Potential Off-Season Targets: Joel Pineiro


With the 2011 season over, the old saying, “There’s always next season,” instantly becomes all Mets fan’s credo. But before we can think about riding the 7-train out to Flushing again, there is a whole off-season to project and pontificate about. Considering the amount of holes the Mets will have, this coming off-season holds a lot of importance.

In this new on-going series, Rising Apple will analyze potential off-season targets for the New York Mets. Today’s target at-hand is free agent pitcher, Joel Pineiro.

Joel Pineiro was once one of the more exciting young pitchers in the game. As a member of the Seattle Mariners, the then 22 year-old was recalled to the show in 2001, and hurled an impressive 2.03 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 2.67 K/BB in 75.3 innings. While he wasn’t the most overpowering pitcher (6.7 K/9), he had pretty impressive control for a kid (2.5 BB/9). Pineiro’s success only continued, posting a 3.24 ERA. 1.25 WHIP, 2.52 K/BB in 194.3 innings during 2002, and a 3.78 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 1.99 K/BB in 211.6 innings during 2003. However, as his 4.30 xFIP in 2003 projected, Pineiro’s mid-3 ERA wasn’t for real.

Like clockwork, the righty’s 2004 season was the beginning of an almost career-ending streak of ineffectiveness. Pineiro hurled a then career-worst 4.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 2.58 K/BB in 140.6 innings during the 2004 season. While the 25 year-old’s 7.1 K/9 was his best rate in the Major Leagues, Pineiro also suffered an elbow injury in late-July, knocking him out for the rest of the season, and denying him the ability to somehow even out his dreadful campaign. However, things only got worse. Health proved not to be the culprit in 2004, as the righty hit rock bottom in 2005–posting a 6.36 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, and 1.36 K/BB in 165.6 innings. Pineiro was so bad, that the Mariners demoted him to the bullpen. The pitcher wasn’t nearly as bad in relief (4.81 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 2.00 K/BB), but he was still far from his old self.

Having seen enough of the former top-of-the-rotation-pitcher’s struggles, the Mariners decided to not tender Pineiro a contract, enabling him to become a free agent. The Boston Red Sox scooped up the damaged goods on January 3, 2007, and stuck him in the bullpen for good. Despite moderate success as a reliever for the Mariners the year before, Pineiro couldn’t even channel his recent mediocrity. The pitcher owned a dismal 5.03 ERA. 1.61 WHIP, and 1.43 K/BB in 34 relief innings for the Red Sox before being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals in-season. Pineiro was now a member of his third franchise in just two seasons–usually the writing on the wall for a professional ballplayer.

But, all of a sudden, something clicked for 28 year-old. Maybe it was the switch to the National League, or perhaps the often wizard-like guidance of Dave Duncan, but Joel Pineiro started looking like his 2002-self. In 63.6 innings as a starter for the Cardinals, the righty hurled a 3.96 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 3.33 K/BB. While the pitcher always exhibited good control, Pineiro’s 1.7 BB/9 was by far his best rate, and obviously contributed to his rediscovered effectiveness. The Cardinals rewarded Pineiro with a two-year extension worth $13 million during the off-season, and placed him full-time in their rotation.

Yet sometimes when you think you’ve taken one step forward, you’ve really taken two steps back. In 2008, the right-hander hurled a vulnerable 5.15 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and 2.31 K/BB in 148.6 hittable and injury-plagued innings. Pineiro’s fastball was worth a horrendous and career-low -20.5 RAA, which led to a spike in his Hits/9 (from 9.8 Hits/9 with the Cardinals in 2007 to 10.9 Hits/9 in 2008). Despite the frustrating season, the determined Pineiro bounced back in 2009. And bounce back he did. The starter collected double-digit wins for the first time since 2003 while hurling a 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 3.89 K/BB. Even though his 4.4 K/9 was the worst of his career (at that point), he also led the league in shutouts (two) and BB/9 (1.1 BB/9), and his fastball was worth a whopping 21.8 RAA (besting the likes of Josh Johnson, Ted Lilly, Felix Hernandez, and Cliff Lee).

Pineiro’s resurgence was perfectly synched with his walk year, enabling the righty to sign a two-year, $16 million pact with the Los Angeles Angels. Baseball heads assumed a return to the American League as well as his departure from the tutelage of Dave Duncan would be a recipe for disaster, but to the surprise of many, Pineiro continued to flourish. In 2010, Pineiro posted a 3.84 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 2.71 K/BB in 152.3 innings. While he missed some time due to injuries, his effectiveness in 150-plus innings made him worth his contract.

Like so many times before, Pineiro simply could not muster a string of good seasons. Battling a shoulder injury, The 32 year-old Pineiro pitched a 5.13 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, and 1.63 K/BB in 145.6 innings. Even when the starter returned from the disabled list, his performance on the mound was so shoddy, that he was demoted to the bullpen to figure himself out. On the whole, Pineiro saw his Hits/9 spike to 2006-levels (from 9.2 Hits/9 in 2010 to 11.2 Hits/9 in 2011), walks increase (from 2.0 BB/9 to 2.3 BB/9), and strikeouts diminish to incredible lows (from 5.4 K/9 to 3.8 K/9). Even his career-saving GB rates (60.5% in 2009 and 54.9% in 2010) faded (to 48.3%).

As a free agent in a rather empty pitching market, there’s a chance Joel Pineiro might get some bites–though it would be surprising to see him receive a guaranteed Major League deal. Despite his inconsistencies, there is still sense in the Mets inking him as a back-of-the-rotation option (at least to compete during Spring Training). It’s hard to ignore how effective Pineiro was from 2009 to 2010 (combined 3.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 3.23 K/BB), and since he relies on control and ground-ball outs, there’s a chance he could rebound in 2012 assuming the Mets infield defense is stellar.