The Danks-Pettitte Comparison

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Over the last 14 months or so, the Yankees have had a fairly questionable rotation, with a number of slots they could improve via the trade market or free agency. This has led to a million and one trade proposals from fans that have touched on every decent pitcher in the sport. Other than Felix Hernandez, who is Moby Dick to this fanbase’s Ahab, the most frequently raised name has probably been that of John Danks. In the course of various online discussions about Danks, a number of Yankees fans, myself included, have compared him to former Yankee Andy Pettitte. Whether it’s the fact that both are lefties from Texas, the nature of their repertoires, or their established levels of performance, there is something about these two pitchers that connects them in the minds of some fans. Let’s take a closer look at the two men to evaluate whether the comparison has merit.

Scouting

While Pettitte was actually born in Louisiana, he played his high school ball in Texas like Danks. Pettitte has a larger frame than Danks (6’5/235 v. 6’1/215), but both are reasonably large lefties with durable frames. The real similarity comes in their repertoires, particularly when comparing Danks to the Pettitte who returned to the Yankees in 2007. Both work off a fastball that sits around 90-92 MPH, and use the fastball to set up their breaking pitches. Most notably, they use their cutters more than 20% of the time and experience great success with the pitch. They each round out their arsenals with a curveball and a changeup, although Danks focuses more on the changeup while Pettitte was significantly more dependent on his hook.

Performance

Danks has been in the majors for five seasons, so it would be useful to compare his first five seasons to the first five from Pettitte. In his first five years, Andy Pettitte pitched 1044.1 innings with a 3.92 ERA, for an ERA+ of 119. Danks did not come out of the gate quite as hot as Andy did, with a 5.50 ERA in 2007 resulting in a slightly worse overall line of 917 innings to a 4.03 ERA (111 ERA+). However, when it comes to peripheral statistics, Danks actually comes out slightly ahead, with a better K/9 (7.0 to 6.1), BB/9 (2.9 to 3.2), and H/9 (8.8 to 9.4). Danks allowed a .727 OPS against to Pettitte’s .730, but Pettitte was superior at coaxing double plays (15% to 12%), which was due to his significantly greater penchant for drawing grounders (1.07 GB/FB to .76). Pettitte was better at suppressing home runs (0.7 to 1.1 HR/9), and it is important to note that the peripherals are not adjusted for era, which is important considering that Pettitte was pitching at the height of the steroid era. Overall, this comparison seems fairly close, and it is reasonable to say that these two pitchers performed at a similar level.

Another interesting comparison can be made between Danks and Pettitte’s last five years, which may be the years that are causing people to make the connection between these two hurlers. In his last five seasons, Andy threw 957 innings to the tune of a 4.11 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 109. His peripherals during this period actually look a lot like those of Danks, with a 6.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, and a H/9 of 9.6, and the two players notched these numbers while playing in the same league at the same time. Again, it seems that a reasonable person could conclude that these two pitchers were of similar ability.

While some will surely raise postseason success as a defining element of Pettitte’s career and something Danks lacks, it is hard to blame him for not being on a club that makes the postseason every year. For what it is worth, his one postseason start was quintessential Pettitte, as he allowed a bevy of baserunners (10) but limited the damage to 3 runs in 6.2 innings and notched the win.

Editor’s Note: Danks did throw an absolute gem in Game 163 against the Twins in 2008, allowing just two hits and zero runs in eight shutout innings. It’s technically a regular season start, but we all that know that’s a playoff game.

Conclusion

While the parallels between the two are not perfect, they are close enough to explain why Danks is somewhat reminiscent of Andy Pettitte. Both are lefties from Texas who thrive on a fastball-cutter mix, and both were likely miscast as aces when they performed more like good #2 starters. Neither was much of a power pitcher, succeeding by allowing plenty of baserunners but finding a way to limit the damage and give their teams a chance to win. If Danks ever does end up in New York, Yankees fans might find that he brings back memories of a certain dimple-chinned fan favorite from the South.

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  • Bartolo’s Colon

    Great post, I do miss pettitte. I wish he could come back next year, but I know its not happening, his stupid family has to get in the way.

