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February 22, 2012 posted by Patrick DiCaprio

Debate Me: Matt Moore or Michael Pineda?

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Michael Pineda, NYY

This week Albert Lang and Tom Saucke face off on Matt Moore versus Michael Pineda. First up is Al, with his pick of Pineda:

Albert Lang:

The FantasyPros911 head-to-head fantasy baseball rankings have Michael Pineda about 40 pitchers higher than Matt Moore. ESPN has Moore as the 19th SP and Pineda at 25. Yahoo! has Moore at 24 and Pineda at 22. Moore’s ADP is 102, the 28th SP; Pineda’s ADP is 97, the 26th SP off the board.

For the most part, these young pitchers are incredibly closely regarded, but they shouldn’t be. Moore has roughly 17 innings to his name in the majors. Sure, he pitched 160 innings across AA and AAA last season, but minor league innings can be far less strenuous than major league innings. While it appears Moore will not have an innings limit, a major league season is incredibly grueling. Moore is just 22, so betting on him throwing as many pitches as a seasoned veteran is a losing wager.

Since 1980, only 81 rookie pitchers have thrown 200 or more innings. In addition, of the 177 pitchers who threw 170+ innings as a rookie, only seven surpassed 200 K’s, 12 surpassed 180 K’s, and 22 surpassed 170 K’s. Also, of those 177 rookie hurlers, just 19 were 21 years or younger. The recent history of baseball is not in Matt Moore’s corner.

Consequently, is it a lock that Moore throws more than 160 innings this season? No, it’s far from certain. The reasonable upside projection for Moore is 170 innings, with a 10.33 K/9 rate, 2.9 BB/9 rate, 3.20 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Still, there’s a good chance his IPs end up closer to 150 than 170.

Meanwhile, Michael Pineda actually threw 171 innings in the majors last season, posted a 9.11 K/9 rate, and 2.89 K:BB rate. While he had what appears to be a low BABIP (.258), no one hit Pineda hard: he had an 11.8% swinging strike rate and an 18.9% line drive rate.

Some claim that Pineda slowed down as the innings piled up or as hitters saw him more. Indeed, his first half ERA (3.03) and WHIP (1.04) were, seemingly, light years better than his second half (5.12 ERA and 1.22 WHIP). However, his K:BB rates were virtually identical. It’s far more likely that his 58 innings in the second half created a bizarre small sample.

Aside from his first and second half splits, people are worried about this summer’s trade, mostly because he is leaving Seattle’s spacious ballpark and he fared better at home than away: Pineda had a 4.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP on the road versus a 2.92 ERA and 1.01 WHIP at home. However, his K:BB rate was better on the road (3.37 versus 2.93) and he walked fewer batters away in more innings.

Furthermore, Pineda pitched brilliantly in tough parks (Rangers Ballpark, Rogers Centre, U.S. Cellular Field) and poorly in tough parks (Camden Yards and Fenway Park), so it’s doubtful moving from Safeco to Yankee Stadium will cause Pineda to implode. At the end of 2012, Pineda will have a 3.80 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and approach 200 K’s.

The last argument in Pineda’s favor is bizarre but true: wins. In 165 innings and 28 starts, Ivan Nova won 16 games for the Yankees last season. In 2010, Phil Hughes won 18 games across 29 starts with a 4.19 ERA. In 2009, Andy Pettitte won 14 games in 32 starts with a 4.16 ERA. We hate to predict wins for the most part as they are incredibly variable; however the Yankees are the exception. The franchise wins and the offense puts up runs. Consequently, Pineda has become a sure thing to win 14 games with significant upside on that number. Chasing wins is typically a fool’s errand, which makes Pineda even more valuable, as you know he’ll win a good amount of games.

At the same time, who knows how the Rays will fare this season, and, regardless, Moore is by no means a lock for double digit wins.

