Good things come to those who wait, and man did the Yankees wait for this one. Michael Pineda has finally reached the place where we can declare him our official ace. It was always the plan that he would be a #1 or a #2 starter when we traded for him. He was only 23 years old when he first joined the Yankees, so we knew some development had to happen – maybe a year or two as a legitimate #3 starter. He certainly showed a lot of promise in his first and only year with the Seattle Mariners. While many questioned whether he was worth the price of top prospect Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi, you only have to look at how those two guys are doing now to see that we robbed the bank on that deal.
There are certain characteristics you expect from an ace of the staff. The most important one is wins – the one slot in the rotation where you expect a win everytime out. Pineda is 4-0 in 6 starts, with the Yankees record at 5-1 in Pineda starts. He is effective, with an ERA at 2.97 and he averages about 6 and a half innings per game. He is durable, having thrown at least 90 pitches in each start, topping out at 101 in his latest start. His fastball is in the low 90’s and he mixes in off-speed pitches in the mid-80’s about half the time. He is not afraid to throw strikes, doing so at a rate of about 69%, and he has only gone to a 3-0 count once – ONCE – this season. In what I consider to be the sign of his ability to lead and motivate, Yankee hitters are averaging 4.7 runs per start. I could quote a dozen more stats to this effect, but it would only reinforce the image that this guy is the bedrock, the ace of this pitching staff.
Now when we declare someone the ace, the backstory is always that every other starter is NOT the ace. In the Yankees’ case, we have two pitchers who once held the title of ace of the staff. Those two, of course, are C.C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka. Sabathia was signed in 2009 to be the ace of the staff, and he delivered in that role for several years, including 2009 when we won the World Series. I love C.C., but after several injury-plagued years, he just is not pitching at that level anymore. When he is on, he is lights out. When he is off, he is way off. He is way off often enough that you cannot rely on him to deliver a win every 5th turn. Nobody wants him to return to his ace form more than me, but he is probably a #3 or #4 starter at this point.
Masahiro Tanaka came in with a splash and a big signing, and he was outstanding. When you have a guy who is 12-4 with an ERA of 2.51 and a K/9 of 9.4 at the midway point, he becomes the de facto ace. Then he had that slight UCL tear, and it has been downhill ever since. He was not the same pitcher when he returned in September. After getting his arm strength up and his fastball velocity into the 90’s in his last two starts, he got hurt again and will miss at least a month. There is almost no confidence that his arm has the durability to go a full season. The fact is that his best play may be to have the dreaded Tommy John surgery and come back for the 2017 season. After all, did we not wait a couple of years for Michael Pineda because of injuries and surgery? But I digress ….
The only thing standing in the way of Michael Pineda is Michael Pineda himself. We have seen him make a bunch of knuckleheaded moves with the pine tar, and the last two years have seen hope dashed by injuries. Right now, though, he is showing a lot of maturity, no signs of wear, and no indication that he is holding back. He looks strong and dominant, and if he keeps this up, he has a legitimate shot at being a 20-game winner. The confidence shows when he takes the mound, his own and that of the rest of the team. That’s the ace.
--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Senior Staff Writer
My blog is: Shots from Murderer's Row
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