What Went Right: Andy Pettitte

Fan Confidence Poll: November 23rd, 2009
The return of the RAB Radio Show

As we wrap up our What Went Right/What Went Wrong series, we look at one of the Yankees off-season decisions.

For the first year and a half of his return to the Bronx, Andy Pettitte was everything the Yankees could have expected. He wasn’t quite the pitcher that left after the 2003 season, but no one thought he would be. Instead, he was a reliable No. 3 starter, stepping up his game when the team needed him — notably in April 2007, when, in the first month of his return, he pitched twice in relief. Bringing back Pettitte for the 2008 season was a no-brainer, but the story was a bit different for the 2009 season.

It all started on July 31, 2008. After a tough start against Toronto earlier in the month, Pettitte came back with stellar performances against the A’s and the Red Sox, allowing just two earned runs while striking out 16 in 14 innings. He took the mound against the Angels that day with the Yankees just one game back of the Red Sox for the Wild Card. They’d just acquired Xavier Nady to help an unimposing offense, and Damaso Marte to shore up the bullpen. Things were looking bright for the Yankees, despite a prolonged early season slump.

Pettitte didn’t look good from the start, allowing four base runners in the first two innings. The game got out of hand in the third, when a pair of three-run home runs gave the Angels a big lead. Pettitte surrendered another run before Joe Girardi removed him with one out in the sixth, with the Yankees down 7-2. Chris Britton then allowed another three-run shot, and the game was all but over. The Yanks dropped to a game and a half back of the Wild Card, and never got that close again.

While the Yankees offense underperformed in 2008, they also suffered injuries to three of their top pitchers. Chien-Ming Wang injured his foot in June, Joba Chamberlain hurt his shoulder in August, and Andy Pettitte pitched with a bum shoulder for the second half of the season. From the Angels game on, that was evident, as he allowed 47 runs (45 earned) through 65 innings over 11 starts. Opponents racked up 87 hits over that period, good for a .323 BAA. The season ended with the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons, leaving a bitter taste in everyone’s mouthes.

Pettitte, a consummate competitor, didn’t want to walk away that way. He made it known after the season that he wanted to come back for another season in pinstripes. The Yankees, however, weren’t so sure. They had big plans to overhaul the pitching staff in the off-season, and Pettitte didn’t necessarily factor into the strategy. Had he finished strong in 2008 he almost certainly would have, but his shoulder injury had the Yankees brass wondering if he’d be effective in 2009. After a few months of speculation, the Yankees and Pettitte finally agreed on an incentive laden deal, a $5.5 million base with incentives for innings pitched.

The deal worked out for all parties. Pettitte pitched 194.2 innings in 2009, missing just one start the whole way. His ERA, 4.16, was as good as the Yanks could have hoped. His WHIP was the lowest since his amazing 2005 campaign with the Astros. While he won only 14 games, that had more to do with the Yankees’ late inning surges than it did with Pettitte’s pitching. He did the job the Yankees had envisioned for him: keep the game close and let the Yankees offense take care of the rest.

The 2009 season changed when the Yankees rallied to open the second half. They went 10-2 after the break in July, and then went 21-7 in August, putting themselves comfortably ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. Pettitte was a big part of that run. He pitched 59.2 innings from July 20, his first post-break start, through August 31, starting nine games in which the Yankees went 7-2. He allowed just 17 earned runs in that span, striking out 62 to 15 walks. His triple slash against was an ace-like .210/.260/.554. Plenty of players surged through that period, and Pettitte was a big part of it.

Heading into the season, Pettitte was the nominal fifth starter. CC Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, and A.J. Burnett were the veterans atop the rotation, and after Joba Chamberlain’s impressive run as a starter in 2008, he was penciled into the fourth spot. Andy Pettitte as a fifth starter is a luxury few teams can afford, and the Yankees are lucky to be one of those teams. When Chien-Ming Wang proved ineffective and eventually injured, and when Joba didn’t quite have the season the Yankees envisioned, Pettitte was there to step into the No. 3 starter role. Not many presumptive No. 5 starters can answer that call.

Not only did Pettitte answer the call, but he achieved an unprecedented feat. On September 27, Pettitte got the win in the AL East clinching game against the Red Sox. He then went on to clinch the ALDS against the Twins, the ALCS against the Angels, and the World Series against the Phillies. No one pitcher has ever closed out the division and all three rounds of the playoffs in the same season.

