This morning I did a radio spot on a St. Louis station, which got me to looking at the Cardinals' stats, and the one thing that popped was Joel Pineiro's strikeouts. He's got 13 of them in 39 innings, and yet somehow he's 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA. Then I found the following, in the story about Pineiro's fourth win: Pineiro
- "You trust your defense," the right-hander said. "That's why I throw that sinker no matter what time in the count, so they can hit it at somebody."
He got 12 of his 20 outs on grounders, with shortstop Brendan Ryan making a couple of especially nifty plays. Ryan stopped one on his knees, popping up to throw out David Ross, and pulled off a double play with a simultaneous throw as he was stepping on second.
"You get that ball on the ground, good things are going to happen," Pineiro said.
He waited until his final pitch to get his first strikeout, and it was a big one. Pineiro whiffed Brandon Jones with the potential tying run at second base in the seventh, then headed to the showers. Chris Perez struck out Ross to end the threat.
"He did well keeping the ball down," Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur said of Pineiro. "He's not going to strike a lot of guys out, but he keeps it low and gets ground balls."
According to ESPN's research department, "Joel Pineiro won despite having just one strikeout, his fourth straight win in which he's had three or fewer K's. The last pitcher to win his first four starts in a season with three K's or fewer in each one was Greg Hibbard with the 1992 White Sox."
Hibbard's fourth win came on the 26th of April. His eighth came on the 17th of August, and he finished the season 10-7 with a 4.40 ERA (which wasn't good in 1992). Let's not dismiss Hibbard out of hand, though. The next year he went 15-11 with a league-average ERA, and guys like that are plenty valuable. And Hibbard had began his career with a 20-16 record and a 3.18 ERA in his first 56 starts. It can be done. Keep the ball down and limit the walks, and you can win.
I'm just not sure if Pineiro's the guy to do it. His ground/fly ratio is certainly high; at 1.33, he's tied for sixth in the National League. But to thrive while striking out three batters per nine innings, the G/F ratio probably has to be even higher. What's more, Pineiro's never been in this rarefied territory before. His career ratio is less than 1, and was right around 1 in each of the last two seasons.
I'm not saying he can't do it. In addition to Pineiro's grounders being up (so to speak), his walks are down. Maybe he has, at 30, become something of a different pitcher. But Chris Carpenter might be back soon, which means someone's going to be forced from the rotation. The obvious candidate is rookie Mitchell Boggs. I would take a long look at Pineiro and all those non-strikeouts, though.