The Pettitte fulcrum

Thursday, May 22 - 2 Tickets
Game 44: The last A-Rod-less day

As the Yankees — without Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez‘s anchoring the middle of their lineup — struggle to score runs, the team has come to rely upon their starting pitching to keep them in games. While the back end of the rotation has been in flux, Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina have so far done their jobs and both lead the team with six wins. Where the Yanks’ pitching has faltered, however, has been with Andy Pettitte.

Over his last five starts — a period of time that seems to correspond with the Yanks’ less-than-stellar hitting — Pettitte has not been his reliable self. He’s put together a truly forgettable stretch of pitching. Over 27.1 innings, he’s given up 35 hits, five of them home runs, and nine walks while striking out 24. He’s 0-4 over that span with a 6.26 ERA. Yesterday’s Pettitte effort counts as a Quality Start, but he’s probably just as unhappy as the rest of us were with his forcing in a run by walking the Mets’ number eight hitter with two outs.

During this stretch of time, opponents are hitting .315 off Pettitte with a .372 OBP and a .477 slugging. Basically, with Pettitte on the hill, opposing hitters are putting up Magglio Ordoñez-like numbers. That’s not going to lead to many Yankee wins.

For Pettitte right now, the key stat seems to be the batting average on balls in play or BABIP. Over the course of the season, Pettitte’s BABIP is .333 while a pitcher will, on average, see a BABIP of .290. For the Yankees, this is good news. Luck dictates that Pettitte will stop giving up so many hits at some point soon. He’s bound to regress to his career mean and become a more effective pitcher.

But at the same time, Pettitte’s defensive-dependent pitching numbers raise something of a red flag. His line drive numbers are down this year and his fly ball numbers are down this year but he’s giving up many more groundballs — 53.3 percent of all balls put in play this year compared to 47.7 percent last year — than he has in the past. The Yankee defense, then, isn’t doing a very good job of turning the ground balls Pettitte is surrendering into outs.

Something has to give here, and it will. Petttitte’s BABIP will decline, and the Yanks will hopefully grab a few more batted balls. The team certainly needs Pettitte to be more effective than he’s been over the last month. The success of their starting pitching depends on it.

Thursday, May 22 - 2 Tickets
Game 44: The last A-Rod-less day
  • Ivan

    I am not worried about Andy Pettite. Hey he has had a touch stretch but he has some solid starts sprinkled in included yesterday start.

  • LiveFromNewYork

    Yesterday his fastballs started to stay up and it seemed like he figured it out and adjusted but it’s scary when he starts to lose control.

  • dan

    Well groundballs will go for hits more often than fly balls, but 53.3% to 47.7% is not enough to make his BABIP go through the roof. His BABIP last season was .323, so if it goes to .330 then it’s not like he can’t overcome being unlucky. I think his main problem of late has been homeruns.

  • A.D.

    The other thing to look at, as they beat to death on the telecast, was that the 4th inning, when the line-up turns over has hit pettite, past couple starts he’s come out looking lights-out with big K numers, which could be more of a warning sign, or that he needs to make more adjustments the 2nd time around

  • Jake T

    I don’t comment too much, I would just like to say that again this post has reminded me of why i like this blog so much. While writing a post completely dependent on what would usually be an obscure statistic, BABIP, you have managed to make it comprehensible and not get lost in the numbers. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

  • JerseyKRS

    I really thought Petite pitched better than I expected last year. This is more what I thought we would see. I think we are watching him age.

    We’ve been seeing our teams defense and hitting go downhill for at least 3 years IMO. Not plummeting, but definitely getting worse. The defense hurts even more than the hitting for me.

    • whozat

      That’s ridiculous. The D hurts worse than the pathetic offense?

      Melky’s average or better, Damon’s arm is pathetic, but his range is above average. Arod and Cano are better than average. And Abreu, according to the Fielding Bible, is among the league leaders at his position in terms of defensive runs saved.

      So, it’s really just first base and Jeter that would be killing you. Unless Damon’s arm really just kills you deep inside.

  • CB

    Over the past 7 seasons Pettite has had a BABIP well above major league average in 5 of those seasons.

    The only 2 where he wasn’t over the average were in 2004 and 2005 when he was with the Astros.

    His BABIP right now isn’t that far off from what he’s had for much of his recent career and he’s been successful at with those higher BABIP.

    Not sure if we can expect his BABIP will trend down too much given his recent history. Also, given his prior success with elevated BABIP not sure if bad luck has a lot to do with his recent performance.

    His slugging pct against during this stretch is much higher than it was before he started this bad stretch and much higher than his career average – they’re just hitting the ball harder off of Pettitte right now.

    • whozat

      I feel like I noticed him falling behind a lot early in counts yesterday. I know he doesn’t walk a lot of guys, so perhaps he’s becoming predictable once he gets behind? It certainly seems like guys figure out an approach to get to him by the second time through the order.

      The whole “there’s something magically bad” about the 4th/5th inning that Kay keeps peddling is stupid. That he’s having trouble getting through the order a 2nd or 3rd time could actually be meaningful.

      • ctkaiser

        Pettitte has to be more aggressive and as Jim Kaat would say (has a baseball booth ever missed a guy more?) throw the fastball for a strike. Being at Saturday’s game I wasn’t sure where the location was on many pitches but watching a little replay showed me Andy wasn’t even close to the plate on many pitches. How can he be so tentaive against Schneider and Castillo (8 @ 9 hitters)? You’ve got to bust Castillo inside or at least inner half. A curve ball down the middle of the plate waist high and still the ball goes only 20 ft. Throw the fastball. And finally, how many guys have improved so far under Dave Eiland?

  • Donna

    Andy is usually his own worst critic, and no one hurts more over his last few performances than Andy. However, don’t count him out. He has had bad stretches before and has come out of it okay. And, he is not that old. At 36 he is still younger than a lot of pitchers. He had a rough off season with all the publicity and stalking that was done to him and his family, and I think he will bounce back. He is known for not giving up.

    Come on Yankees…..get him some runs so he will have a little breathing room. Let’s face it, the Yankee hitting is in the sewer right now. But last year they went through a rough stretch and broke out after the All Star break. So give it time.