via Jake Thomases):
Here’s Andy Pettitte on his latest outing (
“I felt like I might have started the game with the best stuff I’ve had all year as far as my command, and I just felt great,” he said. “Then you look up there at the end of the day and I’ve got five walks and that’s just, that’s not going to work.”
This year, Andy Pettitte has walked 42 batters over 103 1/3 innings pitched. In 2008, after tossing 204 innings, Andy had walked only 55. On the season, Pettitte’s BB/9—it’s 3.70—is the highest it has been since 1999 when he walked 4.20 batters per nine (that year he had 89 BB). In addition, his K/9 sits at 6.00 while it was an even 7.00 in 2008 (the 6.00 K/9 is the 4th lowest of Andy’s career). Because of the increase in walks and the decrease in strike outs, Andy’s K/BB—a telling stat in terms of a pitcher’s overall effectiveness—is a miserable 1.64 (the higher the better). To be perfectly honest and accurate, Andy Pettitte is having a pretty poor season, a notion captured by his equally miserable ERA (4.53), WHIP (1.51) and FIP (4.77). It could honestly get worse, too, as his strand rate (72.5% LOB) is a tick higher than it normally (71.4% LOB) is while his BABIP is slightly lower than his career number (.310 versus .316).
So, what are we to make of these figures and why, exactly, has Andy Pettitte hit the skids in 2009?
Well, I think we can look to his buddy and partner in crime, Jorge Posada, in order to better understand the situation. In 2003, which was Andy’s final year with the Yankees before venturing out to Houston, Jorge caught 30 of his starts. In those 30 starts, the opposition batted .275/.317/.401 against Andy (their numbers were even better in 2002). He struck out 165 and walked 47 with Posada (that’s a 3.51 K/BB ratio). In 2007, when Andy returned to the Bronx, Jorge Posada caught 33 of his games (just like the old days). Against the reunited duo hitters batted .286/.338/.418 and Pettitte’s K/BB ratio was 2.06 (worse than 2003). He struck out 134 while walking 65 when pitching to Posada. Needless to say, the years prior to Andy’s departure—as seen in 2003—were better in terms of how well batters fared against Jorge and Andy—there were more walks—although 2007 was still a very respectable year for the two. Obviously, Pettitte had aged, he had battled injuries, and had spent 4 years in the NL, therefore, one could understand the decrease in effectiveness between the old couple. However, after 2007 things began to snowball.
Though 2008 was an injury-shortened year for Jorge, in the 8 games that featured he and Andy, opponents hit .317/.382/.517. Together, Andy was able to strike out a total of 34 batters while walking 17, which makes for a 2.00 K/BB ratio. Essentially, the duo wasn’t very effective and once Jorge succumbed to injury, Chad Moeller and Jose Molina, in particular, took over. Moeller worked well with Pettitte, however, Jose became the starter and ended up catching 18 of Andy’s games. The new pair were much better at restricting offensive outbursts, as batters hit .273/.317/.385 when Molina was calling games. In those 18 games, Pettitte managed to strike out 89 and walk 29 (a 3.07 K/BB ratio). It seems as though Molina figured out catching Pettitte in a way that Jorge did not last season (or in 2007). And, while Pettitte’s 4.54 ERA may give some pause, his 3.71 FIP means that he was, indeed, helped by Molina and hurt by his defense.
In 2009, with Molina out, Pettitte and Molina only operated together for 2 games, yielding a .261/.292/.587 line. The slugging percentage is highly uncharacteristic of the their prior work, but together they kept Andy’s K/BB ratio (8/2) reasonable albeit over a very limited period of time. With Jorge catching, Andy’s line is fairly “solid,” with batters hitting .278/.356/.390. However, the biggest problem is that with Jorge behind the dish, Pettitte walks too many people and strikes out too few. His K/BB is 1.56 as Andy has walked 32 while striking out 50. That is the main issue. With Molina, Andy’s career K/BB is 3.06. That signals more dominance and a better understanding for one’s pitcher than we’ve seen as of late with Posada and Pettitte. It’s a strange development when you consider how good Andy and Jorge were before Andy’s stint with the Astros.
One could attempt to explain this unraveling via Pettitte’s pitching style, though. Prior to 2004, Andy’s first year with Houston, Andy pitched using a lot more fastballs. Once he joined the Astros, he began to pitch differently, throwing fewer fastballs and more junk, as his fastball had been hampered by injuries. However, when he rejoined the Yankees—the year Jorge caught him—his fastball was where it had normally been in his career (around 88-90 or so), leading to a solid season with Jorge calling games. But, since 2007 he has lost about a single mph on his fastball (from an average of 89.1 in 2007 to 88.5 in 2008 and 88.6 in 2009). In 2008, when he lost that mph, Jose was catching him—Jorge and Andy were terrible together—and called for fewer straight fastballs, fewer changeups and more cutters. He seemed to realize that Andy had lost some velocity and therefore adopted new strategies to counter the lack of zip. In 2009, though, Jorge, not Jose, is back to catching Andy and is thinking of the 2007 version with the solid fastball (he didn’t figure out Pettitte in 2008 and he hasn’t totally figured him out in 2009). The cutter that helped Andy in 2008—about 30% of his pitches were cutters—has been swapped out for more fastballs, curveballs and changeups.
In the end, you can bet that Andy Pettitte will welcome Jose Molina with open arms once he returns from the DL (which should be today). Clearly, Pettitte has been hurt the most by his absence. Expect Molina to start catching him upon his return and with that change, expect Pettitte’s walk rate to go down while his strike out rate goes up (he’ll become a better pitcher).