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.