Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | January 21, 2010

Angels Sign Pineiro

            The Los Angeles Angels signed Joel Pineiro to a two year, $16 million deal yesterday, filling the rotation spot vacated when John Lackey left.   It appears almost certain that the Angels have downgraded in this spot in the rotation, but to what extent?

Here are some of the numbers on Pineiro:

Year IP ERA FIP WHIP K/9 BB/9
2009 214 3.49 3.27 1.14 4.4 1.1
2008 148.2 5.15 4.71 1.45 4.9 2.1
2007 97.2 4.33 4.73 1.39 5.5 2.4
Car. 1456.1 4.39 4.23 1.34 5.6 2.6

 

This upcoming season will be Pineiro’s age 31 year, and as is clear from the above chart he is well removed from his days in Seattle when he put up pretty good strikeout totals.  Pineiro went through a long phase during which he was battling arm trouble, and made a lot of changes in his approach last season.   He went from roughly a 60/30/10 percent split in throwing fastballs, breaking pitches, and changeups that he’d relied upon for most of his career to a 71/22/7 one, becoming highly dependent on his fastball (that now averages 89 MPH) and pinpoint control.   He relied on getting (bad) contact, as was evidenced by his career high contract rate being combined with the second highest rate of getting hitters to swing outside of the strike zone in his career.

He was able to ride this approach to success in St. Louis.  By avoiding walks and forcing contact he managed to average 6 2/3 innings per start in spite of only averaging 92 pitches per start — His highest total since 2006, but still a relatively low total.   The wisdom (or lack thereof) in this deal is highly dependent on whether or not one believes that Pineiro reached a new talent level in 2009 and is truly an “exceptional control” pitcher.   Walking only 27 batters in 214 innings is quite a feat, but Pineiro did it as a 30 year old with no history of that kind of control (previous career low BB/9 was 2.1) or ground ball rate (His 61% last year is well above his previous career best of 49%).   If he’s going to continue to survive in the league by allowing so much contact and striking out so few batters, he’s going to need both the high ground ball rate (suppressing home runs and extra base hits) and the pinpoint control.   It seems like a risky bet to make, especially when you’re committing two years at eight million per year, and the pitcher in question has to move from the National League to the American League in the process.  It’s also noteworthy that last year was the first time that Pineiro topped 200 innings since 2003.

To my sensibility, Pineiro is a huge risk and the Angels made a dramatic overpayment in both dollars and years, but only time will tell.   If he duplicates last year’s success, he will be worth the money, but it seems that house of cards is rather tenuously stacked.   One thing that may help him is that the Angels are a better defensive team than St. Louis, and defensive teams help contact pitchers.   For pitchers who are both contact pitchers AND groundball pitchers, as Pineiro was last season, infield defense is particularly critical.   While St. Louis had one of the league’s best defensive shortstops in Brendon Ryan and an above average defender at first base in Albert Pujols, the Angels don’t really have a butcher in their infield defensively (as St. Louis did at both 2B and 3B), and the right side of their defense in particular is much better.   Howie Kendrick is slightly above average and much better than Skip Schumaker at second base.  Backup infielder Maicer Izturis is well above average at the position, as is Kendry Morales at first.

Overall, it seems like a risky move, and it certainly doesn’t seem in my mind to answer any big questions for an Angels team that has watched every team in its division get markedly better in the off-season.   We shall soon see if their management team’s faith in Pineiro’s ability to repeat his exceptional control will reap a reward for them.

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Responses

  1. Pineiro was very lucky last season. The Cardinals defense actually supported him with more double-plays than any other N.L. pitcher. If a guy isn’t striking anyone out, eventually, some of those grounders will bunch themselves together for some runs. Also, Pineiro might not receive as much run support from the Angels as he did from the Cards last season. I agree with you that this signing will turn out badly for the Angels. Nice post, Bill


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