Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the Yankees so far has been the starting pitching. Billed as the team’s best staff since 2003, they’ve stumbled out of the gates and haven’t quite recovered. Things aren’t as bad as they were in early April — as Mike mentioned, the pitchers have been going deeper lately. Yet they haven’t shown the dominance which we imagined heading into the season.
One bright spot on the staff is Andy Pettitte. As Eric Seidman notes in his FanGraphs post on the topic, Pettitte is already +1 wins this season through just 33 innings. Yes, he’s had his hiccups, but he’s turned in at least seven innings in three of his five starts, and only in the latest has he failed to record a quality start. In other words, the guy who was signed to be the fifth starter has been the ace of the staff in the early goings. As was the case in 2007, it’s difficult to imagine where the team would be without Pettitte right now.
Here is Seidman on Pettitte’s success from 2002 through 2008 (emphasis mine):
Over the last four seasons, Pettitte has averaged 213 innings and +4.6 wins. His total of +18.3 wins in that span of 2005-08 ranks ninth amongst all pitchers, ahead of both Jake Peavy and Josh Beckett. In 2004, he missed time due to injuries, but here are his win values from 2002-08, excluding that injury plagued 2004 campaign: +4.2, +5.5, +5.8, +3.5, +4.5, +4.4. Granted, I’m not here to make any sort of Hall of Fame case for the guy, but rather to point out he has had a terribly underrated career and he is still producing at a very high level. In fact, through five starts this season he has already amassed +1 win.
Of course, Pettitte benefits in this comparison to Beckett and Peavy, two of the more dominant pitchers of the current era, because 2002 was his age-30 season, while the other two were just rookies. So while that comp might not be completely valid, it is a testament to Pettitte’s consistency, minus his 2004 elbow injury. His second half last year gave some fans a scare, but thankfully he’s been in a full sprint to open 2009, at just the time the Yankees needed him.
While I used this thread to appreciate all Andy Pettitte has been for the Yanks, Seidman had a different reason. Apparently, he’s heard some fans clamor for Pettitte to move to the bullpen once Chien-Ming Wang returns. Excuse me? This I’ve never heard, probably because it’s so preposterous. Why would you ever remove your most solid pitcher from the rotation when the rest of the crew is struggling? Plus, as we’ve said ad nauseum, if the starters do their job the bullpen will become less relevant. The flaws will be exposed less frequently, and the best relievers will get the majority of the appearances.
During his first stint with the Yankees we remember Pettitte as a stopper, a guy who would come in on a day after a loss and turn in a solid performance. The Yankees could use that more than ever right now.