Girardi: Pineda's luck 'has got to change'

Yankees pitcher's numbers create confusing picture of 2016 season

Girardi: Pineda's luck 'has got to change'

NEW YORK -- As the season was coming to a close and the Yankees evaluated Michael Pineda's final performance, Joe Girardi attempted to parse the numbers and called them "mind-boggling," saying that the assortment of stats were "probably the most interesting that I've ever seen."

Pineda led the American League with 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings, ranking third among AL starters with a 27.4 percent strikeout rate, yet he surrendered a career-high 27 homers and finished with a 6-12 record and a 4.82 ERA. How to make sense of it?

"Sometimes you scratch your head," Girardi said. "The average of batted balls in play off of him with two outs [.406] -- it just doesn't make sense. You look for reasons. Believe me, we'll look; I'm sure we'll look a long time this winter."

It is possible that Pineda could be closer to becoming a dominant front-line starter than his 2016 performance would suggest.

Examining his year through the window of Deserved Run Average (DRA), an advanced metric which incorporates factors like stadiums, situations, defense, weather, catcher framing, umpires and opposing hitters, Pineda ranked among the top starters in the game with a 2.58 DRA.

Only the late Jose Fernandez (2.23) posted a better DRA in 2016, with Cole Hamels (2.65), Chris Sale (2.69) and Noah Syndergaard (2.71) all trailing Pineda, who allowed two earned runs or fewer in 17 starts but at least five earned runs in 11 starts.

The metric, created by Jonathan Judge of Baseball Prospectus, attempts to close the gap between runs charged and what a pitcher deserved.

"It's a pretty robust way of looking at a pitcher and seeing how likely they are to succeed, or how well they are pitching based on what makes most pitchers good, or not good," Judge said.

Pineda's six shutout innings

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild has struggled to make sense of Pineda's performance, observing that "the peripheral numbers don't tell the truth about what's going on with him."

For example, opponents raked Pineda to a .325/.383/.598 split with two outs; the AL average was .242/.318/.403. His cutter was hammered to a .347 average this past year, as Pineda set career highs in innings pitched (175 2/3), starts (32), strikeouts (207), losses and home runs allowed.

"He is bewildering to me; I can only imagine what the Yankees must think," Judge said. "He does all of these things that, for most pitchers, are the keys to being absolutely dominant. When he's not striking guys out, he really seems to be serving up some pretty hard hits.

"I'm sure part of it is pitching in Yankee Stadium; he seems to struggle there, kind of like David Price has struggled to adjust to Fenway a bit. It could also be that he's a bit unlucky, although I'll note that he's now going on two years in a row of doing things that DRA really likes and not really having the results."

The Yankees' defense rates in the middle of the road, Judge said, placing more of the blame on Pineda for getting squared up so often when he isn't missing bats. Judge said that based on his numbers, a Yankees fan should tentatively be encouraged about what Pineda might deliver in 2017.

"It's a lot harder to make an ordinary pitcher into a strikeout pitcher than it is to make a strikeout pitcher into a decent everyday pitcher," Judge said. "It seems to suggest that he does have the ability to be great.

"As long as you're striking out guys and you're eating innings like he is, and you're not walking too many guys, I would certainly keep the hopes up. It does look like something mechanically or overall does probably need to change."

Girardi said that he believes Pineda's issue has been more luck than focus, and that some of his stronger efforts late in the year offered promise.

"He's been through some tough times this year," Girardi said. "He just needs to continue to improve. You look at some of the other numbers; BABIP [.340] is extremely high. You'd think some of that luck has got to change, and if it does, I think you'll see a guy that'll have a really good year."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.