Getting over shadowed by the machine that is the New York Yankees offense the first six weeks of the season is their starting pitching. What was widely considered the Yankees major flaw coming into the season still is the major flaw of this team, but there have been surprises. The biggest one has been the consistent Michael Pineda.
The Consistent Michael Pineda
Two other pleasant surprises for Joe Girardi and his Yankees are the two winners of the fourth and fifth starter battles the Yankees had this Spring Training. Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino have given Girardi quality innings and done enough in starts to keep the Yankees in games. While those two have been good, Pineda is starting to prove what people have thought about him for a long time.
Consistently Inconsistent “Big Mike”
Since being traded to the Yankees in January of 2012, Pineda has been a work in progress. After a right shoulder injury cost him his first year-and-a-half in pinstripes, Pineda was named the fifth starter going into 2014. A weird year (pine-tar suspension, injury) made Pineda even more of a question mark going into the 2015 season.
From the start of the 2015 season, Pineda made 59 starts for the Yankees through the end of last season. In those 59 starts, the Yankees were 30-29, while “Big Mike” himself was 18-22. In 2015, the Yankees went 15-12 in Pineda starts, and in 2016 they went 15-17. The only consistent part of Pineda’s pitching the past two seasons was that he’d been inconsistent from start to start.
In 2015, Pineda struck out 113 batters in games in which the Yankees would go on to win. Just 43 strikeouts in games he started that ended with a Yankees loss. Just once in those 12 losses did Pineda reach eight strikeouts. He did it six times when they won. The following year, 2016, Pineda reached a career high in strikeouts, with 207. He was as split down the middle as you could be – 103 K’s in games won by the Yankees, 104 K’s in games lost by the Yankees. Averaging 2.5 more strikeouts in wins than he did losses, Pineda struck out eight or more batters in seven victories and in five losses.
The two best months of Pineda’s Yankees career were April 2015 and June 2016. In April of 2015, Pineda went 5-0 in seven starts, striking out 54 batters. That tied for his most in a seven-game span over the course of his career. The Yankees went 6-1 over those starts. Fast forward to June 2016, and Pineda strung together seven starts in which he went 1-2. The Yankees however, went 5-2 over that stretch. Pineda again struck out 54 batters in those seven starts.
Never questioned of having the goods as a pitcher, ‘Big Mike’ was the definition of inconsistency. These numbers show what kind of pitcher he is. Pineda, and the Yankees, win games when Pineda is striking batters out. He is at his best when he’s controlling his slider. His strikeout pitch, and the movement in on lefties and away to righties, helps Pineda dominate when he is in control of it.
Through his first seven starts in 2017, Pineda has been consistent. Outside of his first start of the season (3.2 innings pitched), Pineda has gone five innings in every start and has six strikeouts or more in each of his seven starts. He has 50 strikeouts in those seven starts, the second best stretch of his career.
Coming into his start against the Houston Astros on a Thursday, Pineda led the A.L. with 69% of his pitches being strikes. He threw 98 pitches Thursday, 67 for strikes (68.3%). The continued dominance in this stat will be crucial to Pineda long-term this season. He is on pace to start the most games in his career barring injury. Pineda is a gigantic factor on the Yankees team and will be key to their ability to continue to compete in the tough A.L. East.
Compared to last year, Big Mike’s biggest improvement has been limiting his walks. He’s allowed just six so far, showing an ability early on this year to control his pitches. Pineda walked 32 more batters last year than he did in 2015. His improved control early on bodes well for Pineda moving forward.
A Contract Year
If this continues and Pineda starts 35 games and strikes out over 200 hitters for the second consecutive season, the 28-year-old will earn himself a considerable raise. The most consistent thing about Pineda in his career so far has been inconsistency. Big Mike is in a year that can really set him up for a nice offseason. He will battle his inconsistency to help himself in free agency and help this Yankees team compete for a playoff spot.
Watch Pineda and his control. What will help him stay consistent over the next four months will be his ability to command the strike zone and extend it when need be. The Yankees may finally have themselves a legitimate number two starter.