By now, most people are familiar with the tale of Joel Pineiro. The former Mariner’s career was on the ropes a few years back — after averaging 2.6 Wins Above Replacement per season with Seattle from 2002 to 2005, Pineiro fell to 0.6 WAR in 2006. He signed with the Red Sox for the ’07 season and spent his time in Boston mopping up in the bullpen. Traded to St. Louis in July, Pineiro was so-so as a starter during the second half of the year and in 2008, battling shoulder and groin injuries. He posted 0.6 WAR again in ’07, and 0.9 WAR in ’08.
And then, the breakthrough. Pineiro played Daniel LaRusso to Dave Duncan‘s Mr. Miyagi (or Dre Parker to Duncan’s Mr. Han, but I’m old school), becoming skilled in the art of the sinker. Tossing 214 frames in 2009, Pineiro induced ground balls at a 60.5 percent clip, while striking out 4.42 batters per nine innings and stingily issuing 1.14 BB/9. His 3.68 xFIP was tenth among qualified NL starters, and his 4.8 WAR ranked eighth. Pineiro parlayed that performance into a two-year, $16 million deal with the Angels this past winter.
Transitioning back to the DH league and coming off of a year of unprecedented success, Pineiro wasn’t expected to come near the five win mark in 2010 — it would be a bit much to anticipate him again inducing grounders like a Derek Lowe/Tim Hudson love child, while displaying Greg Maddux-esque control and keeping a home run per fly ball rate under seven. But the FANS figured he’d make the Angels look pretty smart anyway, projecting a 3.4 WAR season.
So far so good for the 31-year-old righty. After last night’s eight inning, one-run outing against the Brewers, Pineiro sports a 4.01 FIP and a 3.86 xFIP on the season. His walk rate has predictably climbed from barely over one, but it remains excellent at 2.18 free passes per nine innings. His HR/FB rate has also regressed to 11.8 percent, after last season’s 6.5 percent mark. Pineiro’s burning worms again, with a 55.9 GB%. Surprisingly, he’s striking out batters at his highest rate (5.84 K/9) since 2004. That is not a breath-taking total, but Pineiro’s swinging strike rate has increased from 5.6 in 2009 to 6.5 this season (8.2-8.6 percent MLB average in recent seasons), and his over all whiff rate when throwing a fastball has climbed from 4.2 percent last year to 5.7 percent in 2010.
Pineiro was regarded skeptically over the winter, as teams were unsure of how much of the gains that he made in 2009 would carry over in the years to follow. The market basically valued him as a 1.5 to two-win pitcher per season, and Pineiro’s well on his way to exceeding that level of performance. He has amassed a 1.5 WAR so far this season, and if he meets his ZiPS projection for the rest of the year (4.14 FIP in 102 innings), he would finish with about three wins above replacement. Kudos to the Angels for snagging a quality starter at a reasonable price.
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