Montero-Pineda: No Big Deal?

The reaction to the Pineda-Montero trade is unanimous: Everybody seems to believe it was a hugely significant deal, but a ripoff of biblical proportions. Unfortunately, I have yet to read consecutive analyses saying who did the ripping.

My concern is the other part. Ever the contrarian, I am not convinced this is an epic trade, nor a rip-off. I’m not convinced by either of these guys.

I suppose the confusion originates with the similarly disparate conclusions about Montero’s ability to survive on the major league level. Before he hit the Bronx last September there was no middle about him. He was either the next great slugger and at least a sufficient catcher, or an overrated stumblebum whose ceiling might be Jake Fox.

I don’t think September cleared things up for us. He drove in a dozen runs and slugged .590 in 61 at bats, and showed the kind of jaw-dropping opposite field power off the middle-to-high fastball that seems to appear only once per decade. But as the Yankees cruised towards the division title amid the Red Sox collapse and a Rays surge that could never have threatened them, they trusted Montero to start exactly one game behind the plate. He wound up catching thirteen more innings in two other games and four of five baserunners stole off him. He did not impress defensively.

Nevertheless, the real question mark should be how New York used him – or didn’t use him – in its post-season cameo. Yes, Jorge Posada got on base eleven times in 19 plate appearances (five singles, four walks, a hit batsman, and a triple) but he didn’t drive in a single run and six of his eight outs were whiffs. It is intriguing that only one of the hits, only one of the walks, and the lone HBP came in the two Yankee wins (9-3 and 10-1 wins no less). Posada’s fireworks were mostly empty calories. Montero, meanwhile, appeared only in the rout portion of the latter and went 2-2 with an RBI.

The Yankees also just traded a bat when the forecast for their 2012 production is not optimistic. Alex Rodriguez slowed to a crawl last year, Curtis Granderson vanished in late August and Russell Martin long before that, Nick Swisher was all over the place, and there is only one Robinson Cano. I realize Joe Girardi envisions the DH spot as a place to park the fading Rodriguez or the beaten-up Swisher on a given day but this “keep ’em fresh” use of the DH implies that the batters you’re going to use there are still of value. To me, the Yankee batting order got almost spasmodic in the second half of last season and a great young power-hitting bat in its middle would be far more useful than another young starting pitcher.

That is, if the Yankees really believed Montero was a great young power bat. I’m convinced that for all of Brian Cashman’s comparisons of Jesus Montero to Miguel Cabrera and Mike Piazza, he has decided that there is some grave flaw not just in his glove but in his bat. Cash was reportedly ready to trade Montero to Seattle for Cliff Lee in 2010 but balked at trading Montero and Eduardo Nunez (this was confirmed for me last summer by another Major League GM). Cashman has been surprisingly willing to trade this supposed blue chip prospect for whatever the drooling Mariners would surrender. It was suggestive enough that he seemed to value Nunez more highly than Montero. And now, if he  just traded a Cabrera or a Piazza for a Michael Pineda, he’s an idiot – and I don’t think he’s an idiot.

And I’m giving Pineda the benefit of the doubt here. I was first astonished by this guy’s potential during a throwaway appearance at the end of a televised Mariners’ game late in spring training 2010. His spectacular start to 2011 was no real surprise to me, and I’m assuming even though they cuffed him up for three earned on five walks and three hits in five innings at Seattle on May 27th, the impression was left on New York brass that this was one of the coming mound stars of the game. After all, before that start at Safeco, Pineda had been 6-2, with 61 K’s in 58-1/3 innings. He’d only given up 46 hits and only twice had walked more than two men in a game.

Pineda went 3-8 thereafter.

He was still good in June, and what followed could very easily have been exhaustion – except he had managed 139 innings pitched in the minors in 2010 and 138 two years before that. This was not totally foreign territory. And yet he collapsed at the All-Star Break:

                     GS  IP  ER  BB  K   HR   W  L    ERA   WHIP  G/A   OA

Before         18  113  38  36  113  10    8   6    3.03    1.04     0.84   .198

After            10   58  33  19    60   8     1  4     5.12     1.38     1.38    .236

Look, a 1.38 WHIP is not going to kill you, not with the Yankees. Consider that for all the disappointment the second half tacked on to his rookie season, Pineda got run support of 5.16 for the season (Derek Lowe/Dan Haren/Chris Carpenter territory). The Yankees gave all of their guys a lot more help: Ivan Nova 8.82, Freddy Garcia 7.49, A.J. Burnett 7.19, CC Sabatha 6.98, and Bartolo Colon 6.41.

