Andy Pettitte is having a good year. In 12 starts and 80 innings he has won 8 games and lost only 1, given up 24 earned runs, struck out 55 and walked 22. He has an ERA of 2.46, a K/9 of 6.16 and a BB/9 of 2.46. Whether it is because of the low ERA or the visually appealing win-loss record, some Yankee fans have deemed Pettitte the Yankees’ best starter and have called for him to be considered for the All-Star game this year. With all due respect to Pettitte, and to his many fans (myself included), this would be a mistake.
Let’s get the stats out of the way. Pettitte’s ERA is artificially low. His BABIP is a career-low .256 and his FIP is 3.73. His batted ball data is right in line with past results, so it’s not as if he is suddenly generating weaker contact. One thing that is slightly out of line with past results is his HR/FB ratio is 8%, slightly off his career average of 9.8%. His strand rate of 82% is even more out of whack with his career average of 71%. As a result, Pettitte’s xFIP stands at 4.08. What does this mean? It means that the statistics that give us the better indications of how well a pitcher did at controlling the things he can control tell us that Pettitte has pitched like a 3.75-4.00 ERA pitcher. Are xFIP and FIP the end-all determinant of the quality of a pitcher? Is having a top-8 FIP a requirement for inclusion into the All-Star Game? Obviously not. But FIP and xFIP can give us a better indication of how well Pettitte has truly done so far this year, provided you keep in mind the vagaries of small sample sizes.
Contextualizing Pettitte’s year in terms of advanced data and comparing him to other AL starters leads me to conclude that while he is having a great year so far, he doesn’t belong in the All-Star Game. In the American League in 2010, 13 pitchers have a better FIP than Andy Pettitte. Leading the way is Cliff Lee with a 1.92 (albeit in a smaller sample than others), and behind him is Francisco Liriano with a 2.09 and one young Phil Hughes with 2.89. If you prefer xFIP, 17 pitchers have a superior xFIP to Pettitte in 2010, including Phil Hughes with 3.69 and CC Sabathia with 3.92. Leading the way is Francisco Liriano (2.94), followed by Cliff Lee (3.01) and Ricky Romero (3.21).
So where does this leave us with Pettitte? Mike Axisa of RiverAveBlues looked at his start to the season and concluded the following:
“Pettitte ripped a page out of the 1997 playbook this year and has been the Yanks’ best and most consistent starter…You don’t expect him to keep performing this well, but the season is close to 40% complete, and he just keeps doing it. Season totals of a .256 BABIP and 82.1% LOB% tell us to expect a regression, but I get the sense that we might be waiting a while. Sometimes unexplainable things happen to extraordinary players, which Pettitte certainly is.”
As Mike notes, regression is likely with Pettitte, but he is still having an incredible year. Pitching to the 14th best FIP in the American League is no small task. The fact that Pettitte is doing it at his age, after the career he has had, makes it all the more impressive. Expecting some regression as the year progresses should not diminish a full appreciation of his 2010 season and his career in general. But Pettitte is not an ace for the Yankees this year, and he clearly he isn’t the Yankees best starter this year either. The Yankees’ best starter has been Phil Hughes, and if anyone should represent the team at the All-Star Game this year, it should be him.
For the record, I would pick the following pitchers to fill out the 13 man staff:
SPs: Francisco Liriano (starter), Cliff Lee, Ricky Romero, James Shields, Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver and Phil Hughes.
RPs: Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano and Jonathan Papelbon