Micheal Pineda Has Ace Potential
Generally speaking it is true that a player’s future tends to look a lot like his past — especially for veteran players. When a player is coming off a couple of bad seasons in a row chances are good he is not going to be highly drafted in fantasy leagues the next year. But what if there is something buried in his advanced metrics that shows he actually performed better than his traditional statistics indicated? You might have a diamond in the rough that could be a real steal in the middle rounds of drafts. Michael Pineda is such a player and I will show you why.
Pineda started 32 games this year and won only six of them. He threw 175.2 innings and finished with an unsightly 4.82 ERA. That was even worse than his 4.37 ERA the year before. But before you write him off let’s delve a little deeper into his stats.
If it weren’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all
The first thing that stands out is that even though his ERA was 4.82 his xFIP was only 3.30, which is a difference of 1.52 runs per game. That is a BIG difference. Part of it can be explained by bad luck. His .339 BABIP was 41 points higher than the .298 league average and his .300 career BABIP (which includes this year, meaning it was quite a bit lower coming into this year). This means an abnormally high number of balls fell in the gaps and we should expect this number to drop next year. His Left-on-Base Percentage was 70.7% (matching his career rate) compared to a league average of 72.8%. This is another stat that isn’t dependent on the pitcher’s skill and can be expected to regress to league average next year. The biggest culprit however was his home run per flyball rate of 17.0%, which was much higher than the league average of 12.8% and his career average of 11.9%. Home run rates jumped quite a bit around the league this year. Last year’s league average HR/FB% was 11.5%, which in itself was higher than the 10% that has held fairly steady for the last 15 years since records have been kept. But even though it is a leaguewide phenomenon Pineda’s home run rate can still be considered to have skyrocketed compared to his peers’. Fortunately for the big right-hander, HR/FB% is another stat that is not dependent on the pitcher’s skill and can be expected to regress to league average in the future. The moral of the story is that Pineda’s true talent level this year was actually near his 3.30 xFIP rather than his unfortunate 4.82 ERA.
Pineda saw a similar effect in 2015. His 4.37 ERA that year exceeded his 2.95 ERA by 1.42 points — nearly the same amount we saw this year in 2016 and for much the same reasons. In 2015 he sported a .332 BABIP, 68.6 LOB% and 14.7 HR/FB%. You might think since he has seen that effect two years in a row why wouldn’t we expect that to continue next year? Well we can’t say it won’t but history has shown that it takes a LARGE sample for such stats to normalize to the mean. Even though he has thrown a combined 336.1 innings over the last two seasons that is still not a big enough sample to suggest it is a permanent feature of his game. These stats can fluctuate wildly. To prove that point, he had BABIPs of .258 and .233 his previous two seasons. His HR/FB% was only 9.0% in his rookie year and a miniscule 5.4% in 2014. So moving forward we can expect for league average rates in these so-called “luck” stats. This is good news for his fantasy value.
Just how good can he be?
The league average ERA and xFIP this year were both 4.19 (AL and NL combined). Pineda’s xFIPs the last two years were 2.95 and 3.30 — and both of those would be borderline elite if they were ERAs. Can he really pitch that well? I know the luck stats indicate he can but what else is there in his record that could boost our confidence enough to invest in him next year?
The biggest reasons are his strikeout and walk rates. He saw a big spike in his walk rate this year. He issued just 1.18 free passes in 2015 (an elite rate) but it jumped to 2.72 BB/9 this year. That is still significantly better than the 3.14 league average walk rate. Pineda fanned 207 batters in 175.2 innings this year, which equates to a dominant 10.61 K/9. That ranks him 5th in the majors among starters. That is an eye-opener. His strikeout to walk ratio of 3.91 ranks him 18th in the league. Similarly, his 20.4 K-BB% ranks 7th in the majors. These numbers prove he is one of the most dominant starting pitchers in baseball.
He uses a three-pitch mix to overpower batters. His fastball was classified by Brooks Baseball as a cutter that averages 94.75 MPH. Wow. No wonder he generates so many punchouts. He also relies heavily on a slider and works in a few change-ups per game.
Pineda ranked #97 among all starting pitchers on ESPN’s player rater this season. His rank among all players was #325. That means that in a 12-team league Pineda returned the value of a 27th-round draft pick even though he was healthy all season long. The main culprits for the low rank were the paltry 6 wins and the ugly 4.82 ERA. He ranked 11th in strikeouts, which provided a lot of value for his owners but not enough to overcome the damage he caused in ERA, wins and WHIP. We have already seen why we should expect the ERA and WHIP to improve as his luck stats regress to the league average. His strikeouts could actually improve if he manages to pitch more than 175 innings next year. The wins will surely improve as his ERA improves. We should expect Pineda to be worth much more than a 27th-round draft pick next year. Something in the range of a 10th round pick would be a reasonable projection for the value he may return, but I think he may fall quite a bit further than that in most drafts, which would make him a steal if he falls into the 15th round or later in 12 team drafts.
Since we are talking about dynasty leagues for the most part here at The Dynasty Guru, we need to realize that he is going to already be rostered in the vast majority of dynasty and most keeper leagues. If you want to get him you will have to trade for him and I heartily recommend you do exactly that while his price is low. In one of my home leagues I recently traded Aaron Judge and Daniel Norris to acquire Pineda. I am very happy with that deal. You shouldn’t have to break the bank to obtain Pineda, and he is one of a handful of breakout candidates I am targeting this offseason. I will write about some others this winter so be sure to check back frequently as I and an exciting crop of new TDG authors provide your daily dynasty league fix. If you have any breakout candidates of your own please discuss them in the comments below.
Speaking of trades, I will be bringing back the popular Trader’s Corner columns soon, so if you would like us to vote on your trade just fill out this form and it will be appear in an upcoming article right here on TDG: