Catching some ‘breaks’ with Andy Pettitte

Kennedy headlines night of dominant pitching performances
A-Rod expected to head to Tampa on Monday

What a difference an off-season makes.

Just over six months ago, Yankee fans were ready to write off Andy Pettitte. While he pitched admirably in the Yankee Stadium finale, he had a second half to forget in 2008. After the All Star break, he went just 4-7 with a 5.35 ERA, and his season ended one start early when he revealed that he had been pitching through some shoulder pain.

During the off-season, Pettitte and the Yanks fought to a stand-still. Pettitte wanted to return — he made that very clear early on — but he didn’t want to take much of a pay cut. Baseball economics, however, didn’t cooperate with him, and he ended up signing an incentive-laden deal with a base salary of $5.5 million.

Yesterday, in his first outing of the season, Pettitte showed why he’ll be a great back-end starter for the Yanks this year. He went 7 strong innings, giving up one run on three hits and a walk. Aided by some tough shadows late in the game, he ended with six strike outs and had by far the best outing of a Yankee starter this season. It took him just 99 pitches to dispatch the Royals, and the Yanks won a crisp game 4-1.

As Pettitte’s game unfolded, he looked sharper today. So I wondered: What changed between last August and this April? The answer lies in Pettitte’s breaking balls. Mike will have more on Pettitte’s pitch f/x data tomorrow, but I want to take a quick look at Pettitte’s pitch selection right now.

If we look at Pettitte’s pitches from August 31 against the Blue Jays and August 26 against the Red Sox, something jumps out. During those two games in which Andy got shelled, he threw mainly fastballs. By the time that final start in August rolled around, Pettitte was dishing fastballs nearly 60 percent of the time.

Yesterday against the Royals, Pettitte’s fastball velocity was in fact the same as it was in August. He was topping out at 90 mph and averaging around 88-89, but he threw just 34 of them. Added to the repertoire — or re-added — was Pettitte’s slider, and with it, he can be a very successful pitcher for the Yankees this year.

Major League hitters won’t be fooled or blown away by 88 mile-per-hour fastballs, and pitchers throwing that slow can’t rely on fastballs. But Pettitte’s 2008 shoulder woes limited the number of breaking pitches he could throw. This year, Pettitte is healthy and dealing. He can mix speeds and angles far more effectively.

Of course, yesterday’s game was just day one. How Pettitte is feeling in August will be telling, but as a first step, that seven-inning victory was just what the doctor ordered.

Moving beyond Pettitte, the Yanks were facing old friend Sidney Ponson. They scored two in the first and two in the fourth but couldn’t plate anyone else. For Ponson, it was a typical effort, similar to those through which we suffered last year. He allowed nine baserunners in six innings and limited the damage to four runs. The Yanks wouldn’t need more.

After Pettitte left, Brian Bruney built the Bridge to Mowhere today. He struck out two and looked dominant. Who will pitch the 8th inning? That guy. Rivera, meanwhile, also struck out two. That guy is a machine.

For the Yanks, it was a smooth, crisp victory. I’ll take, oh, another 98 of those this year.

Rockin’ Robbie: Robinson Cano went 2 for 3 with a run scored and a walk. This base-on-balls was the fourth for the one-time free-swinging second baseman. Cano, average a walk a game, did not draw his fourth walk last year until the Yanks’ 22nd game of the season on April 21. I like this new Robbie. I hope he’s here to stay.

Kennedy headlines night of dominant pitching performances
A-Rod expected to head to Tampa on Monday
  • cuponoodles

    Great performance by Pettitte, but I’m holding my breath in hoping his shoulder holds up this year.

    I’m also really diggin’ the Pitch-FX data!

  • http://deleted RollingWave

    If Robby can walk even 60+ times a year, he’s insanely valuable.

    • andrew

      I know, a breakout year for Cano, or a re-breakout year. I’m very excited about his season.

  • Drew

    No arguing that Pettitte’s cut and slider were doing work today. Hope he can keep it up.
    As for Robby.. he’s the man.

  • Drew

    Hey Ben, this is my first full season at RAB, do you guys ever get into the International Free agent market before the July signing period?

    • pat

      July 2nd is like Xmas around here. The MLb draft is like Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, your 21st birthday, new years, saint patty’s day and halloween (college version)all rolled into one.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      Mike will. His specialty includes the minors, the draft and the international free agents.

    • Joey

      Mike is the man with the draft and prospects (HS and college), but is kind of limited with international free agents because of the lack of scouting reports/videos, but will always have whatever is available to him. Again, he da man

    • http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/profile.php?id=594331910&ref=name Jamal G.

      Go to NYYFans.com for your IFA draft fix. That’s my first stop to check out news on that topic (they already have some info up now).

      http://forums.nyyfans.com/showthread.php?t=116157

      • Drew

        sick thanks

  • pollo

    If Cano continues, he should be moved to the 3-Hole and Tex should drop 4.

  • Rich

    I have to admit that I was against re-signing Pettitte (once CC and AJ were signed) mostly because I wanted Hughes to be the 5th starter.

    But when you factor in the reasonable contract that he ultimately signed, it’s hard to deny that bringing him back was the correct move, especially in view of the fact that his FIP was lower in 2008 than it was in 2007 (3.71 v. 3.87), underscoring that there is a case to be made that he was unlucky last year.

    As for his KC start, in addition to what Ben pointed out, it seemed that he had very good command and changed speeds well.

  • Pel

    Bruney in the 8th? Alright. I’ll let him prove himself. After all, he is serious about his craft. And his attitude allows him to openly speak confidently about aspirations of being a closer.

    Not that there’s anyone worthy of being the closer once Mo retires, but if there is someone who we deem suitable enough to try and fill the void as best they can, he better not have some faggoty entrance music.

    Just sayin’ it would annoy the shit outta me to be unable to replace Mo on every level all the way down to the entrance music. At least have a good song, damn you!

  • Joe LA

    I always thought this would be a great closer song

    http://tinyurl.com/ce5e39 .

    The lyrics in the intro make my case for me.

  • McCaff

    The Jays are in first… watch out… shit. Im drunk btw. But fuck, man, I want me some Dellin this year crazy status.

    • andrew

      Get some rest, buddy

      • kSturnz

        I aint your buddy, guy.

  • LiveFromNewYork

    Maybe Andy talked to Moose about how to be a successful aging pitcher. The highlight of 2008 was Moose’s sick performance over the course of the entire season especially after he tumbled so far the year before. Whatever Moose did for 2008 should be packaged and sold.

  • Mike R. – Retire 21

    Some quick hits courtesy of moi.

    – 08 Pettitte = 07 Moose

    – A bridge to Mowhere? Thanks, but no thanks.

    – Cano’s improvement is not limited to his bat. He has new life in that glove as well.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      I’m going to respond to both LFNY and Mike in the same comment. Based on what I wrote and what the numbers said, it’s completely incorrect to equate Pettitte with Mussina. Pettitte did nothing different yesterday than he had been doing last year in terms of velocity. He was throwing 89 mph fastballs last year and was doing so yesterday. The difference is that because his shoulder is better, he can throw his slider without putting himself through pain. That way, he can mix and match — as he’s always done — and get guys out.

      What Mussina did was adjust from being a power pitcher with a great fastball to a Moyer-type junk baller. Pettitte doesn’t and shouldn’t have to do the same thing.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        He was throwing 89 mph fastballs last year and was doing so yesterday… That way, he can mix and match — as he’s always done — and get guys out.

        Three words come to mind: Ian Patrick Kennedy.

        • mustang

          Yes, the only problem with this is that IPK doesn’t have anything that comes close to Andy’s breaking stuff.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Probably not, no.

            But, if he can regain his confidence and go back to being the pitcher he normally is that commands the strike zone, he can mix and match and still be effective despite having a fastball in the 88-91 mph range.

            That’s all I was saying.

            • mustang

              ok

      • mustang

        Wow! What a differences six months makes indeed. How come his injuries didn’t seem to play that much of a part in your evaluation of him this winter when you said that he was statistically done? I thinking you said something like if he was hurt he should not of been on the field and that it wasn’t an excuse for is poor numbers.

        “Just over six months ago, Yankee fans were ready to write off Andy Pettitte”
        They weren’t the only ones.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      – A bridge to Mowhere? Thanks, but no thanks.

      It’s gaining traction…

      The Bridge To Mowhere ©™ tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Portmanteau Jones

  • rsam

    joba should be the closer once mo retires

    • http://heavysoundsandtheabstracttruth.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/alg_burnett-sabathia-3.jpg Mike Pop

      Heh.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        No beer and no TV make Homer… something something.

  • mustang

    Andy is healthy had less issues this off season and is on a mission to end a good career in pinstripes the right way. But with all that being said it’s just one game against KC.