Today is the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their free agents (players have until Sunday to accept), and over the weekend we had a nice little discussion about whether or not the Yanks should offer Andy Pettitte arbitration. Most fans seem weary of Pettitte because of the combination of how he pitched in the second half (he had a 6.23 ERA & 1.68 WHIP after July 30th) and his ever increasing age (he turns 37 next June), but to me this is a no-brainer: offer the guy arbitration.
Note: Before I go any further, let me just make it clear that my opinion about offering Pettitte arbitration has nothing to do with him being a “Dynasty Yankee” or his very good, but often overblown postseason track record. Nostalgia has no place in roster moves.
While Pettitte endured his worst big league season in terms of ERA+ last year, there is also considerable evidence that bad luck played a role in his performance. Check it out:
If you looked at the raw numbers without having seen Pettitte pitch over the last two years, you’d say he was at least as effective in ’08 as he was in ’07, perhaps even moreso. The slight increase in hits allowed is almost entirely negated by the decrease in walks allowed, while the improved GB/FB & contact rates indicate that Pettitte did a better job of keeping the ball down while still getting swings and misses. The significant increase in strikeouts is obviously a big plus and evidence that his stuff is still fine, but the decrease in homerun rate is a negative, albeit a small one (it’s a difference of one extra homer every 52.2 IP).
Despite the general improvements in his rate stats, Pettitte’s ERA in 2008 was just about half-a-run higher than it was in 2007. When you allow fewer walks, induce more grounders, and rack up more strikeouts than the year before without significant spikes in hits and homers allowed, you almost have to blame the defense behind him. Decreases in DER (.678 in ’07, .667 in ’08) and GIDP rate (one GIDP every 7.43 IP in ’07, one every 13.60 IP in ’08 despite increased GB rate) support this.
My one real concern about how Pettitte pitched in 2008 is how righties just tattooed him. During his career prior to ’08, Andy held RHB to a .267-.322-.395 batting line (.282-.332-.394 in ’07), but last year they smacked him around to the tune of .325-.376-.476. Via the wonder that is Fangraphs, we can see that Pettitte threw his cutter 27.9% of the time last season, up more than 10% from past years. Maybe Andy relied too much on the pitch, and because RHB saw the pitch so much last year, they were able to tee off against it. I honestly don’t know, this is all just speculation on my part, but something worth considering.
As far as the actual arbitration process goes, it’s a very low risk situation for the Bombers. If he declines, then you’re netting draft picks if he goes elsewhere (there are rumblings that he’s considering the Dodgers, but I suspect that’s just to give himself some leverage) while still maintaining the ability to resign him. If he accepts, then he’d be back for another year at $16-18M (the 20% max salary cut rule doesn’t apply to players with more than six years of service time, however that’s irrelevant because no player has ever had their salary decreased in arbitration, and it’s not about to start with Andy Pettitte despite an ever so slightly below league average year). Given Pettitte’s recent track record as a league average starter workhorse, the risk is worth it for a team with ginormous holes in it’s rotation and more money than they know what to do with.
If the Yanks choose not to offer arbitration, what do they gain? The risk of potentially paying him $16-18M is reduced, but there’s always the possibility that another team makes a big offer and they end up paying him that much money to stay anyway, maybe even over multiple years. If Pettitte does decide to go somewhere else, the Yanks would receive no compensation picks, and would have to replace Pettitte’s innings with someone who they’ll probably end up paying a similar amount of money to over several years. As the say goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
It’s a no-brainer, offer Pettitte arbitration and take the risk of overpaying him for one year rather than having to replace him by overpaying someone that may not be able to handle New York while not gaining any draft picks. Did I really need 800 words to explain something this obvious?