Game Eleven Recap
I’ve talked at length about the things that I think Michael Pineda needs to improve upon. Tonight, we talk about the reason why he’s so highly thought of to begin with – a ridiculously great fastball.
We saw it in the first inning, as Pineda came out throwing 95-98, but fell behind Jose Bautista 3-0 after getting a couple of quick outs. Bautista is one of the game’s best fastball hitters, and he was in a count where he could just sit on three straight fastballs. 3-0, fastball, called strike one. 3-1, fastball, called strike two. 3-2, fastball, swinging strike three. Inning over.
Pineda just kept pounding the Jays with fastballs, and they kept swinging through them. In the fourth inning, he went after Adam Lind – a left-handed batter – with nothing but heat, most of it down the middle. Lind couldn’t touch it. For variety, he’d work in a few sliders and change-ups, but they’d inevitably get hit, and he’d go back to throwing the fastball right by the next hitter.
On the night, he threw 73 fastballs, and got 14 swinging strikes, a ridiculous 19.2% rate – and most of that came early, as through four innings, he had 11 swinging strikes on 45 fastballs. A good pitcher will post a swinging strike rate of 10%, with most whiffs coming on breaking balls when ahead in the count. That many swinging strikes from fastballs, including some when behind in the count to a good fastball hitting team, is just special.
Tonight, we saw Pineda feature one pitch and dominate with it. The secondary stuff still isn’t there, but tonight, he didn’t need it. He showed off a fastball that was good enough on its own. If he had a good slider and change-up tonight, he might have thrown a perfect game. His fastball was THAT good.
In the fifth and especially the sixth inning, he started leaning on his slider a bit more. Given how dominant the fastball was early, I figured they’d just keep throwing it until Toronto’s batters proved they could hit it, but the shift worked as well, and he got a few key strikes to left-handed hitters with the breaking ball. I’d imagine this is what coaches mean when they talk about setting hitters up by establishing your fastball – the slider itself wasn’t great, but most guys went up there looking fastball and didn’t react well to something slower and with downward tilt.
Also interesting, and somewhat unexpected, is just how much Pineda has lived in the upper part of the strike zone. That 10% GB% tonight was no fluke – that was the direct result of him pitching almost exclusively from the belt up. He threw one perfectly located fastball to J.P. Arencibia on the outside corner at the knees, but besides that, it was up, up, and up some more.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with pitching up in the zone if you have the stuff to do it. Pedro Martinez pitched this way. So did Johan Santana. If you’ve got a nasty fastball and can locate it, you can get a lot of whiffs up in the zone. Pineda has the velocity and the command to live up there and make it work. It will result in a lot of fly balls, but the strikeouts will make it a worthwhile trade-off. Don’t expect many double plays when Pineda’s on the mound, though – if he keeps pitching like this, he’s going to be one of the most extreme fly ball pitchers in baseball.
He’s also going to be one of the most fun to watch. Despite running into some problems in the 8th inning, Pineda was about as good tonight as you could have hoped.
Welcome to Seattle, kid. Pitch like that and you can stay as long as you’d like.