Prince Pineda Is Dealing

In spite of a lineup featuring Suzuki, Smoak, Death To Flying Things and scrubs, the Seattle Mariners sit just one game under .500 at 24-25 and trail the first-place Rangers by a game-and-a-half.

The offense is still wheezing along, besting only the Twins in park-and-league-adjusted batting, and the M’s have been the worst defensive club in the AL thus far, according to Ultimate Zone Rating. The starting pitching, on the other hand, has been superb and has kept the Mariners in AL West contention to this point. With a collective 3.40 xFIP from its starters, Seattle is neck-and-neck with Oakland for the top honors in the league.

Felix Hernandez, as always, is dominating. Jason Vargas and Doug Fister are pitching fairly well, and Zombie Bedard has been fantastic this May. King Felix isn’t the only royalty in Seattle’s rotation, though — Prince Michael Pineda is making major league hitters look like mere paupers during his rookie season.

A 22-year-old righty who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs in around 260 pounds, Pineda got plenty of prospect love before the season. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein, ESPN’s Keith Law and our own Marc Hulet all ranked Pineda as a top-25 farm talent prior to 2011. And Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system thought he’d hold his own in the majors this year, forecasting a league-average ERA with around 7 K/9 and a walk rate slightly over three per nine frames.

Instead, Pineda has pitched like an ace from day one. The San Cristobal, D.R., native leads all qualified AL starters with 9.41 K/9, and his walk rate (2.16 per nine innings) ranks in the top 15 among Junior Circuit starters. His 2.98 xFIP is 24 percent better than the league average and is bested by only James Shields and King Felix in the AL.

With a 71.2 first-pitch strike percentage, Pineda is getting ahead in the count 0-and-1 or getting batters to put the ball in play on the first pitch more frequently than any other big league starter. He’s also luring hitters to chase pitches out of the zone at the highest rate among starters, at 39.2 percent.

Pineda is punishing batters mainly with two pitches: a blistering fastball averaging nearly 96 MPH and a mid-80s slider. That heater, which has topped out at near-triple digits, is getting whiffs between 10 and 11 percent of the time that he throws it (six percent major league average). Pineda’s hard breaking ball has a whiff rate slightly over 20 percent (13-14 percent MLB average).

There were concerns entering the season that Pineda would struggle against left-handers, given his lack of a reliable changeup and that sliders tend to show a large platoon split (opposite-handed batters handle the pitch much better). Happily, lefties haven’t posed a huge problem for Pineda through his first nine starts: he’s got a 3.53 xFIP versus hitters batting from the opposite side, and a 2.51 xFIP against righties.

Pineda seems to be approaching lefties and righties in a similar manner with his fastball, firing up and away to batters of both hand, Take a look at his Pitch F/X heat zone maps. The areas that are yellow are where most of Pineda’s pitches have been concentrated:

Pineda’s fastball versus left-handed hitters

Pineda’s fastball versus right-handed hitters

With the slider, he’s mostly keeping the pitch in the zone against lefties, while either spotting the pitch low-and-away to righties or putting it off the plate to induce many of those aforementioned outside swings.

Pineda has already racked up 1.9 Wins Above Replacement this season. While we shouldn’t expect him to continue to be this good, Pineda is well on his way to one of the better rookie campaigns in the past three decades. Since 1980, only 15 starting pitchers have posted at least 4 WAR during their rookie year. The last person to accomplish the feat was Brandon Webb, in 2003.

In the unlikely event that the Mariners remain in contention (Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds give Seattle a two percent chance of playing postseason ball), the M’s would have to consider how hard they’re willing to work a franchise cornerstone who missed much of the 2009 season with an elbow injury and whose career high innings total in the minors is 139.1. For now, though, we can all sit back and enjoy Prince Pineda’s dominance.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


45 Responses to “Prince Pineda Is Dealing”

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  1. MTK says:

    I think there’s a certain USS Mariner C/O that’s happily eating some words after Pineda’s first 60 innings pitched.

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  2. Jon says:

    with 2 pitches hes kinda like an AJ Burnett but with a slider rather than a curve

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    • Nik says:

      In that he throws just 2 pitches yes, but Pineda has control that Burnett doesn’t dare dream of. Beyond that Pindea has the potential to develop a change up, but until he struggles, I doubt ML batters will see it.

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  3. Danny says:

    Drove down to Seattle (from Vancouver) twice to watch Pineda pitch so far this season. Both games I noticed he got ahead of plenty of hitters and was generating numerous swing and misses against his fastball (and the data seems to back this up). With his velocity and control the way they are, the Mariners should have the best 1-2 pitching combo in the American league for years to come.

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  4. CheeseWhiz says:

    As a Mariner’s fan I greatly appreciate the article, however nobody should ever refer to his greatness as Suzuki, it is Ichiro and only Ichiro. Also I really don’t want to jump on the Prince Pineda nickname bandwagon, I’m still waiting for a good one.

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  5. bikozu says:

    Please don’t perpetuate the awful nickname “Prince Pineda”

    +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Tim Andren says:

    Prince Pineda is terrible. His nickname is El Niño.

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    • Frito Bandito says:

      Which, as everyone knows, is Spanish for “The Niño”.

      +35 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • david says:

        hanley ramirez already has dibs on that. you could call him “purple rain pineda” as a combination of both the prince and weather nickname themes.

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      • jklender says:

        Then he can serve opposing hitters pancakes after each start.

        “Why don’t you purify yourself in the waters of Puget Sound?”

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  7. Nicknames says:

    Pineda’s nickname should be El Diablo, sort-of a play on the Niehaus call last spring training “Diabolical. That stank!” and Spanish nicknames are soooo cool!

