Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
Here's something you don't see every day: a healthy Michael Pineda. In fact, it's been 907 days since Pineda last threw a pitch in the major leagues.
But now that Pineda is almost two years removed from shoulder surgery, the 6- foot-7 right-hander looks poised to join New York's starting rotation. In 4 2/3 innings this spring, he's already logged nine strikeouts while allowing just one walk. Opponents have yet to score on the 25-year-old.
It seems like ages ago but back in 2011, Pineda was considered one of the best young arms in the American League. His 3.74 ERA was third-best among rookies (he trailed only Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova) while his 1.10 WHIP and .211 AVG against were both in the top ten among AL starters. Even American League MVP Justin Verlander couldn't top Pineda's insane 9.11 strikeouts per nine innings (8.96 for Verlander).
Those are All-Star numbers. We know that because Pineda was selected for the 2011 All-Star Game at Chase Field. He was one of four rookies invited to the game that season.
So what's stopping Pineda from being an All-Star again this season?
The easy answer would be Pineda's surgically-repaired shoulder but there's more to it than that. As good as Pineda looked in his rookie season, some of his stats are a bit deceiving. For example, 12 of the 28 starts Pineda made that season came at Safeco Field. Seattle's home ballpark has always been a security blanket for starting pitchers, as evidenced by Pineda's 2.92 ERA in 77 innings there. Everywhere else, his ERA was only 4.40.
If you need any more proof that pitching in Seattle is a major advantage, consider Safeco's 0.855 park factor in 2011. That was the fifth-lowest in MLB. Yankee Stadium, where Pineda will be asked to pitch half of his games in 2014, lies on the other end of that spectrum. New York's 1.087 park factor was the league's seventh-highest in 2013. The short dimensions at Yankee Stadium have made it one of the most difficult parks to pitch in since it opened in 2009.
None of that bodes well for Pineda's progress this season. But even more concerning should be Pineda's lackluster second half in 2011. After a few months, opposing hitters began to pick up on some of Pineda's tendencies. His 3.03 ERA in the first half of 2011 skyrocketed to 5.12 after the break. That's consistent with the second half drop-offs we've seen from rookies Mike Leake (6-1, 3.53 ERA before the All-Star break, 2-3, 6.91 after the break) and Jeff Locke (8-2, 2.15 in the first half, 2-5, 6.12 in the second half) in recent years.
Pineda, like most young pitchers, has made a living off his fastball. In 2011, his heater clocked in at an average of 94.7 mph, fourth-fastest in the major leagues behind Verlander, David Price and Alexi Ogando. This spring, his fastball has been sitting in the 91 mph range. That would have only been 50th- fastest among MLB starters in 2013.
Even if Pineda stays healthy, there's a good chance the Yankees will put him on an innings limit similar to the one that was placed on Stephen Strasburg in 2012. That means Pineda could max out in early September or even late August.
None of these are appealing qualities but at $1, what do you have to lose? If Pineda does return to All-Star form, he'll be one of the biggest bargains in fantasy baseball.
Think about it this way. Pineda's 2011 WHIP and ERA were both lower than the ones Jon Lester posted last season (3.75 ERA, 1.29 WHIP). Yet, Lester, who is five years older than Pineda, is going for $9 in most auction leagues.
A higher ceiling for a fraction of the price? Don't mind if I do.
Don't do anything crazy but if Pineda falls into your lap in one of the later rounds, the benefits will outweigh the risk.