Clone Wars: Joel Pineiro and Brandon Webb

There are some signs that the Dave Duncan effect is real and perhaps that is what happened to Joel Pineiro, but he wasn’t just pitching to contact like many others under Duncan. Pineiro added a two-seam fastball to his arsenal and threw it 27.6 percent of the time this year. This led him to the best ground ball rate in baseball this year at 60 percent, which was up from his average near 47 percent. This leads to the comparison with one of the best ground ball pitchers in all of baseball when healthy. Brandon Webb has been working with these great ground ball rates his whole career and maybe this comparison could give us a clue if Pineiro can keep this up.

                    W   L   ERA   K/9   BB/9  K/BB  GB%     HR/FB%  FIP
Joel Pineiro        15  12  3.49  4.42  1.14  3.89  60.50%   6.50%  3.27
Brandon Webb (2008) 22  7   3.30   7.27  2.58  2.82  64.20%   9.60%  3.28

The big thing that will always separate them is strikeouts, where Pineiro falls far behind Webb. Even if he can maintain the K/BB at that level by essentially not walking anyone he will not be able to match Webb’s numbers. That isn’t a big problem, though, and they would still be close all other things considered.

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MLB: AUG 09 Cardinals at Pirates
09 AUG 2009: St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Joel Pineiro (35) during the St. Louis Cardinals 7-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pa. Pineiro would get the win, pitching seven innings while allowing three earned runs. (Icon/SMI)

Pineiro has not only added a two-seamer to his pitches, but his four-seam fastball has also lost some vertical movement. This has led to many more pitches down in the zone with his four-seam fastball and his two-seamer. There is an interesting study over at Fangraphs about how many other pitchers have made a jump like this. Looking at the followup year no pitcher from the study group lost more than 5 percent, and that is encouraging for 2010 Pineiro.

Perhaps the more concerning number is the walk rate. It’s lower than any other time in his career, but there is also some encouraging signs with a BB/9 of 1.56 in his 426.1 IP in St. Louis. This could be part of the Duncan Effect as he encourages his pitchers to pitch to contact. All this makes a strong case for Pineiro to maintain his ground ball and walk rates for 2010.

I’ve ignored Webb here a bit, but we know how great he can be when healthy. He counts on a solid to stellar K/BB and has the best ground ball numbers in baseball. The questions now center around his shoulder and how healthy he can be going forward. His fastball was down 2 mph before going on the DL this year. If that continues once he comes back, he could lose some of the strikeouts, making him less valuable.

The good news for Webb is he can still be a successful pitcher with fewer strikeouts. That isn’t good news for fantasy teams, but he wouldn’t be suddenly a replacement-level pitcher. There is a lot of risk in his health for 2010, but then again his value this year should discount for that and he could be a huge steal.

Pineiro will never be your team ace, and is one of those pitchers who can be much more valuable in real baseball, but at the back of your staff he will help your win totals, ERA and WHIP. That is displayed in current drafts at MockDraftCentral where Pineiro he is taken, on average, with the 248th pick, where he should be a solid value. Webb, on the other hand, is going almost halfway up the board at 142.

The purpose of these articles is not to find perfect clones, and this is another case of looking at similarities and using this to find hidden value. That may be the case for Brad Penny as well as he joins the St Louis Cardinals. If you trust the Duncan Effect you could see Penny definitely working on his control issues, but if he works on his pitches to add more ground balls he could be a nice surprise in 2010.

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