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Piñeiro is Affordable Luxury

Pineiro signed a minor-league deal on Sunday with an invation to Spring Training. Photo: AP

Everything seems better after a nice vacation. Even though I miss doing absolutely nothing of particular importance, I returned to my day job refreshed and repurposed, enjoyed returning to a diet not consisting of exclusively of Taco Bell and Dunkin’ Donuts, and ready to catch up with my Philly sports teams.  After spending my birthday with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy, I was pleasantly surprised to return to the real world to see the Sixers were dominating and the Flyers were hanging tough in the East.

On the drive home, somewhere near where I traded the Mouse ears for Pedro’s sombrero, I received an alert that the Phillies had signed Joel Piñeiro to a minor-league contract. My vacation buzz, and my frenzied driving up I-95, initially prohibited me from processing this information. My fiancé and I switched again once we reached Virginia where, in my sleepy stupor, I hastily proceeded to try to confirm the information, as if Piñeiro was the missing piece to winning a World Series.

It was 1 A.M. I was exhausted. And the only thing I knew about Joel Piñeiro was his sensational 2001 rookie campaign and his terrific 2009 with the Cardinals. Forgive me.

I’ve had 48 hours to sleep on the information and the more I think about the signing, the more it feels like the week after vacation, after the shine is gone, thrusted back into a routine, with relaxation a distant memory. Yet, much like my day job, it isn’t that bad. In fact, it isn’t hard for me to like my job or the Piñeiro signing.

Piñeiro, after a superb 2009 and a very successful 2010, was less effective in 2011. Despite a strong start, the wheels fell off in his seventh start of the season, posting a dud against the anemic Oakland A’s and two stinkers against the Royals. The right-handed Piñeiro ran into trouble against lefties who walked twice as often against him and hit 23 points better.

This isn’t to say Piñeiro was very successful against righties, either. Joel averaged a K/9 more against righties and over a BB/9 less but still allowed righties to hit .296 against him. That just won’t cut it. Bizarrely, Piñeiro’s FIP and xFIP are lower across his career against opposite-hitting lefties, who hit him less and strike-out more. Piñeiro’s success relies heavily on his sinker:  it is no coincidence his best seasons have come in years where his sinker-induced groundballs dwarf his flyballs. Nagging elbow injuries and the absence of Dave Duncan have likely contributed to his decline.

Joel Piñeiro’s signing is not like the Dontrelle Willis signing but more like the Pat Misch signing: organizational depth. Willis figures to be the secondary left-handed option out of the bullpen while Piñeiro will likely compete with Misch for the emergency starter role while helping the Pigs chase down the Governor’s Cup.

It isn’t to say that Piñeiro shouldn’t have a spot on the Phils. He’s averaged just under 2 WAR a season, making him solid, yet unspectacular pitcher across the last few seasons. Health and consistency aside, it becomes a numbers game. With the five starting spots filled up, a long man set, a closer, a lefty and a righty set-up man, and an additional lefty already all but guaranteed roster spots, Piñeiro’s math to make it on the team becomes slim but not insurmountable. His main competition will come from Michael Schwimer, Justin De Fratus, and possibly even Phillippe Aumont, all righties whose splits against righties may make them more attractive options for the final spot. Adding Piñeiro to the fold, at this point, is a very nice luxury, although I do hope for the health of the Phillies, we only see him sparingly in red pinstripes.

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