The Yankees and Pettitte now face a decision for the 2010 season. Pettitte has to decide whether he wants to pitch again, and the Yankees have to decide if they want him back. I don’t see any reason why the Yankees wouldn’t want him. The only starters penciled into the 2010 rotation are Sabathia and Burnett, and while we assume that both Chamberlain and Hughes can step into the rotation, the Yankees could still use another reliable arm. Any way the Yankees decide to fill out their 2010 rotation, Pettitte should be in the plans if he wants to pitch. As he showed last year, he can contribute to the club in big ways.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 23rd, 2009
The return of the RAB Radio Show
  • Mike HC

    We gotta get Pettitte back. He is just too consistent.

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

      We gotta get Pettitte back. He is just too very consistent.


    • Flo McCallister a/k/a Pettitte Fan

      no doubt about it – must have Pettitte back.

  • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

    Gotta love that photo…vintage Pettitte.

    He’s just so solid. You have to get him back…

    But I still believe you need one more decent starter…because banking on 2 extremely young pitchers (Joba and Hughes) to not only pitch healthy all year…but effective as well…after neither ever having started an entire season…is not being realistic. The “decent pitcher” doesn’t need to be anything remarkable…but somebody who can provide some innings and insurance. Gaudin is ok…but maybe somebody slightly better than him if possible.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside
      • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

        I’m not so sure I’d count Kennedy as reliable insurance behind Joba and Chamberlain. The more, the merrier though.

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

          Every little bit of depth helps, my friend.

  • theyankeewarrior

    You can’t go into the season assuming that Joba and Hughes will give you 175+ innings of solid production. But you have to let them try. They are absolutely front-end talent and have proved that they can be successful in the AL East. This is where #1 we have to bring Andy back. and #2 we need to look at a backup #5 plan like Harden, Sheets, Bedard, Wolf, Duchscherer etc.

    • theyankeewarrior

      By “we” I mean the Yankees.

      • theyankeewarrior

        And by “you” I mean the Yankees.

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

      No, they probably won’t give 175+ each, but how many four and five starters give 350 IP combined?

    • Amol

      The problem with guys like Harden, Sheets, Bedard, etc is that I don’t think any of them will sign with the Yankees to be a backup. The Yankees will either have to move Hughes or Chamberlain into the bullpen in order to sign them, or live with Gaudin/Kennedy/Aceves/Nova/McAllister as the 6th starter. Personally, I prefer the latter option.

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

        Bingo. Exactly.

        With a front 5 of CC-AJ-Andy-Joba-Hughes, plus Gaudin-IPK-Nova already in the system and on the 40 man + ZMac right behind them + Aceves in the pen capable of spotstarting + possibly Mitre and possibly Wang back if we don’t non-tender them…

        … all signs point to other SP options being reluctant to take a spot here, a spot where they aren’t guaranteed much of anything in terms of PT.

        We’re likely in the Brett Tomko zone of longshots trying to resuscitate their careers.

        I’m thinking Noah Lowry and Kelvim Escobar.

        • CountryClub

          Well, the Yanks could have Hughes start out in AAA again. He would pitch every 5th day and would obviously be the 1st guy up if/when someone hits the DL.

          I wouldnt love this plan, but it is possible.

        • Accent Shallow

          I’m thinking Noah Lowry and Kelvim Escobar.

          I’ll happily sign up for Escobar (who in addition to being a good pitcher when healthy, has a cool name), but Lowry? Ew. He hasn’t pitched since 2007, hasn’t pitched well since 2005, doesn’t throw particularly hard, and has had multiple surgeries (including rib removal surgery). Even if you’re taking fliers, I think you can do better than him.

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

            Even if you’re taking fliers, I think you can do better than him.

            Such as…

            • http://www.teamnerdrage.com leokitty

              Sidney Ponson returns again!!

            • JMK aka The Overshare

              See if Barry Bonds can throw 6 innings a game??

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

                See if Shawn Chacon can make it through a season without choking out a member of the front office?

                • JMK aka The Overshare

                  Can Spreewell throw a ball?

                • JMK aka The Overshare

                  Can Spreewell throw a ball?

  • Reggie C.

    I’m going to approach 2010 assuming Cash gets Pettitte to sign another 1 year deal. Lets hope Pettitte’s got another 190 inning, 4.16 ERA, Houston-era WHIP campaign in him.

    Crossing fingers that Joba yr 2 will surpass Pettitte in terms of performance. Its kind of unnerving to think Pettitte stands as the #3 starter on a championship ballclub. The performance could very well dip and it’d be totally understandable.

