Joel Pineiro signed a two year deal with the California Angels for $16 million. The signing is probably good news for fans of the Angels who have seen the loss of Figgins, Lackey and Guererro over the off-season. As for Pineiro, he should give a percentage of that paycheck to Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan who resurrected his once moribund career. Let's break down the player the Angels have signed and see what we come up with.
The Good News
Pineiro had the best season of his career in 2009. He led the league in walks per nine innings with a skimpy 1.1 figure. Twenty-seven walks allowed in 214 innings of work is remarkably efficient. Considering that his career average in that category is 2.6, this surely is a sign of Cardinal mentality of pounding the strike zone and Pineiro is the prize pupil of the idea. In three seasons with the Cardinals, his walks per nine in those three seasons were 1.7, 2.1, 1.1. Those are the best of his career.
Pineiro also kept the ball in the ballpark. His 0.5 homers per nine innings was by far the best of his career and half his career average. It's a good thing when you make 32 starts and only give up 11 homers. And those 32 starts was his best total since 2003. His 15 wins were his best since that same season when he won 16 for Seattle. He also pitched the most innings in his career in 2009.
There is one more thing Pineiro did in 2009 that is a complete change of the kind of pitcher he has been in his career. His 1.32 Ground Ball to Fly Ball ratio was by far the best of his career. He had averaged around 1.1 up until this past season.
All of that data seems to suggest that Pineiro has learned to throw more ground balls, walk less and keep the ball in the ball park. Those are all good things and seem to indicate a pitcher that has learned some new lessens and some new tricks. If that is the kind of pitcher he has become, then the Angels have got themselves a new stud and have made a good deal.
The Scary News
The 214 innings that Pineiro threw in 2009 were the most in his career and only the second time he's ever pitched over 200 innings. Health has been an issue over the years for Pineiro as seen by that statistic. Can he bring the Angels 200 innings or more the next two seasons? That is part of the risk here.
The amazing stinginess of his walk total led Pineiro to have a fantastic 3.89 Strikeout to Walk ratio in 2009. His career average is 2.1. But his strikeouts per nine innings were way down and has been trending that way for the last three years. He struck out 4.4 batters per nine innings in 2009 and his career average is 5.6. The last three seasons have seen him sink from 5.7 to 4.7 to 4.4. That could be part of an overall strategy to throw strikes and keep the ball in play. But it is a bit of a concern.
There is usually some hidden reason for a pitcher who after years of mediocrity suddenly blossom with good numbers. The 1.1 WHIP Pineiro put up in 2009 is excellent and is one feature of walking so few. But his BABIP or batting average for balls in play was below .300. It was a rediculous .268 for the last month of the season. That indicates that his fielders did a really good job behind him and he was a bit lucky. His 3.49 ERA translates with his BABIP at about a 4.60 ERA under normal circumstances. That's a pretty deep step to think that it will continue.
Pineiro is going back to the American League where he will face an extra hitter every game. He had four interleague starts last year and he pitched very well against those American League opponents. His ERA was 3.33 in those four starts and he walked only two in 27 innings! That's amazing. His BABIP in those starts was .268. Keep in mind that .300 is more the norm. The kicker is that he was an unlucky 0-4 in those starts. Despite pitching well, he lost all four of them.
Pineiro did not pitch well in his one post season appearance.
If Pineiro stays healthy and pitches like he did in 2009, he will replace Lackey very well and will earn the money the Angels are paying him. He obviously has learned how to become a different pitcher with the Cardinals than he was in his Seattle days (when he had some good success). But that good of a season after many middling seasons is a concern and he seems to project to a .500 pitcher with an ERA in the 4.5 range. To be sure, the Angels will take that if they can get it.