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Thoughts VI

Mood Music - Hellrider by Judas Priest

On May sixth, Andy Pettitte gave up five runs (three earned) on eight hits and two walks in five innings against the Pawtucket Red Sox. He said that he had done everything that he could to get in game shape and was ready to contribute in New York. In four starts -- stretching across nearly a month and three levels of the minor leagues -- Pettitte had given up ten runs (seven earned) and twenty-two baserunners in seventeen innings.

It wasn't like he was getting shelled by Single-A hitters or struggling to top eighty miles per hour, but he wasn't doing anything to inspire a lot of confidence either. At forty years old, coming off a year of retirement, and with a pretty mediocre string of minor league tune ups, what were your expectations for Pettitte being called up? What are they now?

In his six starts, Pettitte has had at least eight strikeouts four times. He has pitched into the seventh inning five times. He has allowed two or fewer walks five times. In addition to a strong averages -- 2.81 ERA / 3.65 FIP / 2.87 xFIP -- he has pitched well just about every time out.

Given his experience and ability, you would expect Andy Pettitte to still be able to be fairly effective fairly often. If he had good control and life on his off-speed pitches, you could see him spinning a few gems. You would expect him to battle and keep the team in the game on most occasions where he didn't have his good stuff. You would expect that because of his grit, veteran savvy, and a third cliche that is overstated but also probably somewhat true.

You would also expect some three inning, seven run disasters where his pitches aren't working and he doesn't have velocity and sharpness to fall back on.* Andy Pettitte really hasn't had any disasters. That's not to say that he won't, but just that he hasn't yet. That might be one of the things that I've been most impressed with so far.

*Anecdotally, that seems to be the way that starting pitchers age. Their great games are less frequent, but still happen when everything comes together. Their mediocre games are a little worse because they get away with one or two fewer mistakes. Their duds start happening more and more.

Watch the latest incarnation of Jamie Moyer to get an idea of what I mean. Sometimes his mix of pitches can keep a hitter off balance. A lot of the time, they're having a very comfortable at bat, just waiting to tee off. Andy Pettitte has come to the mound with an arsenal that can get Major League batters out in every one of his starts, and I find the consistency of the way that he's been throwing the ball to be as encouraging as the positive results.

A glance at some Pitch F/X data indicates that his fastball velocity has been down, but that hitters have been having trouble making contact with his off-speed pitches, especially his slider. Six starts in, that's not particularly illuminating, but it could suggest a lack of familiarity with Pettitte's repertoire.

When a rookie debuts, they are said to have an immediate advantage because the scouting reports against them are often unrefined and incomplete. Pettitte has been out of the game for a full year and most of the hitters who do have experience against him are drawing back to a pitcher who relied heavily on a cutter in the low 90s.

It could be that hitters are not prepared for some of the new looks that Pettitte has adapted as his body has changed. It could be that the league will make adjustments to compensate. Or it could be nothing at all.

The teams that Pettitte has faced -- ranked 13th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 21st, and 26th in the league in runs scored -- have not been offensive juggernauts, and it stands to reason that facing a team like the Rangers or Red Sox would be an entirely different challenge for him. Whatever you want to make of his first six starts, there's a lot more reason to be confident in Andy Pettitte.