The Curious Case of Michael Pineda

The New York Yankees have not been very good this season. Their lack of success has a lot to do with their lackluster offense, but Michael Pineda‘s struggles this season have also played a significant role. Pineda is currently 3-6 with a 6.41 ERA. That ERA is tied with Jake Peavy for the fourth-worst among qualified starters this season. There has been chatter about moving Pineda out of the rotation or sending him down to the minors, but the Yankees have appeared reluctant to remove him as a starter. The lack of alternative options has certainly played a role, but the Yankees also still believe in the 27-year-old righty.

Some might look at Pineda’s statistics and think the Yankees are crazy. However, they might actually be onto something. Pineda’s fWAR this season is 0.7, which means, despite his 6.41 ERA, he has almost been worth a win to the Yankees this season. To put that into perspective, Pineda ranks ahead of Felix Hernandez, Rick Porcello, and Cole Hamels in fWAR this season. If you told any Yankee fan that, they would probably call you crazy. But it’s true.

Perhaps more shockingly, Pineda’s 3.45 xFIP ranks 17th overall among all qualified starters and ranks fourth in the American League. He is also is one of only thirteen qualified pitchers this season to have a K/9 rate above 10. And of those thirteen pitchers, Pineda is one of only six who also have a BB/9 below 3. The other five? Noah Syndergaard, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Madison Bumgarner. Not bad company.

What’s more, Pineda’s 31.7 O-Swing% is tied for 13th in baseball and tied for sixth in the AL. If that does not impress you enough, Pineda’s 14.6 SwStr% is fifth in baseball and ranks first in the AL. The only pitchers in MLB with a better SwStr% than Pineda are Jose Fernandez, Kershaw, Scherzer, and Syndergaard.

If you looked at all of these statistics, you would think Pineda was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Instead, he has a 6.41 ERA, which is tied for the fourth-worst in baseball. It really does not make much sense. What exactly is wrong with Pineda? There is no right or wrong answer. It is a mystery. If the Yankees knew what was wrong with him, they would fix it.

A lot has been made about Pineda’s focus or lack thereof. He appears, at times, to get lazy or lose focus and throw a very hittable pitch with two strikes. He also seems to get very discouraged if anything goes wrong. Whether it is an error or a missed call, things appear to unravel quickly when they do not go Pineda’s way. This part of the issue is not exactly quantifiable, which makes it harder to prove that this is actually playing a major role in Pineda’s struggles this season.

To be fair, Pineda has not exactly had luck on his side this season. His .397 BABIP is the highest in the majors in 2016 among qualified starters. His career BABIP is .299 and the league average this season is .295. Moreover, his 32.1 fly ball percentage is lower than his career average, yet his home runs per fly ball percentage sits at 18.6 in 2016, which is the ninth highest among qualified starters and much higher than his career average of 11.1 percent.

Usually numbers make sense, but Pineda is a special case. His numbers do not add up. It really does not make sense why he has struggled so much this season. Luck has certainly played a factor, but that cannot fully account for how awful he has been this season. Perhaps it truly is mental. Maybe Pineda just needs to focus more and control his emotions while pitching. Whatever it is, the Yankees are sticking by Pineda because the numbers say to. Whether he can turn around his 2016 campaign remains to be seen, but the numbers are certainly on his side.

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