But there is another disappointing set of splits to consider. Pineda not only did better in the pitcher’s paradise that is Safeco, but he did better in a supremely bizarre way.

Michael Pineda’s home-road splits:

                     GS  IP  ER  BB  K  2B   3B  HR   W  L    ERA   WHIP   G/A  OA

Home          12  77   25  28  82    3     0     9     5    4    2.92    1.01      0.92  .182

Away           16  94   46  27  91   21     2     9     3    4    4.40    1.17      1.05   .234

Do you see it?

Michael Pineda surrendered only 12 extra-base hits at home, exactly one a game. On the road, he gave up 32 of them, exactly two a game. The homers are the same but the doubles helped to kill him.

Another stat to throw at you. His BABIP (for the un-SABRized, the opponents’ Batting Average on Balls hit In Play) was .258. That was the ninth lowest in the majors last year, and while having the ninth lowest opponents’ batting average on anything would intuitively be a good thing, in this case it ain’t. The BABIP for all pitchers combined was .291, which implies that on as much as thirteen percent of the outs Pineda got on balls the hitters hit, Pineda was lucky they were outs. Low BABIPs (or high ones) tend to correct themselves over the course of a season, or from one season to another, which is as good an explanation for his opponents’ actual batting average to jump by .038 after the All-Star Break as is “he got tired at 113 innings.”

There are a lot of numbers in here, but between Pineda’s second half (and road) woes, and the Yankees’ remarkable unwillingness to put Montero on the spot in the playoffs, I infer that this wasn’t a rip-off, and it wasn’t a trade of future Hall of Famers – that it might have just been the trade of a couple of high-ceiling but deeply flawed ballplayers.



  1. CalinCT

    The reason Cashman values Nunez over Montero had to do with necessity, not potential.
    The Yanks have (and had) plenty of depth in their organization at catcher. And lets face it….you got ONE catcher in your lineup, at a time.
    They do NOT have a lot of MLB ready infielders that can play 3 infield positions, basically interchangeably, on any given day. And with their infield…that kind of diversity and utility can’t be undervalued. To the YANKS, I think Nunez is more valuable, at this point, than Montero. Not BETTER….he just fits their needs more closely.

  2. jan27

    I hear and understand your caution, Keith. But I still think Cashman is justified in wanting to get as much pitching potential as he can. He probably didn’t want to go down the old guys off the scrap heap route again — yet. And given the eye to 2014 luxury tax issue, he also probably didn’t want to pay big bucks for Buerhle or anyone else. I like that the Yanks are finally trying to restrain themselves a bit, hope they can keep that up. As for bats, yes, in the second half they always seem in need, especially with aging players and with overused ones[as with Grandy last season]. Of course, in the post-season I still think that Girardi could’ve tried using a few others than the regulars who were spent and non-productive.

  3. Andy

    And, out here in the return address space of the envelope that is the USA, M’s GM Jack Z needed to get a bat, almost any bat, this winter, in addition to signing light hitting shortstop Kawasaki and the legendary John Jaso.

    Conventional wisdom is that the M’s have loads of pitching, so Pineda was available. This will give us something else to discuss this summer as the M’s battle the Oakland A’s for third place in the AL West, and you don’t have everything unless you have something to bitch about.

  4. Howard Burns

    What this trade allows the Yankees to do is add a great young arm for Larry Rothschild to mold into a consistent winner, make Austin Romine the heir apparent at catcher (he may not be the hitter Montero is but he’s a better backstop and surely has the MLB bloodlines) and add another better-than-average prospect to the system in Campos. Really like Pineda and the Kuroda signing doesn’t hurt either. And the cherry on top is Cashman can now try to dump Burnett on some poor GM desperate for another arm. Win-win for both teams.

  5. MattD

    Good points Keith. Although I seriously doubt Montero will be another Jake Fox, I fear he might be another Cliff Johnson, which while Cliff sure had his moments it would be a disappointment if Montero has that type of career.

  6. Gentrovo

    I was excited about Montero this season, and I think I’m still in a bit of shock now that he is gone. I like your analysis of the deal, Keith. I hope both players have lucrative careers. Especially Pineda.

  7. ddrt

    Hey, what pen do you use for your scorecards? I saw it in a previous post but forgot to ask then. It writes exactly how I want a pen to write.

  8. Doc

    Calin is spot on. Yankees have a glut of 1b/dh types including aging stars who will need at bats while resting their aging bones And the add a young power pitcher which allows them to no longer keep Burnette in the rotation. So the issue is entirely how the acquired pieces fit into their new teams and far less who is first into the hof 20 years from now.

    Yankees win in a landslide!

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