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March 22, 2012

On the Beat

Pettitte Returns to the Big Apple

by John Perrotto

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TAMPA, Florida—The biggest question facing the Yankees through much of the offseason was if they would have enough starting pitching to carry them through the American League East race this year.

Now, the biggest question facing the Yankees is who the odd men out among the seven major-league-quality starting pitchers will be. "I've yet to hear a manager complain about having too much pitching," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Things will work themselves out. They always do."

The Yankees bolstered their rotation in just one day in January. They traded for Mariners right-hander Michael Pineda, who made the American League All-Star team last season as a rookie, and signed right-hander Hiroki Kuroda after he spent the previous four seasons with the Dodgers following a distinguished career in his native Japan.

After dealing A.J. Burnett to the Pirates, the plan was to have right-handers Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes complete for the fifth starter's spot behind CC Sabathia, Kuroda, Pineda, and Ivan Nova. Now, the ageless Andy Pettitte has added yet another element to the situation by becoming the latest professional athlete to come out of retirement. Pettitte signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Yankees this week, just 13 months after retiring in February 2011.

The biggest question is if Pettitte has anything left. The Yankees think so and so does Pettitte. Yet, scouts haven't seen him since he last pitched in 2010; aside from two side sessions at the Yankees spring facility (one of which was conducted in secrecy before he signed), Pettitte's throwing sessions have been limited to his home in suburban Houston.

Scouts are curious to see Pettitte pitch again, and most feel he can still be an effective pitcher. "He had really turned into the kind of pitcher who got you out with smarts more than stuff the last few years," said one scout. "So, from a physical standpoint, he should be able to hold up if he is in shape. I also don't think the Yankees would bring him back if he were going to embarrass himself. I know how much respect they have for Andy, and they'd level with him if they didn't think he could pitch anymore."

Pettitte looks to be in outstanding shape after working out regularly for three months. In fact, he appears leaner than he did in 2010 when he pitched effectively—3.81 FIP, 1.5 WARP in 129 innings—but was plagued by groin and lower back injuries in the second half of the season. PECOTA isn't so high on Pettitte making a big impact this time around, though, projecting him for a 4.45 ERA and 0.7 WARP in 90 innings.

Pettitte himself admits he has no idea how his comeback will play out. He says, however, that he has felt great during his workouts and his early days in the Yankees' spring training camp. The Yankees feel Pettitte could be ready to start a major league game by May 1.

"When I retired, I just didn't feel I had the motivation to keep pitching anymore," Pettitte said. "I thought it was time to retire. When I started working out again, though, I felt very motivated, and the more I worked out, the more excited I got. Everybody keeps telling me to take it slow, don't rush things, but I want to rush things. I feel so good that I can't slow myself down."

***

Scouts' views

Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez:
"I'm not to the point where I'm ready to write him off yet, but I'm disappointed in what I'm seeing. He looks as bad as he did last year. If you throw him breaking balls and off-speed pitches, you'll get him out. He doesn't make adjustments."

Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson: "He looks like what he is: a converted catcher playing third base. He's got a little pop and he won't kill them offensively, but he also is a step down from Scott Sizemore, who's not exactly Mike Schmidt."

Twins infielder Brian Dozier: "The Twins have wasted a lot of money signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Jamey Carroll. This kid is better than both of them. He isn't a great defensive shortstop, but he's okay, and he's good enough to hit .300 in the big leagues."

Blue Jays second baseman Kelly Johnson: "I thought the Blue Jays made the right move when they signed him to a two-year contract over the winter, but now I'm not so sure. His bat looks slow this spring. Really slow."

Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons: "I know he hasn't played above A-ball, but he'd be my Opening Day shortstop if I were running the Braves. He's as impressive as any shortstop I've seen in Florida this spring, and he's better than Tyler Pastornicky. He can really play the hell out of shortstop, he can run, and he's going to hit, though he's still a work in progress with the bat."

***

Five observations from the Grapefruit League:

  • Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran looks strong after being slowed early in spring training with a sore shoulder and the flu. He won't completely replace Albert Pujols's production, but he seems poised to have a good year.
  • Mike Matheny might be filling big shoes in replacing Tony La Russa as the Cardinals' manager, but he is certainly an impressive guy. His smarts will compensate for a lack of managerial experience.
  • Braves right-hander Julio Teheran is one of the top prospects in the game, but he isn't ready to pitch in the major leagues. He looks jittery on the mound and is spraying his fastball all over the place.
  • Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez looks like he is healthy and is swinging the bat well. Put him down for 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
  • Pirates left-hander Erik Bedard says this is the healthiest he has felt since 2007. If that's the case, the Pirates might have gotten a steal when they signed him for one year and $4.5 million as a free agent over the winter.

***

In this week's Must Read, MLB.com's Corey Brock writes about how scouting departments are still trying to find the right balance of blending statistical analysis with scouts' observations.

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

Related Content:  Andy Pettitte

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