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  8. ALRocks says:

    Wow. The AL West is so bad they should just move to the NL.

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    • Jeff says:

      Oh I’m sorry, did you forget about Texas winning the AL championship last year?

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Where their “great pitching” would be middle of the pack? The NL isn’t the bad league anymore dude, it’s the league with pitching.

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  9. Kazinski says:

    We shouldn’t rush Pineda’s nickname, it’ll come and it will be a slam dunk. But it ought to be something like “el Tirador”, The Marksman, or maybe “El hombre del Rifle” with the kind of control he is showing.

    Think about it, he leads the majors in both fastball velocity and first strike percentage. That is just nuts, I really can’t think of a rookie, ever, that throws that hard that has that good of control.

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  10. Bruce says:

    I still like “El Dorado” as a nickname.

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  11. fdhjstf says:

    input this URL:
    http://www. buygreatshoes.org
    you can find many cheap and fashion stuff

    -32 Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Jim says:

    I dunno Prince Pineda is a pretty cool, organic nickname guys.

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    • Nickname says:

      Not sure if you are joking or not, but it is NOT organic when King Felix is clearly where it’s derived from.

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    • CheeseWhiz says:

      Sorry, no. It has been shoved down our throats all year, and has never sounded authentic once.

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  13. rbibaseball57 says:

    It also helps his case that he has face teams that have terrible lineups: Toronto, Kansas City, Oakland, Detroit (late April when the team was struggling), Baltimore, Minnesota, and San Diego. He’s given up 7 ER between these teams. He has also had two starts against Texas. He gave up 7 ER to Texas. He also has an 80% strand rate. So its good that he’s beating bad teams, but lets see how he does against teams that can actually hit.

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    • Kazinski says:

      It also helps his case that he has face teams that have terrible lineups

      It might help to do some fact checking before you post. Tex, Baltimore, Toronto and KC and Detroit are all right in the upper tier to middle of the pack in the AL for wOBA. And yes he’s pitched against Minnesota and San Diego too, but the commissioner sets the schedule, not Pineda.

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      • rbibaseball57 says:

        He faced Detroit while they were in their slump in late April/Early May. I didn’t say Texas had a terrible lineup. Toronto does have a good lineup but they are a free swinging one. However, I was wrong about Baltimore he did give up 3 runs to Baltimore. As for KC this was also earlier in the year as well. I’m just saying their is more to just looking at stats, you still have to watch the kid in person, and take into consideration who he faces. There is always a story behind the stats. I am a believer in sabermetrics, however you can’t just rely on raw data, their are other things to consider.

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      • kswissreject says:

        RBI, KC early in the year led the league in hitting. He faced them in mid-April while they were hitting everything. Sure, he’s not facing Yankees and Red Sox every start.

        However! Looking at Baseball Prospectus’s opponent OPS, he is right in the middle – 26 out of 60 qualifying pitchers. Gio Gonzalez and CC Sabathia are right in line with him. You can’t say he is facing the weakest lineups, there is concrete evidence right there.

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  14. david says:

    they’re all still better than seattle who his opposite gets to pitch against.

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  15. King Josh Collmenter says:

    Don’t forget about me, guys! I’ve been destroying the NL West and I look to take home the Cy Young with my 88 mph fastball!

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  16. maqman says:

    Considering how he looks to batters maybe it should be Darth Pineda.

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    • Charge_the_Mound says:

      I get the height reference, here, but dude doesn’t wear a cape and in the post-game interview I listened to he sounded nothing like James Earl Jones. If I had to pick from the Star Wars universe, I think I prefer the mojo of something like Pinedo Calrissian.

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  17. Charge_the_Mound says:

    Being a Mariners fan and thinking about nicknames, I keep thinking that I’ll be fine with most anything derived from his continued dominance. The not so good scenarios involve media outlets starting to call him “Piñata” if things were to go bad. The only consolation in this case would be all the candy erupting from the mound at Safeco and kids getting to rush the field!

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  18. Jeremy says:

    Le longue carabine!

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  19. Jeffrey Gross says:

    What about “the breeze” given his SwStr%?

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  20. CircleChange11 says:

    Hopefully he keeps this up and avoids the obvious nickname of “Pinyata”.

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  21. Jeff says:

    GOD DAMNIT DO NOT CALL HIM FUCKING PRINCE PINEDA THAT IS SUCH A SHITTY NICKNAME HOLY SHIT

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  22. Slats says:

    Michael ‘El Diablo’ Pineda.

    Spanish for the Devil which makes sense because Dave Niehaus described Pineda’s Spring Training slider as: DiaBOLical.

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  23. Geno says:

    diggin the Spanish tribute. need to brainstorm and decide before some idiot at ESPN says “Prince Pineda” and it takes off:

    la pistola (too Maravich-ey?)
    the ol’ 96er
    the beast
    beast mode
    mucho calor
    squatch (sonics aren’t using it anymore)
    the Northern Lights-out
    (in a Niehaus voice) eeeewwwww… caliente!
    saucy
    tapatio (too racist?)
    ponchar fuerte (grammar check, please)
    el girafe
    la unidad de grandes (Spanish for Big Unit)
    maybe just Unit Grande?
    gran tormenta (mighty storm, but kinda sounds like he is tormenting the opponent)

    still workin on it…

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  24. bookbook says:

    How about “Michael”?

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  25. Antonio Bananas says:

    How about El Miguel, or “the Michael” in spanish?

    Or “Dirty Mike” or for spanish Miguel Manche.

    I like to think of myself as a nickname expert. Call Atlanta’s Kimbrel “Filth Master Flash”. Anymore nickname posts, come to me.

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