In mid-March, the Yankees thought they had their rotation figured out. The only topic worth discussing concerning the starting staff was the order behind ace CC Sabathia. Then on March 16th, Andy Pettitte couldn’t contain the competitive juices anymore and notified general manager Brian Cashman that he’d be making a comeback.
Color me skeptical about his return. I took all emotion out of the equation and took Pettitte at face value: He’s age 40, a year removed from pitching at the major league level, he doesn’t have overpowering stuff which will continue to diminish with age. Up to this point, I’ve happily been proven wrong.
The Yankees rotation during April – when Pettitte was still in Extended Spring Training and starting in the minors – was awful. During the first month of the season the staff recorded a 13-9 record, but had an unsightly 4.33 ERA, which would have been worse if not for a very good bullpen. That month included 197.1 innings pitched and 845 batters faced. Sabathia didn’t look like himself (4.58 ERA), Hiroki Kuroda was still becoming acclimated to pitching in New York (3.69), Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia both looked lost (7.88 and 12.51, respectively) and Ivan Nova was reeling from a poor spring training (5.18). All told, the Yankees were 13-9 heading into May.
On May 13, Pettitte made his first start against the Seattle Mariners. On that day, he wasn’t spectacular in the least, going 6.1 innings, giving up four earned runs, walked three, gave up two home runs, and struck out only two batters in a 6-2 loss. However, that would be his last bad start leading up to yesterday’s mediocre outing against the crosstown rivals New York Mets.
During May, the Yankees only posted a 14-14 record, but there was a change brewing. Hitting carried bad pitching in April, now pitching was carrying poor hitting in May. As a staff, the Yankees pitched to a 3.97 ERA, but, month-to-month, their slash line was very similar (.267/.329/.454 in April vs. .264/.323/.450 in May). So what was different? The BABIP came down from .322 to .301 in nearly 200 more at-bats during May. For those not in the know, that means more outs were being made when the ball was in play.
If we take a deeper look at Pettitte’s numbers we can allow ourselves a little excitement. Again, these a small sample sizes so don’t get too excited, but sit back and enjoy them. Throughout Pettitte’s career he hasn’t been looked at as the Yankees ace, but he was always counted on for his consistency. He’s struck out 6.66 batters and given up 2.82 walks per nine innings over his career. This season, he’s striking out 8.82 batters and surrendering 1.94 walks per nine. This is all with underwhelming velocity, but better location and command. He’s also forcing hitters to ground out at a better rate (48.7% career vs. 58.7% in 2012). If there’s one black cloud over his return parade, it’s the home run allowed per nine innings (0.78 HR/9 career vs. 1.30 in 2012). It’s something the entire Yankees staff is having trouble controlling.
It’d be unfair to the Yankees starting staff to suggest Andy Pettitte is the sole reason for this change. However, he’s a proven winner who has loads of pitching experience whether it be with struggling staffs, playoff staffs, or championship staffs. Pettitte entered this season with a struggling staff and has since been a huge part of its transformation. So far in June, the pitching staff has recorded a 2.26 ERA, and we are almost halfway through the month.
So you’re probably asking, what can we expect from him going forward. Well, he’s turning age 40 within a week, so there’s not much in regards of precedence to draw from in order to make a prediction. However, the one aspect of Pettitte’s game that’s translating well compared to say Randy Johnson at age 40, is he doesn’t rely on a overpowering fastball to get hitters out. Instead, he’s relying on junkball pitching with curveballs and sliders to get ahead and using the cutter to get righties out and changeups to get lefties.
Enjoy Pettitte’s resurgence, because this might be it for him, like in 2010. Young starters like Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova might be taking cues from him and becoming better, more well-rounded pitchers (numbers would certainly suggest that). Having Pettitte in the clubhouse can only serve as another coach for the young guns and if he adds above-average pitching to boot, well then he’s a savior after all the bad news in April and early May.