Regression and Maintenance: The story of Javy and Andy


This morning Joe took us through the tale of Frankie Cervelli and Brett Gardner, in which two young Yankee players came out of the gate hot but have since gone in different directions. Cervelli’s not the only player on the team to experience some sort of regression and Gardner’s not the only one to have maintained an unexpected level of performance. Two veteran members of the starting rotation also fit the bill.

The word “regression” has a negative connotation to it, but remember that in the world of statistics it basically means reverting to the mean. That can be a positive thing, such as a player who performed poorly early improving later on. To steal Joe’s example, think Mark Teixeira last year.

At the beginning of the season, Javy Vazquez was giving the Yankees exactly the opposite of what they had expected. He was getting hit around and doing everything but soaking up innings, and it was quite ugly at times. Andy Pettitte on the other hand, managed to exceed all expectations and emerge as the team’s best starter. Cervelli and Gardner started at basically the same place in terms of performance before hitting the fork in the road, but Vazquez and Pettitte did the opposite. They started at different ends of the spectrum and met up later on.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill, AP

When Javy struggled early this season, the all too simple “he can’t handle New York” narrative was everywhere we looked. He was booed unmercifully at home, not only because he was pitching poorly in 2010, but also because of the perception that he cost the Yankees the 2004 pennant. Vazquez has since done more than just right the ship, he’s been the team’s best pitcher for the last month, compiling a 2.93 ERA with a .596 OPS against. Prior to his start on Saturday, the Yankees had scored just 11 runs in Vazquez’s last five starts, but he still managed to win three of those games.

During his first five starts, Javy put a total of 39 men on base in 23 IP, which is certainly a ton. His batting average on balls in play stood at .358, but even more damning was a ~55% strand rate, an unfathomably low number that certainly contributed to his 9.78 ERA. His velocity had dipped from his usual low-90′s into the upper-80′s and he appeared to nibble in an attempt to compensate, walking 5.87 men per nine innings in his first five starts (more than double his 2.4 career mark). Twenty-three innings is about 11% of a typical season for Vazquez, a bona fide workhorse with a track record of being no worse than a league average strikeout machine.

Clearly Vazquez wasn’t pitching to his capabilities, but he wasn’t getting any help either. His BABIP and LOB% luck were simply terrible, unsustainably bad. Sure enough, what followed was a combination of Javy appearing to regain confidence and a statistical correction. In his six starts since (we’re throwing away that one batter relief appearance), he’s posted a .215 BABIP and a ~80% LOB%, bringing his season totals to a much more respectable .269 and 70.8%, respectively. The luck literally went from one extreme to the other.

Vazquez’s track record is long enough that we pretty much know what to expect. He’s been a dead average (literally, 100 ERA+) pitcher in the American League, and we’ll gladly take that going forward. Javy isn’t as bad as he was in his first five starts and he isn’t as good as he has been in his last six — his true talent level likely lies somewhere in between. And there ain’t a damn thing wrong with that.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

A soon-to-be 38-year-old starter in the AL East isn’t supposed to be a staff ace. He’s supposed to be a veteran leader that gives innings and keeps the team in the game. Expect anything more and you’re likely to be disappointed. Well, unless that pitcher is the 2010 version of Andy Pettitte.

After three ever so slightly better than league average campaigns (106 ERA+) since coming back to the Yanks, Pettitte ripped a page out of the 1997 playbook this year and has been the Yanks’ best and most consistent starter. In his first six starts (prior to his little bout with elbow inflammation), he held opponents to a .619 OPS with a 2.08 ERA. In his six starts since, those numbers are .660 and 2.83. Slightly worse, sure, but still stellar.

Looking at some not necessarily more advanced stats, but ones that better represent underlying performance, helps back up Pettitte’s consistency. He got batters to swing and miss just 5% of the time in his first six starts, but that number has jumped up to 9% since. He stranded about 82% of baserunners in the first six, and about 80% in the second six. His GB/FB rate went from 1.02 to 1.47. Strikeouts? 6.23 K/9 before, 6.10 after. Walks? 3.00 B/9 before, 1.96 after. I could go on and on.

I’m comfortable saying that Pettitte’s best years are behind him, but his 2010 season has a little “last hurrah” to it. I find it to be very 2008 Mike Mussina-esque. You don’t expect him to keep performing this well, but the season is close to 40% complete, and he just keeps doing it. Season totals of a .256 BABIP and 82.1% LOB% tell us to expect a regression, but I get the sense that we might be waiting a while. Sometimes unexplainable things happen to extraordinary players, which Pettitte certainly is.

