Has anyone noticed just how effective Andy Pettitte has been lately?
In his last 3 starts, Andy has pitched 20 innings (nearly 7 innings per outing). His ERA is 2.70 and his FIP is 1.86 (his ERA should be lower) while his WHIP is 0.95. He has struck out 23 hitters during those 20 innings while walking 3. Obviously, given these numbers, Andy’s peripherals over the course of this 2-week window (roughly) have been remarkable. His K/9 is 10.35—the third highest in the AL—while his BB/9 sits at 1.35. His 7.67 BB/K is the sixth highest in the AL (tied with Roy Halladay). Basically, after a miserable outing against the Angels on July 11th, in which he gave up 6 ER over 4.1 IP (2 BB, 1 K), Andy has rebounded tremendously and is shutting down the opposition. On the 11th, his ERA was 4.85 and his WHIP was 1.53. Since then, however—3 starts later—Pettitte’s ERA and WHIP have lowered significantly (4.51 and 1.44). Andy’s numbers went from awful to respectable, seemingly overnight.
So, how, exactly, do we explain this positive shift in Pettitte’s pitching production?
Well, I think the answer is fairly clear. Andy owes a substantial chunk of his recent success to his partner in crime, catcher Jose Molina. Since the 11th, when Jorge Posada last caught Andy, Molina has taken over as his regular catcher. He and Andy have demonstrated that they work well together, especially in their use of the cutter, which Molina calls more often than Posada did (Pettitte said as much two weeks ago). In fact, about a month ago, Andy’s use of the cut fastball inched towards 18%, though it was just below that number. Since Molina began catching Pettitte regularly, the cutter usage is now at 19.7%, and I expect that number to rise even further (last year, when Pettitte pitched well and Molina was behind the plate, it was closer to 30%). This reliance upon the cutter has paid off against lefties, in particular, as Andy’s numbers against them have improved dramatically over his last 3 starts—an improvement that has coincided with Molina’s return to duty. This is not coincidental.
Prior to the Andy-Molina combo, we were forced to witness what looked like an aged and ineffective southpaw. Now, a mere 3 starts later, Andy’s looking like the Andy of old (sans the Posada of old). As evidenced by his stats, he’s striking out more hitters than he was when Posada was his everyday catcher and he’s also walking fewer hitters. Andy is simply performing at a higher level with Jose Molina calling and catching his pitches. Of course, while not all of Pettitte’s success can be attributed to Molina, it’s foolish to ignore his presence behind the dish during Andy’s starts.
This goes back to something I predicted on July 8th about Jose Molina’s value being tied to Andy Pettitte:
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).
Once Jose Molina returned to the Yankees, Andy Pettitte chose him to be his regular catcher after the July 11th debacle with Posada. The two have definitely gelled well since that combo was birthed. With Molina behind the plate, Andy has become a better pitcher, his peripherals are all trending in the right direction and he has been a big part of the Yankees’ success in overtaking Boston for the AL East lead. Some may argue that pitcher-catcher dynamics are not as important and that, in the end, the pitcher is the main culprit when something goes wrong and that he’s everyone’s hero when something goes right. However, based on what we’ve seen with Andy and Molina this year (and what we’ve seen with Andy and Jorge), it looks like this combination will remain as Molina really knows (e.g., cutter) what works for Andy and catches him accordingly.