Who is really the best baseball team in the majors? I honestly don't know but I try to figure that out by using basic and advanced statistics. I live for talking about baseball, it's my biggest drive in my life and I will jump on the opportunity to talk baseball with anyone, even with people who I don't really like. For me, Baseball is a piece of art that sits in my mind all day, ready to be painted on at any point of the day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Michael Pineda and Jesus switch places

By Mike Moritz

There has been so much talk around the league, blogosphere and everywhere in general about the recent deal in which the Seattle Mariners sent Michael Pineda and colleague Jose Campos to New York in exchange for long time top-prospect Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. I find this trade so hard to analyze. I don't know why but I just can't tell who got the better part of the deal.

Well, let's break it down...or at least attempt to.

The Mariners are getting, in my opinion, one of the most over-hyped prospects in recent years in Montero. I can say with confidence that his ceiling is Miguel Cabrera; smooth swing, similar body build *at the time of their respective call-ups*, a fantastic set of hit placement skills, good but not great power and a minimal walk rate. That's Montero's ceiling. And while I do indeed think that Montero is over hyped, that doesn't necessarily mean that he's bad, or that his prospects status is bad. No, not at all. That being said, what I think is more likely to happen is that he settles into more of a Carlos Lee type of hitter simply because it would be extremely ballsy to predict that kind of career from him.

It's also worth noting that Montero is already likely the worst defensive catcher in baseball and we haven't really seen him catch in the majors. Scouts hate him defensively so much so that he is likely already a full time DH. I looked for some vocal evidence and needed to look no further than former Baseball Jungle contributor Simon Stracher when he said of Montero in the first ever Baseball Jungle quote, "David Ortiz had a wRC+ of 153 and he only had 4.2 WAR. So for Montero to be as valuable a player as many scouts think he is going to be, he's going have to be a better hitter than Miguel Cabrera." 

Just to put that statement into context, Ortiz's 153 wRC+ and 4.2 WAR included just 13 innings in the field this year. Yet, Adrian Gonzalez had the exact same wRC+ while producing 6.6 WAR and defensive value (10.7 UZR).  

And again, even though I think Montero is over-hyped, that doesn't he's bad-far from it- and it also doesn't mean that the Mariners are getting a bad deal either.

The Yankees are getting a really good pitcher in Pineda, that's for sure. But I'm not so sure that Yankee Stadium is the best fit for him. He's also an injury risk of a couple sorts.

Pineda is mainly a fastball-slider pitcher; he throws one of the two pitches 93.7% of the time while throwing his lousy change up just 6.3%. My immediate reaction to that is: injury alert. In a Fangraphs article from over the summer, Eno Sarris observed Brett Anderson's elbow problems. What he found was that pitchers who threw, on average, 28% sliders or more as a starter, generally report the dreaded...elbow soreness. And in a few cases, Tommy John surgery. Now, you would think that pitchers who have TJ come back even better, but I feel that that is not the same case with hefty-slider-pitchers; the elbows will probably just keep getting injured...and when your injured, you can't really pitch. Sure enough, Brett Anderson had Tommy John surgery on July 14th.

Pineda? Well, he throws a slider 31.5% of the time. He also just generally has a jerky motion. I'm a little frightened by the injury bug with him down the road. Pineda isn't just some stop-gap for the Yanks, he's a legit number 2 man behind C.C. and should be in the Bronx for a while.

As for Yankee Stadium, well that park increases home runs by 29% in total. Pineda is, as of right now, a fly ball pitcher; he allowed a 44.8% fly ball rate last year. Well, lucky for him, Safco Field decreases homers by a total of about 12%. Not only that, but Pineda has created success living up in the zone; he often gets a lot f his strike outs by throwing the heater up and getting hitters to chase it.

Fastballs are green. We can see by just looking that his fastball lives upstairs. This chart is against righties but the same can be said for lefties as well.
But then there's a little whacky number issue: he had a 1.05 HR/9 in Safco but a .86 HR/9 clip AWAY from home. That's weird. Just based on how either stadium plays and how he pitches (up in the zone) and what the general majority-of-the-time result is when the ball is hit (fly ball), I can say with a fair amount of confidence that this was just another example of randomness in baseball and some wonky luck.

But! As weird as Pineda's home run situation is and as scared as I am for the injuries that could be lurking in the hopefully-not-near-future, Pineda had a great year last year and is a great pitcher. His 9.11 K/9 was the third best rate in the majors among rookies and the best in the AL for rookies. On top of that, he posted the fourth best FIP among rookies with at least 100 innings pitched: 3.42 and his xFIP was third: 3.53. His fastball clocks in at an average of 94.7 mph, the fifth fastest in the majors overall. So there's no doubt that this young man has talent, that's for sure. And he's only going to get better skill wise. He might be getting better but the problem now becomes whether or not his performance will show that; injuries, Yankee Stadium and a move to the AL East could slow him up (although being that he's on the Yankees rather than the Orioles or Rays so he doesn't have to face the Yankees lineup).