Categories : Pitching


  1. I like where this is going.

    I can’t wait for the 15th part in this series, “Regression and Maintenance: The story of Hank and Hal”

  2. Guest says:

    Its amazing that Javy vazquez articles don’t show up on a daily basis anymore. I wonder why that it is?

  3. Sometimes unexplainable things happen to extraordinary players, which Pettitte certainly is.

    There’s a reason that guys like ARod, Jeter, Pettitte, Jorge, Mariano, etc. keep defying the statistical predictions: they’re the outliers. They’re the ones who’s true talent level is high enough that they can lose a bit of athleticism as they age but still be dynamite players, because they started at such a high initial level.

    Everyone falls off a cliff eventually; the great ones fall off that cliff later than most.

    • I love Pettitte as much as the next Yankees fan. I’m not sure though I’d go so far as to say he is an extraordinary player. He’s the type of guy every team would love to have but lets not hype him up too much. Kudos to him though for the season he’s putting up so far.

      • Being able to churn out 110 to 130 ERA+ seasons year after year like clockwork for a decade and a half is pretty extraordinary.

        • That said, he’s still not getting into HoF.

          • whozat says:

            I don’t think anyone was touting Andy for HOF. That said, you can certainly call him an “extraordinary” player. Ordinary players do for a couple years in their prime what Andy’s done for 12 years, and he’s still doing it at 38.

          • Chris says:

            He should (at least I think he should). The HOF standards for pitchers have become so unrealistic that they’re significantly underrepresented in recent classes. For example, no starting pitcher that started his career after the mound was lowered in 1968 has been elected to the HOF.

            • poster says:

              Be patient. Pedro, Johnson, Glavine, and Maddux (he’s not in yet, right?) will make it in. No need to put somebody in who doesn’t deserve it.

              • Chris says:

                No need to put somebody in who doesn’t deserve it.

                This is my point. The standards for what a pitcher needs to do to “deserve it” have been raised to such a high level that they don’t reflect what the voting was like for the first 50-60 years of the HOF.

                Let’s say that you let Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Pedro, Johnson and Clemens in. That would give you 6 starting pitchers that started their careers after 1968. There are already 18 position players in the HOF that started their careers after 1968, and that doesn’t count guys like Alomar, Larkin, Raines, McGwire, Palmeiro, Bonds, Piazza, Biggio, Sosa, Frank Thomas and Jeff Kent. Throw in Schilling, Blyleven, Morris and Mussina and you’re still looking at 30 position players compared to only 10 starters. Historically it’s about a 2-1 ratio of position players to pitchers in the HOF, which seems like a better ratio to me. That means that (roughly) the next 5 best pitchers should be in, and Pettitte should be in the discussion to be in that group.

                On a somewhat serious not, it used to be that 300 wins was a ticket into the HOF. With the move from 5 to 4 man rotations, wouldn’t that cutoff reasonable move to 240 wins (4/5 of 300)?

                • poster says:

                  You make an interesting point, but…no. I’d still have to disagree. I don’t think that the standards for a pitcher have necessarily gotten so much higher. I think it’s more that the level of pitching dropped a bit in the 70′s/80′s, and, believe it or not, picked back up in the 90′s, even in the midst of the freakish HR races.

            • Dirty Pena says:

              For example, no starting pitcher that started his career after the mound was lowered in 1968 has been elected to the HOF.

              The 80s sure sucked.

          • Captain Jack says:

            I wonder how he’d compare to Glavine if Glavine had to pitch his entire career in the AL with an honest strikezone.

      • ZZ says:

        He is a borderline HOF pitcher that has played in front of some of the worst defenses in the history of baseball for much of his career. And this is a guy who has never been afraid to pitch to contact.

        • Johnny O says:

          Granted, but also played in front of some of the best offenses and bullpens in history. So maybe ERA takes a bit of a hit, but Wins blow up.

          Maybe if we wait 20 years we can pretend he was the “most feared” pitcher of his generation, point to cumulative stats, and hope he gets in eventually a la Jim Rice.

          I don’t think Andy is HOF, but definitely needs 46 retired behind CF. His career compares very favorably to another borderline HOF’er and fulltime blogger and self-promoter, Curt Schilling. If he gets in, Andy should too.

          • Angelo says:

            Eh, well “wins” don’t make you a great pitcher. So that doesn’t matter too much (or at least it shouldn’t), but we all know the media loves that stuff. ZOMG WINS!!

