Fantasy Baseball: This is who Michael Pineda has always been –

Michael Pineda had one of the best starts of the young season on Monday, a dazzling 11-strikeout performance against the Rays that saw him take a perfect game into the seventh inning. He was tremendous, recording a game score of 82, the second-highest in baseball through the first eight days of the season.

Pineda also had one of the best starts of the 2015 season, when he struck out 16 Orioles in seven one-run innings. He also struck out 10 batters on July 4, 2015; 12 on June 30, 2016; and 11 on Sept. 20 against the Rays. Catch him on the right day, and Pineda looks one of the best pitchers in baseball, and it’s always been easy to talk yourself into him when things are going right.

Here’s how he followed up those four double-digit strikeout games in 2015 and 2016: 24 innings over four starts, 19 strikeouts, 4.50 ERA. Perhaps nothing else can encapsulate the Michael Pineda experience quite like those numbers, as he can go from absolute lights out brilliance to sheer mediocrity with no warning. Why would this time be any different?

Pineda was impressive Monday, don’t get me wrong. He racked up 15 swinging strikes in the outing, including a whopping 10 with his slider, a 26.3 percent whiff rate, per He also threw 12 changeups on 93 pitches, according to the pitch tracking service, more than is typical for him; just 8.5 percent of his pitches last season were changeups. He also commanded his pitches well, largely avoiding the upper-third of the strike zone, while primarily keeping his changeup and slider below the strike zone:


This is all fantastic. Really. But it doesn’t mean anything. Not really. You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Pineda can look like one of the best pitchers in baseball for stretches, because it isn’t news. We’ve seen it before, and nothing we have seen from Pineda throughout his career indicates he is able to keep this kind of play up.

And, of course, the same was true after his last start, when Pineda was tagged for four runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings against this same Rays team. Compare his pitch locations Monday to those from his first outing:


Same pitcher, same opponent, and I’m guessing the scouting report didn’t change much in the past few days either. Pineda wanted to keep the slider low, he just didn’t succeed last week. Pineda was likely dropped in at least a few of your leagues after that outing, but that didn’t make any sense either, because nothing we’ve seen from either of his first two starts has taught us anything new.

When he’s on, and he can command his fastball and slider, they can be one of the best two-pitch combinations in baseball. He racks up swings and misses freely with both, and the changeup even occasionally flashes as something more than a “show-me” pitch. When he’s not on, his fastball hangs out in the middle of the strike zone, his slider sits thigh high, and his changeup doesn’t even garner a second look from hitters.

If you could reliably predict which version of Pineda was going to show up from start to start, that would be one thing. However, as these first two outings show, it’s not even the matchup that matters for Pineda. He’s battling against himself more than anyone at the plate. I’ve often called knuckleball pitchers like R.A.Dickey and Steven Wright “random number generators,” because there is no apparent rhyme or reason to when the pitch does and doesn’t work, and the same can be said for Pineda. Just add about 30 MPH.

This is who Michael Pineda has always been. You shouldn’t be any more optimistic about his prospects moving forward after Monday, because you knew he was capable of this when you drafted him. And, when he goes for a month stretch with a 6.00 ERA, you shouldn’t be angry either. This is who he is. He is intermittently useful, maddeningly inconsistent, and occasionally brilliant, but the end result is likely to be underwhelming. 

In other words: