Michael Pineda might be better than his stats

Michael Pineda has looked a lot better of late for the Yankees. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Perhaps New York Yankees starter Michael Pineda is turning the statistical corner, so to speak.

Pineda entered Saturday’s start against the Twins with a 5.82 ERA, but he lowered that slightly by allowing one run and two hits in six innings. Pineda struck out eight, which marked the first time in his career that he struck out that many in three straight starts.

Pineda had a 6.92 ERA in April and May, but he has a 3.00 ERA in June, with 37 strikeouts and five walks in 30 innings pitched.

Throughout Pineda’s early season struggles, his strikeout totals and walk totals have been more indicative of a pitcher whose ERA should be lower than it is, and once Pineda brought his home run rate down, his ERA began to drop.

In fact, Pineda’s ERA entering the day was nearly two points higher than his 3.93 FIP (FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, an ERA estimator that presumes average defense and hit rate against but bases its numbers on a pitcher’s strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed). The differential between the 5.82 ERA and 3.93 ERA is the biggest in the majors.

How has Pineda worked to get his ERA more in line with his FIP?

It starts with the slider

Pineda’s slider is vital to his success. On Saturday, Twins hitters went 0-for-10 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending against it. That was the best 0-for he has registered with that pitch in his career.

In five June starts, Pineda has allowed two extra-base hits (and a .200 slugging percentage) on the 187 sliders he has thrown. He allowed seven (and a .402 slugging percentage) on the 368 he threw in April and May.

With that, Pineda has done a better job of commanding his fastball, which had a 63 percent strike rate the first two months and a 71 percent strike rate since then. Pineda had a 33 percent called strike rate with his fastball in April, but that rate is 43 percent in May and June. On Saturday, Pineda threw 73 percent strikes with his fastball, his third-highest rate of the season.

Looking ahead

Pineda’s next start will come against the the AL West-leading Rangers on Thursday at Yankee Stadium. He’ll be going for his second straight day-game win. Pineda entered Saturday with a 1-3 record and 7.27 ERA in five afternoon starts, though the bad ERA is largely a product of his allowing four home runs to the Rays on April 24.