(Courtesy of the AP)
After allowing just 7 ER in his first 4 starts of the season, and going at least 6 innings in each of those starts, Andy Pettitte has struggled mightily in his last 2 outings, the second of which came yesterday against Oakland. In 9.1 IP over both starts, Pettitte has allowed 10 ER on 14 H and 5 BB, with just 5 K to show for his effort. According to Andy, his cutter has been the source of his struggles in the last week. He just hasn't had any kind of control over the pitch let alone command, and a quick look at the pitch location plot is proof of that:
That's pretty brutal right there. Either in the good middle part of the hitting zone or so far off the edges of the zone that it doesn't even warrant a swing. The cutter is Andy's groundball pitch, the one he uses to keep his pitch count down and get quick outs when he needs them. Without command of the pitch, it's no surprise to see that his GB rate in each of his last 2 starts has been below 40%. It also doesn't help that his 2-seamer command hasn't been that great either:
Normally that's a pitch that Andy will throw to both sides of the plate and throw for strikes pretty consistently. In these last 2 starts he's only been able to throw it to one side of the plate and with a similar "good to hit or not even close" distribution as his cutter, cutting his strike % down from near 67% to 58.6%. When you're working with lower velocity like Andy is at this stage in his career, your command needs to be on point. Andy's was earlier in the season when he was cruising through his first 4 starts. He's hit a snag here in the last week and he needs to re-find that command to get himself right again.
It'd be easy and not unfair to question Andy's health and how that may be affecting his performance. He did skip a start and miss over a week with back tightness last month, and we know back problems tend to linger. Andy's ability to pitch through back problems at age 40 is surely not what it was at age 30, and to a certain degree it would be understandable that he struggle if the back is giving him trouble. Andy himself swears that's not the problem right now, though, and I'm willing to believe him. If this trend with the cutter continues over another start or two, that feeling might change.
(Pitch plots courtesy of Texas Leaguers)