The big surprise of the '09 season has been the booming success of Joel Pineiro. Some observers wrote Pineiro off before he even threw one pitch this year. Even the Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo didn't select him to be a starter for Team Puerto Rico during the World Baseball Classic (He went with Ian Snell, instead). But as of Sept. 1, Jo-el is 13-9, with a 3.11 ERA (135 ERA+). This time last year, he had an ERA of 4.92. How does a 30 year old have such a dramatic career year?
First off, he isn't Roger Clemens. In fact, according to FanGraphs, Pineiro's velocity is actually down. The commonly referred to reason for his success is his newly discovered wonder pitch, the two-seam fastball. Indeed, he uses that pitch much more with tight consistent speed. Check out this chart:
Each dot represents the average speed of his two seamer for every game that he used a two seamer. He actually uses the pitch for every start by 2009, when he barely used it in '08 and even less in '07. Not only does he use it all the time, the average speed has been almost always 89 since about the 6th start. If you check out his overall pitch stats, he throws a fastball over 71% of the time when in 2008 he only threw it 58.4% of the time.
This new style of pitching hasn't made Pineiro into a strikeout king. He leads the league in ground ball to fly ball ratio at 2.74. Last season, it was 1.68. It's conceivable that he will end the season with twice as many ground balls per fly ball this year than last.
Oftentimes, when players have abnormally good years later in their career, they are looked at with a critical eye at best and dismissed and ridiculed at worst. Pineiro, however, is different. He has obviously changed his entire approach to pitching. He bought into Dave Duncan's pitch-to-contact philosophy and is reaping the rewards as a necessary and dependable part of a successful team.
Late in July, R.J. Anderson asked if Pinero's success was sustainable. He compared his increase in ground balls with other pitchers with similar increases in ground ball rates. He found that overall, these players maintained this success in subsequent years.
So while Pineiro is celebrating a resurgence (and altogether new found) success, there is evidence to suggest that it is more substance than style and more fact than fiction.