Please welcome Matt Filippi to the BTB family! He's a co-managing editor over at The Stirring Straw and contributes to The Hardball Times. We're so glad to have him here and can't wait to see his work!
This is the second year in row that one of the Yankees best, young starting pitchers has suffered a decrease in velocity during Spring Training. Last year, it was Phil Hughes and this year it's newly acquired Michael Pineda. Before we jump the gun here and decide that Pineda's a bust let's remember that it's only two starts and the season is still a few weeks away.
It's definitely too early to get worried. However, the Yankees brass told people not to worry about Hughes and his fastball didn't come back to him until after a very long DL stint. So how is Pineda's situation different than Hughes?
The 2010 season was Hughes' first as a full-time starter and he logged 176.1 innings; 90.1 more than he did in 2009. It's known that that type of work load increase has a negative impact on a pitcher's arm and it certainly did in this case. Hughes suffered from that severe arm fatigue that sidelined him for most of 2011 and made him ineffective for the most part. In 2011, Pineda only increased his innings pitched by 32.1 due to a strict limit that the Mariners had for him. This type of increase is not enough to tire out his arm.
Another thing that should be taken into consideration is the fact that Pineda did not participate in Winter Ball over the winter. The M's had him take the entire off-season off so he would come to camp fully rested. This being said, he is still trying to get his arm back into shape so a few mph decrease on the fastball isn't a huge shock. We also saw that his fastball was in the 88-91 range in his first start and then in the 90-91 range (touching 93) in his second start. It is a small sample, but the upward trend is nice to see.
Dave Cameron of Fangraphs and USS Mariner, who followed Pineda all of last year while covering the M's, also brought up the point that he seems to build velocity as the game goes on. He hasn't had an outing long enough to be able to build up to 94 or so which is about what he average last year with the pitch. If that's the way he pitched throughout the entire season last year, then why would anything change now?
Obviously, there are a lot of factors as to why we shouldn't worry about the big right handers velocity problems yet, but it's something that we should keep an eye on. We'll have to see how he looks in his start today against the Nationals.