What Went Right: Andy Pettitte

Fan Confidence Poll: November 18th, 2013
Where do the Yankees plan to spend internationally?

The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the up and down final season of an all-time Yankees great.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

When the Yankees coaxed Andy Pettitte out of retirement last season, it was supposed to be one last ride off into the sunset. Pettitte was going to come back, give whatever he had left, then walk away after the season. Again. Instead, a fluke injury robbed him of three months at midseason. The competitive juices were still flowing, so Andy decided to give it another go in 2013.

Unlike last summer, Pettitte was more than just a fun, feel-good story this year. He was an integral part of the team and he was paid as such — the Yankees re-signed him to a one-year pact worth a hefty $12M and penciled him in as their number three starter behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. This wasn’t “okay Andy, come back whenever you’re ready and do what you can.” This was “let’s go Andy, if we’re going to go anywhere you have to help carry us.”

Pettitte was baseball’s oldest starting pitcher come Opening Day and sometimes it was painfully obvious. Let’s break his season down into four separate acts.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Act I: Early Awesomeness
When he wasn’t hurt in 2012, Pettitte was pretty freakin’ awesome. He pitched to a 2.87 ERA and 3.48 FIP in 75.1 innings, posting his best strikeout (8.24 K/9 and 22.8 K%), walk (2.51 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%), and ground ball (56.3%) rates in years. It was amazing and much-needed considering how close the AL East race was down the stretch.

Early on this past season, that same Andy was on the mound. He pitched the team to their first win of the year with eight innings of one-run ball against the Red Sox in the third game of the season, and he followed up by allowing six runs total in his next three starts while throwing at least six innings each time. The Astros (of all teams) pounded him to close out the month (seven runs in 4.1 innings), but Pettitte got right back on the horse and pitched well in early-May. Following seven innings of two-run ball against the Royals on May 11th, he was sitting on a 3.83 ERA and 4.08 FIP in 44.1 innings through seven starts. Dandy.

Act II: Injuries & Ineffectiveness
On May 16th, Pettitte was forced from a start against the Mariners due to a sore trap muscle after only 4.2 innings. He had missed one start in April due to a stiff back, but the trap injury landed him on the DL for a touch more than two weeks. That was the risk of relying on a 40-year-old starter — a 40-year-old starter who had not thrown more than 130 innings since 2009 at that — injuries and physical setbacks figured to pop-up at some point.

Andy returned to the mound on June 3rd and clearly was not himself. He allowed at least four runs in eight of his next nine starts (including seven straight at one point), a nine-start stretch that featured a 5.04 ERA despite a 3.62 FIP. Opponents hit .295/.329/.436 against him in those nine games and the Pettitte trademark, the ability to wiggle out of jams, had deserted him. Pettitte looked old and washed up. I’m not sure there is another way to put it. He looked like a guy who should have stayed retired, frankly. The team didn’t have much of a chance to win on the days he pitched and through 17 starts, he had a 4.47 ERA and 3.78 FIP.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Act III: Empty The Tank
Something changed on June 24th. That ability to escape jams and keep the team in games had returned. Pettitte held the Rangers to two runs in six innings on that date, and five days later he held the Dodgers to two runs in seven innings. From June 24th through September 17th, a span of eleven starts, Andy allowed two earned runs or less eight times and only twice did he fail to complete six full innings of work. That works out to a 3.06 ERA and 3.54 FIP in 64.2 innings. He was back to being himself and not a moment too soon. The Yankees were fighting to stay in the playoff hunt and Pettitte had emerged as their best starter just as Kuroda began to fade.

Act IV: Blaze Of Glory
Following 6.1 innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays on September 17th, Pettitte owned a 3.93 ERA and 3.69 FIP in 169.1 innings across 28 starts. Three days later, he announced his intention to retire (for the second time) after the season. “I’ve reached the point where I know that I’ve left everything I have out there on that field,” he said. “The time is right. I’ve exhausted myself, mentally and physically, and that’s exactly how I want to leave this game.”

Andy’s final start at Yankee Stadium came two days later, on Mariano Rivera Day. The Yankees honored Mo will a long and incredible pre-game ceremony before Pettitte took a perfect game into the fifth inning and a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Giants. In that final home start, he surrendered two runs on two hits in seven innings against the defending World Champions. Andy walked off to the mound to a long and thunderous ovation after being removed from the game.

Four days later, Pettitte and long-time teammate Derek Jeter were sent out to the mound to remove Rivera from the final appearance of his career. Those few days were just unreal. Incredibly exciting and emotional and heartbreaking all at once. What a way to go out.

Andy made the final start of his season and career on September 28th, appropriately enough against the Astros in Houston, his hometown and the only other Major League team for which he played. Pettitte went out in style, allowing one run in the complete-game win. It was his first nine-inning complete-game since August 2006 and his first nine-inning complete-game for the Yankees since August 2003. It was the kind of start that seemed unthinkable as recently as mid-June, and yet, Andy did it. Remarkable.

