Andy Pettitte’s “un-retirement” has caused much consternation, and not just among certain other pitchers who were, until recently, struggling for a starting rotation spot. Just think of the other teams in the American League East – against all of whom Pettitte holds winning records. He was dominant versus the Rays (16-6), Red Sox (18-10), and Blue Jays (21-12). Against the Orioles he was downright oppressive, going 27-6 (.818 winning percentage).
Boston Manager Bobby Valentine even took a break from banning things in the Red Sox dugout to feign a chuckle at the prospect of Pettitte’s return. “I don’t think he’s coming back to where he was,” Valentine quipped to the Boston Herald, before slowly extending his pinky-finger to touch the side of his mouth. Copping his best Dr. Evil voice, he continued “Call it a hunch.” Valentine then announced that he was banning hand-sanitizer in the dugouts, because it too contains alcohol. Not realizing the mic was still live on his radio show, Terry Francona said “I wish I’d thought of that”.
Indeed Valentine and the rest have good cause for concern. As Bob Ryan, the famed Boston Globe columnist noted Globe 10.0, “It’s not like he quit because he couldn’t pitch anymore.” He finished 2010 with an 11-3 record, selection to the American League All -Star team, and a 3.28 ERA. He accomplished this with nagging elbow pain throughout the season, and a stint on injured reserve owing to a groin pull. I’m no doctor, but a year’s worth of rest can only help.
In 227.2 innings versus the Red Sox, Pettitte tallied 181 strikeouts (his second-best versus any AL East team) and maintained a career 3.91 ERA. In 1999, he pitched seven and one-third innings in game four of the ALCS, giving up only two runs in a 9-2 Yankees victory. He went 1-0 in two starts versus the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS, compiling a 4.63 ERA, and cause or coincidence, he had been shipped off to the Astros in 2004 and thus was not on that Yankee squad that blew a three game ALCS lead.
The Tampa Bay Rays have had similar difficulties with Pettitte. Historically, they’ve gone 280/374/591 against him (they have difficulties versus left-handed pitching in general) and he’s collected 144 strikeouts in 177.1 innings, while giving up only 10 home runs.
At age 39 (he turns 40 in June), Pettitte has already defied the odds. He’s been pitching for 16 years and has never exceeded a 4.54 ERA (2008 season), never fallen below a strikeout percentage of 13.8 percent (2000 season) and holds a career winning percentage of .635. He has consistently pitched at just-below or just-above the American League ERA average and he holds more postseason wins (19) than any other pitcher in Major League Baseball history. His career ERA + is an impressive 117 and his 1.36 WHIP betrays a blue-collar persistence. All of which leads me to the following prognostications for 2012. My methodology is an eclectic mix of saber metric research, hours of Pitch F/X analysis, and careful attention to the particular forms that the mud in my Greek coffee takes when I turn the demitasse over onto the saucer. Here they are:
Five Reasons Andy Pettitte will have a great 2012
- One-Year Sabbatical Helps Andy Pettitte Heal: A quick perusal of Pitch F/X data shows that as late as 2010, Pettitte has retained his fastball velocity remarkably well. Russell Martin who caught Pettitte’s March 20th bullpen session labeled it “as good a bullpen as I’ve caught all spring from anyone …” to Chad Jennings of the Evening News. Martin went on to note that Pettitte’s pitch execution was excellent. He finished 2010 at 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA. Bob Ryan’s commentary notwithstanding, he did have some off-the-field challenges to deal with, namely the prosecution of his former teammate and friend Roger Clemmons, but with that out of the way, the data points to a strong showing in 2012.
- Andy Pettitte compensates for the effects of age by balancing his pitch selection: He can throw five different pitches though Pitch F/X data reveals no discernible correlation between pitch balance and ERA. In 2007, he threw four pitches with moderate consistency – his fastball, cutter, curveball, and change up percentages were 53, 16.8, 12.5 and 12 respectively. He finished the year with a 4.05 ERA. In 2010, he relied on his fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter and curveball respectively 41.4, 15.7, 20.2 and 14.9 percent of the time. All fastballs (including the two-seam) accounted for nearly 60 percent of his pitch selection, and yet he maintained a 3.28 ERA, his lowest since he was with the Astros (versus the weak NL Central). But Pitch F/X does reveal that Pettitte is consistently inconsistent with regard to pitch selection. For a batter, success hinges on timing, whereas for a pitcher, it hinges on disrupting that timing. Nothing disrupts timing like inconsistency.
- Joe Girardi and Russell Martin Know how to handle aging pitchers: Girardi, a former catcher, is nothing if not a master at maximizing old arms (remember Pre-All-Star Barolo Colon? Freddy Garcia?). With one of the oldest pitching rotations in baseball last season, the Yankees finished with a very respectable 3.73 ERA. This was one of the most amazing managerial jobs in recent memory. Of course, managing the Yankees gets you no Manager-of-the-Year love at the end of the season (short of winning 114 games). Great pitching performances as in 2011 don’t come without great framing.
- Andy Pettitte makes Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova better: Hughes seems to have righted himself this spring, though he has only demonstrated proficiency at two pitches thus far in his career. Nova on the other hand, has demonstrated big game potential, but may become susceptible to the dreaded Verducci Effect if asked to increase his pitching load by more than 30 innings from last year. The mere presence of an average lefty will take pressure off of right handed starters. Let’s face it Andy Pettitte is no average lefty. He is the career leader in post-season victories (19) and in pick-offs at first base (99), the 2003 ALCS MVP, and a three-time All Star. That’s quite a resource for the young Yankee pitchers. Freddy Garcia’s concerns aside (understandable to be sure), Pettitte’s presence will only strengthen morale.
- Andy Pettitte distances himself even further from the pack in postseason victories. Several publications have predicted that the Yankees either win the AL East or win the wildcard. Andy Pettitte has 19 wins in 22 series. John Smoltz, his next closest competitor, and until recently a fellow MLB retiree, logged 15 postseason victories over the course of his illustrious career. No current major league pitcher, besides Pettitte, sits among the top ten in this category. Based on the unmistakable pattern of my Greek coffee grounds, I predict he wins at least his 20th.