Michael Pineda’s Reduced Velocity

Michael Pineda made his Yankee debut yesterday – at least, Yankee-debut-in-games-that-don’t-count anyway. He threw two innings, gave up just one hit, didn’t walk anyone, and struck out two batters. The results were pretty successful. However, as Ken Rosenthal reports, the process was slightly less impressive:

A pitcher who sat in the mid-90s and regularly touched the upper-90s now throwing 88-91 could be cause for real concern. And, Keith Law even noted that at this time last year, Pineda was throwing much harder:

So, time to panic?

No, not really. As the 2011 season wore on, Pineda decided that it wasn’t in his best interests to come out firing at full velocity from the first pitch. He wanted to be more efficient early in games, so rather than coming out and throwing 97 and striking everyone out, he decided to ease off the fastball in the first inning or two and try to get some quick outs on the ground.

For instance, here are the first 10 pitches from his Pitch F/x log during his August 21st start against Tampa Bay from last year.

Fastball: 89.2
Fastball: 90.2
Fastball: 90.3
Fastball: 91.0
Change-Up: 85.5
Fastball: 93.9
Fastball: 91.8
Slider: 83.8
Slider: 83.6
Fastball: 93.7

He didn’t crack 94, and the average velocity was just over 91. The results were still fine, as he retired the side in order in the first inning, including getting two strikeouts, but the velocity wasn’t what he had shown earlier in the year. Later in the game, however, he was sitting 94-95 with regularity, and he finished the day with six innings pitched, allowing just six hits, no walks, and five strikeouts. It took him 94 pitches to throw those six innings.

Essentially, this development just isn’t new. Pineda spent a good part of the second half of 2011 experimenting with pitching at reduced velocities early in games, and then he cranked up the volume when he needed to as the game wore on. Now, I think an argument could be made that it’s a little disconcerting that Pineda feels it’s necessary to start games with diminished velocity, suggesting that perhaps he doesn’t feel he can throw in the mid-90s for 100 pitches per start over a full season. However, his performances from 2011 suggest that he’s choosing to throw at lower velocities early in starts, and you’d certainly rather have velocity loss be due to something that the pitcher can change when he wants to, rather than simply being unable to throw as hard as he used to.

Bottom line – this just isn’t really something to be overly concerned with. He only threw two innings in an exhibition game, and did so after being strongly encouraged to work on his change-up during Spring Training. For Pineda, there was no incentive to come out throwing 95, and he’s already shown that he prefers to work at lower velocities early in games.

If it’s mid-April and he’s trying to keep the Yankees in a regular season game and can’t get his fastball over 92, then it’s cause for alarm. Now, though, it’s just not really something that anyone should spend much time worrying about.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.