“I don’t really try to strike guys out,” Pettitte said. “I feel like I’m able to keep guys off balance an awful lot right now. My command was just really good tonight. I only left a couple of balls over the heart of the zone all night long. I’ve been real happy with my command and the feel of all my pitches. I didn’t think it would come back so quick.”
Who really thought it would come back so quick? A pitcher one year removed from baseball came out Tuesday night to win the first game of the series against the (once) first place Rays. The youthful Tampa Bay team may not sport the most potent offense in baseball, but Andy Pettitte didn’t simply beat the Rays. Our favorite lefty dismantled, destroyed, and defaced a team that looked ill-prepared for his high-80′s heat. This isn’t the first time I’ve said it, and it won’t be the last, but not even the most optimistic predictions had the 40 years old Pettitte putting together 7.1 innings of 2 hit, 2 walk, and 10 strikeout ball in a rather important game of a rather important series.
Yesterday, William went deep into the numbers, and found that two of Pettitte’s recent 2012 starts have now been ranked in the top five of his career by game score. With only a high 80′s fastball, the most startling stats are within his strikeout and whiff rates. Not only did he strikeout 10 on Tuesday, but he’s averaging 8.1 K/9, and showing above average whiff rates on most of his put-away pitches, including a 23% whiff rate on his slider. A strong slider is usually the cornerstone of a hot stretch, but he also had nearly perfect control on three other pitches. Below are the four pitches he used for a swinging strike three throughout the game.
His strongest pitch, as has been throughout his return, the slider showed some serious movement on Tuesday. Of the 26 sliders he threw, Rays hitters swung and missed at six of them, good for a 23.1% whiff rate. This included strikeout pitches to Carlos Pena (above), Desmond Jennings, and Dan Johnson. In the picture above, the break of his slider from Tuesday night (in black) is compared to the average break from May. While the vertical break shows very similar sinking action to the previous month, the top image shows that the horizontal break had additional break away from left handed hitters. This was due to averaging a slightly higher spin angle of 229 degrees on Tuesday, compared to 217 degrees from the rest of the season. You can see the higher average spin angles in the spin angle v. velocity chart below.
Pettitte credited much of his success to the effectiveness of his two-seamer against the Rays, and indeed he was able to convert a lot of groundballs with it. After working with Larry Rothschild on the pitch before the game, not only was he able to draw a big double play from Ben Zobrist, but he also saw four whiffs on 22 of his two-seams. In the GIF above, you can see how well he located the pitch down and in for a swinging strike three to Luke Scott.
Above we have a much bigger difference between Pettitte’s two-seam fastball from May (in yellow) and from his last start on Tuesday (in black). While the vertical sinking action was very similar, the pitch had much less break in to left handed hitters. Despite the break, the total movement of the pitch accounted for about 2 inches more of additional sink, the difference of 10.72 inches above the no-spin x-axis from May, and 8.94 inches above the x-axis on Tuesday. Likewise, there was around an inch more horizontal movement into left handed hitters, finishing at 7.09 inches in May and 7.81 inches on Tuesday.
I wish I could pull up one of these pitch visualization charts for his four-seam and cutter in order to show you what he was throwing, but there is a major issue with classifying between these two pitches. Not only does Pettitte have the same general grip for both fastballs, but there is no clear evidence in how he throws it. Go ahead and watch the top two GIF’s above of his whiffs and you’ll see how similar his mechanics are for both pitches. The fact is that both his four-seam and cutter are essentially the same pitch. The only real way to tell is from an obvious difference in horizontal movement, or to eyeball the movement, but even that is extremely difficult. All you have to know is that his four-seam was incredibly accurate in his last start, as you can see that in his strikeout to Jose Molina above. Meanwhile, the cutter has been as good as it’s always been, his primary setup pitch.
Above is Pettitte’s cutter in all it’s magnificence, held with the four-seam grip. Manny Banuelos, take note, this is how I want my Yankee lefty throwing a cutter.
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