* * *

All told, Pettitte pitched to a 3.74 ERA and 3.70 FIP in 185.1 innings this season, right in line with his career 3.85 ERA and 3.74 FIP. Same ol’ Andy, basically. Steady and reliable. Yeah, the 2013 campaign was shaky at times but that was to be expected at his age and with the long recent layoffs. When it was all said and done, Pettitte was an obvious positive for the 2013 squad. He retires as the greatest Yankees pitcher in history — an argument can certainly be made for Whitey Ford, but I think Andy just edges him out — and one of the most beloved players in team history. Few rank above him.

It is sad to see Andy go again, but I think it’s clear the time has come to call it a career. When he retired following the 2010 season, I thought it was obvious he still had something left in the tank and could continue pitching for another year or two. This time, I’m not so sure. He really labored for long stretches of time this summer and his usual start-to-start consistency just wasn’t there. The nagging injuries, stiff backs and strained lats and the like, became more frequent as well. Pettitte is one of my all-time favorites and the Yankees wouldn’t have hung around the postseason race as long as they did without him, but the tank looks to tapped out. Saying goodbye will be much easier for fans and Pettitte alike this time around.

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Fan Confidence Poll: November 18th, 2013
Where do the Yankees plan to spend internationally?
  • Mandy Stankiewicz

    thanks andy!

  • brian

    The PEDs/snitching stuff was bad, but all in all a fantastic career for Andy Pettitte both on and off the field…

    As Cashman once said.. “without him, we don’t win, it’s that simple”

    • qwerty

      Didn’t Cashman also refuse to re-sign Andy once his contract was up in 2003?

  • brian

    Never should have let him get away after 2003 but whatever, lesson learned (hopefully)

    • mick taylor

      had yanks held onto andy for 2004 season, red sox problably do not beat yanks in playoffs because andy rather than kevin brown or vasquez would have pitched

      • qwerty

        Andy did not pitch another game after mid August in 2004, he was injured, so he couldn’t have pitched for the yankees either way.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    His entire return after the temporary Houston exile has been just great to watch. I also agree that it’s the right time for him to go. Watching those last two acts, though, was just watching a man who absolutely knows how to command that mound.

    • I’m One

      Yes, it was the right time for him to go. He finished with a strong season and an amazing final game. He did it quietly throughout his career (for the most part). He allowed Mo to shine in his final year yet got the respect he deserved. It’s a shame it wasn’t time for Jeter to go as well, but with his injury after the year he had in 2012, I can understand why he is returning.

      There may never be a group of Yankees like we saw from the mid ’90s till now. It sure was a fun run.

      Thanks Andy! We’ll miss ya!

  • Dr. Grenaldine

    My favorite story is still Mike Mussina pulling a “Sandy Koufax” and winning 20 games and then retiring. He wasn’t even 40 years old yet and didn’t care. He made his money, he played the game and did what he had to do and now spends literally the rest of his life having fun with his kids while doing whatever the hell else he wants.

    If I were to ever want to mimic a career it would be his. Stay under the radar while making big gigantic superstar bucks and retire young and play with your kids and grand kids for the rest of your life. Not bad, Mike. Not bad.

    • Bob Sluttons

      Except that Mike Mussina was not a big game pitcher and never won a championship with Baltimore or the Yankees. Mussina milked the Yanks for every penny and didn’t deliver the goods when it mattered.

      • Bob Buttons

        Always great to meet a fan.
        Seriously man if you even knew why I chose this your childish act doesn’t bother me one bit.

      • Improbable Island’s Dirty Midget Whores (formerly RRR)

        Yeah, in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS he totally bombed. And in the 01′ WS, game four (I believe…maybe three). What a disaster in the clutch, amirite?

        • g1

          2001 ALDS, Game 3 as well.

  • BronxBomber

    I was so glad that Andy was able to go out with the respect, love and appreciation he deserved from the fans – a true competitor who always demanded perfection from himself in every start. Enjoy your retirement Andy and see you at Old Timers Day when you’re ready to have a little fun!

  • SDB

    Thanks Andy. That final outing against the Astros… damn. Just damn.

  • Bob Buttons

    I think Waite Hoyt, Spud Chandler and Lefty Gomez deserves some consideration for the best Yankees pitcher all time.

    Hoyt pitched with a slightly lower ERA+ but is a winner like Andy and Whitey.
    Chandler… well he has higher ERA+ (though in war years) and I like Chandler (Bing).
    Gomez: better ERA+, no war years involved, plus 6-0 in postseason with 2.86 ERA. Pre-DH days but also faced some of the best players of the era too like Andy did.

    • Jimmy

      Have to give it to Ford. I loved Andy Pettitte and he belongs in the pantheon with the other big time Yankee pitchers, but in the end Whitey Ford has to be the best ever. (ERA- 75 vs 87 even though FIP- is 88 vs 85)

  • dkidd

    every young pitcher should study him. the mental toughness, the control of the running game, the ability to bear down and minimize damage

    andy schooling bryce harper is one my all-time favorite memories

    his look to jeter as mo wept on his shoulder revealed a lovely human

    it’s heretical, but i’ll miss him more than mo

    • I’m One

      andy schooling bryce harper is one my all-time favorite memories

      This. Loved watching that game.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        +46

  • Bob Buttons

    In other notes, it was my great pleasure to see Andy as the starter in the only game I ever went at YS. August 22nd I believe? Roughly 3 hour rain delay plus I had to get back to the Newark hotel early (awfully deserted area) but I’m glad I spent that day out there.

