A look at Joel Pineiro, a player the Mets have been linked to this offseason. The Mets have been linked to numerous free agents and I want to take a look at each one, giving a breakdown of their strengths and weaknesses and what the club should expect from the player going forward. The first one I want to look at is RHP Joel Pineiro.
Pineiro is a veteran pitcher who totaled 214 IP last year and notched 15 wins. With the help of famed pitching coach Dave Duncan, Pineiro overhauled the type of pitcher he was in 2009. Always a strong ground ball pitcher, Pineiro focused on throwing even more ground balls than ever before. How did he do this? After five consecutive years of throwing his fastball between 55 and 58 percent of the time, Pineiro threw his fastball an average of 71 percent of the time last year.
In his June 23rd start against the Mets, Pineiro threw 100 pitches in a complete-game win. He threw 77 fastballs, 12 changeups, 2 sliders and 9 curveballs. He faced 29 batters, got 22 ground balls, 4 fly balls, 1 HB, 1 BB and 1 SO.
Compare that to his July 2nd start in 2008 against the Mets. Pineiro threw 88 pitches which included 34 fastballs, 19 changeups, 24 sliders and 11 curves. He faced 26 batters, got 11 ground balls, 10 fly balls, 1 BB and 4 SO.
Last year, Pineiro abandoned his slider and instead threw a two-seam fastball, a pitch known for its sink and ability to get grounders. In 2008, Pineiro did not throw a single two-seam fastball in his July 2nd start against the Mets. In his June 23rd start last year, Pineiro threw 26 two-seam fastballs.
The end result of his new pitching style was a career-best 60.5 percent ground ball rate, the highest mark of any pitcher in the majors. Not surprisingly, his GB/FB ratio of 2.54 was also tops in the majors. In addition to all of the ground balls, Pineiro also cut his walks nearly in half. After having an impressive 2.14 BB/9 in 2008, Pineiro posted a ridiculous 1.14 BB/9 last year, easily the best mark in the league.
In 2008 Pineiro allowed 22 HR, a figure that was cut in half last year. Most pitchers give up a HR on 11 percent of the fly balls they allow. Lifetime, Pineiro’s HR/FB rate is 11.2 percent. In 2009 with his new pitching style, it was 6.5 percent, which tied for the seventh-lowest mark in the league.
There were indications that the league was making adjustments versus Pineiro in the second half of the season. After his two-hit shutout of the Mets in June, when they faced him again they tallied 11 hits and 7 runs (0 HR) in a five-inning outing in August. In Pineiro’s final 12 starts of the year, he had a 4.64 ERA and allowed 8 HR in 77.2 IP. He was still throwing lots of grounders (68 percent) and his walk percentage was still outstanding (12 BB in 77.2 IP) but the gopher balls changed him from dominating in the first four months of the year to below-average in the final two months.
While the research done by R.J. Anderson indicates that Pineiro is likely to maintain his increase in ground balls, there is virtually no chance that he will keep a 6.5 percent HR/FB rate over an entire season. When he struggled the final two months of the season, Pineiro had a 12.5 percent HR/FB mark in August and an 11.6 percent mark in September, neither one an outrageous number. And Pineiro still had outstanding control in those two months, with a 1.39 BB/9 ratio. He is unlikely to allow such few walks next year and combined with the greater HR rate, it has the potential for disaster.
Following the 2007 season, Pineiro signed a two-year, $13 million contract. But if there was any way the Cardinals could have gotten out from under the $7.5 million he was due in 2009 following his 2008 season in which he posted a 5.15 ERA in 148.2 IP, they would have jumped at the chance. It seems myopic to extend a three or four year deal to Pineiro and hope that four months of production in 2009 trumps everything else he has done in his major league career.