Michael Pineda’s debut has been dissected many places, and you’ve seen Dave’s write up, but I want to specifically discuss Pineda’s change and what it did and didn’t do against the Rangers. Pineda pitched brilliantly against righties but gave up three XBH to the seven lefties he faced. Was this due to his change-up? Yes and no.
First of all, if you’ve looked at the pitch fx data at texasleaguers or lefkowitz, you may notice that pitch fx didn’t think Pineda threw any change-ups. With less data to go on than we have for Tom Wilhelmsen (or Anthony Varvaro), pitch fx is going to be less than 100% at identifying pitches. Here’s a chart that shows three very distinct clusters of pitches, but which pitch fx sorts into only two pitch type buckets:
The group of nine pitches that break in the opposite direction to his slider are mislabeled four-seam fastballs, but this is his change/two-seamer: this is what he’s developing to attack lefties.
One of the best arguments for starting Pineda with Tacoma was that the team could mandate that he use the pitch fairly often without worrying about the results. With Seattle, the team would be less likely to utilize a work-in-progress. In essence, this argument boils down to how you weight the quality of his pitches versus the natural platoon splits they produce. A slider’s got huge platoon splits, but some might argue that Pineda’s slider is so much better than his change that the platoon split issue is dwarfed.
We’re all of one game into Pineda’s career, but I’d like to argue that it’s time to start calling the pitch a bit more. The problem with Pineda’s change-up wasn’t that it was hittable, it was that he couldn’t find the strike zone. When he wanted to go away from his fastball in the 6th, he went to his slider, and that’s what Josh Hamilton and Michael Young drilled for RBI 2Bs.
Against Texas, he didn’t have much of a feel for the pitch. His best was his first: the pitch in which he K’d Josh Hamilton swinging. From there, he threw seven balls and induced one foul ball. This is what Dave and others feared: that his location/stuff wouldn’t give Olivo/Moore enough confidence to call the pitch in big situations. That they went to the slider against Hamilton in the decisive 6th bears out Dave’s concerns. But the problem wasn’t that the change was hittable, he was just missing off the plate low. That’s less than ideal, but if you’re going to miss the plate, that seems like a decent place to miss. I’ve added his change-ups to a jury-rigged strikezone plot here.
So: against lefties Pineda can either go to a change/two-seamer that he doesn’t yet have great command of, or he can utilize his slider, which is great against righties and poor against lefties. Before Tuesday, we had no way to evaluate that decision. At this point, we’ve got a tiny sample, but it might be worth working in a few more change-ups and a few less sliders against lefties. Versus righties, Pineda can both avoid walks and hard contact. Versus lefties, he may need to choose – at least while he develops a feel for the pitch. If he brings the change-up into the strikezone and it’s actually hit hard by lefties, then they can readjust. But the slider seems like a poor bet against MLB lefties, and his change-up’s shown some promise (the K of Hamilton was probably his best pitch on the night). Call the pitch, Miguel (and whoever’s replacing Adam Moore).