Last year's big free agent bargain is back for another go. Can Pineiro continue to be a pleasant surprise in the Angel rotation in 2011 or will durability concerns drag him down once again?
2010 Stats: 152.1 IP, 10-7, 3.84 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 92 K
2011 ZiPS Projections: 146 IP, 8-8, 4.44 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 84 K
2011 Bill James Projections: 193 IP, 10-11, 4.06 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 110 K
2011 Marcel Projections: 157 IP, 10-8, 3.93 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 91 K
2011 MWaH Projections*: 135 IP, 6-8, 3.72 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 72 K
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2010 in Review: If there is one prediction I missed on badly last season, it was with Pineiro. I thought his 2009 season in St. Louis was a fluke and that the league would catch on to his new sinker and start lighting him up, especially with him switching to the tougher American League. Yep, wrong, wrong and wrong some more. Pineiro, despite a bumpy start, ended up being more than the Angels really could have hoped for as he gave the rotation a different look with his groundball tendencies and wound up being one of the better mid-rotation starters in baseball in 2010. In fact, many thought the Angels probably would have had more of a chance at overtaking the Rangers in the AL West had Joel not gone down in mid-July with an oblique injury.
Three Lingering Questions for 2011:
- Can Pineiro stay healthy? Maybe I am reading too much into his oblique injury last season, but there has to be some concerns over Pineiro's ability to stay healthy for a whole season. A pulled muscle is normally no big worry, but Pineiro does have a long history of arm problems throughout his career and that seemingly flukish oblique strain could be a warning flag that he's starting to break down again. Maybe I'm wrong to worry, but maybe it is safer to be on me then on a 32-year old with arm problems.
- Will the Angel infield defense be able to support Joel and his sinker? What makes Pineiro's 2010 campaign all the more impressive is that he put up those numbers despite being a groundball heavy pitcher backed by a poor defensive infield. While the personnel isn't much different, could Joel actually get more defensive support this year? Aybar and Kendrick both had rough years in the field and could very well bounce back, especially Aybar who has Gold Glove potential. It also cannot be overstated enough that the Angel infield D should be much better with Kendry Morales, a quality fielder, back at first full-time as opposed to a crop of poor fielder learning on the job.
- Is Pineiro quietly becoming a leader? We've already heard stories from last season about Pineiro showing guys like Jered Weaver a few tips on throwing sinkers and two-seam fastballs. Now this year the latest rumor is that Pineiro has been teaching Ervin Santana to throw a split-finger as well. Pineiro is the eldest member of the starting rotation, so it should be no surprise that the others are turning to him for advice. So what does this mean to his future with the Angels? Will his role as a mentor affect the Angels' decision on whether or not to re-sign him once his contract expires at the end of the year?
What to Expect in 2011: It really is hard to tell what to predict for Pineiro. Really, it almost wasn't even worth listing his projections since they all take into account the seasons prior to when Pineiro started throwing his sinker. What makes it so difficult is that when Pineiro joined the Angels, he saw his strikeout rate, walk rate and homer rate spike from the year before, which is kind of confusing. I have a hard time believing that the homers will remain so high with a sinker like his, but by the same token, Pineiro probably shouldn't be striking out as many batters either. As for the walks, I think his 2009 total was just preposterously low, so it should be no surprise that he regressed last season.
So why am I predicting him to improve his numbers? For starters, I seriously doubt the Angel infield defense will be as lousy as it was last year and that is crucially important for a pitcher like Pineiro. What I think this will lead to is Pineiro pitching to contact more often rather than trying to generate whiffs, which is what I think led to both his increased strikeouts and homers last year. Next, I just think that Pineiro has now got two full season of this revamped pitching approach under his belt, which should be enough time for a crafty veteran such as himself to start incorporating some more guile and intelligence into his attack now that he is comfortable with his repertoire.
That's all fine and good, but as you may have noticed, I pegged Pineiro for only 135 innings of work. I have absolutely no empirical evidence to base this on, but I have a hunch that Pineiro is going to struggle with health this season. With all the hype the Angel rotation has been getting this off-season, I just think Murphy's Law is going to take a whack at the Angels by smiting someone in the rotation and I think Joel is the perfect candidate.
One other minor thing to consider, Pineiro is in the final year of a two-year contact (something that has generally been an extra boost to a player's performance). That creates an interesting subplot for this season. At 32, Pineiro is still young enough to sign a three or four year contract extension. With the Angels set to have both Pineiro and Kazmir hit free agency after the season, the Angels might strongly consider locking up Pineiro for a few more seasons rather than having to deal with filling two rotation spots in one off-season. On the other hand, if the Halos find themselves out of the playoff race come late-July, Pineiro's impending free agency will make him ideal trade bait.