Matt Moore, TB

Tom Saucke

I had the opportunity to see Moore pitch for the Norfolk Tides at Buffalo (AAA) last season and I was blown away.  He has a plus-plus curveball thanks to its jaw-dropping 12-5 movement with late break.  Moore’s lowest K/9 rate in the Minors was 11.52 (AA-SOUL), giving him the potential to really carry the strikeout load for your fantasy staff.  For comparison’s sake, the only starters that logged over 100 IP with a K/9 rate over 10 were Brandon Morrow (10.19), Zack Greinke (10.54), and Brandon Beachy (10.74).  Although Moore has had minor control issues in the past, the incredible movement both on his fastball and curveball help to mask his deficiencies.

In 2011, Moore boasted K/BB ratios of 4.68 (AA), 4.39 (AAA), and 5.00 (MLB).  Throughout his Minor League career, his HR/9 never exceeded 0.7 and only once did the opposition hit over .200 against him (A+).  His stuff is disgusting and he shouldn’t have a problem transitioning to the Major Leagues full time.  If the Tampa Bay Rays are willing to use a 22-year-old in Game 1 of the ALDS, I’m comfortable rostering him.

Michael Pineda is a different story and it has everything to do with the way he finished 2011, the park he’s in now, and the reliance on his slider.

First, let’s discuss his performance down the stretch last season.   Pineda started off hot and finished ice cold for the Seattle Mariners.  The proof is in the pudding for his ERA, AVG against, WHIP, and BABIP per month courtesy of fangraphs.com:

Month ERA AVG WHIP BABIP
Mar/Apr 2.01 .193 1.09 .262
May 2.81 .186 0.91 .231
June 3.03 .207 1.09 .243
July 6.75 .226 1.25 .294
Aug 4.70 .227 1.17 .262
Sept/Oct 4.00 .229 1.17 .275

You can blame it on fatigue, workload, or rookie status if you’d like but the numbers don’t lie.  He won only 3 games after June 1st and run support was not an issue.  We all know how much Felix Hernandez struggled to get runs during his AL – Cy Young Award season.  Pineda got 5.16 runs per game last year.  Although this isn’t stellar, it isn’t close to as bad as Felix’s 3.75 runs per game in 2010.

Yankee Stadium really scares me.  Pineda’s home/away splits were downright scary.  Pineda’s ERA at home was 1.52 lower (2.92 vs. 4.40) and his WHIP was 0.16 lower (1.01 vs. 1.17).  Safeco has a well-earned reputation of being a pitcher’s haven.  Pineda moves to a launching pad in Yankee Stadium that isn’t going to do anything positive for these ratios.  He’s going to get a lot more run support, but his HR/FB% is sure to go up from the 9% that he posted last year.

The last thing that bugs me about Pineda is how often he goes to his slider.  He threw it roughly 30% of the time last season and 35% of the time against righties.  This frequency jumped to an alarming 37% with two strikes.   For a young pitcher, the worry is that he will blow out his elbow before he even has a chance to destroy his shoulder.  It’s great that he has an effective out-pitch but he would be wise to develop something else to mix into his repertoire.

My projections for the two pitchers in 2012 are as follows:

Player IP W L K ERA WHIP
Matt Moore 180 13 8 191 3.23 1.18
Michael Pineda 190 15 10 182 3.83 1.15

First, let’s dispel this notion that Moore is going to be handicapped with 160 innings.  He threw 174.1 in 2011 between three levels and there is absolutely no reason to believe that he ends 2012 with less unless he’s somehow relegated to the bullpen or sustains an injury.  He isn’t ready for 200 innings but 180 are doable without question.

Pineda will win a few more games as he benefits from playing for a superior offensive team.   While Moore won’t post K/9 marks like he did in the Minor Leagues, he will still be one of the best sources of strikeouts this season.  He has all the tools to post a low ERA with Tampa Bay and their defense will play a role in helping him achieve a sub-3.3 ERA.

The bump that Pineda gives you in wins isn’t enough to cancel out an inevitable ERA spike.  He’s liable to see his HR/FB% shoot up over 10.5 and there is too much risk for a young kid pitching in New York.  The “pressure” that he had in Seattle is nothing like he’ll face from the New York fans and media.

Tampa was willing to throw Matt Moore out there for game 1 of the ALDS and you should follow suit with your fantasy team in 2012.

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