Monday, December 20, 2010

Pettitte Leaning Toward Retirement?

And the hits keep on coming for the Yankees...
A person with knowledge of Pettitte’s thinking, who requested anonymity because the 38-year-old left-hander is still deliberating and nothing has been announced publicly, pinned the chance of a Pettitte return at just 30 percent.
“There is a very real possibility that he will retire,” the person said.
Cashman didn’t rule out a return by Pettitte, but with Christmas approaching, he is proceeding with the rest of his offseason plans as if the pitcher will not be back.
“As of right now, he’s not intending on playing,” Cashman said.
A 30% chance?  Ouch.  Is it just me or can feel the tension in the Yankee front office from where your sitting?  Everything that could go wrong for the Yankees this offseason has gone wrong.  This has to feel like the bizarro world to Cashman and the Brothers Stein.

As of right now, there aren't a lot of great pitching options for the Yankees either on the free agent or trade markets.  If Pettitte was announce he was officially retiring tomorrow, the Yankees rotation would be incredibly shallow:
  1. C.C. Sabathia
  2. Phil Hughes
  3. A.J. Burnett
  4. Ivan Nova?
  5. ???
Yikes!  Sabathia and Hughes look like as good of a 1-2 punch as any in baseball.  After Hughes, it gets ugly in a hurry.

Burnett was maddeningly inconsistent in 2010, and no one is sure which Burnett will show up in 2011.  On one hand, he appeared to be a little unlucky with home runs and on balls in play, which inflated his ERA and affected his W-L record.  On the other, for the second season in a row, his contact rate increased, while his strikeout and whiff rates plummeted.  Of even more concern is Burnett's fastball velocity.  After registering an average fastball velocity of 94.2 MPH in 2009, it dropped to 93.3 MPH in 2010.  While this may not seem like a huge drop, it is when you extrapolate it over the course of an entire season.  Furthermore, his plus-curveball became a liability last season, registering -3.9 runs on Fangraphs pitch value scale.  Burnett has made a career out of being a strikeout pitcher.  Without a strong fastball and knee buckling curve ball, Burnett loses the one asset that made him one of the better pitchers in baseball.  The Yankees need him to rediscover his pre-2010 self if they're going to have any shot of getting beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Then there's the issue of Ivan Nova.  Nova, 24, has never been considered to be one of the Yankees top ten prospects.  While being in a team's list of top ten prospects is not a pre-requisite to being a solid major league player, it doesn't hurt either.  Nova is a ground ball pitcher that neither has good control, nor induces strikeouts--or as I like to call it, a recipe for long-term mediocrity.  While a pitcher of Nova's caliber would be fine as a number four for the Royals or Pirates, it just doesn't work with the Yankees.  When the Yankees consistently put together a team with an average annual payroll around $200M, you tend to expect a deeper starting rotation.  Nova might be acceptable as a number five starter, but even that's a stretch at this point.

If Pettitte does retire, it would be a shame.  He still has plenty left in the tank as he put up healthy K/9 (7.05), K/BB (2.46), and ground ball (43.9%) rates to go along with a 3.85 FIP in 2010.  If Pettitte chose to return for 2011, it would allow the Yankees to slide Burnett and Nova down another spot, thus aligning their rotation a little more efficiently.  Furthermore, it would reduce the need to trade for an ace (or near ace) quality pitcher.  Instead of focusing on the Felix Hernandez's and Josh Johnson's of the world, they could focus on trading for solid, middle of the rotation starters like Mark Buehrle and Joe Blanton.  These players would not only put less strain on the Yankee farm system, but also allow them to stash Nova in the bullpen or in AAA.

While I hope Pettitte doesn't retire, it appears he's probably already made his decision (and possibly notified the Yankee front office).  Despite being a Yankee (semi-kidding here), he's one of the classiest players to step on a baseball field in recent memory.  Did he make his share of mistakes?  Absolutely, but he owned up to his mistakes each time.  That's both commendable and refreshing--especially when so many players "misremember" certain circumstances and choose "not to talk about the past." 

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