It has been a long road back for Joel Pineiro. After producing two excellent seasons for the Mariners in 2002 and 2003 he began a swift decline. It started with an elbow injury in 2004 and continued through 2008. During that time he had pitched for three teams, though his last destination, St. Louis, appeared the most attractive. That’s where he worked under the tutelage of pitching coach Dave Duncan. A year and a half after acquiring Pineiro from the Red Sox, the Cardinals found they had struck gold. He pitched 214 innings in 2009 and finished with a 3.49 ERA.
The difference shows up right in the numbers. Pineiro’s ground-ball rate jumped by more than 10 percent from his career average at that point, and he stopped walking batters. The combination led to not only a solid ERA, but also solid peripheral ERAs: 3.27 FIP, 3.68 xFIP, and 3.19 tERA. His redeeming season couldn’t have come at a better time, either, as he was headed for free agency. The Angels ended up landing him for a relative bargain at two years and $16 million. In 2010 he showed that he might really be a recovery case and not just a fluke.
Before an oblique strain caused him to miss two months, Pineiro was rolling along. While his walk rate jumped a bit and his ground-ball rate dipped somewhat, he compensated by striking out more hitters. It amounted to a 3.84 ERA, and his FIP, xFIP, and tERA were all within .04 of that. That’s quite an impressive feat for a guy who, just two years prior, produced a 5.15 ERA in the NL Central. He’ll be back with the Angels for 2011, and given his last two seasons it would be safe to say he should bring much of the same. But not everyone agrees.
Today Dan Szymborski released the 2011 ZiPS projections for the Angels. The top three pitchers yield no surprises. Jered Weaver checks in with a 3.53 ERA, Dan Haren is at 3.57, and Ervin Santana sits at 4.23. Where the surprise comes is below the league-average line, where Joel Pineiro sits with a 4.44 ERA. Why the pessimism after he produced so well in the past two seasons?
The difference appears to come on balls in play. ZiPS actually projects Pineiro’s walk rate to be under 2.00 per nine and his home-run rate to stay around the same level it was last year. In fact, his FIP works out to 3.98. The extra half-run, then, has a lot to do with the 162 hits in 146 innings that ZiPS projects. That works out to a 1.31 WHIP, which is a bit higher than Pineiro has experienced in the last few years. In both of those years, his hits allowed have been right around his IP totals, so the jump in hit rate will clearly affect his ERA.
Still, there’s plenty of room in optimism. Both Bill James and the Fans have projected Pineiro to perform a bit better. Problem is, we have only 22 Fan projections for him. Let’s pump that up and see where the cards fall. It’ll take just a second, so click here to enter your projections for Pineiro.