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Michael Pineda and the challenges faced by non-English speaking players

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Andrew Marchand has an interesting story up over at ESPN. It’s about Michael Pineda and how far he has come since he was suspended for using pine tar while pitching in 2014.

It’s not really about how far he’s come on-the-field — Pineda is coming off of two below average seasons — but how far he’s come as a complete player and a person. Primarily with respect to his learning of English.

It’s not a “oh good, look at the foreign-born player assimilating!” story. It’s about how, whether a player makes a big effort to learn English or not, the language barrier creates all manner of difficulties that native English speakers never have to deal with. In the case of the pine tar, a quick, comfortable conversation between American players is likely sufficient to convey the dark art of using the stuff without getting caught. In Pineda’s case he wasn’t really able to talk to anyone about how blatant is too blatant in the majors.

That’s a minor point, of course, but the language barrier extends to every facet of life in the United States, especially for younger players who are adjusting to a new home. Everything from reading street signs to a menu is a challenge to some degree, and when everything you do during the day is slightly harder, the toll adds up. It’s also worth noting that Spanish speaking players did not even necessarily have team translators until this year. It wasn’t required until the recently-adopted Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Anyway, it’s a good look at a part of the game we don’t often see. And a reminder that a lot of players have challenges separate and apart from opposing batters and pitchers.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.