For the sake of the length of this post, I'll keep it short and say that Hector Noesi's value will probably come as middle reliever with some upside for high leverage situations.

Jose Campos, on the other hand, could very well be the man who decides this if this trade is equal or better for the Yanks. I didn't know Campos before the trade so I decided to do my usual routine when looking at a new player: dissect hours of film. Not really. But I did find things. And I loved what I found. If you are reading this post I want you to know that Jose Campos has Verlander-upside. I truly believe that. Campos posted a 9.32 K/9, 3 BB/9, 3.16 ERA and a 2.29 FIP in Rookie Ball in 2010. He only got better in Low-A ball in 201l; 9.41 K/9, 1.44 BB/9, 2.32 ERA and a 2.38 FIP. Campos has a 91-94 mph fastball with good control. His slider sits in the 83-85 mph range and his curve ball is in the 73-75 mph range. Obviously I haven't really been able to get to know Campos (I've never seen him in person) but it's said that despite the fact that his curve isn't great, he still throws it a lot and understands that it can be used effectively. Hitters seem to buckle just by the velocity change so one can only imagine what it would be like if his curve was a good one. That brings me to his next great thing about him: his mental game. His understanding of his own curve ball is amazing off the bat especially for a 19 year old. He has presence on the mound, the kind of confidence you would see from a top flight pitcher as if he were to say "I'm going to get you out" and then have a sly smile on his face, and then he would actually do it. I guess that's what happens when you give up just 32 walks in 138.1 career pro innings. Better yet, he has a work horse body at 6'4" and 200 lbs and still a little more room to fill out. I'm serious, this guy can determine the trade by himself. The only catch is that he's so young and we can't guarantee that his ceiling is a Justin Verlander ceiling so don't hold me to that if he implodes. But if he doesn't implode, and were going to assume he doesn't, then take my word for it, he's a beast.

Winner: Push.

Both teams got what they needed. Mariners finally got a guy who can hit as an all around hitter and someone they can build around and the Yankees got a young pitcher to help the thin pitching rotation...and an amazing potential starter in Campos.

The reason I say "push" is because we are going to have to wait a few years to see what happens. We need to see how Pineda adjusts to Yankee stadium while avoiding injuries; we need to see if Montero lives up to the hype; we need to see if Noesi can bring at least a little value from somewhere whether it be the rotation or bullpen; and finally, we need to see if Campos can reach Verlander-ism.

(Statistics and information in courtesy of: fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com, statcorner.comhttp://baseballinstinct.com and http://www.yankeeanalysts.com)

1 comment:

  1. A few thoughts...

    1. This deal will take years to judge. It hinges on Pineda staying healthy and developing a second pitch. There can be no way to judge it until then (as you said, but it's especially important to note this. Everyone wants a winner and a loser, and they're is no chance of that happening right now). This deal will be decided based on Pineda's ability to develop his change up. If he can, he is an ace. If he can't, he is a #3ish guy.

    2. You are underselling Montero. Comps are terrible things, but having a Carlos Lee career is no insult. The plate discipline is not a concern at this point; Miguel Cabrera had a terrible eye and adjusted. 22 year old catchers should struggle with hitting; this kid is a prodigy who can mash.

    3. Pineda held lefty hitters to a .237/.296/.357. That could help limit the damage to lefty hitters in YS3.

    4. Campos and Verlander should not be mentioned in the same breath. Please. Ever. He is like 4 levels away from the bigs, which makes him a footnote in the Yankee plans. He has one pitch. Right now, he is a future reliever. Verlander has a handful of pitches. The two cannot even be mentioned in the same paragraph, let alone sentence.

    5. Montero had a higher WAR then Smoak this past year. Who's to say he can't take over first base, play well, and that ups his WAR? The Yankees couldn't use him at first but that's not to say his glove can't play there. The only sure thing in the trade is his hit tool, he is a 70/70 with the possibility for 80/80 in power and hit on the scout scale. Dude is gonna rake.

    This all boils down to hitting the reset button on the labor deal. Right now, the Yanks are on pace for a 50% luxury tax in 2014. That means a 200 million dollar roster costs them 300, 100 of which is given to their competitors. If they get under the 184 mark for one season, it resets them as a first time offender, and charges them 17.4%. That entitles them to a shitload of more revenue to save, or to reinvest. If Pineda develops, they save a lot of coin. The Kuroda deal is a one shot thing. They can make a DH for cheap. They want to get under that magic 184 number. It was a horrible rule the owners put in, smart by the players, and one the Yankees are sure to use to their advantage.