Comparing Pineda's Return To His 2011 Season

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images On Saturday, Michael Pineda finally took to a Major League mound in a Yankees' uniform. After two years of recovering from a labral tear in his shoulder, expectations for Pineda dropped from a top of the rotation pitcher to the fifth spot in the rotation. Pineda beat out great performances by David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno this March, and on Saturday, against a tough Blue Jays lineup, Pineda gave the Yankees' their best pitching performance of this short season.

Pineda threw just 83 pitches and gave the Yankees 6.0 innings, with 5 hits, 0 walks, 1 run, and striking out 5 batters. He ultimately took the loss thanks to his poor run support and a controversial call at home plate by umpire Dana DeMuth.

Although Saturday ended in a disappointing loss, it was hard to be negative following the brilliant performance of Pineda. Shoulder injuries often end careers, as very few pitchers return with the same velocity and movement they once had. For Pineda, his shoulder injury was unique in that it was a very minor labral tear, and his shoulder capsule was unharmed. In a piece done by Jay Jaffe, only three other pitchers suffered similar injuries, Anibal Sanchez, Jose Valverde, and Wade Miller. Obviously Miller never became a household name, but he was also a below average pitcher pre-injury. Sanchez and Valverde suffered their injuries in 2007 and 2004 respectively, and both pitchers returned to their full potential. Considering the length that the Yankees' went to give Pineda proper recovery time, optimism over Pineda's specific injury wasn't too farfetched.

So with a game under his belt, let's take a look at what the PITCHf/x cameras saw from Pineda in his return to the mound. We can then compare this to his performances in 2011.

chart (13)

 Michael Pineda (2014)
Pitch Type Count Avg HMvt (in) Avg VMvt (in) Avg Velocity (mph)
Slider 33 5.97 -1.88 83.48
Four-Seam 25 -2.41 5.89 93.67
Cutter 18 -0.28 6.09 93.58
Fastball 6 -9.10 4.08 89.93
Changeup 1 -6.08 4.18 87.70

chart (14)


 Michael Pineda (2011)
Pitch Type Count Avg HMvt (in) Avg VMvt (in) Avg Velocity (mph)
Four-Seam 1542 -4.58 7.15 94.69
Slider 868 2.37 -1.02 83.93
Fastball 132 -7.72 5.29 89.97
Cutter 114 -0.18 8.74 94.55
Changeup 92 -7.84 3.98 86.08

When looking at the data, please keep in mind that these pitch ID's are raw, and automatically assigned based on the type of movement. For this reason, we see a lot of pitches that Pineda doesn't throw. In total, Pineda has three pitches, his four-seam fastball (which PITCHf/x has sorted as a four-seam and cutter), his slider, and a changeup (which PITCHf/x assigned as a changeup and generic fastball).

Obviously, the data on top is of his April 5th performance against the Blue Jays on Saturday, while the bottom data is of his entire 2011 season. Comparatively, Pineda showed just a 1 mph loss of velocity in his start on Saturday, which is extremely small considering he was still in the upper-80's during Spring Training. Movement-wise, we do see some big differences. Overall, there was a decrease in rising action in his four-seamer and his slider, but we also have more movement horizontally. It looks like Pineda put less spin on the ball on Saturday, which could be one new permanent effect of his shoulder injury.

We only have 1 game of data for 2014, and PITCHf/x data can be tainted. Keep in mind the small sample size and the age of the current season. Pineda averaged right around 93.7 mph on his four-seam fastball, and as pitchers get stronger and the weather gets warmer, that velocity and movement could increase.

It was an extremely productive start where Pineda looked remarkably similar to 2011. He had many fans surprised with his velocity, and maxed out his fastball at 95.4 mph. Staying healthy will be a tough battle for him, as he'll need to keep his shoulder strong, and Girardi will need to watch his innings and pitch counts closely. Against the Blue Jays, Pineda not only proved that he was healthy, but that he can still be the top of the rotation pitcher that the Yankees traded for.