    I am glad that I was at his last start, too bad cliff lee had to ruin everything.

  • viridiana

    Very interesting post, though I think Andy was better than even his good numbers suggest.
    One reason is that Torre in Andy’s early years really liked to see his pitchers go seven ninngs. There were just so many games where Pettitte pitched six innings of shutout or one-run ball but then fell apart in the seventh, often yielding four or five straight hits. Torre would of then leave him in longer than many managers would. A six inning one run line would suddenly be 6 innings three or four runs.

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

    So get Danks and keep him away from Roger Clemens?

  • SuperEd

    Are pickoff’s worthwhile to consider? I don’t have the numbers but using the eye test is seems like baserunners have a tougher time against Pettitte then Danks. I know using SB allowed aren’t accurate due to the difference in catchers…

    http://riveraveblues.com/2010/.....pts-23244/

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com GT Yankee

      Agreed…..In fact when it comes to holding runners on and pickoff moves, Pettite might be the best ever. One year I believe there were zero attempted steals against him.

  • viridiana

    Pettitte Career ERA Splits

    5th inning — 3.60
    6th inning — 3.36
    7th inning –4.75
    8th inning —4.94

    No idea on league stats for starters but this seems like a pretty dramatic fall-off. Thorughout his career Pettitte was a great 6- inning pitcher.

    • http://riveraveblues.com Moshe Mandel

      This is interesting, I’ll try and look into it.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        Add in the number of times and years that he pitched in to the 6th. 7th and 8th innings, and it becomes even more interesting in my mind. Did the 7th and 8th happen more in his early years or later years? Was there a difference as he aged? How does this stack up against Danks? (I’d assume most pitchers give up more runs as they tire). Very interesting stuff.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Anybody that can be compared to Andy has got to be a good addition for the Yankees. However, I would not give Montero, Betances or Banuelos in a swap for him. Betances being a big guy takes longer to find his delivery slot but once he does he could be an ace. No need to talk about Banuelos’s upside. It is worth waiting one or two more years for them to develop properly.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      I’d give up Betances for him. Yeah maybe he becomes an ace, but it’s unlikely. If he were to become a solid 2, which is what Danks already is, we’d all be happy with it. Of course, as with all prospects, there’s that chance that he could become nothing. Why not just deal him for a proven solid AL SP?

      • Johnny O

        I’d be ok with giving up Betances too…but Danks only has 1 year left. I wouldn’t be too upset if he were traded for Danks but would prefer to hold on Dellin after all these years.

      • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

        I wouldn’t give up Betances. Plenty of guys with ace stuff, but spotty control, still wind up becoming quality MLB pitchers. Folks are way too quick to hypothetically throw Betances into their hypothetical trades for hypothetical pitchers, hypothetically.

        • Ted Nelson

          Betances could become a quality pitcher, but Danks is a quality pitcher. And Danks is three years older than Betances, so it’s not a huge difference.

          The White Sox aren’t very likely to just hand over their young ace while getting nothing in return.

          • Cris Pengiucci

            However, they’re giving up one year of him only. With the new CBA, he might not be a type-A free agent. If they don’t plan to re-sign him, they walk away with nothing. So, perhaps Betances is a little too much.

            • Ted Nelson

              If the Yankees had a pitchers like Danks, would you think trading him for less than Betances was a good idea?

              The White Sox play in the third biggest market in the country. They might well sign him this off-season.

            • steve

              Betances is not nearly gonna b enough.add nova and nunez or romine

          • Mister Delaware

            … like they did with Swisher.

            (For the record, I agree. And I’d move Betances for Danks without much thought.)

            • Ted Nelson

              Yeah, Kenny Williams is a Wild Card. Swisher was coming off a 1.3 fWAR season with several years left on his deal, though.

              • Mister Delaware

                Sure, but he was still young with a good track record and pedigree (for whatever that’s worth), making him the perfect buy low candidate. I’ll take one of those guys every year and assume the gains exceed the loses on a whole. Just a matter of finding willing GMs on the other side.

