March 22, 2012
On the Beat
Pettitte Returns to the Big Apple
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."
Five observations from the Grapefruit League:
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.