Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Season Assessment and Off-Season Outlook: Andy Pettitte

The 2013 Opening Day version of the New York Yankees might not look anything like the Yankees of the last few seasons.  I mean, sure, chances are they will still be a pretty good team playing in a pretty good division.  And sure, while they have a large number of free agents from the 2012 team, an equal number of slots are essentially set in stone. 

What will look different?  The potential absence of the Core Four.  We don't know whether Derek Jeter will be back from his ankle injury in time for Game 1.  While Mariano Rivera wants to pitch again in 2013, his injury was freaky enough for him to be considered a guaranteed active player come April.  And tell me if you've heard this one before, but Andy Pettitte isn't sure if he will retire. 

But if Andy wants to give it another go, should the Yanks take him up on the offer?

Season Assessment:

Pettitte's comeback from retirement was a memorable saga, starting with him showing up to spring training as a "guest instructor."  Before you knew it, he wanted back and Brian Cashman worked out a risk-free, $2.5 million deal.  After four minor league starts, Andy was back on the mound in Yankee Stadium.  He lost his first start back to the Mariners on May 13th, giving up 4 runs in 6.1 fairly solid innings.  But his next start, an 8-inning, 9 strikeout, shut-out performance against the mighty Cincinnati Reds opened eyes. 

It was the first of four consecutive starts of at least 7 innings for Pettitte, including another gem against Tampa Bay.  In his five June starts, he threw 30.1 innings with 37 K's.  But in the fifth inning of his final June appearance, against Cleveland, Pettitte fractured his ankle on a line-drive come-backer to the mound, sending him to the DL until mid-September. 

"The stare" never gets old... but Pettitte does (Newsday)
When he did return, he went 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA in three starts.  He made two starts in the playoffs, Game 2 of the ALDS and Game 1 of the ALCS, and pitched fairly well in each, losing to Baltimore 3-2 and would have lost to Detroit until Raul Ibanez's heroics continued (the Yanks still fell, however, 6-4).  Better put, he and not the offense was the problem in each of those losses. 

Off-season Outlook:

At face value, Pettitte had a great season for a 40-year-old pitcher who hadn't played in a year.  But there are some concerns.  First is that age.  Yes, his ankle injury was unlucky, but even back in 2010 Pettitte showed signs of wearing down.  He missed time for a groin injury and had his back stiffen up in September.  That said, he only threw 92.1 innings total this season after not pitching the year before, so he is "fresh" in a way. 

More encouragingly, he posted the highest K/9 rate, 8.24, than at any time in his career.  Ever.  His BB/9 was also the lowest it's been since 2008.  But here are the warning signs.  His opponents' BABIP was .278, while his career opponents' number is .308.  His GB%, 56.3%, was the highest of his career.  And to top it all off, his LOB% was also a new career-high at 80.2%.  What does that mean?  Much of Pettitte's success on the surface seems to have been luck. 

Or you could spin "luck" as "experience."  There's no question that Pettitte adds a championship vibe to the clubhouse, a living, breathing, and still playing paragon of postseason pitching success.  But is it worth bringing him back at his age?  David Fine wrote back in September that he would rather give Pettitte's spot to David Phelps, acknowledging that while either choice would make a strong rotation he prefers the youth and upside of Phelps. 

That probably would've been the wisest move for the Yankees, but everything was complicated when Cashman revealed Pineda will be out until June.  With that rotation spot in question for nearly half the season, Pettitte would be a welcome asset.  He would come at another one-year deal, so the Yankees would not have to offer multiple years and tens of millions to sign a starting pitcher like Zack Greinke or Dan Haren. 

Of course, this all depends on whether or not Pettitte decides to return.  If he wants to come back, I think the Yanks would be wise to give him another shot. 

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