Analyzing Michael Pineda’s First Start

One of the Mariners’ top prospects, righty Michael Pineda, made his major league debut a few nights ago, and did fairly well despite ultimately taking the loss.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some sort of review of what happened.

Facing the Texas Rangers in Arlington is no easy task for any pitcher making his major league debut, but fortunately for Pineda, they ran out a very right-handed lineup, making things a bit easier on him.  He ate up those right-handers, but the three lefties in the lineup gave him some trouble, getting three extra base hits against him, and were what led to him taking the loss in his debut.  

Pineda started out brilliantly, with a perfect first inning that included two strike-outs.  One of the K’s came against lefty slugger and reigning league MVP Josh Hamilton, who swung haplessly at a gorgeous change that fell out of the zone as Hamilton started his swing.  Things started going downhill a bit in the second inning, but overall the start saw six mostly solid innings with four strikeouts and just one walk.  He gave up three runs and four extra-base hits, but that doesn’t strictly represent how he did on a whole; his final results were worsened some by a couple of defensive miscues, most notably Michael Saunders mis-reading a ball at the wall that led to a two-out RBI triple by Mitch Moreland.

As far as how his pitches performed, it was a bit of a mixed bag.  Pineda’s fastball was used roughly half of the time (the Brooks Pitch F/X tracker says more, but they miscategorized his changeup as a slow fastball), and clocked in at an average of 95.2 MPH.  It’s movement varied; at times it was arrow-straight, but at others it was getting a nice little bit of late run to it that generated a couple of swinging strikes.  It started to elevate a little late in the game, though, and that cost him a couple of times.

Pineda’s slider was doing good work, generating several swinging strikes and multiple weak-contact outs, including a pop-out for the last out of his appearance.  The slider is a real weapon for Pineda, especially against righties, and it gets some wicked movement on it that I’ve heard described as “criminally huge”.

His changeup was what he had issues with; Pineda threw the one great one to Hamilton for a swinging strike three, but otherwise he was mostly overthrowing it, making it flatten out and become very hittable.  It’s velocity was averaging an impressive 89 MPH, but that just supports how much he was over-throwing the pitch, as it sat more in the 84-86 MPH range last year and had much better movement.

If Pineda is going to find regular success in the bigs, the change has to improve and become more consistent.  There is a ton of promise for Pineda, and despite his occasional struggles in his debut, he still drew rave reviews around the industry by all indications.  There’s still plenty of time for Pineda to develop, and given his advances last season, there’s no reason to think that he can’t make the necessary adjustments.  I’ll be at his start against the Blue Jays on Monday, and it will be interesting to see how he does in his home debut.


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