A better zone and better pitches for Pettitte in W

Baseball America's Eastern League Top 20 Prospects
ALDS Game Two Chat

When the Yanks named Andy Pettitte their Game 2 starter, the club seemed to be rolling the dice. Despite Pettitte’s voluminous postseason success, the lefty was just three Major League starts removed from a two-month stint on the disabled list due to a groin injury, and in one of those starts, a stiff back prevented him from located his pitches. All in all, Pettitte had thrown 7.1 innings over his last two starts with an ERA of 11.05 and had allowed 19 hits while laboring through 163 pitches.

Pettitte more than silenced the doubters last night. He went seven strong innings against the Twins and needed just 88 pitches to do it. He allowed just two runs on a five hits and a walk and struck out four. As the game wore on, he seemed to find a groove, and at one point, the southpaw retired 12 Twins in a row. It was vintage Andy Pettitte. So how did he get there?

After his Saturday start against the Red Sox last weekend, it seemed as though Pettitte could have used a few more times. While watching the game, I thought he looked healthy, but he seemed to be missing his spots by just a little. Considering his two-month layoff, I wasn’t surprised. After all, pitchers generally say that during the build-up to the season, their command comes back later than velocity. But when I dug deeper into the game, it seemed that home plate ump Mike Winters and not Andy Pettitte was responsible for the struggles. Take a look at the called strike zone from Saturday:

Based on the Pitch f/x data, Pettitte threw nine pitches in the strike zone that were called balls and another was a borderline pitch that went the way of the hitter. Generally, Pettitte wasn’t getting the call on low cutters, and because Pettitte so heavily leans on those low cutters, his approach suffers if the ump isn’t calling a strike a strike.

Now, based on the narrative around last night’s game, it’s tough to believe that Hunter Wendelstedt was calling a better zone than Winters did, but for Andy Pettitte, the strike zone was at least fair. While Carl Pavano somehow threw pitches out of the zone that were called strikes (and one pitch right on the edge of the zone called a ball), Pettitte seemed to get a much truer strike zone this week. Take a look at the called zone:

Wendelstedt apparently missed five pitches and didn’t give Andy the benefit of the doubt on two others. In that sense then, Pettitte was able to use the edges of the strike zone far more effectively this week than last. He also induced more swings on his cutter, a sign of improving pitches as he builds up strength from his injury. The full strike zone plot helps us to see how Pettitte was able to fool the Twins’ hitters.

Last night, Twins’ hitters swung and missed at five Pettitte cutters that were below the zone and another right on the edge. Against the Red Sox, Pettitte couldn’t drop the cutter into the zone, let alone below it, and Boston hitters were laying off the low pitches as Winters called a generous zone. Pettitte made Wendelstedt work for him last night, and Andy’s cutter had a greater down-and-in sweep to it last night. As the Twins’ hitters saw his pitches spin, they started to swing and miss.

As the playoffs progress, it’s easy to forget how the regular season can impact players today, but for Andy, last night was a bit step forward. It was just his fourth start back from injury, and it was by far the strongest he’s looked since returning to the rotation. His velocity is there; his command is there; his effectiveness is there. For a Yankee club looking to play deep into October, that’s news nearly as good as their 2-0 series lead.

Baseball America's Eastern League Top 20 Prospects
ALDS Game Two Chat
  • Greg G.

    That’s a great post, Ben. Bringing in the data from his last regular season start really helps clarify things.

  • Cam

    Wow, didn’t realize how brutal the zone was in is Sox start. Last night though, those low and outside cutters against lefties could’ve hurt him a lot too but that is some kind of pinpoint control to put 6 pitches in virtually the same spot. I think the stint on the DL is going to help him. His arm is very fresh and should they need to turn to him on short rest in any series, last nights 88 pitches will help too.

  • http://twitter.com/j_yankees j_Yankees

    No doubt Pavano got a couple of calls early, but for the most part i thought the strikezone was fair on both sides. That’s not to say the strikezone was right, because it wasn’t, Wendelstedt was off-center all night, so there was some room to play with away to LHBs but not inside to them. But i felt it was fair.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      The strike zone was consistant, not necessarily fair.

  • Dick Whitman

    It’s just really sad when TBS has a strike zone monitor on the screen for the majority of the game and there’s more than a fair share terrible calls. We’re not talking borderline “strike 3” to Berkman. We’re talking ball in the center of the zone, strike 2 feet outside type calls.

    • vin

      I was at work for nearly all of yesterday’s game, but I noticed they removed the Pitchtracker late in game 1. Am I misremembering? And did that also happen yesterday?

      The pitchtracker must really drive the umpires nuts, because most viewers will only look at it on close calls. As opposed to the more savvy fan who appreciates a visual reminder of how hitters are being pitched to and such.

      • Poopy Pants

        I’m amazed the umpires union didn’t find a way ban it.

  • Yank the Frank

    Also, the stint on the DL should translate in Andy being fresher and stronger during the postseason.

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

      Counting last night, Pettitte is now at just 136 innings on the season. Last year after the ALDS, he had already thrown over 200 innings.

      • Poopy Pants

        He should be in great shape and well rested for 2011!

  • art vandelay

    better zone, better pitches, papa andy.

  • JohnnyC

    Old man can throw. He knows what he’s doing.


  • CBean

    Andy Pettitte is good at baseball.

  • Mike Nitabach

    That’s a hilarious picture of Gardenhire getting thrown out!

    You know, it’s got me thinking a bit more seriously, however. While I do take the position that there is no evidence that I am aware of that umpiring in terms of getting the balls, strikes, and other calls correct is somehow worse now than it has been historically, I do think there is a problem with umpires taking themselves too seriously and placing themselves at the center of the action, instead of at the periphery where they belong.

    They should not be acting like middle-schoolers obsessed with whether they are being disrespected. They should not participate in arguments with players or managers. And if they throw a player or manager out, they shouldn’t make a big fucking dramatic ACTING! production out of it. I think if they demonstrated a little more gravitas, and kept themselves out of the emotional fray, they would hear a lot less complaining. Players and managers are *supposed* to get emotional about the game, because the outcome means something to them; umpires are not.

    • thurdonpaul

      excellent post

    • Poopy Pants

      I guess that would also mean they’d have to remove the whole ‘no arguing balls and strikes’ thing.

  • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

    If there is an umpire in the universe I hate more behind the plate than Hunter Wendelstedt is it Mike Winters.

    Durf durf the zone is consistent! That’s wonderful, taking away a 1/3 of the zone from pitchers to use is awful whether or not it’s consistent.

    • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

      *it is

      If the comment edit plugin hadn’t crashed the site I would look so much smarter right now.

  • TapDancingTeddy

    I like the idea of looking over pitch charts to decide how umpiring affected the game. It’s also great for showing how pitchers got outs.

    But I’m not familiar with the people providing these charts. Who are they and how do we know they are accurate?

    Also there’s the degree of accuracy. Tennis uses a system they feel is good enough to decide a line call in a championship match. How close to that type of accuracy are these charts?

    In other words, your article is great in its breakdown of what happened. But the article is based on charts. Are the charts as good as the analysis?

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

      That’s a great question. There’s an element of variation in the charts. The pitch location is based on the Pitch f/x data, and the info varies very slightly from park to park. The zones are consistent across pitchers during the same game, but there might be some difference from game to game. Generally, we can make guarded conclusions about the pitchers based on the data offered.