Projecting Michael Pineda As A Starter In 2014

Pineda Trenton After 1 failed trade and 2 lost seasons, it appears as though the Yankees will finally get to see what Michael Pineda can do in 2014.  Actually, it might not be what he can do so much as they'll at least get to see him throw a pitch in a regular season game.  The shoulder injury suffered in 2012 may have taken away enough of what Pineda had to prevent him from ever being the pitcher he was or becoming the pitcher he could have been.  The Yankees certainly treated him as carefully as possible in his rehab from the injury to increase the chances of him making a full recovery.  They placed him on strict pitch count limits last year in the Minors and shut him down early after he reportedly felt some stiffness and soreness in the surgically-repaired shoulder late in the summer.  Still, there's no way to know what type of pitcher he's going to be moving forward until he's back out competing on a Major League mound.

That should happen next season barring any additional shoulder setbacks or new injuries, but when it does it won't be in nearly the capacity the Yankees first envisioned.  When they made that fateful trade for Pineda almost 2 years ago, they envisioned him as the Robin to CC's Batman for years to come, the young up-and-coming stud who was going to be that stabilizing force in the rotation that Phil Hughes never became.  This year, Pineda will enter the spring as part of a 4-man rotation competition for the 5th starter job.  His spot in the rotation isn't guaranteed, as it shouldn't be, and there continue to be whispers about Pineda possibly being moved to the bullpen if he struggles.

I can't imagine the Yankees want to go that route.  You don't trade your top prospects for a future middle reliever, and you don't manipulate Pineda's service time by keeping him in the Minors last year to recoup a year of team control if you only see him as a middle reliever.  I've been saying for a while now that the Yankees owe it to themselves to see what Pineda still has and what he's capable of being and the only way to do that is by using him as a starter.  That's why I think he's the unspoken favorite in the upcoming competition and I think he'll end up winning the job if he pitches good enough in ST.

If and when he does win the spot, the questions about how effective Pineda can be will only get louder.  He'll still only be 25 at the start of the season, he'll still be a big guy reportedly in good shape, and the time away from pitching may actually work to his advantage thanks to less wear and tear on his young arm.  He'll also be 2 full seasons removed from throwing a meaningful MLB pitch, a big injury question mark, and the projections for him in 2014 reflect those facts more than his young age, past performance, and ceiling.

  • Oliver: 17 G, 17 GS, 82.0 IP, 3.97/4.33, 0.9 WAR
  • Steamer: 7 G, 7 GS, 38.0 IP, 3.95/3.96, 0.6 WAR
  • ZiPS: 16 G, 16 GS, 81.1 IP, 4.65/4.62, 0.7 WAR
  • CAIRO: 17 G, 14 GS, 91.0 IP, 4.61/4.53, 0.5 WAR

As was the case with David Phelps' projections, these numbers don't exactly make you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside, albeit for a different reason.  The variation in Phelps' projections was based mainly in the fact that his workload variations differed due to projected role changes.  The variation in Pineda's projections, which is significantly less than that of Phelps, is based mainly in the fact that none of the systems expect him to stay healthy and pitch in a lot of games in 2014.  They all expect him to work as a starter, they just don't expect him to work very much.

That would be a most undesirable outcome for the Yankees, as they have to be holding onto to some hope that Pineda can at least become a good mid-rotation starter.  The ERA/FIP numbers in the Oliver and Steamer projections reflect that type of ceiling; the ZiPS and CAIRO ones not so much.  It's worth noting that these projection systems are taking the fact that Pineda hasn't pitched in 2 years into account, and thus are over-reducing the expected number of IP based on 2 seasons of no data.  The preliminary ZiPS projection for Pineda last year had him pitching 119.0 innings, and we all know that didn't happen.

What we know right now is that Pineda will enter spring camp this year healthy and ready to pitch and we'll finally get to see if there's still a chance for the Yankees to come out on the winning side of that trade.  After getting suckered into thinking he would pitch in 2013, I've downgraded my feelings from hopeful to cautiously wishful and I expect that's a feeling shared by much of the Yankee fan and blogger base.  Can Pineda still throw gas like he did in 2011?  Can his slider still move enough to get swings and misses from Major League hitters?  Does he have a usable 3rd pitch to go to if the stuff isn't what it used to be in those first 2 pitches?  All of those things, along with staying healthy, will determine whether or not Pineda outperforms his projections in 2014.

(Photo courtesy of William Perlman/The Star-Ledger)