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Michael Pineda's Dominance

Michael Pineda
that's a seriously long stride
I haven't written much on Michael Pineda, but it's not because I haven't noticed him. For the most part, there is enough out there on him already. It is time for a few words though.

First of all, I did not think that Pineda should have started the season in the majors, and what a travesty that would have been if I had been running the team. Clearly, Michael was ready for the majors and then some. I stand corrected, but this is one of those instances where it feels really good to be wrong.

Luck has been on Pineda's side, to a degree. Currently, hitters have a .253 BABIP, which is unsustainably low. In the minors, hitters had around a .300 BABIP off of him last year, which is roughly league average. At some point, that number will come up, which means Pineda will give up some more hits.

We aren't talking about a ton more hits though. Plus, while Pineda has a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate, both are in line with his minor league numbers. Those are the rates that made Pineda a great pitching prospect in the first place. There is no good reason to expect either to crumble.

I wanted Pineda in AAA to work on his change-up, and from what we've seen so far, it's as lackluster as advertised. I underestimated his slider though, and believe it or not, badly underestimated how good his fastball is.

By now, I thought the league would have adjusted to Pineda, and started to hit him harder, especially without a decent change-up. However, what is there to adjust to at this point? Hitters already know that they have to gear up for Pineda's fastball, and they still can't do much with it. Even though Pineda is rather predictable by default, hitters still can't do much when they have a good idea what is coming. If that isn't a sign of dominating stuff, I don't know what is.

Thinking long term, the bad news is that most pitchers steadily lose velocity on their fastball throughout their career. If Pineda continues to rely so heavily on his fastball, he will gradually fade from an overpowering starter, to a nice starter, to perhaps a journeyman at a surprisingly early age. Even if he does that, he will still have a nice career, so this isn't that bad of news.

The good news is that Pineda doesn't look like the type to rest on his laurels. He continues to develop rapidly, and that's not just due to an unexpected growth spurt. The pitcher that Pineda was at the end of last season wasn't capable of such remarkable success in the majors. His results suggest how hungry he is to get better, and he needs that kind of fire in his belly to become one of the game's elite. Pineda also has a heck of an example to follow in Felix Hernandez, and that doesn't hurt.

Looking down the road, Pineda has at least a couple seasons before I think he will "need" his change-up. Watching his rapid ascent to stardom the past few seasons, I like his chances of developing it well before he "needs" it. I don't think it is out of the question for him to figure out the change by the end of this season, and then maybe surprise us with a decent fourth offering by next spring training. How would a cutter or splitfinger look as Pineda's fourth offering?

Elite pitchers are a toxic blend of talent, brains, and determination. Felix has plenty of all three, and I'd argue that only a handful of pitchers in baseball can say the same. Lightning might be striking twice with Michael Pineda.