Given the situation and the small sample size from which to choose, it's fair to say that last night was the best start of Michael Pineda's Yankee career. Facing a hot team with a sneaky dangerous lineup, Pineda looked as good as he did in 2011 in spurts, flashing mid-to-high 90s fastballs with late movement and a hard, biting slider that he threw all over the zone. KC really only put 2 good swings on him all night: on the Moustakas home run that he left up on a tee in the 3rd and the Perez double in the 7th on his final pitch of the night. The fastball velocity, both in terms of the number and the sustainability, was really great to see. The Yankees don't have anybody in their rotation right now who can throw real smoke (maybe Greene kinda when he's feeling good), so having Big Mike up there humming 95-97 is a good way to mix things up. But what really stood out to me last night was how good his slider was. He had great command of that pitch last night and seeing it work really well for the first time was awesome.
Here's the breakdown on it, according to Texas Leaguers. Pineda threw 27 sliders last night. 22 of those 27 were strikes, 18 were swung at, 8 were swung at and missed, and 5 were put in play. Of the 5 put in play, only 2 went for hits and both of those hits came as groundball singles. Of Pineda's 5 strikeouts, 3 came on the slider.
2 things. 1, check out the pitch location plot:
To someone who didn't watch the game live, that might look like a guy who wasn't commanding his slider well at all. It was spread across both sides of the zone and there were a handful that were left up. As someone who did watch the game, this plot perfectly illustrates how nasty Pineda's slider was. It wasn't that he was missing with the pitch and spreading it all over the place. He was purposely locating it to both sides of the plate, burying it down and away to righties when he wanted a swing and miss, and putting it in the strike zone to generate weak contact because of all the late movement it had. Pineda was doing whatever he wanted with the pitch no matter who was at the plate.
Which brings me to thing 2. His velocity vs. spin angle plot:
Take a gander and you'll notice that there's a pretty wide variance in both the velocity and the spin rate of the 27 sliders Pineda threw last night. This is what made the pitch so effective for him and so difficult for the Royal hitters to time and square up. He wasn't just raring back and throwing the same mid-80s slider to different parts of the strike zone. He was mixing up sliders, throwing a harder one, a softer one, one with more bite, one with less, etc. as he went and as the at-bat situation dictated. It's that ability to adjust your big pitch as needed that makes for true command and Pineda had that going for him in a big way last night.
I'm sure I'm not saying anything groundbreaking here. Any really good pitcher surely has the ability to do this with any of his pitches and any really good pitcher has the ability to work all parts of the strike zone. I'm also sure there was a game or 2 in the past where Pineda had this same mastery of his slider going. I just can't recall ever seeing that from him in the few early April starts I watched and I was really impressed with it watching live last night. If this is the kind of stuff Pineda still has post-surgery and post-2 years off, he may still become the good #2 starter the Yanks hoped they were getting.