                • Ted Nelson

                  My point was that Williams doesn’t necessarily have as much motivation to deal Danks for a poor return as Swisher. Though he was wrong, Williams probably thought Swisher was going to be a dead-weight on their payroll for several years. The big assumption people are making is that Williams doesn’t want Danks to be a White Sock long-term.

                  • Mister Delaware

                    Even if Williams does want him there long term, that’s still less than half of the equation. He may simply see this offseason as their chance to maximize value, especially with free agent compensation up in the air. So it doesn’t even have to be a sell low, could just be a sell to ensure return beyond 2012.

  • JohnnyC

    Kenny Williams recently dropped the “rebuilding” word so Danks is a possible get…although he opined that it would take a pretty big haul to let him go. Maybe that’s a lot of posturing. Cashman should work the opening and see if another Swisher-like deal can be pulled off.

    • Johnny O

      Danks has 1 year left til FA and the draft pick compensation might be going away. Kenny should get something for Danks while the getting’s good. B+ prospect and a C prospect. Phelps and Kontos.

      • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

        Yeah, having only one year left is a factor. It looks like the draft pick comp is going away fro type B’s, not the A’s though. I still think it’ll take more that Phelps and Kontos.

        • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

          Nunez, Romine, Phelps? I’m terrible at all this.

        • Mister Delaware

          I thought As were getting tougher (to knock out the reliever problem) but Bs (and more) would still have comp, just not from the other team. No idea. Although I don’t think that should be a factor given our resources. 90% of the time, if we want to get/keep a guy, we can. The other 10% of the time they go to an older younger team of their liking.

      • candyforstalin

        B+ prospect and a C prospect. Phelps and Kontos.

        hahaha.

      • Ted Nelson

        Or just re-sign his young ace…

        • Cris Pengiucci

          Yes, the X-Factor in all of this. A nice piece to begin rebuilding around.

  • the Other Steve S.

    Comparing a young Danks to an older Pettite seems a little questionable but Danks would be a rotation upgrade. Maybe they would take back A.J.

  • Paul from Boston

    Cain is better – better results in many more innings.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      So? What’s your point?

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

      Also better: Sandy Koufax in the 60’s. Both are irrelevant to this conversation.

    • http://www.bronxbombersreport.com Craig Maduro

      He’s also more expensive.

    • Mister Delaware

      He’s also a righty fly ball pitcher who would be coming to just about the worst park for a righty fly ball pitcher.

  • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

    “For what it is worth, his one postseason start was quintessential Pettitte, as he allowed a bevy of baserunners (10) but limited the damage to 3 runs in 6.2″

    Uhh…if you’re talking about the 2009-2010 version of Pettitte, OK. But this whole article is based on comparing a 26 year-old Danks to a 37 year-old Pettitte.

    What the hell kind of sense does that make?

    And the attempt to glaze over Pettitte’s ground-ball rate by merely giving in lip service and then dismissing it as not a strong argument in favor of Pettitte is unsettling.

    26 year-old Pettite’s cutter and penchant for getting the DP (and pickoff move for that matter) was the baseline from which he built a solid career. That stuff was a given for him and he added on as he aged.

    Danks does nothing in particular of note at a high level.
    Danks

    • http://riveraveblues.com Moshe Mandel

      The early version of Pettitte was very much like the later version of Pettitte when it came to the postseason, so I’m not following the distinction. And the article compares Danks to both versions of Pettitte.

      As for the groundball thing, I agree with you. I never claimed its a perfect comparison.

    • Midland TX

      Just wait til Mo teaches him how to throw the cutter.

  • Mike

    I don’t get all the Danks hype

    • http://www.bronxbombersreport.com Craig Maduro

      Finally!

      I’m 100% in your corner. I understand the idea of cashing in potential (Betances) for a guy that you can reasonably expect solid production from, but John Danks just does not get me excited at all.

      • http://riveraveblues.com Moshe Mandel

        Danks is coming off a poor year. Prior to this season, I think we all would have taken him. I find him to be a good upside play, unless you think he just lost it at 26.

