final tune-up on the minor league fields, which came before dozens of front office and field staff personnel--including manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis. During that appearance, Pineda threw his changeup very well and induced several swings-and-misses by Royals' left-handers on that pitch, much to the outwardly apparent delight of Wedge and Willis. Soon after it was made official that Pineda would be breaking camp as the club's 5th starter.
While some measure of success was certainly expected from what many prospect guru's rated as the top right-handed starting pitching prospect in the game, he certainly outperformed any realistic projections in what was a dominating first half, culminated by his election to the All-Star Game in Phoenix. While there has been somewhat of a falloff in the second half, you would be hard-pressed to find a reason not to rate his first season in the big leagues as a breakout year.
Pineda ranks among the Top-30 in all of Major League Baseball in Pitcher WAR (3.0), and backs up his numbers with a Top-30 showing in FIP (3.43) as well. He ranks 6th in the majors in strikeouts-per-9 (9.23), is third in the American League in Opponent's AVG (.207), ranks 8th in WHIP (1.09), has allowed the 3rd fewest hits-per-9 (6.91) and has nine wins despite just 4.08 runs of support in his starts. He has also turned in 18 Quality Starts for the M's.
Prior to the All-Star break, Pineda was 8-6 with a 3.03 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Since, he has posted a 1-3 record with a 5.48 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Its easy to see that he is tiring a bit (he's averaged fewer than six innings per start in the second half), but the falloff in numbers can also be attributed to the league learning him a bit better and to the increasingly non-standard rest he is pitching on. That latter is result of design by the Mariners to limit the innings he throws this season--at 159 regular season innings so far he has already exceeded his previous career high by 19 2/3.
While the fastball remains his biggest weapon--the pitch averages 94.8 miles-per-hour on the season, good for 3rd best in baseball--Pineda has actually thrown his slider more frequently than all American League starters outside of Ervin Santana, and he has gotten the third best value in baseball from that pitch: 10.4 runs above average. His fastball has been 12.6 runs above average (12th best), and perhaps surprisingly, his change has been 1.8 runs above average as well. With that reportoire, Pineda has the highest percentage of swings-and-misses among starters at 11.7%, and he has generated the 7th most out-of-zone swings in baseball, too.
Michael's home/road splits show a gap in ERA, but the advanced metrics actually show pretty favorable for him in this regard. And despite that rocky second half, he is still making improvements. Following his start yesterday, Pineda told Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, "My changeup was nasty."
Have there been growing pains? Sure. But the overall body of work has been an overwhelming success, and with his secondary offerings figuring to only improve going forward, there is no reason to expect anything less than 2011-type numbers in 2012 and beyond for Pineda. And that means that Pineda may already be turning into what the Mariners had hoped he could become with time: a Top-of-the-rotation arm.
Advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.