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December 16, 2010

Spinning Yarn

Why The Yankees Need Andy Pettitte

by Mike Fast

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Three out of the last four years, the American League pennant winner has emerged from the East Division: Boston in 2007, Tampa Bay in 2008, and New York in 2009.  The Red Sox and the Yankees took home World Series championships in 2007 and 2009.  As the Rays cut payroll this offseason, conventional wisdom has focused again on the battle between the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Boston has added Adrian Gonzalez via trade and Carl Crawford from free agency.  Along with returning players J.D. Drew, David Ortiz, and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox lineup leans more left-handed than it did last year.

New York looks for its own improvements to counter those made by the Sox.  The big remaining question for the Yankees, with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera back in the fold, is how to upgrade the rotation.  Once Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies, the Yankees’ attention turned to Deer Park, Texas, where Andy Pettitte mulls retirement.  A rotation with the veteran left-hander alongside fellow lefty CC Sabathia to neutralize Boston’s lefty lineup is more attractive than other options.

Pettitte has been a key part of five World Series victories with the Yankees.  His career won-loss record stands at an excellent 240-138 and he is 19-10 in the postseason.  If Pettitte does return to the mound in 2011, he will be a key player in the fight for the AL East title.

Pettitte throws five pitch types: a four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, changeup, and curveball.

The detailed pitch tracking data from the PITCHf/x camera systems in major-league ballparks provide interesting information about the pitches Pettitte threw during the 2010 season.

 

Pettitte threw a four-seam fastball at 89 mph, a sinking fastball at just under 89, a circle changeup at 80, and a curveball at 75.

Pettitte’s trademark pitch is his slider.  He threw it at an average speed of 83 mph with good drop and glove-side movement.  This pitch is often referred to popularly as his cutter, but this article refers to the pitch as a slider because the 6-mph separation from his fastball and the 20-inch drop are similar to sliders thrown by other pitchers.  He favored the slider against left-handed batters, using it 31 percent of the time, as opposed to 18 percent to right-handed batters.

The slider was far and away his favorite strikeout pitch.  With two strikes, he threw 62 percent sliders to lefties and 41 percent to righties.  As a result, 37 of his 42 strikeouts of left-handed batters (including the postseason and All-Star Game) came via the slider, as well as 37 of his 70 strikeouts of right-handed batters.  When Pettitte racked up eight strikeouts in four innings against the Red Sox on the final day of the regular season, seven came on the slider.

This chart shows where each of Pettitte’s sliders in 2010 crossed the front of home plate, from the catcher’s viewpoint, along with the result of each pitch.

Pettitte placed the slider down and in to righties and had fairly good success at getting them to swing and miss.  He also occasionally targeted the outside corner, usually for a ball.  He displayed an amazing ability to hit the corner low and away to lefties.  As a result, left-handers whiffed on a lot of sliders that would not have been strikes.

Pettitte and his lefty-killing slider would be a useful weapon for New York against the newly fortified Boston lineup.  Take a look at how Pettitte approached Ortiz in a matchup on last April 7, with two runners on base and a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning.

Pettitte started the at-bat with a slider off the plate for ball one.  Ortiz fouled off another slider low for strike one.  Then Pettitte came back with a fastball in the strike zone, which Ortiz whiffed on for strike two.  With Ortiz in the hole, Pettitte pounded the slider in his favorite location, low and away and out of the zone, hoping to get Ortiz to fish for one.  Ortiz laid off the first two of those pitches, but he bit on the third, missing it for strike three.

It’s very tough for lefties to distinguish Pettitte’s slider from his fastball because the two have very similar trajectories from their vantage point.  Of course, the slider comes in several mph slower, and it drops a foot more than the fastball, so a left-handed batter geared up for the fastball is likely to whiff on the slider, as Ortiz did.

