Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Projecting Andy Pettitte

(What can Andy-Wan do in 2013?)

Andy Pettitte's decision to come back for the 2013 season wasn't nearly as dramatic or surprising as his return last season.  He already sounded like he was leaning towards coming back when he said he was going to take some time to think it over, and the Yankees re-signed him to another 1-year deal with little trouble in late November.  Now that it's officially been determined that he won't be participating in the World Baseball Classic, we can start to look forward to what Andy's going to do on the mound for the Yanks in 2013 and for how long he's going to do it.  Pettitte is an important part of the Yankee rotation as the middle link between the rock solid 1-2 starters and the iffy back end, but his age and related injury concerns make him a bit more of a question mark than your average #3 starter.

Along with it being prospect season and still the late part of hot stove season, it's also projection season.  There isn't a whole lot out there on Andy yet, but it's still worth taking a peek to see what kind of production Andy is projected to put up this coming season.
What makes Pettitte difficult to project right off the bat is his inconsistent and downright small recent workload.  His late debut and broken ankle last year resulted in him making just 12 Major League starts and pitching 75.1 innings.  Add in his rehab starts in the Minors and that's still just 92.1 total IP in 2012.  Throw in the year off in 2011 and a 21-start/129.0 IP season in 2010 and you don't have your typical strong sample size from which to project.  It's fair to say that Pettitte's missed time last season was a freak occurrence and not something age-related, but factoring that missed time back in you're still only looking at about 14 additional starts.  At Pettitte's per start average of just under 6.1 IP, that would have been roughly another 88 innings to bring him to 163.1 for the season, still less than a full season's worth of work.  At the end of the day, we're projecting a 40-year-old pitcher who hasn't worked a full season since 2009.

Because he wasn't actually on the roster when some of the early projections were made for the 2013 Yankees, there isn't as much current projection data on Pettitte right now as there is for some of the other Yankees.  Dan Szymborski of ESPN didn't have Andy included in his preliminary ZiPS projections in early November, and Bill James has yet to put a line together for him as well.  Pettitte does have a decent collection of fan projections on FanGraphs (17 total), and he was included in the latest version of RLYW's CAIRO projections, and they tell different versions of the same general story:

F'Graphs: 24 GS, 146.0 IP, 3.69 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 44 BB, 120 K
CAIRO:   20 GS, 116.0 IP, 3.73 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 35 BB, 91 K

Neither system sees Pettitte pitching a full season in 2013, which doesn't come as a surprise.  CAIRO is a little more pessimistic in its projections for Pettitte, predicting fewer starts, fewer strikeouts, and less than 6 IP per start.  That's about what you would expect given the previous 3 years, but I think we'd all like to see more than 20 starts from Andy.  Where both systems agree is in the performance, and I don't think anybody would be disappointed with a 3.70 ERA/3.75 FIP split from Andy in 2013 regardless of how many games and innings he pitches.  Those values would represent a slight regression from 2012 but would still be above average, and assuming CC and Hirok at least hold form at the top would still leave the Yankees with a very formidable top 3.

And there's plenty of reason to think Andy can put up those numbers in 2013, if not better numbers.  Mike Eder took a look at Pettitte's PITCHf/x details from 2012 over at TYA on Monday and found that Andy saw increased movement on all of his pitches, which was likely the determining factor in the positive trends of his K and GB rates despite diminished velocity.  Mike concluded that Andy's 2.87/3.48 slash and increased strikeout rate in 2012 was very real, and is confident he can replicate those results this season if he maintains that increased pitch movement.  I've joked on this blog for a long time about Andy being the Left-Handed Jedi Master, but there is a little bit of truth to that in the PITCHf/x numbers.  Andy flat out knows how to pitch and has adjusted his approach and improved his stuff in his later years to stay effective.

The most important stat for Pettitte in 2013 will be the number of starts he makes.  You almost have to assume he's going to spend at least one 15-day stint on the DL, and the Yankees will surely try to get him some extra rest here and there.  With guys like Nova/Phelps, Warren, and hopefully Pineda on standby, the Yanks have guys to cover Pettitte in spot starts if he ends up making 24-28 this season.  But 20 or lower would be more problematic.  That's a little over a half season, and that's a lot of starts to be giving up Andy's expected production for that of whoever is filling in for him.  It's still early in projection season, and there's still more to come on Andy.  Overall, though, I'd say the early ones are a positive.

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