    • JMK aka The Overshare

      If it’s any consolation, look at the #3s on other top teams. Most don’t have top-notch #3s. Boston has Dice-K, Tampa has Price or Shields (not sure which qualifies as the #3. Garza, Niemann, Shields, Price, Sonnastine/Davis?), Phillie has Blanton/Happ, Dodgers have Wolf/Kuroda/Billingsly. Angels have Weaver. Pettitte is better than most of those guys.

      Maybe the Braves, Cardinals, Giants have better situations, but those teams all have more deficiencies than the Yanks do.

      • andrew

        +1. and Pettitte was our #5 to start the year last year? ok. fine with me.

  • scoopemup

    PitchingPitchingPitchingPitching…it’s all that matters(almost).

  • The Scout

    Thanks, RAB writers, for keeping up a string of interesting posts while we wait for something to actually happen this off-season!

  • Mike

    Lets face it we can’t go into the season with Joba and Hughes as the 4 and 5…. Something has to give.

    the Yankees need another starter.

    I’d take Lackey, Harden , Sheets or Bedard.

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

      Lets face it

      Sure thing. Face what?

      we can’t go into the season with Joba and Hughes as the 4 and 5…

      Absofrickenlutely we can.

      Something has to give.

      I agree. That thing: Your unfounded fear.

      • Mike

        Yeah . .Lets face the fact that going into the season with Joba and Hughes as the 4th and 5th starter ISN”T going to happen. Period. One will be in the bullpen

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

          I will bet you money you are wrong.

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

      I’d love to hear a rational argument as to why we can’t go into the season with Joba and Hughes as the 4th and 5th starters. Just because it didn’t work out two years ago doesn’t mean it won’t this time around. I’m still on board with securing more insurance, but there’s no reason to think it’s not practical.

      Nothing really has to give.

      • Mike

        Heres a couple of reaseons why we can’t go with Joba and Hughes as our 4th and 5th

        1- Pettite is another year older. Sure he had a clutch post-season. but we truley don’t know if hes going to pitch like that again. Chances are very slim

        2- Joba – Is he a starter or reliever. for the sake of argument. Lets call him a starter. He’s a question mark. Do you want Joba pitching for you in the playoffs??

        3- Hughes . another question mark

        THATS 3 .. count them 3 question marks after CC and AJ. You need some insurance,,,, at least after Andy

        • Mike

          By the way . I think Joba belongs in the bullpen

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

            What a shocker.

            I’m raising the terriost threat level to Orange.

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

          2009 Joba and 2009 Hughes are the least questionable questionmarks in the history of interrogative statements.

          • JMK aka The Overshare

            I’m not sure about that. Sure, I think they’ll both be very good starting pitchers next year and beyond, but you can’t totally dispute that there are question marks. Hughes has yet to pitch a full season as a starter (and he hasn’t bee very good as a starter, either) and Joba really broke down last year. Again, I think they’ll do well, and on pure talent and possibility, we have the best 4,5 starters in the game, I’d argue. But you can’t say it’s a sure thing. You just can’t.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

          “Do you want Joba pitching for you in the playoffs??”

          Well, that’s going to depend on how he pitches in 2010. To say that you don’t want him pitching for you in the playoffs, as of this moment, is monumentally stupid. And I try to avoid saying things like this in the comments, but it has to be said this time. Why the hell would you make a decision like that NOW?

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

        Oh, and for the record, Joba and Hughes as 4th and 5th starters is NOT what “didn’t work two years ago”.

        Hughes and KENNEDY is what “didn’t work two years ago”. Joba was NOT one of those two young starters who couldn’t hack it in the rotation.

        Not only was the 2007 “Two Young Starters Experiment” a failure because those two young starters were younger and less experienced than the two starters we’d be rolling with this year, but those two starters from 2007 also had less talent and a lower ceiling than the two starters from this year.

        2009 Joba and Hughes, with IPK in reserve in Scranton >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 2007 Hughes and IPK, with Joba in the bullpen

        • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

          2009 Joba and Hughes, with IPK in reserve in Scranton >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 2007 Hughes and IPK, with Joba in the bullpen

          I’m going to put this on a t-shirt.

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

            I’d probably change that to 2008 though because that was the year IPK and Hughes couldn’t cut it in the rotation.

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

              Yeah, whoops! Double typo on my part:

              2009 2010 Joba and Hughes, with IPK in reserve in Scranton >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 2007 2008 Hughes and IPK, with Joba in the bullpen

        • Mike

          What are you talking about ???

          How is Phil Hughes more experienced . WHY ? because he pitched in the bullpen? How experienced is he as a starter is the more important question ? He’s no more experienced as a starter than he was in 2007. I like Hughes and I believe he has some potential. however i’m not going to risk the season or post season to fullfill the youth movement at the end of our rotation.

