What Went Right: Andy Pettitte

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.

email

147 players, 13 Yankees officially become free agents

As I mentioned this morning, eligible players officially became free agents at 9am ET this morning. They still have to wait five days to sign with new teams, however. The MLBPA released a list of all 147 free agents this afternoon, which you can check out right here. Among those 147 players are 13 Yankees: Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Travis Hafner, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Lyle Overbay, Andy Pettitte, Mark Reynolds, Mariano Rivera, Brendan Ryan, and Kevin Youkilis.

There are currently 28 players on the 40-man roster, though Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Corban Joseph, Jayson Nix, Francisco Cervelli, and CC Sabathia all have to be activated off the 60-day DL by Monday. So, in reality, there are 34 players on the 40-man.

The End of a Historic Era

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

I’ve never really been fond of the term “Core Four.” Not because it’s cheesy or because I hate pretty much everything, but because I feel it’s disrespectful to every other player who had a role in the dynasty years. I’m talking about guys like Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Paul O’Neill — the guys who were on the field celebrating Mariano Rivera‘s career yesterday. Even more recent players like Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, and CC Sabathia deserve to be any kind of “core” talk.

The Core Four or whatever you want to call it is no more at this point. Jorge Posada retired two years ago and both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will play the final games of their careers within the next week. Derek Jeter is still hanging around and figures to return next year — I have a very, very, very hard time thinking he would go out with a disastrous 2013 being his final season — but otherwise all the on-field ties to the dynasty years are gone. Even if Jeter does return next season, it’s hard to think he’ll be the same player he was just last year, nevermind 1996-2001.

The homegrown core of those dynasty years is not something we’re ever going to see again. Not in our lifetimes. The collection of players who came up through the farm system in the 1990s was historic, more than once in a generation stuff. Just think about it this way: if you were building a team today, from scratch, what types of the players you would target to build around? In no particular order, they’d be:

  • A switch-hitter center fielder who hit for average, power, and got on base.
  • A switch-hitting catcher with power and patience.
  • An elite offensive shortstop who had all the intangibles associated with being a franchise cornerstone.
  • A workhorse left-handed starter.
  • A durable reliever who was unfazed in the biggest moments.

Those are the five guys you’d want to build your team around, right? Strength up the middle and strength on the mound. Now imagine not only drafting/signing and developing those five guys all at once, but imagine all of them having careers long enough that they turned into this:

  • A borderline Hall of Fame center fielder.
  • A borderline Hall of Fame catcher.
  • A first ballot Hall of Fame shortstop.
  • A borderline Hall of Fame left-hander.
  • A first ballot Hall of Fame closer and the greatest reliever in baseball history.

That’s the core that came up through the Yankees’ farm system all at once in the 1990s. It’s a historically great crop of players that you’d be thrilled to develop over the span of 25 years, nevermind in just five or six years. In recent memory, I think only the Phillies — Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels — come even remotely close to developing such a high-end core in the same period of time.

The development of that five-player core is not something the Yankees or anyone can repeat. You can’t fire that idiot Brian Cashman and replace him with that genius Gene Michael, wait five years, then have another core with those caliber of players. It doesn’t work like that. The Williams/Posada/Jeter/Pettitte/Rivera core is a combination of both great scouting and historic luck. I’ve been using the word historic a lot because that’s what this is. There’s no other way to describe these guys individually or as a five-player unit.

As amazing as that development was, you know what I find just as fascinating? With the exception of Jeter, all of those guys were dangerously close to being traded at one time or another. Bernie was rumored to be involved in separate deals for Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Jeff Blauser, among others. The Yankees originally wanted to include Posada in the Tino Martinez trade with the Mariners before relenting and giving up Russ Davis. Mariano was almost dealt for Randy Johnson, Felix Fermin, and David Wells at different times. Pettitte was on the trade block all throughout his first tenure in pinstripes it seemed, and the most notable rumor involved the Phillies and Adam Eaton. All it would have taken was one “yes” to dismantle the core of a dynasty.

Rivera and Pettitte saying goodbye to the Yankee Stadium crowd yesterday was about more than just saying goodbye to the fans. It was saying goodbye to one of the greatest runs in franchise history, a historic era that featuring five World Series titles and seven pennants in a 14-year span. We watched Jeter reach 3,000 career hits, Pettitte claim the team’s all-time strikeout crown, Bernie become the all-time leader in postseason RBI, Posada play in more playoff games than any other catcher in history, and Rivera save more games than anyone else in baseball history. It has been a privilege and an honor to watch all five of these guys — as well as anyone else who helped out during the dynasty years — but like everything else at one time or another, this great era of Yankees baseball has reached its end.

Andy Pettitte announces retirement following 2013 season

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

For the second time in three years, Andy Pettitte is retiring from baseball. The veteran left-hander announced his intention to retire following the season on Friday afternoon, prior to the start of the team’s final homestand of 2013. Both Joel Sherman and Ken Rosenthal reported the news earlier in the day. Here is Pettitte’s full statement:

“I’m announcing my retirement prior to the conclusion of our season because I want all of our fans to know now—while I’m still wearing this uniform—how grateful I am for their support throughout my career.  I want to have the opportunity to tip my cap to them during these remaining days and thank them for making my time here with the Yankees so special.

“I’ve reached the point where I know that I’ve left everything I have out there on that field.  The time is right.  I’ve exhausted myself, mentally and physically, and that’s exactly how I want to leave this game.

“One of the things I struggled with in making this announcement now was doing anything to take away from Mariano’s day on Sunday.  It is his day.  He means so much to me, and has meant so much to my career that I would just hate to somehow take the attention away from him.”

