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This afternoon, news came out that Michael Pineda was diagnosed with an anterior labral tear and will miss the entire season surgery on Tuesday, May 1 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Pineda, who turned 23 in January, has come a long way since signing with the Seattle Mariners out of the Dominican Republic back in 2005.
Signed on December 12, 2005 for a paltry $35,000, Pineda made his professional debut in 2006 in the Dominican Summer League with the DSL Mariners, putting up a 0.44 ERA over eight games (three starts), striking out 14 batters in 20.1 innings. In 2007, Pineda was still unable to get a visa, and again pitched for the DSL Mariners, putting up a 2.29 ERA across 59 inings with 48 strike outs. Finally able to pitch in the U.S. in 2008, Pineda dominated in for the A level Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest Leaue, putting up a 1.95 ERA across 138.1 innings with 128 strike outs. Pineda started 21 games and relieved in five games in an attempt to decrease his workload, finishing the season with a dominating performance against the Quad Cities River Bandits, the St. Louis Cardinals Midwest League affiliate, with 14 strike outs, no walks, and only one hit in a complete game shutout.
Moved up to the High A California League High Desert Mavericks to start 2009, Pineda pitched well to start the season, but quickly encountered arm trouble. After going 5, 6.1, 7, and 7.1 innings to start the season, Pineda was placed on the Minor League Disabled List for 15 days due to elbow soreness. Activated on May 12, Pineda’s innings were limited, going 2 and 3 innings in his next two appearances before re-aggravating the injury and going on the Minor League Disabled List for approximately three months, only returning to the Rookie Level AZL Mariners for a 1 and 2 inning appearance in early August. After being cleared, Pineda was returned to High Desert, where he pitched 13.2 innings over four starts, allowing four runs (three earned), while striking out 22.
In 2010, Pineda was assigned to the AA West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the Southern League, where he absolutely dominated opponents. Across 77 innings over 13 starts, Pineda struck out 78 and allowed only 67 hits. The Mariners took notice and promoted him to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast Leauge, where Pineda kept doing well. Pineda struck out 76 in 62.1 innings with a 4.76 ERA. Pineda, pitching a career high 139.1 innings, clearly tired. In his last two starts, Pineda went 4.1 and 3.2 innings, allowing four and six runs (all earned), with eight hits in both. Pineda’s numbers should also be adjusted to consider that he was in the hitter-friendly environment of the PCL.
After 2010, prospect prognosticators took notice and rated Pineda accordingly. Baseball America ranked Pineda #16 overall (between Matt Moore and Freddie Freeman), Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranked Pineda #24 (between Jacob Turner and Dustin Ackley), and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Pineda #13 (between Kyle Drabek and Mike Montgomery).
Pineda opened the 2011 season as the #5 starter for the Seattle Mariners, immediately showing why he was considered a top prospect. After a six-inning effort on July 4, Pineda had a 2.58 ERA over 108 innings across 1 starts with 106 strike outs and a sparkling .564 OPS-against. Pineda struggled in his next six starts, putting up a 7.64 ERA over 33 innings until mid-August. From August 21 through the rest of the season, Pineda seemed to pitch well, with a 3.60 ERA over five starts across 30 innings. Overall, Pineda pitched very well, putting up a 3.74 ERA (103 ERA+) across 171 innings in his age-22 season, coming in fifth in the Rookie of the Year vote in a very stacked year.
The big trade of the 2012 off season occurred on January 23 when the Mariners dealt Pineda with prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for ultra-prospect Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.
But there was also this: scouts behind home plate had Pineda’s velocity at mostly 90-92.
When Pineda dominated in the first half of last year, he threw his fastball in the mid-90s. Last spring, at this time, Pineda was throwing 95-98 and his changeup was at 88.
In his next start, Pineda silenced critics and hit 94 on the radar gun, as the Yankees’ General Manager, Brian Cashman, said that Pineda is 20 pounds overweight. After the game, Pineda told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News: “I know I can throw harder, but it’s getting better. My arm feels good.” On the eve of the season, Pineda is put on the 15-day Disabled List with shoulder inflammation and tendinitis, which is never a good omen. Then, just today, the bombshell hit: Pineda will undergo surgery next Tuesday to repair an anterior labral tear, which will keep him out for the entire 2012 season, and possibly part of 2013.
What will happen to Pineda from here? Surgery then rehabilitation is for sure, how well his “stuff” comes back is another story altogether. While many pitchers have come back from elbow surgery (such as ulnar collateral ligament surgery, more commonly known as Tommy John surgery) with flying colors, such as Stephen Strasburg and, well, Tommy John, shoulder surgeries, especially ones on the labrum, have a less successful track record. As State’s Will Carroll wrote:
Leading baseball surgeon Dr. James Andrews estimates that 85 percent of pitchers make a full recovery after an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, aka the once risky Tommy John surgery. (USA Today has even called the surgery the “pitcher’s best friend.”) But if pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they’d be destroyed. Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level. Think about that when your favorite pitcher comes down with labrum trouble: He has a 3 percent chance of becoming Rocky Biddle. More likely, he’ll turn into Mike Harkey, Robert Person, or Jim Parque, pitchers who lost stamina and velocity—and a major-league career—when their labrums began to fray.
So what can we expect? It’s entirely possible that this may be the end of the career of Michael Pineda, which would be unfortunate for every baseball fan, as Pineda’s talent is worth the price of admission. But Pineda may return, and he may return to form, but only time will tell.
So does this mean that the Mariners won the trade? It probably does. While the Yankees may end up striking gold with Jose Campos, Jesus Montero was a lot to give up for a 19-year old pitcher in A-ball. In the end, we will need five years to evaluate the trade, but early returns give the Mariners a big advantage. And remember, TNSTAAPP.
Update: Curt Schilling has said that he thinks Pineda “can be back better than he has ever been in 10 months. Maybe less, because he is younger. It is going to be 100 percent on him.” Mark Mulder, who had a labral tear and a rotator cuff injury never felt the same after coming back from surgery.
On the other hand, five pitchers (Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Al Leiter, Chris Carpenter, and Gil Meche) threw more than 1,000 innings following the surgery, and another six (Scott Elarton, Jason Isringhausen, Ted Lilly, Jon Rauch, Anibal Sanchez, and Jose Valverde) have topped 400 innings.
So it appears that there is significant precedent for a successful return for Pineda – but not one without risk.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.