The Detroit Tigers needed another dependable starting pitcher, and on Friday night, they landed one. Veteran starting pitcher Michael Pineda, long a Yankee, but most recently with the Minnesota Twins, agreed to terms on a one-year deal worth $5.5 million. The news was first reported by Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press, and confirmed by Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic.
The 33-year-old Pineda has been with the Twins for the past three seasons, compiling a 3.80 ERA/3.93 FIP over that time period. The 6-foot-7 right-hander saw his strikeout rate decline a bit in 2021, but still tossed 109 1⁄3 innings with a 3.62 ERA/4.21 FIP. Pineda rarely issues walks and despite pitching in a bit of a launching pad in Target Field, continues to keep the home run rates near the American League average of 1.28 homers per nine innings.
The contract contains incentives that could add $2.5 million to the deal if he hits certain performance markers. We don’t have the details, but presumably part of that is the number of innings. Pineda had UCL reconstruction back in 2017, and has a tendency to deal with some minor shoulder and knee inflammation that costs him some starts, but even so, 2017 was the only season he failed to top 20 starts over his last five full seasons—with his stellar, short 2020 campaign excluded.
Pineda isn’t very flashy at this point in his career. His fourseamer rarely tops 92 mph, average a hair over 90 mph, and has a low enough spin rate to function as a sinker, which suits his angle to the plate. His changeup has above average depth and tailing action, but with only five mph of velocity separation from his fastball, gets hitters off balance and making weak contact rather than racking up the whiffs. He succeeds mainly due to a solid slider that collects an average amount of whiffs, and excellent command of his three pitch mix. While he doesn’t rack up the strikeouts and allowed the highest average exit velocity off the bat of his career last season, he is one of the best in the game at pounding the edges of the zone and then expanding the zone to get hitters to chase. A 96 percent chase rate in 2021 was one of the highest in the game among starters last year.
This fits into what the Tigers like to do with pitchers lacking in serious swing-and-miss stuff. Catcher Tucker Barnhart typically gets more strikes called than average on the edges of the plate, which should help drive hitters a little crazy when combined with Pineda’s ability to nail the edges. He’s very capable of executing a game plan and getting the ball hit where the defense wants it. Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter excels in game planning, while the Twins have often struggled to get the most out of their pitchers. In that regard, while this isn’t the frontline starter we were hoping for, it’s an educated low cost decision that should give the Tigers 20 or so effective starts this year.
With Wily Peralta and Chase Anderson already signed to minor league deals, the Tigers have done as expected and built plenty of starting depth into the roster, while boosting the bullpen with the signing of Andrew Chafin. They should be in good shape to succeed, and if things go according to plan they’re in fine shape to upgrade at the trade deadline if required.
With a young team, and with a farm system under all new management in 2022, the signing of Pineda allows the Tigers to let things develop naturally for a bit. They can see how Matt Manning is doing through the early part of the season. They can hope that the stockpile of raw but talented arms throughout the farm system continues to improve. And they can get a better idea of how Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson are equipped to contribute this season. If the signs point in the right direction as expected, the club should be well positioned to address needs as they come and possibly make a bigger move at the deadline to boost their chances.
It’s not as exciting as many hoped, but Michael Pineda is probably just what the doctor ordered at this point in the organization’s push back to contendership.