A PitchF/X look at Andy Pettitte’s return

It was not a triumphant return to the majors by Andy Pettitte on Sunday. He walked three, struck out only two, threw a wild pitch and gave up two meatball home runs in six and a third innings. That said, he did a fairly good job of only allowing four runs to plate, and a silver lining is that he induced 12 ground balls out of 20 balls put in play. Let’s delve into some more specifics of his start (all data courtesy of FanGraphs and BrooksBaseball.net).

Since FanGraphs has Pettitte’s pitch data from only 2002 onwards, for the purpose of this exercise, we’ll know him as a five-pitch guy: generic fastball, cut fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. Pettitte, based on career averages, throws a fourseamer or a cutter around 63% of the time, and in 2010, he relied even more on the gas, throwing it for nearly 70% of his pitches.

Out of his 94 pitches on Sunday, Pettitte wasn’t too much different, throwing six pitches (a twoseamer as well), with the three fastballs making up 70% of his pitches. His off-speed stuff was consistent with career norms in velocity. His changeup hovered around 80 miles per hour (though it moved with three inches less of horizontal movement than was typical of his changeup), and his 75 mph curveball dipped slightly less (and was thrown slightly less).

A look at Pettitte’s inning-by-inning pitch totals paints the picture of a guy with passable control on the evening – he didn’t have a single inning where he threw more balls than strikes, and was extremely effective through three frames (only throwing 35 pitches).

But a strikezone plot like the one found above paints the true picture – a wild one. Take a look, specifically, at the number one on the graph above. You’ll see that often, Pettitte’s first pitches ended up considerably out of the zone or splat down the middle of the plate. Even when he started the batter with a called strike (which happened four or five times), he struggled often on the second and third pitches, which make up a good number of the green squares on the far right of that graph.

Those groundballs were helpful for Pettitte, as they helped him escape two jams. And to be fair, Pettitte’s line from the first five innings was more than acceptable (5 IP; 2 hits; 3 walks; 2 strikeouts; 7 groundball outs). But two mistakes plagued Andy in particular: the home runs allowed to Justin Smoak and Casper Wells, respectively (found below). I repeat: meatballs. The first was a hanging slider and the second was a cutter that moved zero inches horizontally.

So, a conclusion: Pettitte was more wild than usual and generated zero whiffs on his 32 cutters – well below his average whiff percentage on the pitch (18.6% in his career). The cutter wasn’t working; the breaking balls weren’t breaking to consistent standards, and two bad pitches in particular tainted his line. A little more vertical break and more aggressive pitching in the middle of the count could do wonders. Watch carefully, fellas.

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6 Responses to A PitchF/X look at Andy Pettitte’s return

  1. cmclark says:

    What may also be important is not the two pitches for home runs but how hard he was getting hit after the 5th. If he can go deeper in games, which should happen since he hasn't pitched at this level in two years, we shouldn't see too many of those in early innings. Most home runs are a product of bad pitches and a hitter taking advantage. Too add to your point, though, he avoided bad pitches all afternoon and just missed a spot a couple times.

    • Nick Fleder says:

      Good point. The early innings, I agree, looked good. And I have nothing but hope – I'm glad to see he isn't throwing like Jamie Moyer out there after just a brief time away. If he can harness a couple of those especially wild pitches on the first graph towards the corners, he'll be finding much more success out there.

  2. DirtyWater says:

    How come there is no mention of his velocity?

    • Nick Fleder says:

      "Out of his 94 pitches on Sunday, Pettitte wasn’t too much different, throwing six pitches (a twoseamer as well), with the three fastballs making up 70% of his pitches. His off-speed stuff was consistent with career norms in velocity. His changeup hovered around 80 miles per hour (though it moved with three inches less of horizontal movement than was typical of his changeup), and his 75 mph curveball dipped slightly less (and was thrown slightly less)."

  3. jeff10981 says:

    When all the dust cleared, all and all he ( Pettitte) LOST THE GAME !!!!!

  4. NYYinATL says:

    Wow guys!!

    The guy just sat out a year and this was his first start back. In the first five innings he gave up a drag bunt and a wall scraper. THAT'S IT!

    As he gets his legs under him, he will get in better game shape.