        • http://www.bronxbombersreport.com Craig Maduro

          No, I don’t think he’s lost it and I definitely recognize that he’s a solid pitcher. I also recognize that he’s a safer bet than prospects at this point. Despite all of that, I just wouldn’t be excited if he was the return on a package that included Betances.

          • Mister Delaware

            I’m the perfect flipside of you. I love Danks. Seems like a perfect mix of “acquirable without emptying the far” and talent-performance. And a lefty. And young. And a little bit of spunk, just for the added fun factor.

            • FIPster Doofus

              Me too. Big Danks fan here.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Manny B will soon make us not miss Andy and not want Danks.

    Patience.

    • nsalem

      the truth be told thank you sir

      • Cris Pengiucci

        I think there are some very promising young arms on the horizon for the Yankees. I’d love to see them become part of the new young core for the team. However, we have been in this situation in the recent past …

    • FIPster Doofus

      So Banuelos will make fans forget Pettitte, one of the best pitchers in Yankees history, and Montero will be the next Pujols. Not happening.

      • http://www.bronxbombersreport.com Craig Maduro

        He didn’t say “forget”. Nobody is going to forget Pettitte. But perhaps ManBan can help Yankees fans move on and not wish for Pettitte’s return each year.

        And no. Montero is not going to be the next Albert Pujols. He’s going to be the first Jesus Montero.

        • Mister Delaware

          And the Cardinals have the second Jesus Montero.

          http://www.baseball-reference......nter002jes

        • FIPster Doofus

          He’s the next Pujols according to the guy I replied to, if you’ve read any of his past posts.

          And “soon not make us miss” is close enough to “forget” in my mind.

          • http://www.bronxbombersreport.com Craig Maduro

            I’ve read a lot of his comments – particularly the ones regarding Jesus Montero. I don’t remember any “next Pujols” proclamations. Maybe Frank Thomas or Miguel Cabrera, but I don’t remember Pujols.

  • Mark in VT

    Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs makes a comparison of Danks to Edwin Jackson. He talked about it on ESPN Baseball Podcast the other day as well. The point that stuck out in my mind most about what he said was that even though Jackson seems inconsistent and Danks seems more of a “gamer” their results are essentially the same. Plus he notes that many pitchers that leave the White Sox have a tendency of regressing because their pitching coach is so good.
    I vote “no” for Danks on the Yanks, unless they trade a few nobodies or has-beens for him.

    • http://riveraveblues.com Moshe Mandel

      Danks to Jackson is interesting. Of course, Danks is dragged down by his bad year in 2011, but obviously there is no reason to ignore that. I would still take Danks, simply because he’s a lefty, but this is definitely food for thought.

    • http://www.bronxbombersreport.com Craig Maduro

      On that same sort of note (regarding pitching coaches), how reasonable would it be to expect Edwin Jackson (a SP with strikeout stuff) to take a step forward working under Larry Rothschild?

    • Mister Delaware

      Jackson’s inconsistency is exactly the problem. While he and Danks may average out to a similar number, 4 runs every game trumps 1 runs half the time and 7 runs the other half, especially on a great offensive team like NY. We beat 4 most of the time. We don’t beat 7 most of the time.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Is there any way if Manny B kills it at AAA that we bring him up in June? This would be my hope.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      There’s always hope. It would be great to see, but I’m thinking it would take complete failure on the part of 1 or 2 starters as well as Manny killing it. I’m kinda with you. I’m almost hoping for it. Would love to see the kid move up and do really well, leading into a strong MLB career with the Yankees.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    During the 01 WS Andy got hit pretty hard and rumors were that he was tipping his pitches. Does anyone know if that was true. Certainly, I never heard anything more after the series.

  • meaty balls

    oh andy how i miss you sooo

  • meaty balls

    id trade unproven talent for proven talent, you just cant hold onto every prospect and expect them to become stars, because of all that potential, especially in the bronx.

  • moonimus

    Wonder how danks compared with jimmy key. Can’t look that up on my phone but wonder if you would have traded betances for key? I know I would have in a heartbeat.