Joel Pineiro’s Release Point
Last night, Joel Pineiro gave up one run in 5 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA from 6.75 to 5.93. In some circles, that’s enough to be called a successful outing. Take a look at some of the post-game quotes:
From the Times:
“I struggled the first two innings,” the right-hander said. “Then I got a bit of a feel for the mound and got a rhythm going and I felt much better after that.”
“The first part of that game just drug on,” Hargrove said in his best Texas twang. “We had [catcher Miguel] Olivo speed it up to get Pineiro going a bit. We just had him call pitches quicker.”
In addition, Pineiro started to throw his changeup more in the third, and it worked well.
“I wound up throwing it more than I usually do and maybe that’s one thing I have to do from now on,” Pineiro said. “I felt that what Bryan [Price] and I worked on those 10 days paid off.”
From the P-I
“About the fourth inning, I started getting ahead of hitters,” Pineiro said. “I think maybe not pitching in 10 days affected me the first few innings. But after that I things started to click.”
If you missed the game and just read the recaps, you’d think Pineiro showed some improvement from his skipped start and that perhaps the side sessions with Price led to improved mechanics. It’s just not true, though.
Pineiro was a mechanical mess last night. Jeff Sullivan did the video capture breakdown again for last night, but this time, I don’t think the problems with his delivery can effectively be seen in still frame images. The biggest problem Joel was having was a pretty common one among minor league pitchers: the variable release point.
One of the most fun things to watch about Greg Maddux in his prime was that the point in his delivery when the ball left his hand was almost exactly the same on every single pitch. Fastball, curveball, change-up, it didn’t matter. Whether it was the first pitch or the last, his release point never changed, and that was the key to his impeccable command. The point of release is the cornerstone of command.
Last night, Joel Pineiro had at least five distinctly different release points that I could spot from my television, without any video equipment to slow or rewind the action. In normal live speed action, it was clear that his release point was all over the map, and yet, somehow, this isn’t a concern?
In the first inning, Pineiro was clearly attempting to get more velocity on the ball. Brian Roberts led off the game and saw a 91 MPH fastball up and away, with Pineiro clearly releasing the ball early. The second pitch was nearly identical, a 90 MPH fastball away. The third pitch was a 91 MPH fastball that Pineiro was able to get into the strike zone and actually released the ball at a semi-normal time in his delivery.
He then faced rookie Jeff Fiorentino, and the mechanics went to hell again. Early release, fastball up and away. Early release, fastball up. Early release, curveball up. Early release, fastball away. Four pitch walk.
He wasn’t “missing his spots”. From when he released the ball, it had no chance of being a strike. His fastball was getting out of his hand before his body was in proper position at least 60 percent of the time.
Pineiro had more success with the curveball, allowing his body to rotate before letting the pitch fly, but even still, he was early at least a quarter of the time. Whether it was a clear revelation that his release point was more consistent on the offspeed stuff than with his fastball or not, he threw significantly more of them as the game went on. This helped alleviate some of the command issues he was having early, but also made him, essentially, a junkballer. Joel Pineiro’s not going to get major league hitters out without his fastball.
Now, this is a fixable problem. In my minor league travels, I see this all the time. It’s rare that a kid in Double-A or below can repeat his delivery with any kind of consistency. But, it takes time, and this isn’t the kind of thing that changes overnight. It’s a gradual process of muscle memory and getting comfortable with your throwing motion. Joel Pineiro clearly does not have that. He’s a kid searching for his mechanics, experimenting on the mound, and trying to find something, anything, that works.
If the team knows why he’s lost three MPH on his fastball and is overhauling his delivery to try and get it back, they’re not saying. But right now, the only way he bears any semblance to the Joel Pineiro of 2003 is the tilde on the back of the jersey. He’s basically an entirely new pitcher, and to be frank, not a very good one. The ten days on the side retooling his mechanics did him no good last night. He’s got a long, long ways to go before he can take that delivery and be successful regularly against big league hitters.