(Photo courtesy of Jason Szenes/NY Post)
Another day, another brilliant outing for Andy Pettitte yesterday. He admittedly did not have his best stuff early in the game, but managed to limit the Rangers to just 2 runs in the first 3 innings and then shut them down from there.
I've talked before about how Andy's approach has been the key to his success over the last couple years, but this year he has been downright Maddux-like and Glavine-esque in his combination of situational pitch selection and plate location. Here's how yesterday's pitch breakdown looked compared to what he's done so far this year:
"Andy’s start yesterday marked apparently marked a bit of a departure from his previous two starts. He threw only five changeups and mixed in 16 cutters, 17 two-seamers, and 16 curveballs. He threw 53 four seam fastballs as well. The number that deviates from the norm is the number of four seamers. In his previous two starts against Boston and Anaheim, Andy threw just 61 four seam fastballs combined. All three games have featured single digit changeups (5, 8, 5), but the first two contained many more cutters (20, 25) and two-seamers (22 both times) than the last one. The number of curveballs (17, 14, 16) has stayed relatively consistent.
Why the spike in four seamers? That’s tough to answer. Maybe Andy was just feeling it more today, maybe Gameday had a labeling problem. Perhaps Andy had to mix his pitches more against the more patient Red Sox and Angels while he was able to go right at the more-free-swinging Ranges. Regardless of the reason, though, everything was working for Andy on Sunday...." (courtesy of Matt Imbrogno & The Yankee U)
Yesterday was the perfect example of Pettitte's veteran moxie and poise on the mound coming to aid him. Given that he said early on he wasn't very good, my guess is he knew he didn't have a good feel for his off-speed stuff early on so he decided to mix in more four-seamers, knowing the younger, undisciplined Rangers would take their hacks and help him get ahead in the count. Andy used that knowledge to his advantage and gave himself time to get the feel back for his off-speed stuff, which by the time the later innings rolled around, he had regained and started using again to further confuse the opposing hitters.
Yesterday's game just goes to show why there really is no book on Andy Pettitte. He's got 5 pitches that he will consistently mix in to all hitters, and has the smarts and guts to change his approach and stick with what's working based on the results he's getting in the game. When he's got all 5 pitches working, as he has so far in each of his 3 starts this year, there really isn't a way to prepare for him as a hitter. He can get you out on a curveball in the dirt, a cutter in on the hands, or a fastball on the outside corner.
Andy typically uses his fastball to set up the off-speed stuff as his out pitches, but yesterday was the opposite of his usual approach. He was working the four-seamer everywhere, getting batters to swing at what he wanted them to when he wanted them to, something that is tough to do when you don’t have dynamite power to fall back on. Maddux and Glavine made a living and a pair of Hall of Fame careers out of doing that, and while Andy most likely won't make the HOF, he has adapted his game to follow in their footsteps.
While it would be crazy to expect Pettitte to maintain these numbers over the entire season, it certainly should give fans confidence that Pettitte won't have too many games where he's getting smacked around when something isn't working like Javy Vazquez has experienced so far. Andy has plenty of pitches to fall back on and plenty of ways to work hitters, and he always saves his best pitches for the pressure situations. He's the #3 starter in the rotation, but with his stopper mentality and fearless, thoughtful approach on the mound, he might just be the Yankees' real ace in disguise.