A key for the Yankees in 2016 will be Michael Pineda. He’s shown flashes of tantalizing upside, and could be on New York’s list of most valuable pitchers. But Pineda has yet to put it all together over a full season. You likely remember May 10, which was the date of Pineda’s monstrous 16 strikeout outing. You may also recall June 22, when Pineda gave up eight runs over 3.1 innings and failed to record a strikeout. This seemed to set the tone of Pineda’s season, which was composed of a strange mixture of elite outings and awful ones. How could a pitcher with so much talent, who walks so few batters, finish the year with a 4.37 ERA? Pineda is on the brink of breaking out, and the answer to his success may lie in a single pitch: the changeup.
Pineda’s arsenal consists of two fastballs (a four-seamer and a cutter), as well as a slider and changeup. Yet despite having four pitches, much of the time it seems like he only has two. Pineda’s two fastballs are quite similar in movement and velocity, and his changeup has been rarely used. To hit his upside, Pineda will need to see progression with his changeup. It’s a very interesting pitch; the best version is an elite offering, and the worst either travels 50 feet or is a hanging meatball. Let’s start by looking at Pineda’s change when it’s working.
As you can see, that’s the changeup that can be a nasty pitch. If he can harness it, in terms of both command and movement consistency, some special things could happen in the Bronx next season. Of course, that’s a big if. There’s a reason why his changeup only flashes elite upside.
Those are entirely two different pitches, but they can appear in the same game and even in the same at bat. Unfortunately, the latter version shows up much more often at this point at this point in time. Pineda’s been victimized by this inconsistency, making him unable to trust the pitch. Still, his game can be changed for the better if the changeup can be harnessed and used more.
A struggle of Pineda’s is his ability to pitch deep into games. That’s not from a lack of stamina (Pineda’s 6’7″, 260 pound frame should allow his stuff to play throughout the game), but from a shallow arsenal. He’s struggled to turn the lineup over several times, and that’s a direct result of the presently-thin arsenal.
|Times through the order||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS|
Increasing changeup usage can do wonders for this troubling trend. Giving another pitch for hitters to worry about makes it much harder for them to get used to Pineda. That should allow for his effectiveness to continue the third time through the lineup.
Another vulnerable part of Pineda’s game is his ground ball rates. Pineda isn’t exactly bad in that regard, but for a pitcher with his expectations in Yankee Stadium, being just average may not be good enough. Overall, Pineda’s pitches aren’t overly conducive for limiting fly balls, but his changeup is excellent at doing just that.
|Pitch||Pineda’s GB%||League average GB%||Difference||Percent Usage|
An important thing to notice in the table above is that the pitches he uses the most are the worst at inducing ground balls. While he has pitches that can keep the ball out of the air, the ability to actually do so is limited by his pitch use. If Pineda puts the changeup into action more often, he could continue to help his ground ball rate.
The caveat to everything I said earlier is that increasing the changeup usage isn’t as clear-cut of an answer as it may seem. His struggles to consistently command the changeup and get proper movement on it has allowed batters to do well against it: hitters have slugged .400 when thrown the changeup. The pitch has the potential to shutdown hitters, but it’s just not there yet. As I said before, the key is consistency. If the pitch is better on a regular basis, then Pineda will trust the pitch more and ultimately up its usage. Even with the strengths it offers in parts of Pineda’s game, he has no incentive to throw the pitch if it continues to get hit. Whether or not Pineda has learned to harness the changeup will be something to watch in Spring Training and early in the season.
For now, it’s impossible to tell if he can find consistency. Pineda has the talent to figure it out, and it may only take a mechanical tweak or more repetitions. But although that exciting pitch isn’t far away, it’s still far from a guarantee that righty is able to ‘fix’ the pitch. This hesitancy comes from what happened throughout last season. Pineda didn’t see his changeup improve much over the course of the season, and he lowered his usage of it. The following graphs are a bit misleading, as Pineda only pitched in one game in August. But overall they shed some light on the changeup’s (lack of) progress during the season.
Despite these concerns, the title of this article still holds true. Pineda has a world of talent, he just hasn’t been able to put it all together yet. If Pineda can round out his game, he could have front-of-the-rotation numbers. The easiest, best, and most direct way for him to get to that point is through the changeup. It’s not a foolproof plan and a lot can go wrong, but that changeup could play a huge role in creating an ace out of Pineda next year.