Friday, March 20, 2009

Andy Pettitte: Bad Luck in 2008 Could Be Good for Yankees in 2009

All of the Yankee pitching talk centers around Sabathia, Burnett, Wang and Joba, but Andy Pettitte may quietly be the pitcher who determines the true dominance of the Yankee staff. Due to his constant Clemens-esque threats of retirement, people often forget that Pettitte won't even turn 37 years old until June. He struggled through shoulder woes in 2008 and all reports indicate that he is healthy this Spring. More importantly, Pettitte had an extremely unlucky 2008. His BABIP was .339, while the league average for pitchers is .301 and his career average is .316.

This stat has the potential to be a warning sign for a pitcher if his strikeout rate decreases at the same time. However, Petttitte's K/9 was 6.97 last year, representing his second-highest K/9 with the Yankees, and higher than his 6.60 career rate. The only explanation is that Petttite was extremely unlucky last year and the balls that were hit fell in for hits. That, or maybe he was serving up a lot of grounders in the vicinity of shortstop. By now, we all know that most of those balls are headed into the outfield.

To further enhance his bad luck, Pettitte's strand rate (the percentage of baserunners left on base by the pitcher) was 68.2% in 2008. The league average for this stat typically hovers around 70%. As mentioned previously, Pettitte had a very good strikeout rate, so that is not a valid explanation for this below-average rate. His career strand rate is 71.3, so Pettitte has hovered just above the league average throughout his career. He even earned the reputation as a "grinder" who battles out of trouble, based on some of his seasons with strand rates in the upper 70's.

If Pettitte can make 33 starts this year out of the 4th slot in the rotation, he has the potential to provide the performance of a number 2 or 3 starter. The idea isn't too far-fetched, and if it happens, the 2009 Yankee rotation will be unmatched by most teams in MLB.


Fake Ian Kennedy said...

I am weary of the BABIP stat. While it can be a predictor of a bad year (see Shawn Chacon), is it possible that guys were absolutely teeing off on him to the tune of .339 BABIP and that his higher than normal K rate was the lucky part? Maybe hitters were being extra aggressive against him because they knew he had lost some MPH on the fastball. So deep in counts when they’re expecting the express and they get the local, they’re fooled and either take the pitch or whiff. I’d be curious to know how many of his Ks came on curveballs vs. fastballs, and how many Ks were backwards, benchmarked against his career average.

Not saying your theory is wrong; just presenting an alternate one. I’d have posted it if I could verify the word in the box…but I can’t.

And I know your Jeter comment was mostly tongue-in-cheek, but I’m pretty sure even if he was in a wheelchair at short, he alone wouldn’t account for a 7% increase (23 percentage points) in Pettitte’s BABIP.

Ross said...

All very valid, but his ridiculously high BABIP was so out of line with what he had done in the past, there isn’t much more to chalk it up to than luck.

It is pretty well researched that once the ball is put in play, the pitcher has little control over the outcome. I’m just rehashing already accepted fact and applying it to 2009 for AP.

As for Jeter, he may account for a 7% leap in BABIP this year – his defense is that bad nowadays. You would know if you watched any of the WBC. He has been atrocious and nearly cost the USA in the last game against PR. I have a funny story about DJ’s bad defense in my post that will be popping up at 3 PM.

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