In 2011, his rookie year with the Mariners, Pineda showcased a plus slider and command on a mid-to-high 90’s fastball. The combination was a deadly punch for hitters, and in Safeco Field, he earned a ton of strikeouts and fly ball outs. With Pineda headed to Yankee Stadium, the worry was that his high fly ball tendency would translate to home runs, especially against opposite handed hitters. Left-handed batters already have the advantage of the short right field porch, and when you add handedness and high fly ball tendencies into the equation, the worry was warranted.
Pineda finally made his Yankee Stadium debut on Thursday against the Red Sox. Manager John Farrell hoped to combat Pineda’s sweeping slider with a lineup full of lefties, and plugged in Grady Sizemore, David Ortiz, Daniel Nava, A.J. Pierzynski, Jackie Bradley Jr, and Jonathan Herrera. Farrell’s intentions were obviously to take advantage of the short right field porch and platoon splits, but Pineda broke out a gameplan that we didn’t expect.
Pineda’s fastball and slider combination in 2011 made him a 2-pitch pitcher, which is a tough act to maintain as a starter. Pineda’s third pitch, a changeup, was hardly ever considered a significant out pitch, but there were rumblings that the right-hander was working on it in Spring Training of 2012 and 2014. Of course, nearly every pitcher works on a changeup in the spring, so Pineda’s improved pitch was overlooked. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they had very little idea of Pineda’s changeup either.
According to Harry Pavlidis‘ pitch labels at BrooksBaseball, Pineda threw the pitch 10 times against the Red Sox. Of those 10 changeups, hitters swung at 6 of them, fouling 2 of them off, and whiffing on 4 of them. In comparison, Pineda’s slider earned 5 whiffs on 23 pitches, which is still considered a very good ratio of swings and misses.
Pineda’s changeup grip appears to similar to his ex-teammate’s, Felix Hernandez, deadly circle changeup. In fact, the grips and movement (splitter-like) look so similar because Pineda learned the pitch from Hernandez during the 2011 season. In a report by Geoff Baker, catcher Josh Bard had this to say in September of 2011.
“It’s something we’ve been working really hard on with him and he’s been working really hard. I think it’s a pitch that’s hopefully going to be a separator for him. I know it is for Felix (Hernandez). Felix has been the No. 1 salesman to him about it and Michael obviously respects Felix a lot as he should.”
On Hernandez, Pineda added, “I have learned a lot from him. He has treated me very well, which I appreciate a lot.”
We’ve now only seen a few of Pineda’s changeups in regular season situations, but the results are encouraging. Perhaps his progress with his changeup at the end of the 2011 season was one reason the Yankees were so excited to acquire him a few months later. The grip and movement is similar to that of Felix Hernandez, but there’s no telling if it’ll ever be as good. Perhaps the newness of the pitch led to the poor at bats by the Red Sox, or perhaps it was the small sample size of the first few games. Regardless, his changeup is a must needed tool to keep batters from sitting on his slider, and it’s likeness to Hernandez’ offspeed pitch is encouraging enough to start thinking that his offspeed pitch should continue as a significant part of his repertoire against left-handed batters.