Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Seattle Mariners trade promising young talent for another player (or, players) who doesn’t come close to fulfilling expectations; promising young talent proceeds to flourish with new, more competent organization. The last two decades of Mariners history littered with the carcasses of crap brought in from such trades. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of these guys: Omar Vizquel (for Reggie Jefferson and friggin’ Felix Fermin), Tino Martinez (traded with Jeff Nelson for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock), David Ortiz (traded for Dave Hollins), Jason Varitek (traded with Derek Lowe for…wait for it…Heathcliff Slocumb).
The players traded to the Yankees and Red Sox only played pivotal roles on the majority of World Series-winning teams from 1996-2004. Of course, the Red Sox weren’t done, winning another one in 2007. Meanwhile, the Mariners have four playoff appearances and zero World Series appearances to show for it. By the way, that’s their entire history, not just the last 20 years and change. Also, if you thought dumb trades were merely a ’90s fad, you’d be wrong. How’s Adam Jones doing these days? Now, how about Erik Bedard?
You can see where this is headed.
I don’t really follow baseball, but living in Seattle I absorb the Mariners via osmosis. They’re just kind of…around. I go to one game a year, usually hang out in the bullpen and get hammered at Club Safeco (the officially unofficial name of the beer garden). I couldn’t name five guys in tonight’s starting lineup. I know Felix Hernandez is God reincarnate, Robinson Cano makes a boatload of money (and is pretty good and is responsible for some Jay-Z sightings around town), and Nelson Cruz is good. Other than that, I got nothin’.
However, I do know who Michael Pineda and Jesus Montero are. Pineda is the former Mariners pitching phenom who, along with King Felix, was destined to be part of the best 1-2 pitching punch in baseball. Obviously, the Mariners were having none of that, so the team shipped him off to the Yankees for catching prospect (and ice cream sandwich fanatic) Jesus Montero. For a moment, and due solely to injuries sustained by Pineda, the Mariners appeared to have “won” the trade by virtue of having the guy who could actually play baseball.
That is no longer the case. After a couple injury-plagued seasons, Pineda is doing exactly what you’d expect of a hot former M’s prospect:
As of this writing, Pineda sits atop the WAR leader board for pitchers. Sure, you can’t take WAR as gospel this early in the season, and he’s likely to drop at least a few spots as the year goes on, but still: Michael Pineda is very much out here. His numbers so far—54 strikeouts in 46 innings and a 1.93 FIP (the best in the majors)—are sparkling, but what sticks out is the fact that he’s surrendered just three walks on the season. If there’s one thing you can point to to explain Pineda’s newfound success, it’s his control…
…He started 13 games at the tail end of last season, and only walked seven batters in 76 innings. Combine those stats with what he’s put together so far this year, and Pineda is one of the sharpest pitchers in the game. In 20 starts as a Yankee, he’s walked less than a batter per nine innings while striking out better than 10 per nine innings. That’s good for a 11:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, an absurd number that would make even peak Greg Maddux jealous.
Pineda has also seen a big spike in his ground ball rate—a jump from 39 percent in 2014 to 53 percent this year—which, combined with the fact that he’s finding the plate, makes him the deadliest kind of pitcher: one that will either strike you out or put you on the ground.
I don’t know much about all these fancy numbers, but they sure sound good to me. The good news for the Mariners is that Montero isn’t fat anymore. So they got that going for them, I guess*.
* For those keeping score at home, Montero is hitting .333 — with 4 home runs — in 29 games for the AAA Tacoma Rainiers.