When I started digging around for information about Carlos Pimentel, the Padres' new minor league signing, the first thing that jumped out at me was how old he is. I mean, he's still young compared to my old ass, but 26 is up there for a guy who didn't go to college and has yet to get past Triple A, even for a cup of coffee. As is usually the case, the answer is in the numbers. Some of the numbers -- such as walk rate, for instance -- are of his making, while others -- such as the content of 40-man rosters -- are largely out of his control, much like many of his pitches.
Last year, his ninth season in the minors, Pimentel was named the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year on the strength of his 12-6 record and 2.95 ERA in 27 games with the Iowa Cubs. It looks good on the surface, but a closer look reveals meaningful statistics more in line with his career numbers that got him less gaudy results. First is that pesky walk rate. In 2015 Pimentel allowed 4.3 free passes every nine innings, nearly one every other inning. That's even worse than his career mark of 4.1, and not much better than the 4.6 he gave out in 2014, when he went 4-9 with a 5.35 ERA in his first year with Iowa. He struck out 7.4 batters every nine frames, considerably fewer than his 8.5 in 2014 and the 8.1 over his collective body of work. Of course his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.74 was lower than 2014's 1.83 and his overall 1.97. Generally the path to success is not paved with striking out fewer batters and walking more of them, so my fluke alarm began going off. It seemed like a legitimate cause for concern, because I just put new batteries in it the other day. But more, as they say, will be revealed.
The 6'3" righty did allow just 7.6 hits per nine innings last season, fewer than the 8.3 allowed since he got started in 2007, as well as the whopping 9.7 he permitted in 2014. His homer rate was also down, 0.8 as opposed to 1.0 overall and 1.5 in '14. The downtick in base hits can be explained away, as so many factors out of a pitcher's control go into that, but the reduction in homers allowed is all Carlos. Way to go, guy. Another positive for Pimentel is that his wildness seems to be subsiding, aside from the whole thing where he still walks a mess of batters. He only hit two guys last year, tied for his career low. It's more impressive when you consider that he pitched just 42.1 and 65.1 innings in his other two seasons with just two hit batters, as opposed to the career-high 143.1 he put in last year. His nine wild pitches weren't his fewest ever, but the rate at which he released them was his lowest.
Pimentel's 2015 season started off on a rough note, to say the least. He was rocked in his first two starts, allowing nine walks, four homers, and 12 earned runs in just 7.2 innings, taking the scarlet L in each contest. He then examined film of those starts and made corrections which turned his season around, as he told The Des Moines Register in July.
"Every time I got into a good tempo, my rhythm was good, everything was good," Pimentel said.
He’s tried to emulate that more, getting back on the mound quicker and avoiding dead time, which often caused him to think too much and put too much pressure on himself.
"Last year if he got beat up a little bit early, you could just see his body language change," Iowa manager Marty Pevey said. "This year, you don’t see that. He’s a tiger. He wants the ball."
I'm amused by a 52-year-old man calling another human being "a tiger", as that sounds more like something somebody in his eighties would say while whittling in a rocking chair on a front porch, but I'm sure Pevey would be amused and bemused by some of the things I say, so we're even. Besides, a tiger seems like a good thing to be, even though I wanna be a lion. Ehh, everybody wants to pass as cats. We all wanna be big, big stars, but we've got different reasons for that.
But I digress.
His adjustments paid off, because by the time the 2015 AAA All-Star Game came around on July 15, Pimentel had improved to 6-5 with a stone cold 3.16 ERA, and was named the PCL's starting pitcher. He only got better from there, winning his next six consecutive decisions before losing his penultimate start, pitching to the tune of a 2.70 ERA in that time to finish 12-6 with a 2.95. After his disastrous first two starts, after which he dramatically righted ship, Pimentel was 12-4 with a 2.32 ERA. In that span his walk rate was an improved 3.9 per nine innings instead of 4.3, and he allowed just .53 home runs per nine as opposed to .75.
Sometimes the slightest adjustments can make the most dramatic impacts. The best case scenario that immediately comes to mind is when journeyman infielder Jose Bautista tweaked his swing and instantly became superhero Joey Bats. While it's highly unlikely that Pimentel's change in his pacing will render him a megastar, the results he achieved after his epiphany are promising, to say the least.