With Lee off the market, Brian Cashman is no doubt hoping that Pettitte longs for at least one more challenge and one more chance at a ring before he rides off into the sunset.  With the AL East division so competitive and the challenge of shutting down Boston’s slugging lefty lineup, Pettitte could be the answer that the Yankees need.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Mike Fast is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

Related Content:  Andy Pettitte,  Slider

35 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

jlefty

Man, as over hyped as Yankees/Red Sox games are, the mere mention of Pettitte facing Ortiz, up 2 with 2 on draws up quite a bit of tension and really makes me miss baseball.

Here's hoping we get to see that matchup again next year.

Dec 16, 2010 13:16 PM
rating: 5
 
Taldan9
(107)

I don't agree with this analysis. Clearly, the teams other than the Imperialsts, urr, I mean the Yankees, have to beat other teams and so does Boston...Boston is better than New York now and will win more, rendering the games the 2 teams play against each other less meaningful and not the defining issue for either team...so Petite mows down the Sox, but New York plays .500 ball against the rest of the AL East...and finishes fourth.

Dec 16, 2010 13:37 PM
rating: -2
 
CRP13

Awful lot of assumptions in your statement.

Dec 16, 2010 13:47 PM
rating: 0
 
jlefty

Finishes fourth? They were a 96 win team (by 3rd Order Wins) last year, they're retaining pretty much everyone except a few rentals and Vazquez (but thats really addition by subtraction). Not signing the top FA pitcher doesn't make a team 12 wins worse.

Dec 16, 2010 14:07 PM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

True - but they were (relatively) old last year, and they will be even older this year. Not that I think they will finish 4th, but I would not be too surprised if they do experience significant drop-offs at a few positions.

Dec 16, 2010 14:28 PM
rating: 0
 
jlefty

Who's old? The "Core 4" are the only ones on the wrong side of 35. And the Yankees already dealt with limited production from the 3 of them last year. Their bullpen, catcher(s), outfield, and right side of the infield are all young or just ever so slightly past qualifying as such.

The Phillies are older, but no one seems to expect "significant drop-offs" from them...

Dec 16, 2010 15:41 PM
rating: 1
 
baserip4

The Yankees will start three players that will play 2011 at a sub-30 seasonal age: Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Cervelli/Martin. I agree the Yankees will be very good, but that's a lot of players on the wrong side of the peak age, even if just barely.

Dec 18, 2010 08:33 AM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

Do us a favor and try and refrain from referring to the Yankees as "imperialists". We get it. The Yankees have a lot of money, and they use to that money to try and outbid other teams for top free agents every offseason. If that makes the Yankees "imperialists", then what do you consider the Red Sox giving Carl Crawford more than $140 million this off-season, not to mention the large extension they are likely to give to Adrian Gonzalez? Looks like the team's payrolls in the near future are going to be much closer than they had been in the past.

Dec 16, 2010 16:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Adam Hobson

Just to add to your sentiment, after the signing of Bobby Jenks, the Red Sox's 2011 payroll stands greater than the Yankees' payroll.

Dec 16, 2010 17:00 PM
rating: 0
 
Meurso

Source? Doesn't seem likely unless it's just because of something like Rivera's contract not being officially filed yet or something.

Dec 16, 2010 19:38 PM
rating: 0
 
Adam Hobson

Buster Olney tweeted it: http://twitter.com/Buster_ESPN/status/15505931299196928

Dec 16, 2010 23:46 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Taldan, I agree with your comment, and hopefully this version of the article expresses that.

Dec 16, 2010 19:43 PM
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Taldan was responding, appropriately, in my view, to a previous version of this article. I would appreciate if people would not rate his comment negatively as a result.

Dec 17, 2010 07:15 AM
 
awayish

learn english before posting

Dec 19, 2010 10:09 AM
rating: -2
 
baserip4

Is anyone else as confused as I am when they first look at the pictures? Those outlines are clearly from the hitter's front (so the RH batter is actually a lefty - the bottom hand is the batter's front arm), but the data is from the hitter's back.

