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2016 Fantasy Baseball: Breakout Candidates — Michael Pineda

The New York Yankees have done little to nothing this offseason to improve their biggest question mark heading into the 2016 season: the starting rotation. Instead, the Yankees addressed their problem at second base by adding Starlin Castro up the middle to pair with shortstop Didi Gregorious. In addition, they added Aroldis Chapman to their bullpen to try and help shorten the game for their starters, though it’s likely that Chapman will be suspended this season, though the number of games he may miss is not yet known. And while there are many questions marks in the rotation, there is one name that is really intriguing: Michael Pineda.

Pineda came into the league in 2011 with the Seattle Mariners, earning himself a trip to the All-Star game and placing fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting. A year later, he was traded to the Yankees for Jose Montero, who some in New York pegged as the next star in the Big Apple. For a while, this trade looked bad for both sides, as Pineda missed both 2012 and 2013 due to injuries to his throwing shoulder. Then, two full seasons since last throwing a pitch, Pineda made his Yankees’ debut in 2014, though it would be filled with injuries as well. Pineda logged just 76.1 innings that season, though when he was healthy, he was dominant. He spun a 1.89 ERA on the season, striking out 59 batters across those 76.1 innings, while walking seven. The seven strikeouts per nine innings was nowhere near where it was in 2011, when it sat at 9.1 K/9. However, the main goal with Pineda was making sure he could stay healthy.

This past season, Pineda dealt with injuries again, but he was able to throw 160.2 innings. Pineda dealt with a forearm injury in July that landed him on the disabled list, but once again, when he was on the mound he was good. He didn’t have the results that 2014 Michael Pineda had, but he got his strikeout rate back. Pineda finished the season with a 12-10 record, while logging a 4.37 ERA and striking out 156 batters in 160.2 innings. Pineda’s FIP sat over a run lower than his ERA (3.34), showing us that he dealt with a lot of bad luck. Pineda is about to be 27 years old, and it’s clear to us that he won’t regain his 2011 velocity (96.7 MPH), which is a direct connection to his injury history (his average is now 92.9 MPH). The great thing about Pineda is that he’s adjusted to the velocity dip, as he’s still striking out nearly the same amount of batters that he did with the inflated velocity.

Not only has Pineda adjusted to his dip in velocity, he’s also adopted to Yankee Stadium as well. Going from the pitcher’s heaven in Safeco to Yankee Stadium can be a drastic change, but Pineda mastered the change of scenery in 2015. Pineda’s groundball percentage jumped nearly ten points from 2014 to 2015, and 11.9 points from 2011 to 2015. He also watched his fly ball percentage drop 13 points from 2014 to 2015, which is above league-average. Having a high fly ball percentage doesn’t mean that you’re doomed, but when you play in a hitter’s park like Yankee Stadium, keeping the ball on the ground can be the biggest key to success. Well, that and strikeouts. Good news is that Pineda does both!

Speaking of ground balls, the Yankees defense shouldn’t be as bad as it was last year. Chase Headley was a lot worse than expected, and up until last year, he was also a very good defender. We can look at 2015 as a fluke year on the defensive side of things for Headley, and he should regain his old form this season with the glove. The Yankees could also move Carlos Beltran at some point if they start to fall out of it, which would free up a spot in right field for top prospect Aaron Judge. By doing this, the Yankees get Beltran’s glove out of right field, which significantly benefits whoever is one the mound.

Steamer projections are optimistic for Pineda in 2016, as they have him posting a 3.39 ERA across 176 innings, going 12-9 with 158 strikeouts. With those numbers, Pineda would (likely) be the top pitcher on the Yankees pitching staff, unless Tanaka doesn’t blow out his arm at some point or C.C. Sabathia shocks the world and turns back into 2011 C.C. Sabathia. The best part about this is that Pineda won’t get drafted in leagues this year as a #1, which makes him that much more valuable to you. The biggest cloud that will always surround Pineda is whether or not he can stay on the field. However, with the way the Yankees’ bullpen is constructed, Joe Girardi will have many interesting choices in which he can help limit his starting pitcher’s innings, and thus limiting the chance of injury.

Statistical information retrieved from Fangraphs.com

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