            Worse stat ever.

          • ZZ says:

            I think when all is said and done Andy will make it in eventually.

            But, I have to qualify that by saying that I also expect Andy to pitch for a few more years and the Yankees to have a couple deep runs in the playoffs where he pads those stats and adds to the aura of Big Game Andy.

            His kids are old enough now where they can really appreciate and understand what it means that their dad is a professional baseball player. Except for the youngest, there is not going to much to do sitting at home with the family. The older ones are going to push him to keep playing and his performance will as well.

            • poster says:

              He might make it, but he won’t deserve it.

              • ZZ says:

                I wasn’t really talking about whether he deserved it.

                But to say he doesn’t deserve it depends on your definition of who is HOF worthy.

                The guidelines for the HOF are pretty much completely arbitrary.

                To you he may not deserve it, but to others he does.

                And really there is no right answer.

                • poster says:

                  Compared to other HOF’ers he wouldn’t deserve it.

                  • ZZ says:

                    Based on what criteria when there really is no set criteria for the HOF?

                    And I am not saying he does or doesn’t deserve it.

                    I am saying that no one can really make that determination absolutely.

                    • poster says:

                      Well, the criteria has been determined by the standard set for other HOF pitchers.

                      If you compare Andy’s stats to the other HOF pitchers, he just doesn’t match up.

                    • poster says:

                      He certainly might get in. Whether he’d deserve it or not is another matter.

                      That said, deserve it or not, I might just have to go to Cooperstown to see his induction ceremony.

                    • bexarama says:

                      Hey poster, the blonde girl sitting a couple of rows back from you going “He doesn’t deserve it!!!” while simultaneously sobbing in joy would be me. ;)

                    • ZZ says:

                      If you compare Andy’s stats to the other HOF pitchers, he just doesn’t match up.

                      This assumes every statistic and every era is weighted equally for every player.

                      There can be a very different interpretation of the statistics from player to player where things are weighted and interpreted in an entirely different fashion.

                    • poster says:

                      These would be the outliers. They don’t match the majority of HOF’ers. That would be like pulling up Phil Rizzuto’s stats and then claiming everybody who played at the level of Rizzuto should be a HOF’er.

                    • poster says:

                      Well, Andy is a worse pitcher than other HOF’ers or borderliners of an era that’s at least close to his. Compared to Smoltz, Maddux, Glavine, Pedro, Clemens and even Moose Andy is a tier below.

                    • Dirty Pena says:

                      Vic Ellis and Red Ruffing are two more good comparables. Apparently I can’t link to them. It’s not that I feel strongly that Andy deserves to be in, but he’s defintely as good as some HOFers, and if (big if) he pitches a few more years, he wouldn’t be the first guy to get in because of longevity.

                    • poster says:

                      He might get in. But I don’t think he’d deserve it, even if I’d be happy for him.

                      In fact, I might go down to Cooperstown to watch the inductions.

                      If he reaches 300 wins, which is possible (barely) but unlikely, I think he’d be a lock since the HOF voters just love dem wins.

                    • Ed says:

                      Andy holds up pretty damn well to Glavine.

                      Almost identical ERA+. Pettitte has the better K and BB rates, Glavine the better WHIP.

                      If Pettitte can hold up into his early 40s like Glavine did, they’ll probably match up very well.

                    • poster says:

                      Great article by Bexy for Mystique and Aura.


                    • poster says:

                      If he makes it to his early 40′s…I honestly don’t know if he’d deserve it or not.

                    • Dirty Pena says:

                      That article compares Pettitte and Blyleven, which frankly, there is no comparison. My point is that Andy has a good shot to get in based on the (retarded) thought process of the writers who vote. This, of course, is predicated on a few more good years out of Andy and who knows if that’s happening/

                    • bexarama says:

                      I figure I should weigh in.

                      Andy’s not a HOFer. I just don’t see it. He’s been a good pitcher for a long time, but the only real argument for him is heavily dependent on counting stats – which he has because he’s been pitching on really good teams for a long time. When you compare him to the guys of this era that will/should be HOFers (Maddux, Smoltz, Pedro, Clemens, Moose, Schilling, Glavine) he’s quite clearly a tier below that.

                      That said, I can see him having a decent chance of getting in, even with the HGH thing, and I’ll be very happy for him if he does (unless Mussina doesn’t get in).

                    • bexarama says:

                      Oh and thanks for the link poster. :) I more meant to look at Heyman’s ridiculousness in that article than turn it into a debate on Pettitte/Blyleven (as you said, though, there really isn’t a comparison)

  4. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    Is Andy now “Crafty”?