Dec 16, 2010 15:37 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Those are just drawings I did of a generic batter silhouette. It's not necessarily supposed to be from the front or the back. It's just there to indicate which side the batter is standing on and give a general impression of the size and stance of a typical batter. I think the mind tends to fill in details which aren't there, like whether you're seeing the front or back of the hitter's head, an arm or leg in front or behind, etc. If I were a better artist with MS Paint perhaps I could draw a better batter silhouette with more detail.

Dec 16, 2010 19:41 PM
 
baserip4

I realize that they are just generic, but they are still backwards and make the reader spend extra time interpreting the graph, at least if they aren't accustomed to looking at the data (like I would imagine is the case for most readers).

The PitchFX data is from the catcher/umpire perspective, correct? I think most baseball viewers have the opposite mental framework, since television baseball is typically viewed from the pitcher's perspective. Thus, in the image on the left, when I first look at the picture, I see a left-handed hitter. When I scrutinize the picture, I still see a left-handed hitter, because that is how the batter is set up. His right arm is the bottom hand. If he's supposed to be a righty, then he's hitting cross-handed.

Dec 17, 2010 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

I understand that you perceive the pictures as being backwards. That's how they look to you and I can't change that, and I'm not trying to tell you that you don't see what you see.

However, the images are in fact flat. There's no way from the image itself to tell which is the batter's left or right arm. Your brain is adding depth information to the image that isn't there in order to tell you what you think is the right or left arm.

If I simply posted the batter silhouette by itself with no labels, how would you be able to tell whether you were seeing the front or back of the batter? Since there's only an outline, which would be the exact same from the front or the back, there would be no way for you to tell.

As far as which way to present the data, I personally like to see the data from the pitcher perspective, but I've had far more people tell me it makes sense to see the data from the catcher perspective, so that's what I've adopted. I suppose if I get a lot more input from people who feel like you and I do, I would consider changing it back. However, most of the PITCHf/x data in the world gets presented from the catcher perspective, so I'm loathe to buck the trend without a good reason to do so.

Dec 17, 2010 11:00 AM
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

What I probably should do is to draw a couple lines inside the silhouette to clarify which arm and leg is which like I did with the legs on the pitcher silhouette here:
http://www.baseballprospectus.com/u/images/morrow_release_point_z_vs_x.jpg

Dec 17, 2010 11:22 AM
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

I've added some lines to the batter silhouette and uploaded the image here:
http://www.baseballprospectus.com/u/images/pettitte_sliders_zone_location_modified.PNG

Do people the additional lines on the silhouette helpful or distracting?

Dec 17, 2010 12:56 PM
 
BurrRutledge

No arguing with those updated graphics!

Dec 17, 2010 15:37 PM
rating: 0
 
baserip4

Now those are fantastic. It is immediately clear what the reader is supposed to see.

Unclear graphs/images are a pet peeve of mine. I sit through a lot of presentations at work that are graph/image intensive, and the #1 management complaint is graphs that don't immediately inform the viewer. The line silhouettes are incredibly helpful, at least to me.

I think I see the unlined images as front facing (pitcher perspective) largely because that's how the game looks on TV. If the game were televised from the opposite perspective, I would probably view it that way.

It is irrelevant which direction you present the data, so long as its clear. I deal in foreign exchange, and consistently have the same problem (Am I buying dollars, or selling euros? Both!). I've adopted the market conventions, though that's not necessarily the easiest way to think about prices for many tasks. If that's how the saber world typically presents the data, that's fine by me. I just want to be able to view a graph and immediately understand it. Thanks for being responsive; it really is appreciated.

Dec 18, 2010 08:26 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Thanks. I appreciate the constructive feedback.

Dec 18, 2010 11:36 AM
 
BurrRutledge

I just searched the site for a JAWS analysis of Pettitte, but couldn't find one. (Doesn't mean it's not there, I just didn't find it...).

I'm curious about Pettitte's case for the HOF, and whether another year on the mound might help get him a few more votes 5, 10, or 15 years from now.

