After a rough first inning in Wednesday night’s game against the Red Sox, Michael Pineda apparently decided he needed a little sumthin’-sumthin’ to aid his performance. The following inning, Pineda emerged from the dugout with a smattering of pine tar on his neck, and not long after, was tossed when umpire Gerry Davis discovered the pine tar.
Pineda presumably wasn’t doing anything to doctor the ball in the first inning, but obviously was in the second. This situation creates something of a natural experiment. By comparing the PITCHF/X data from the two innings, we can theoretically test the effectiveness of the pine tar. Pineda threw just seven pitches in the second before getting tossed, so there’s a huge sample size issue here, but six of those seven were four-seam fastballs. Of course, we’d probably be more likely to see pine tar’s effects on breaking pitches that rely more on grip and movement, but Pineda didn’t throw any breaking balls in the second inning. It would have been great if he had thrown six sliders instead of six fastballs, but he didn’t, so we have what we have:
Each of these differences are small enough to be nothing more than rounding errors, providing little evidence that Pineda threw the ball any better with the help of the pine tar. This doesn’t necessarily mean lathering the ball hasn’t contributed to Pineda’s success this year. The sample is too small (and devoid of breaking pitches) to make any definitive conclusions, but if it made a big difference, we’d expect to see at least something in the PITCHF/X data – which we don’t.
Pineda will deservedly get suspended for his infraction, causing him to miss at least his next start. The bottom line is that this was a bone-headed move by Pineda. Regardless of whether the pine tar actually helped him pitch better, he could have gotten away scot-free by hiding it in his glove — like everyone else does — but made zero effort to do so. Instead, he’s forced to sit on the sidelines for something that could have easily been hidden, and probably wasn’t helping all that much anyway.