Andy Pettitte has been a staple with the Yankees for almost the last two decades. There is no one else that I’d rather see going for the Yankees when a big game is up, or a series is on the line. He is a classic case of a pitcher getting better with age, becoming savvier despite the loss of velocity. Pettitte is the definition of the old adage of a guy who “just knows how to pitch.” He can get by with a sharp curve and fastball, and he can also get the job done without his best stuff, either. However, Pettitte is now also 20 years older, and with that comes a tendency to be more prone to injuries- which last longer, even for minor issues- and his recent back woes show that is a cause for concern this season.
Pettitte was fantastic in his first two starts of the season, going 15 IP and just mowing down hitters, giving up only two hits (one homer). It’s hard to believe that he is as old as he is, and it’d definitely be worth investigating if he is as good now as he was, say, 10 years ago. But before before what would have been his third start of the 2013 season, he was been scratched and unable to throw a usual bullpen because of back spasms. For any pitcher, it’s slightly concerning, given that you can’t really do much of anything with a back to stay in shape, let alone keep your arm strong. It’s even more concerning with an older player.
Pettitte, who will turn 41 in June, is the oldest starter in Major League Baseball. His last full season? 2009. In 2010, he missed significant time with a groin injury; he did not pitch after retiring in 2011; and in 2012, a freak batted ball broke his ankle, losing almost two months. Now, despite the brilliance he showed while on the mound in 2012 and thus far in 2013, the Yankee’s hope that Pettitte would get in anywhere from 30-32 starts may be in jeopardy. It’s not a far-fetched assumption that for an older player, any injury, including any minor aches and pains that occur as the long season takes a toll will take more time to heal. Even though Pettitte hurled a gem- 7.1 IP, 3 ER, 5 H- on Friday against the Blue Jays, Pettitte’s back will continue to be an issue. Or a hamstring. Or something else. As good as Pettitte has been, his age will heighten his injury risk, something that the Yankees will take with going with the veteran. It’s a safe move, a move that I would continue to do, 10 or of 10 times, but it may come back to bite the Yankees.
Pettitte has been a difference-maker throughout his entire career. He most certainly was in 2012, when he un-retired and came back to help out what most critics felt was a thin starting rotation for the Yankees. That ability, and the knowledge that every start out, win or lose, he will give decent length to save the bullpen, has made Pettitte an attractive commodity for the Yankees, even with his age. But with all of the injuries to the Yankees this year, it remains critical that the starting pitching is strong, and Pettitte’s presence and ability remains a huge part of that plan. Now that he is healthy, he must also stay healthy- something that he has failed to do for the last four years- as Andy Pettitte, at age 41, is more important to the Yankees than ever.