That could factor into his decision as well...

Dec 16, 2010 16:07 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Hey Burr, my most recent assessment of Pettitte's case was at Pinstriped Bible: http://www.pinstripedbible.com/2010/10/19/is-dandy-andy-cooperstown-material/

Short answer is that he's closer on the traditional merits (wins, mainly) than on JAWS, and even then you have to give a lot of credit for postseason performance and hope the voters overlook the HGH connection. If I squint I can see it happening, but I'm not sure it should.

Dec 16, 2010 17:53 PM
 
BurrRutledge

Thanks as always, Jay!

Dec 17, 2010 15:38 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

The current version of the article is slightly different than the one that was originally on the site. Sorry for any confusion.

Dec 16, 2010 19:37 PM
 
roughcarrigan

Pettite had an ERA in the low 3's after a couple straight years in the 4's. He'll be 39 next season. Why does everyone take it for granted that he'll pitch just as well next year as he did last year?

Dec 17, 2010 06:30 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

I'm no fan of considering FIP the be-all-end-all of pitching talent measurement, but if you look at Pettitte's FIP over the last three years, it's been 3.71, 4.15, 3.85. That's probably a decent first estimate of his pitching talent.

I would consider injury a bigger impediment to him pitching effectively in the next year or two, either by putting him on the DL or into retirement or by causing him to lose speed off his fastball or his ability to command one or more of his pitches effectively.

Dec 17, 2010 07:22 AM
 
Jim ONeill

Just in the interest of accuracy, Im curious how Buster thinks the Sox payroll stands higher than the Yanks. According to Cot's the Yanks have 178m committed to 12 players (inc Igawa's dead money) with Pettite not among them and minimum plus contracts for the likes of Hughes, Chamberlain,Cervelli, Gardner,and others. Im pretty sure Andy isnt going to play for free but even if he does the Yanks are well over 180m committed at this point.

The Sox have 141m committed to 20 players (inc Iglesias and Tazawa) with Papelbon likely to get 12m and min+ contracts still for Bard, Ellsbury, Buchholz, Lowrie, Kalish, Doubront et al.

Closer to the Yanks? Yes More? No

Dec 17, 2010 06:59 AM
rating: 1
 
Adam Hobson

Maybe he's using the luxury tax formula, which doesn't use the specific yearly salary, but instead average's the annual value of the contract, plus signing bonus (that's why the Red Sox won't extend Adrian Gonzalez until the season starts so his new contract won't count for luxury tax this year). For example, Carl Crawford is listed at $14 and some million for 2011, but his average annual value is around $18 isn't it? That also means a lower value for a player like A-rod whose contract was front loaded, so instead of counting for $32 million, he'd count for $27.5. The luxury tax formula also only accounts for salaries on the 40-man I believe, so Igawa does not count (this is why the Yanks have never tried him in relief, he'd have to be moved to the 40-man and exposed to the luxury tax).

Cot's contracts is also not complete yet, as it doesn't have Jenks contracts filled in yet.

Also, Andy Pettitte is not signed yet, and if we learned anything from Cliff Lee, we shouldn't count signings until they actually happen.

Anyway, Olney is a pretty reputable source and he's citing a whole TWO anonymous sources, not just one ;-)

Dec 17, 2010 12:35 PM
rating: 0
 
PeterCollery

If it drops less than the slider, the change up or the curve ball, why is it called a "sinker"?

Dec 17, 2010 07:06 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

It's called a sinking fastball, or sinker, because it drops more than the regular four-seam fastball.

Dec 17, 2010 07:16 AM
 
ScottyB

The real reason they need Pettite is that, as currently constituted, their rotation is: CC, AJ, Hughes, Nova, and ???? (Mosely and mutre are currently unsigned). Even a league-average starter would help them ginormously

Dec 17, 2010 08:33 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

I've added some information on Pettitte's pitching repertoire in an Unfiltered blog post here:
http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=12596

Dec 17, 2010 09:03 AM
 
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