Pettitte, 41, first announced his retirement following the 2010 season. He sat out the entire 2011 season before making a comeback in 2012, citing the itch to compete. The comeback was a successful one — 2.87 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 12 starts — aside from the fluke broken leg he suffered on a hard-hit comeback ground ball. That cost him close to three months.

The injury drove Andy to continue pitching in 2013. The Yankees re-signed him to a one-year contract worth $12M last November and he was in their rotation right from Opening Day. Pettitte has pitched to a 3.93 ERA (3.76 FIP) in 28 starts while missing time with back and lat problems this year. He had a real rough patch in the middle of the summer that made him look very much like the oldest starting pitcher in baseball, but Andy rebounded and has been the team’s best starter for a good month now.

Pettitte owns a career 255-152 record with a 3.86 ERA (3.74 FIP) in parts of 18 big league seasons, all but three with the Yankees. He has gone 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA (4.09 FIP) in 44 career postseason starts and was an integral part of five World Championships. Andy is the Yankees all-time leader in strikeouts (2,009) while ranking second in starts (436), third in wins (218), innings (2780.1), and WAR (50.9), and fifth in games pitched (445). He’s a borderline Hall of Famer andsimply the greatest Yankees starter many of us have ever seen pitch.

Andy is scheduled to start two more games this season — in Yankee Stadium this Sunday and one in Houston next weekend. It’s fitting his final two games will come in the two cities he called home during his career. Mariano Rivera is retiring after the season as well, and it’s kinda neat that he and Pettitte are going out together. The two have teamed up for 72 win-save combinations over the years, by far the most in baseball history. It’s bittersweet to see Andy retire (again), and no, I definitely don’t expect another comeback attempt down the line.

Random musings on a Wednesday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

1. As Mike noted in the recap, Andy Pettitte has been the most reliable starter for the Yankees for several weeks now, and it hasn’t even really been close.  On the off chance the Yankees somehow find their way into the play-in game, you’d have to give Andy the nod at this point.  Right?  It’s pretty nuts how the oldest pitcher in the game is basically the stalwart of the rotation once again, but baseball is weird like that.  Plus, as we all know, Andy is a True Yankee™ and knows how to get it done.  (Now if only the rest of the damn team were capable.)  Unfortunately, even if the Yankees manage to squeak into the playoffs, they aren’t exactly geared for a run.  Even in a crapshoot environment, having one capable starting pitcher and Robinson Cano is generally not enough to win a series.

2. I typically don’t put too much stock into a manager’s influence on a team other than the in-game decisions that he makes.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s great that some of the managers are able to deflect the media off the players or deploy a shift appropriately, but ultimately, I’ve always kind of put the burden on the players at the end of the day.  I have to give Joe Girardi some major credit this season though.  He’s had to cope with far more challenges than most of his peers I think.  The team had a disappointing offseason heading into the year, and has been saddled with injuries ever since.  Despite a (-17 run differential, 74-77 Pythag. record), the Yankees have miraculously managed to retain hope of playoff contention (though that’s rapidly fading) late into the season.  Many of us (including me) didn’t see that happening when they were having that awful stretch in August.  It’d be pretty cool if he won the Manager of the Year Award this go around.  Well done, Joe.

3. Last night on Twitter, I somewhat sarcastically stated that the team had more non-hitters in its lineup at this point then hitters.  The more I thought about it though, the more my sentiments kind of rang true.  Here was last night’s lineup along with their respective wRC+.

  1. CF Curtis Granderson (109 wRC+)
  2. DH Alex Rodriguez (131 wRC+)
  3. 2B Robinson Cano (140 wRC+)
  4. LF Alfonso Soriano (108 wRC+, 122 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
  5. 1B Lyle Overbay (90 wRC+)
  6. 3B Mark Reynolds (98 wRC+, 121 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
  7. RF Ichiro Suzuki (72 wRC+)
  8. SS Brendan Ryan (45 wRC+, 75 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
  9. C Chris Stewart (56 wRC+)

Having Overbay batting fifth hurts a lot, though probably not as much as the offensive void that is Suzuki, Ryan, and Stewart.  It’s tough to score runs when five of your players are below-average hitters overall.  I suppose, if there is silver lining to be seen here, it’s that some of these castoffs have been offensively revived a bit since joining the Yankees.  So, kudos to you New York for maximizing talent from sub-par or aging players.  Also, please stop putting the team in the position of having to depend on so many sub-par or aging players at once.

4. This has definitely been the season of “what ifs,” at least for me anyway.  What if the Yankees had a capable catcher all year?  What if CC Sabathia didn’t fall off a cliff?  What if Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira were around all season?  Could the Yankees have that elusive Wild Card spot locked up already if they caught a break, anywhere really?  Possibly.  Probably.  I don’t know.  Unfortunately “what ifs” are just that.  Useless hypotheticals.  That said, it’s incredibly frustrating that in spite of the circumstances, the Yankees have had more than a fair opportunity to make the playoffs.

The Rays and Rangers have gone out of their way to play miserable baseball for weeks now.  Meanwhile, the Orioles and Indians seem to be more than willing to concede their playoff berth as well as they’ve both had plenty of timely losses.  I don’t know where I’m going with this last point other than if the team winds up missing the playoffs – and they probably will – they have no one to blame but themselves.  Unfortunately, as Mike noted in his rant the other day, if they do make the playoffs, it’ll probably further mask some of the more serious underlying concerns surrounding the team heading forward.

Yankees push Phil Hughes back to Monday

Thanks to yesterday’s off-day, the Yankees have pushed Phil Hughes‘ next start back from Sunday to Monday. That allows him to start against the last place White Sox rather than the wildcard rival Orioles. Andy Pettitte, who was scheduled to start Monday, will instead start against Baltimore on Sunday on normal rest. Not surprising at all. The Yankees can’t run Hughes out there against a good team and expect to win.