Why he’ll succeed in 2020: After Berrios and Odorizzi, Pineda is where the question marks begin for the Twins rotation. While Berrios and Odorizzi are near locks to remain in the rotation throughout the season, Pineda is coming off a year where he was better than expected but saw his season come to a halt after being popped with a 60-game suspension for violating MLB’s substance abuse policy.
The suspension was crippling for the Twins chances in the postseason because the big right-hander had turned into Minnesota’s best starter down the stretch run after a rough month of April.
In his final 20 starts, Pineda looked like the pitcher who showed flashes of success with the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees earlier in his career, going 9-3 with a 3.46 ERA. That stretch included wins in his final five decisions where he recorded a 3.00 ERA and .674 OPS.
Such a run may seem like a fluke for a guy that was removed two years from Tommy John surgery, but a lot of his numbers were on par with his career. His biggest consistency has been his control, which saw him walk just 4.7% of batters, putting him in the 95th percentile among starting pitchers last season.
With Pineda able to throw strikes (50% of pitches were in the zone last season) and limit walks, it’s a simple formula that should continue to see success.
Why that’s not a given: The greatest ability is the availability and Pineda is one of two pitchers that won’t see the field for the first couple months of the season. With 39 games remaining on his suspension, the Twins will have to fill a (literally) big hole in their rotation for the first couple months of the season. Even then, it may not be a given that Pineda will be in peak form by the time he hits the mound.
The Twins have some experience with this unfortunate circumstance with the 2015 suspension of Ervin Santana and the 2018 suspension of Jorge Polanco. Both players were popped with a PED policy suspension, but they had the luxury of getting it all out of the way at the beginning of the season. In both cases, their returns posted decent numbers (Polanco hit .288 with 6 HR and 42 RBI in 77 games while Santana went 7-5 with a 4.00 ERA), but neither went on a tear.
Minnesota will have to hope that Pineda is ready when his season begins in late May or that some of the younger prospects step up in his absence.