Thursday, September 12, 2013

What About Andy?

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

We know Mariano Rivera is retiring after this season.  We assume Derek Jeter is not after the announcement yesterday that his season is over, even if it might be the best idea.  But what about the third remaining active member of the Core Four?  What about Andy Pettitte?  What's his deal?  The 41-year-old lefty pitched another solid game last night, good enough to win against a stout opposing lineup.  It was the latest in what's been an underappreciated good month of starts from Andy, something this rotation desperately needed with its struggles at the top.  This late season rebound from Pettitte makes the question of whether he will retire for good after this season a little more difficult to answer than it may have been a few months ago.

When Andy first started having problems with his back in April, it was pretty apparent to anybody watching a game when it was feeling good and when it wasn't.  His mechanics looked stuff, his delivery was off, and his stuff didn't have much life to it.  After coming back from the DL in June, Andy spent most of the early part of the summer struggling with his command in the strike zone and giving up a lot of hits and runs in short starts.  He looked like a 41-year-old pitcher who was running on fumes and the talk of him becoming a liability rather than an asset was justified.

On August 5th, Andy had his worst outing of the season, giving up 7 ER on 11 hits to the lowly White Sox and getting pulled before he could get out of the 3rd inning.  The end appeared nigh for Pettitte and the Yankees' postseason chances.  Since then, he's rattled off 7 consecutive starts of 3 ER allowed or less, including 2 1-run outings and 2 scoreless outings.  While the first one wasn't exactly pretty - 1 ER on 8 H and 3 BB in 4.1 IP - the rest have all been quality starts of at least 6 innings.  Andy's given up just 9 ER in 38 IP in his last 6 starts (2.13 ERA) and has been far less hittable than he was in June and July (36 H).  His K and BB rates don't pop, but that's nothing new.  Andy has pitched well and filled the void at the top of the rotation left by CC and Kuroda.

Shorter appearances, lower pitch counts, back problems, and bouts of extreme hittability being what they are, Andy's season stat line still looks very good.  He's made 27 starts, more than twice last year's total and the most since '09, and pitched 162.2 innings.  His 3.74 FIP is right in line with what he did in 2012 and 2011, his BB rates (6.1%, 2.38 BB) are the lowest they've been since 2005, and he's still posting good GB and HR numbers.  Andy's 2.9 fWAR is second on the Yankee staff this season behind Hirok and 20th best among all qualified AL starters.  Looking at his season as a whole with a few starts remaining, Andy hasn't just gotten by; he's been pretty good.

So back to the original question, what about next year?  There hasn't been much talk about Andy's future with Mo and Jeter taking up most the headlines, but we all know the situation with next year's rotation.  Andy is one of the holes being left as his 1-year contract comes off the books.  With what he's done this year, it seems like he would be a prime target to fill a hole as the Yanks look to replenish.  His age and history with the team make him far more likely to take a payroll-easing hometown discount than Kuroda, and if he's still got the fire and his back is up to it he'd be a welcome addition to the middle of that rotation.

We likely won't start hearing much talk about Andy's future until after the season ends and the drama from Mo's retirement has time to die down.  What we know right now is that he's anchoring the rotation with Ivan Nova as the Yankees try to make a late charge towards the playoffs and he's shown in the past that he likes coming back and playing with his Core Four teammates.  Next year he'll have the chance to go out with the last one, and if he can keep pitching the way he has been that's a chance that both Andy and the Yankees would probably take.

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