Michael Pineda Is Not Phil Hughes

But I’m not writing an article about that (just read Brien’s if you want to know basically how I feel about it). I’m writing to tell you this: Michael Pineda is not Phil Hughes. It’s important to remember that, as much of our (well, my, as I don’t speak for you) fears are based, at least in part, on our experience with Hughes’ dead arm last season.

It’s our nature to connect the two. And there are a lot of reasons to: both suffered a drop in velocity following a rookie season where they faded in the second half. They’re both on the Yankees. They’re both young. They were both working on new pitches when this drop suddenly happened (Hughes was working on his changeup and cutter, Pineda on his changeup exclusively).

But Brien’s article brings up exactly why we shouldn’t connect these two: when Phil Hughes was suffering from dead arm to start the spring in 2011, he was throwing, as Danny Knobbler of CBSSports put it, “87-89 mph with more 87s than 89s.” In the same article by Aaron Gleeman of NBCSports, Joel Sherman and Knobbler agree that scouts were “stunned” by Hughes’ drop in velocity.

This spring, Pineda’s velocity has been steadily improving, with hints of much more power in the future: “I have more,” he told The New York Times’ David Waldstein. “Nobody throws hard in spring training, because it’s spring training. You work on what you need to. Now I’m focusing a bit more on making a good pitch.” Scouts have differed on his actual velocity, with some insisting that he’s around “89-91 with a couple of 93s” on Sunday, with others slightly higher at “90-93 with a few 94s”. Add to these numbers the fact that he has been slowly increasing his velocity from the beginning of spring training, and you have a much, much different scenario than our 2011 Phil Hughes dead arm maelstrom.

It’s important to remember that this is not a particularly uncommon occurrence (players beginning the season with slightly lower velocity numbers). Remember what Joe Girardi said last season? “I’ve seen some of our other pitchers velocities jump in the first game. I saw (David) Robertson’s jump a little bit. I thought (Rafael) Soriano’s jumped a little bit. A little extra adrenaline is what gets that going.”

Listen, I know there are legitimate reasons to be worried about Pineda, and his velocity does count as one—his hit-and-miss control this spring training is the rarely talked about question mark—but it’s incorrect to link him to Hughes. This time last year, Joe Girardi was openly “curious” about Hughes’ ability to make it back to 93 mph. Add to this the fact that Hughes had suddenly started throwing his cutter more than his four seamer, and he needed other pitches to “get people off [his] fastball,” well, then you have the makings of a dead arm injury. (And yes, I know every pitcher needs secondary pitches to get people off their fastball.)  Only two weeks after the above article ran, Hughes would be sent to the disabled list, and admit that “something had to be done, the arm strength just isn’t there.”

This really doesn’t seem to be the problem for Pineda, as nearly everyone on the Yankees (except Brian Cashman) likes what they’ve seen. Just ask Russell Martin, who said, importantly, that, “If you hit 94 here, you can easily just add a couple miles an hour once the competition gets a little more heated [in the regular season].” This seems to me to be one (of various) standout differences between Pineda’s 2012 and Hughes’ 2011.

Ultimately, I am worried about Pineda, and not just because I took him in my fantasy draft. But I think it’s important to separate what to really worry about from the semi-fantastical patterns and connections our nervous brains make when we worry.

Just repeat it to yourself: Michael Pineda is not Phil Hughes.

11 thoughts on “Michael Pineda Is Not Phil Hughes

    • I was kind-of with them, at least from a benefit of the doubt standpoint, up until the last slide. That's overstating your case if I've ever seen it.

    • So according to the last slide, the Yankees need to have a good Major league team and Minor league system every year, and the Mariners do not because of fan expectations…. And that gives them an advantage?! If this is the attitude of the M's front office I can see why they have sucked for over a decade.

  1. More patterns: These two Japanese pitchers pitched poorly for us. Our conclusion: Japanese pitchers can't pitch well in New York! It's science!

    • I still haven't seen a comforting explanation of why the velocity would be down outside of injury. Nobody has said his mechanics are off and he has thrown enough to work himself back into shape. So what's left? Injury.

      • It takes time to build up arm strength. Last year, Pineda played winter ball, and came to camp having already stretched out his arm; this year, he didn't, and came to camp having to work his arm back into shape. This slow build up of strength fits this pattern.

        Here's another reason: last season, Pineda had to come into camp firing just to make a spot on the opening day roster. He was a prospect vying for his first real big league action. Now, he's a sophomore who can (and should) hone his mechanics, and focus on other things during spring, so as not to be tired for the stretch run. This idea is consistent with the Yanks' plan to focus on his change, and his own statements that he has more in the tank.

        I don't know if that helps, and I guess I could've mentioned it in the article, too.

  2. "vacillating velocity" LOVE IT! Reminds me of my all time favorite joke:

    Q. How do you titillate an ocelot?

    A. Oscillate it's tit a lot!

    Maybe I'm a nerd, maybe I'm drunk (maybe I'm both) but I'm laughing all by myself at the moment.