Michael Pineda and the making of a Yankee pitching controversy

Michael Pineda. (mlb.com)
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Every spring, there is a six-week process for the beat writers and columnists of New York to find daily subjects. It has been particularly hard this spring for anyone to find anything meaningful to write about the Yankees, whose roster is seemingly set from top to bottom.

So when the team claimed they hadn't decided whether newly acquired Michael Pineda would begin the year in the rotation or at Triple-A, it seemed like a charitable gift; now each of his spring starts would mean something. There was some suspense.

But there shouldn't have been, really. After all, the Yankees traded their best position-player prospect, Jesus Montero, in a deal to acquire Pineda. And they were right to do so. The monstrous 6'7", 260 pound Pineda, a stalwart for Seattle last year, actually added a changeup this spring. His velocity has been down a bit from last season in spring training—recently, he's been sitting at 93-94 miles per hour, after averaging 94.7 on the pitch last season—but that's often just what happens in March.

And yet, all indications from the Yankees are that Pineda's two-plus rocky innings in his second-to-last spring start have made it unlikely that he can hold off Freddy Garcia for a rotation spot. This makes things interesting, maybe unnecessarily. (UPDATE: Pineda has come down with inflammation in his pitching shoulder and placed on the 15-day disabled list. The decision, in other words, can be delayed until mid-April.)

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Consider that Pineda pitched to a 3.53 xFIP, a stat measuring pitching performance independent of fielding and luck, last year in his rookie season. He did so over 171 innings, with a strikeout rate better than a better per inning, and a walk rate of fewer than three per nine innings.

Garcia, meanwhile, pitched to a 4.36 xFIP in 2011, struck out only 5.6 batters per nine, walked hitters at roughly the same rate as Pineda, and pitched just 146 2/3 innings. Garcia is 35, and hasn't thrown as many innings as Pineda did last year since 2006.

No one sees Garcia as a long-term answer, while Pineda was acquired precisely because he is a long-term option to hold a Yankee rotation spot.

So the Yankees, if they choose Garcia over Pineda, would be picking the pitcher with the inferior recent track record for performance and durability and future performance, not to mention one who has added another pitch to his arsenal.

The argument for putting Garcia in the rotation and Pineda at Triple-A appears to be that Pineda has minor league options—the Yankees could send Pineda to the minors without losing him. But look, Derek Jeter had options left when the Yankees kept him. That's not usually a reason to ship out a pitcher out who is as talented as Pineda.

The Yankees surely wouldn't have sacrificed Jesus Montero at catcher if they were simply looking to add to the pitching depth they already have. Dealing Montero made sense because they were receiving a front-line starting pitcher in return. If they demote Pineda, it will mean that their straightforward calculation has become much more complicated.