  5. If someone told Andy that it was still 1996, 6hat’s okay with me.

    Question: how often do players have exceptional years in the season before they retire? Mussina strikes me as the most obvious answer here…

  6. ZZ says:

    When you look at the quality of his stuff, his pitch selection, his willingness to try and incorporate his pitches to different handed batters that he had not previously done before, his ability to change eye levels and work both sides of the plate, Andy Pettitte has become over the past year a better pitcher than he was years ago.

    As long as his arm stays healthy as it has been for a year and a half now, Andy can be one of those players where age is just a number and does not dictate his level of performance or signify a downward trend.

  7. nsalem says:

    I don’t believe Andy’s talk of retirement. I think he just does it out of some sort of family value guilt complex. I think his command like 08 Mussina is impeccable. Warren Spahn was great years 38-42. Andy is
    in great shape, hopefully he can keep on going. Maybe he is at the magic point where health, athleticism and experience all intersect and we will have him at this level for several more years.

    • Angelo says:

      You’re being crazy optimistic. We all know Pettitte hasn’t shown the ability to dominate like this for several years in a row, but he has had the ability to flash one here and there. I would love if this were true, but….

      I just think you need to be a bit more realistic of your expectations.

      Pettitte’s career > This year

      • nsalem says:

        Hi Angelo please note that i used the words hopefully and maybe.
        He probably can not sustain what he is doing now. However I think it is possible for him to sustain his 2009 numbers for a couple of years,
        which would make it well worth having him around for awhile.

        • poster says:

          His 2009 numbers are outstanding and well above his career norms, and Andy is pretty old.

          I would be absolutely blown away if he continued them after this year. In fact, while I’m not saying this will happen, I wouldn’t be shocked if he dropped off of a cliff after this year.

          • poster says:

            Oh! I confused ’09 with ’10.

            Ignore me.

          • nsalem says:

            Poster yes people that age have dropped off the cliff in the blink of the eye. Just stating that considering Andy’s lifelong commitment to a physical regimen and with the fortune of good health he may have a couple of good years left. Our closer is a couple of years older and is arguably still the Most Valuable Weapon in baseball.

            • poster says:

              Yeah, I misread your comment. Andy having a good season or two left is unreasonable.

              Mariano is a freak of nature/deity.

              • bexarama says:

                I assume you mean *not* unreasonable. Asking Andy to duplicate what he’s doing now for a few more years is probably unreasonable. Asking him to duplicate what he did overall in 2009 isn’t unreasonable, I don’t think.

        • Angelo says:

          Alright. That’s acceptable.

  8. poster says:

    Dare I say…Andy for the Cy Young?


  9. baby carlos says:

    do you think Andy’s retirement chatter increases if the Yankees either acquire or pursue Lee in the off season. Assumption is that they would see in enough in Javy to bring him back.

    • poster says:

      I would guess that one of Javy or Andy leaves and Lee is picked up regardless.

      FWIW, I think Javy leaves and Andy stays.

      • baby carlos says:

        Interesting. think it depends on whether the Yankees win the WS and how much Javy would command.

        • poster says:

          Why do you think it depends on who wins the WS?

          • baby carlos says:

            IMO, for Andy that would be another WS and back to back. His career is already defined by what he has done for the Yankees and excluding the money or personal numbers, there would not be much left to bring him back… speculating on his sincerity to this family and comments he made to Verducci in the SI article.

  10. Gonzo says:

    I really, really hope the FO offers Javy arbitration. I am not holding my breath, but picks (especially in the 2011 draft) or one year of Javy is a win, win, right? Even if Javy accepts, you have the year to year flexibility.

  11. Carcillo says:

    The word “regression” has a negative connotation to it, but remember that in the world of statistics it basically means reverting to the mean. That can be a positive thing, such as a player who performed poorly early on improving later on. To steal Joe’s example, think Mark Teixeira last year.

    Why don’t people call something like Teixeira’s regression to the mean last year “progression to the mean”? Why is everything based in regression?

    I’m curious about that.

  12. bexarama says:

    Just got done doing a bunch of stuff and read this article and the comments and… yeah I agree with everything. I don’t think Pettitte is a Hall of Famer and I keep being a bit terrified expecting his regression this year, but who knows? He was really bad for a decent period of time (latter half of 2008 when he was pitching hurt, earlyish 2009) so maybe this is the regression in a good way.