    Wish I brought a higher quality camera though.

  • Chris in Maine

    I think that it is really going to hurt when we start the season and realize after the first week that they are gone. The first save situation and the first time through the rotation are going to bring up painful memories of how go we had it for so long. We’ve been very spoiled to have had the “Core Four” (or 5 for those who want to include Bernie.) In my memory, it is unheard of to have have such sustained excellence for such a long time in professional sports.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Agreed.

    • Lukaszek

      I was lucky enough to start watching baseball at a time when the core four squeezed out their last great year. Jorge Posada is my favorite player out of the four, he just seemed like a very gritty dude; who would sometimes get emotional on the field but I think that just made him even grittier.

  • RetroRob

    I suspect Andy could give another solid year, even if a bit uneven. I believed there was a decent chance Andy would make a comeback after his first retirement (although I was surprised when it happened because of the timing) because he just didn’t quite seem committed to leaving. I’m equally sure this time that he is completely retired at a player.

    It was a great ride going back to ’95.

  • Yankee Parrothead

    I love Andy and am sorry to see him go, but I can’t put him as the numebr 1 Yankeee starter even in my lifetime. Yes he has the career Post season accomplishments because of how good the yankees have been since the mid-90’s. Ron Guidry was absolutley dominant in the late 70′;s ans was the prime reason the Yanks even got to the world series in ’77 & ’78. The underappreciated Mel Stottlemyre pitched in the dark times of the 60’s and early 70’s so he got little Post-Season opportunities, but was one of the few bright lights in those years. They had lots of other great pitchers in the intervening years but most were guys they picked up after being established elsewhere and didn’t stay very long. Andy was never the Ace of the staff but he was solid and reliable behind the hired guns they brought in. He was definitely a money pitcher and a guy you wanted on the mound in thos key post season games. He will be missed

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Whitey. Like, that’s it. I don’t even want to hear it.

    It’s not a knock on Andy in the least. He’s a top-five guy.

    • dkidd

      yeah, not even close

      don’t need to have seen him pitch to know ford is #1

  • Yankee Parrothead

    I agree Whitey is number one of all time, but he was before my time as I didn’t start following baseball until the ealry 70’s. My first yankee home game was at Shea stadium for an old-timers game the day they retired Whitey’s Jersey. SInce then the top guy in my mind is “Louisiana Lightning.” I thing Dave “Rags” Righetti would have been a close 2 if they left him as a starting pitcher instead of making him a closer.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      He’s definitely before my time as well, but I can’t imagine a pitcher as dominant as Whitey in pinstripes.

      Would I place Andy #2? I definitely would put Andy above Guidry at this point, simply due to consistency over a longer period and his incredible post-season stats. Of course, ’78 may be the most amazing season I could imagine from a Yankee starter, but injuries wound up doing Guidry in. Andy’s only other competition here, other than Whitey, is probably is pitchers from before my parents’ time. Mistah Buttons is correct above.

    • Bob Buttons

      My problem with Guidry is that, well, he really did his damage during 77-85 and he wasn’t too steady in the post-season. Plus a portion of his fame is from 1978 and his awesome nickname.

      Righetti, possibly. No hitter and all that. He walks a tad too many and is really done after 1991. If he can cut his walk rate he might have a very good chance.

      • RetroRob

        I’m not sure why ’77-’85 is a problem, as well as a 5-2 with a 3.02 ERA in the postseason.

        • Bob Buttons

          It’s great alright, but definitely not good enough for 2nd place on the list.

          Those are reasons that disqualifies them from contention of 2nd best Yankee pitcher, thats all.

  • http://rab.com Michael Cutler

    The only right thing about Andy Pettitte is that hopefully we wont see him anymore for a while. . he retired like 3 years too late. . shoulda stuck with the steroid regiment

    • Tom in Georgia

      Cretan.

  • andrew j

    U know pettitte can still pitch. Mo as well. Hope girardi talks them out of retirement in the off season. They need to pitch their last games in the post season
    AJ

  • Improbable Island’s Dirty Midget Whores (formerly RRR)

    Are you SERIOUSLY putting Andy over Ford?

    You’re kidding, right?

    Mike, that’s probably the single dumbest thing you’ve ever written.

    Go ahead, look up Ford’s stats, then look up Andy’s, and get back to me. It’s not even remotely close. Ford was on another stratosphere compared to Pettitte. He was the better postseason pitcher and the better regular season pitcher by FAR. Pettitte was never the best pitcher in baseball. Whitey was several times. He was a bona fide first ballot Hall of Famer, and Pettitte doesn’t even deserve to make it in.

    That you even compare the two in the same sentence blows my mind. Really, Mike? REALLY?