Recently, there has been a lot of talk about Joba Chamberlain and his struggles in the rotation. Much less ink and bandwidth has been spent discussing Andy Pettitte and his ineffectiveness. However, I think it is pretty clear at this point that Pettitte is a much bigger problem for this team than Joba. First, Ben at RAB helps us define the problem:
This start caps off a bad end to the first half for Pettitte. After going 5-1 with a 4.10 ERA through the end of May, Pettitte has tanked. He’s 3-4 with a 5.93 ERA. He has allowed 51 hits over his last 44 innings while walking 21 and striking out 36. That’s a 1.66 WHIP for those keeping score at home. Opponents have an OPS against Pettitte well over .800 now.
More alarming, in a way though, are his innings totals. Those 44 innings span eight starts. He’s averaging just 5.5 innings per game. When the season started, Pettitte was billed as a solid back-end guy. He’d throw to a mid-4 ERA but would give the Yanks some length. He’s not really doing that anymore.
Overall, Pettitte heads into the break with an 8-5 record and a 4.85 ERA. Since the 2008 All Star break, Pettitte is 12-12 with a 5.06 ERA. He just turned 37 last month, and we’re unlikely to see Pettitte improve.
Basically, the issue is that Andy has been pretty awful for about a year now, and seems to be getting worse rather than improving. Basically, we expected league average performance and length from Andy this season, and he has not provided either. Why is this a bigger issue than Joba’s struggles? There are a number of reasons:
- Joba has a better chance of improving. Joba has been pretty bad for the last month, but he is a young pitcher with good stuff. As Dave Eiland said: “Part of it is not attacking the zone aggressively early in the count, and he knows that, and he’s working on it, and he’s trying,” Eiland said. “But he’s learning how to be a starter in this league as a 23-year-old kid, and there’s going to be some growing pains. He’s going to be fine. This is going to make him better.” Andy, on the other hand, is an older pitcher who seems to be stubborn in his approach. Unless he experiences a Mike Mussina-like renaissance, wild inconsistency is what I expect from Pettitte for the rest of the year. Joba has been marginally better than Andy thus far, and I only expect the gap to widen.
- The Yankees would never remove Andy Pettitte from the rotation. If Joba continues to struggle, the Yankees may be willing to remove him from the rotation under the guise of “innings limits,” or send him to the minors to work on his approach. Pettitte, on the other hand, will be in the Yankee rotation all year, so his struggles represent a more difficult long term issue.
- Pettitte will likely be in the Yankee playoff rotation. If the Yankees make the postseason, Joba and Phil Hughes are likely to be in the bullpen. Together will Al Aceves, Phil Coke, and hopefully a resurgent Brian Bruney, that should make for a dominant bridge to Mo. However, the Yankees need either Chien-Ming Wang or Andy Pettitte to step up and give the Yankees at worst three reliable starters for a playoff rotation. If Andy continues to struggle, the hole that he leaves is significantly more injurious to the team than the one potentially left in the bullpen by Joba.
The Yankees need Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte to figure out their issues, so as not to burn out the rest of the staff by August. But Andy Pettitte finding a consistent level of solid performance is significantly more important to the 2009 Yankees. He is traditionally a second half pitcher, so I am hopeful that he can turn it around. If he does not, the Yankees may need to add another starter.
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