What Does Andy Pettitte’s Return Mean for Young Pitchers in the New York Yankee Organization?

Andy Pettitte returned to the New York Yankees spring training camp today, this time for keeps. He will throw batting practice and bullpens again, but throwing pitches with conviction and intent. All reports indicate Andy’s bullpen session on Tuesday went better than expected.

Pettitte is once again a New York Yankee starting pitcher.

And his impact is immediate. The same day Pettitte was back in Yankee camp, pitchers David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell and George Kontos all were optioned to Triple-A Rochester. Three for one! And after the home run hit by Andrew McCutchen off of Michael Pineda last night and Ivan Nova’s latest start, more kids might be on the way to the minor leagues. Although Pineda redeemed himself by finishing strong AND upping his velocity, having Pettitte around now is not good news for any of the kids.

Such is always the case with young pitchers in Yankee-land. Never any patience with one bad start, even if it is only spring training. I once wrote a piece stating that the worst place for a young Yankee pitcher is being on their 40-man roster*.   Once a kid is buried there, they never get that opportunity until they are traded away.

  • It is very interesting that when I wrote that piece three years ago, it was because the Yankees signed a free agent pitcher on January 26, 2009 who took over the 5th rotation spot and would end up sending Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to Triple-A. That free agent pitcher was Andy Pettitte, who is doing the same thing to the Yankee kid pitchers this season. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Why does Pettitte continue to hurt the chances of young Yankee pitchers, this time the chances of Nova and Pineda, and once again Phil Hughes? It is like Andy wants to be the last successful Yankee home grown starting pitcher.

No matter what you believe regarding Pettitte’s return, he is back and is expected to compete for a starting pitching spot no later than May.

That would be a mistake.

Pettitte and Russell Martin might think Andy will be ready for a major league rotation by May, but the best thing for the Yankees is waiting until after the All-Star break to let Pettitte pitch in games which count. The Yankees need to finally find out what they have with their young guns, especially the new and improved Hughes. Plus, Pettitte was not signed by the Yankees for starts in May and June, but for key starts in October.

With 19 overall victories, Pettitte is the most winning pitcher in post season history. His impressive October record over his last two seasons (2009-2010) of 5-1, 3.23 ERA, 1.076 WHIP, 2.83 K/BB is better than any starting pitcher currently with the Yankees. Better than CC Sabathia (5-1, 3.54 ERA, 1.541 WHIP, 2.42 K/BB) better than Nova, better than Hughes and even better than AJ…oh, wait, no need for his numbers anymore. Hideki Kuroda has mixed results, having two nice starts, but getting bombed (1.1 IP, 6 ER) in his third. Pineda has yet to pitch in the postseason, but that is surely a small sample size.

The Yankees need to see if Pettitte is healthy enough to start and go for a full season, a feat Andy has not done since 2009. Even during his fine 2010 season, Pettitte only made 21 starts. His prior two full seasons of 2008 and 2009, Pettitte was barely above league average. He was a combined 28-22, 4.35 ERA (an ERA+ of only 98 in 2009!), with a 1.400 WHIP over those last two full seasons.

However, he was mostly spectacular during the post season those two seasons, and thus the reason for his signing.

Is Pettitte the future of a Yankees starting rotation? Is he prepared to play this one season only as an ego boost, or is he planning to pitch in 2013 or even 2014? Is this about boosting his chances for the Hall of Fame?

With six current starting pitchers and at least three more ready at Triple A, Pettitte knows of his postseason success and why the Yankees want him. It is not May rotation depth. It is October rotation depth. Who knows how the Yankees pitching will shake out this season? In mid-May of last year, who would have thought that Nova would be the No. 2 starting pitcher in the ALDS?

Instead of coming back mid-season (like his former pal Roger Clemens did), Pettitte is coming back early in the season, and why I believe Pettitte would want to pitch more that this season, for the sake of his legacy. If it was just about the post season, Pettitte could have waited until May or June to announce, and take a month to be ready for a post All-Star break start. That would also have given the Yankees a half season to evaluate their young kids such as Pineda, Nova and Hughes.

And that is what is baffling about the Yankees signing Pettitte so early and wanting to use him so early in the season. His last two full seasons were league average. That is something the three major league 25-and-under-guys could do, too. And probably even Phelps, Mitchell and Adam Warren. Are the Yankees getting the Andy of 2010 and the 2009-2010 postseason, or the Andy of the 2008-2009 regular seasons?

If Andy pitches league average and has a so-so postseason, then would the Yankees sign him again for next season? There are tons of variables here, many of which affect the Yankees in 2014, the season which they want to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. This means the Yankees, who have almost $80 million tied up with four guys in 2014 (CC, Alex, Tex, Jeter), and need to re-sign Robinson Cano and/or Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin plus lots of potential free agent pitchers like Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Mariano (?) and Hughes. Not to mention arbitration guys like Gardner, Nova and Pineda at that time.

The Yankees would need to see if a couple of these young starting pitchers can do the job long term. They need to find out if Nova, Pineda, Hughes or even the Triple-A kids can get the job done at the major league level. This would help alleviate the need to chase down free agent pitchers on the open market and keep the payroll somewhat near the $189 million mark.

This season would have been a great year to find out if the young kids like Nova, Pineda and Hughes can produce, but the Pettitte signing (just like before the 2009 season) eliminates lots of opportunities for the minor league kids, and possibly the three major league guys, too. Young kids like Phelps (who I feel is similar to Mike Mussina, as was Ian Kennedy), Mitchell or Warren could be traded this year. With the Pettitte signing, most pundits believe Freddy Garcia is the major league odd man out of the rotation spot, and possibly the roster.

I disagree. That person is likely Phil Hughes.

All the shenanigans with Hughes such as the injuries, starting vs. relieving, the 2011 dead arm crap and the constant media pressure of needing to pitch great every game, Hughes is not long for the Yankees. The former first round pick and Yankee savior will definitely be gone when his free agency comes, likely to a more secure environment where a team can just let him pitch. So with a logjam at starting pitcher and the threat early in spring of a minor league demotion (options left, anyone?) or bullpen role again, Hughes is probably already thinking back to the West coast, where he was raised.

With his newfound workout regimen having him looking good in camp, Hughes (and not Garcia) would bring the best value in a potential trade. In addition, Garcia was brought aboard in 2012 to help foster Nova’s second season, a role he admirably performed last year. Freddy also is likely now helping with Pineda, who is overwhelmed by the constant N.Y. media hordes.

If Hughes is doing well early in 2012, I would not be surprised if Hughes was dealt by the All-Star break. With the spring struggles of Raul Ibanez, there is also a real possibility Hughes could headline a package for a bat before the season starts. How about Hughes and Dellin Betances (plus another guy) to Kansas City for Alex Gordon? Or perhaps to the San Francisco Giants as part of a deal for Brandon Belt, who I believe is a very special hitter.

A few weeks ago Brian Cashman said that Hughes “has No. 1 starter potential.” Coupled with a strong start to his 2012 season, Hughes could be like Jesus Montero. A player gets a rave review by the GM, a small sample size period of success, and then traded from a position of strength for an immediate need.

Who knew Andy Pettitte had that much power to limit young pitching…again.

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One Response to What Does Andy Pettitte’s Return Mean for Young Pitchers in the New York Yankee Organization?

  1. […] all the Pettitte comeback talk was on back in February, I wrote that the Yankees should be doing this for Pettitte’s October experience. I offered they Yankees […]

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