The Angels are reportedly set to sign Joel Pineiro to a two-year, $16 million deal. This is a move that we Halo fans are supposed to be excited about, yet for some reason I feel like the guy who went on a game show to win a million bucks but all I left with was the home game version of the show as my consolation prize. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Joel Pineiro era!
Are you intimidated, AL West rivals? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
The Angels have tried all off-season to add a stud pitcher to their rotation to no avail. They tried like crazy to trade for Roy Halladay and came up empty. They chased after Aroldis Chapman and got skunked. They tried to bring back John Lackey but were shunned in their efforts. You have to admire Tony Reagins’ persistence and dedication to the cause, but at some point you have to know when to quit. Well, instead of quitting, Reagins scraped the bottom of the supposed “ace” barrel and what he came up with was Joel Pineiro.
For all intents and purposes, Pineiro was an ace last year, winning 15 games, posting a 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and a WAR of 4.8 (16th best amongst starting pitchers). The problem is nobody knows what the hell to expect from him this year. Pessimists will no doubt fixate on his generally poor performance from 2004 thru 2008 while optimists will talk about injury problem and instead point to his very strong 2002, 2003 and 2009 seasons. If anyone can tell you what Joel Pineiro is going to do this season, they are just plain talking out their ass and therein lies the rub.
When I think about adding an ace to the Angel rotation, I don’t really consider adding a guy who the Angels could deeply regret signing by this July as someone who qualifies as an ace. The free agent market is constantly starved for quality starting pitching with teams usually falling all over themselves to overpay anyone with so much as a hint of top-notch talent and yet Joel Pineiro lingered on the market like a fart in a small room with no circulation. There are simply too many red flags on Pineiro’s resume for any team to really feel like they are getting a surefire frontline stater which is exactly why I fear that this signing will ultimately prove to be a minor disaster for the Angels, here are just a few of those reasons:
- Pineiro had his career year under the tutelage of Dave Duncan, a pitching coach renowned for his ability to turn poor pitchers into excellent pitchers. He is also known for having those pitchers turn back into crappy pitchers after they move on to another team.
- The great success of Pineiro came in the National League which is simply a much easier league for pitchers to thrive in. The American League is a much scarier beast that can really do damage to pitchers who don’t miss bats and Pineiro doesn’t miss many bats with his 4.42 K/9 last year.
- Pineiro finished the year with a 3.49 ERA, but he did not finish the season strong posting ERAs of 4.19 and 4.93 in the months of August and September, respectively, and allowing a total of seven homers during that span after allowing just three dingers in all the previous months combined. It is almost like the hitters finally figured out whatever he was doing differently. Uh oh!
- Pineiro was a once a promising pitcher with the Mariners, featuring more of a power style of pitching but has suffered from elbow and shoulder problems the last few years, so at least there is no guarantee Pineiro is durable.
- I’ve seen this before, a career underachiever who after turning 30 had the best year of his career during a contract year. That reminds me of someone, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Wait… I think I am remembering…
To be fair, if Pineiro bombs as badly as Private Matthews did, the Angels won’t pay nearly as dearly. If Pineiro turns out to suck, the team is only stuck with him for two years instead of five. On the flip side, if Pineiro does find a way to continue to thrive, the Angels are getting themselves a real bargain at $8 million per year (but keep his price tag in mind when we see much higher upside guys like Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard for a similar price in the next few weeks). For as big a risk as this is on the talent side of the equation, it is only a moderate risk financially. And while I do paint a picture of doom and gloom for Pineiro’s Angel career, there is a legitimate chance that he could succeed.
The real supposed key to his success is the sudden development of a new sinking fastball. Joel never really used the pitch much until last season and the result was a staggering increase in groundballs induced. For his career, Pineiro sports a 1.54 GB/FB ratio, but in 2009 his new pitch saw that ratio climb to 2.54 making him far and away the premier groundball pitching in baseball last season. That strikes me as a screaming anomaly, but it is something to hang your hat on and with the Angels owning a strong infield defense, it just might work out for everyone no matter how much contact Pineiro allows.
“Working out well” is a relative phrase though. Even the most optimistic of projections for Pineiro in 2010 have him ending the season with an ERA just above 4.00 and WAR comparable to a #2 or #3 starter and for a team that already has a rotation full of #2 and #3 starters, that just isn’t good enough.