          Joba and Hughes– one starts . one goes into the bullpen

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

              I don’t doubt that Phil and Joba will be better than their previous versions, but I think it’s a bit too optimistic to think that both will be effective in that role over the course of a full season.

              The Yankees, in my opinion, need another starter if they are going to win another championship. If we’re all content with just having a good season and making the playoffs, then fine, go with a starting 5 of CC, AJ, Andy, Joba, Hughes with IPK as your contingency plan.

              It is premature to believe that BOTH Joba and Hughes will be effective. Both have shown flashes of brilliance, but neither has sustained any level of success in the starting rotation at the major league level. Those are just the facts.

              What I believe about Joba and Hughes is irrelevant. It’s about history not repeating itself. I don’t think the Yankees need an ace, but they need someone not named Ian Kennedy, Chad Gaudin, etc.

              If Andy returns to #5 level, AJ gets hurt, Joba/Hughes struggle, etc., bringing up IPK or using Gaudin/Aceves/whoever is not going to be a solution. In 2009, CC was a monster. AJ had the ability to show up on any given night and Andy was a legit #3 when it was necessary. If those things repeat, then it will not matter who is #4/#5. If anything goes wrong, it is going to blow up in Cashman’s face.

              So I guess if you believe everyone is going to be healthy and repeat 2009, then there are no problems with the rotation. I am skeptical.

              I’d be fine with letting the kids do their thing, but I also would understand what it meant for repeating 2009.

              • Bob Stone

                I understand your concerns. What do you propose? Are you arguing for picking one of Lackey, Harden, Sheets or Bedard?

                • Bob Stone

                  picking up*

              • Chris

                At what point do you take the training wheels off and see if they can cut it as starters in the AL? It may not work perfectly, but you have to let them pitch at some point to see what you have.

                • RichYF

                  Bob: Lackey is obviously the best choice, but if money/years aren’t right, then Cash has to do what’s best for his team’s future. I am not advocating that the Yanks SHOULD sign another starter. I am just not sold on the current rotation being that of a championship caliber club. Solidifying the rotation would ease those concerns.

                  Chris: I agree. But we also have to curb our expectations for 2010 if that’s the case. Letting the kids go could potentially mean punting the season. I’d be fine with it. I understand the potential and I’d rather go that route. But I don’t think Cash really wants to do that. He’s got the club right now to win a few titles in a row, in my opinion.

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

            He’s no more experienced as a starter than he was in 2007.

            Is this for real? Since the start of 2007, Phil Hughes has appeared in 72 Major League games and has a 4.20 ERA. He also has a career K/9 IP of 8.3. While most of those appearances were out of the pen, he clearly has developed the ability to get Major League hitters out. Thus, until he proves without a doubt that he can’t start, he does indeed get a spot in the rotation.

            Same with Joba. Thinking that either “belong” in the pen at this stage is rather baseless.

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

              Thinking that either “belong” in the pen at this stage is rather baseless.

              It’s terriostic. And we cannot afford to lose the war against terriosts.

            • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

              Aside from Phil Hughes’ horrendous start in Baltimore…his numbers as a starter in 2009 were actually really really good.

      • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

        Reasons (in no order):

        – Both are still very young
        – Neither of them have ever started an entire season
        – Joba increased his innings significantly from 2008-2009 which provides a better chance for injury
        – While AJ may finally be rounding the healthy bend…he’s now pitched over 200 innings for the first time in his career which has a chance to increase injury/decline
        – Pettitte will be 38 years old which may increase the possibilities of injury and decline
        – While I don’t want either Joba or Hughes in the bullpen, taking them out of the bullpen in 2010 significantly worsens the bullpen that was so good in 2009. So winning games that are close, in reach, etc. become less likely than they were in 2009.
        – CC Sabathia now has 251.1 IP in 2007, 256.2 IP in 2008, and 266.1 IP in 2009 the past 3 years. There’s no guarantee this doesn’t have a chance to weaken CC’s performance in 2010.

        Having Chad Gaudin, Ian Kennedy, Kei Igawa, and spots starts from Aceves is not bad…but in order to take on deeper, more established pitching in our division we might want to think about a more serviceable 6th starter…which I know won’t be easy.

    • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

      Why exactly can’t the Yankees plan on Joba and Hughes as their fourth and fifth starters for 2010?

      (Hint: the reason can’t be that the Yanks need proven aces in their prime for 1-5 in their rotation.)