Friday, January 13, 2012
The Yankees’ finest hourPosted by Nick Fleder
Brian Cashman had the whole of the baseball world out of the loop for the past several months, showing fleeting and passive interest in some free agent pitchers and bluffing his contentment with a flawed rotation. Fear no more, Yankee fans. The mystery has been unveiled.
Jesus Montero, the Yankees’ top prospect, has seemingly always been a part of trade flirtations and was nearly a centerpiece in the failed Cliff Lee trade-deadline swap in 2010. One AL scout was quoted in a September 2011 Daily News article as saying, “I'm sure the [Mariners] would like a do-over.”
The scout refers, of course, to general manager Jack Zduriencik’s decision to trade for Justin Smoak instead Montero in the Lee sweepstakes, and his never-ending pursuit of offense led him back to to his favorite reject—only for a much, much heftier price.
Pineda is a stud in the making after putting up a 3.4 WAR season in his rookie campaign and was the Robin to Felix Hernandez’s Batman. Pineda owns a wickedly fast four-seamer—hitting 94.2 mph on average and garnering a +9.6 pitch value per Fangraphs—and throws an 84 mph slider that is also rated as well above averge (+9.0 pitch value). Pineda mixes in a power-change at roughly 87-88 mph roughly six percent of the time, keeping hitters off-balance with his overpowering stuff enough to garner an 11.8 percent swinging strike percentage and a robust 9.0-plus strikeouts per nine innings.
The only thing holding Pineda back, one might wager, is his ability to pitch away from Safeco, and departing Safeco permanently, this might end up being a pretty big concern. His home/away splits were worrisome to say the least—a 2.92 ERA in Seattle was rivaled by a 4.40 ERA away from Safeco—though Pineda did have a lower home run rate away from Safeco.
Still, homers might ultimately bite Pineda in New Yankee Stadium. He had a nine percent HR/FB rate and gave up 18 in only 171 innings and now will live with a very, very short porch in right field – as he owns a 44.8 percent fly ball rate, good (or bad, depending on your outlook) for sixth in the majors. Jered Weaver, however, is just one of the few above Pineda on the FB% list to have built an okay (alright, excellent) career with extreme flyball tendencies.
Oh, but don’t forget about the often-forgotten Hiroki Kuroda, who was signed to a one-year deal between $10 and $11 million dollars in the same hour. Kuroda has some red flags, notably a groundball rate that dropped nearly eight percent after three years of near-perfect consistency, and a home run rate that similarly went up conspicuously.
Still, through four major league seasons, Kuroda has been worth no fewer than 2.1 WAR and twice more than 3.6 WAR. His strikeout rate remained above seven per nine innings for the second straight year, and he should be a more-than-serviceable No. 3 in the Yankees' dandy new rotation.
Three hours ago, the thought of A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, and Freddy Garcia scrambling for the last three spots in the Bombers’ rotation was not a warming thought. Each has glaring question marks and, suddenly, the remaining three look entirely expendable with Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos warming at Triple-A.
The offensive juggernauts just went on a pitching spending spree, and turned a "weakness into a strength," as Jon Heyman of CBS put it simply. Who's next, Carlos Pena?
Nick can be reached for questions, comments, or concerns via email: nick.fleder AT gmail DOT com.