  13. Peedlum says:

    Just out of curiosity, is it possible to “progress” to the mean. It seems like if one was doing worse than before, one would regress to the mean. But if one were to do better than before, wouldn’t the progress to the mean?

    • Captain Jack says:

      Regress in a good way…regress just means “to go back,” regression to the mean would mean go back to your average performance. Since “regress” usually has negative connotations associated with it people use the word “progress” to note the good regression.

    • boogie down says:

      Technically, I don’t think you can, but everyone certainly understands what’s meant by “progression to the mean”.

      Any deviation from the mean followed by a return to the mean, whether over time or immediately, is called a regression to the mean, regardless of the deviation’s direction.

      Historically, the term has also been referred to as “reversion to the mean” and, more cryptically, “reversion to mediocrity.” I’m assuming that the word regression came to replace reversion simply because of the type of statistical analysis being done.

  14. Captain Jack says:

    I’ll just say one thing regarding Andy and the Hall of Fame…if he pitches two or three more seasons after this one at the typical Andy Pettitte rate he would have a about 3500 IP, over 2500 strike outs, well over 250 wins (yes I know), at a 115ish ERA+. A decent case can be made off of that…also you HAVE to consider the post season. I know most of you dorks like to say “THE POST SEASON DOESN’T MATTER, SMALL SAMPLE SIZE…A-ROD REALLY IS CLUTCH!!!!11!!” and, for the most part you’re right. Except Andy Pettitte has 250 post season innings and a 3.90 ERA, he’s been facing the best competition baseball has to offer on the biggest stage baseball has to offer and excelled, over a large sample size like 250 innings you HAVE to count that to his favor…why shouldn’t he get credit for doing that? For his generation of pitchers the top ten would have to look something like:

    Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, Kevin Brown, Curt Schilling (ugh), and I think a great case can be made for Andy Pettitte over John Smoltz for 9th all time of this generation.

    Hell, I would have loved to seen what Glavine would have done with an honest strikezone in the AL.

    • bexarama says:

      I think you can make a case for Pettitte but I don’t see it, personally. It’s the peripherals… I think they’re good, but not Hall-worthy. How do you figure Pettitte’s better than Smoltz?

      As far as the postseason goes, I think it should count as a bonus and not much more. If Mariano Rivera got drafted by, say, the Tigers and stayed in their bullpen for as long as he had with the Yankees, and pitched as well as he has, but didn’t have the utterly insane postseason numbers due to a lack of opportunities to be in the postseason, he’d still be a Hall of Famer.

      And it’s not like Pettitte’s postseason numbers are incredible like Mariano’s. Given a lot of postseason innings, some incredible postseason games and some total clunkers, Pettitte’s postseason numbers are… pretty much his regular season numbers. Now those regular numbers are definitely solid but again, I just don’t see him as Hall-worthy.

      Do I think there’s a real possibility he gets in? I do, even with the HGH thing. Because he came out, told the truth, and apologized, and is a nice white guy who loves his family and Jesus and speaks with a Southern accent, he has been mostly forgiven (and really, what else do you want from him, martyrdom?). Do I think he’s deserving? No.

      I do think if Pettitte was drafted by an NL team and spent his whole career in the NL he’d be better than Glavine, too. Buuuut that’s a “if pigs had wings, then they could fly” situation.

      • Captain Jack says:

        As Pettitte/Smoltz goes I should have added the caveat that he comes back and does the typical Pettitte performance for two more years or so. Pettitte has had similar ERA+ numbers to Smoltz despite pitching in a MUCH tougher league and not going to the bullpen for a few years and averaged 20 more innings per year than Smoltz did…Pettitte’s NL ERA+ is 129 later in his career where he wasn’t as good as he was during his AL years.

        Why shouldn’t we consider his post season career? Those are 250 outstanding innings he pitched against the best competition baseball had to offer…I’m not saying he should be judged solely on that, but clearly that has to factor into his body of work as a whole. Much more than just “bonus” look, if he just had a few good post seasons…I’d say fine, leave it as a bonus, but he has well over a season’s worth of post season pitching to his resume.

  15. mike c says:

    i think the addition of CC to the pitching staff was a real boost to pettitte IMO. i can see how watching an ace lefty like sabathia pitch every time could really get the gears turning in andy’s head. just chalk it up to experience + talent + inspiration if you’re looking for an easy explanation on andy’s renaissance

    for the same reason, i’d really like to see cliff lee join the team to try and get AJ going. those two guys could have great chemistry together

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