As the Yankees continue to be in somewhat of a suspended slump, it’s easy to look at the (lack of) offense as the reason for a prolonged period of struggle. However, it is worth looking at the struggles of the starting rotation, as well- specifically, Andy Pettitte‘s recent struggles.
While Pettitte has been a mainstay in the Yankees rotation for years, he is still a 41 year old pitcher who relies more on finesse and painting the corners than on power pitching. With durability issues (he has missed significant time the last two season for various injuries, though admittedly, a broken ankle after being struck by a batted ball was purely bad luck), Pettitte’s return left some pretty hefty questions in the middle of a rotation that boasts three players 33 or older. Though last year was a success for the veteran, he has not enjoyed such luck this season.
Since April 29, in 10 starts, Pettitte has only lasted 6 or more IP in five turns, including three starts where he lasted less than 5 IP. During that span, he has allowed 4 or more runs seven times. After a consistent April and May, where his ERA sat at a comfortable high ~3.80, June was not kind to Pettitte. His ERA ballooned to 4.83 with a BAA of .286, and while he has not surrendered a ton of homers (8), batters are hitting a health .278/.327/.417 against the lefty.
Moreover, while Pettitte has continued to maintain his success against left-handed hitter, his numbers against righties are just ghastly: .309/.361/.470, with an OPS of .831 in 249 at-bats- not exactly a small sample size. On the whole, the hits seem to be causing Pettitte trouble, with a 9.5 H/9 ratio, his highest rating since 2008. In 2013, his BABIP is .311, the highest since 2008 (.333). Furthermore, Pettitte’s LOB% is a measly 68.9%, which is his lowest since 2008.
Digging a little deeper, one interesting tidbit is that the line-drive percentage for Pettitte is up over 20% for the first time since 2006, but his fly-ball percentage is the lowest since 2008. A ground-ball pitcher, Andy is still inducing his fair share of ground balls. However it appears that his “hot zone” has been an elevated, belt-high fastball, particularly to right-handed hitters. While this would result in a left-handed batter chasing, it is right in the wheelhouse of most right-handed hitters, would could result in an elevated BABIP rate. Additionally, the contact percentage numbers (~81%) and the swinging strike percentages (~9%) are in line with Pettitte’s career numbers, while his first-pitch strike percentage (~60%) has done down a good bit and Z-swing percentage (swings on pitches in the strike zone) are up- hence the heft BAA against numbers, as Pettitte is falling behind in the count and giving easier pitches to hit.
With a deep bullpen, if Pettitte struggled every time out and could only go 5+ IP each turn, it wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal. However, the Yankes rotation has slumped a bit of late: Hiroki Kuroda has struggling; Phil Hughes is a home run machine and 4 games under .500; and David Phelps‘ lack of swing-and-miss stuff resulting in almost-regular shellacking. Further, while surrendering 4 runs in years past would not be a huge issue for the Yankees, this year’s offense is, well, offensive. The Yankees rank in the low-to-mid 20s in batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored and on-base percentage.
In previous years, a slumping pitcher could be rescued by the Yankees laying an offensive beating on an opponent. By contrast, this year, the Yankees have only surrendered less than 3 runs in a game and lost 4 times; in every other loss, opponents scored three or more runs. For previous Yankee teams, 3 runs was a give; this year, not so much, which makes every 3+ run performance out of Pettitte that much more painful.
On the whole, it looks like Pettitte is experiencing a bit of a slump, much like the rest of the pitching staff. However, the majority of his stats are in line with his career averages, which is cause for optimism. However, at 41, pitchers don’t usually improve. With the reinforcements coming, the Yankees should be seeing some offensive improvement that could get them over the hump of struggles like Andy Pettitte’s, but if not… it’s going to be a long rest of the season.