WTNYDecember 12, 2003
Petit Pettite
By Bryan Smith

A day ago, the Andy Pettite to the Astros signing sounded atrocious to Yankee fans. I agreed with that group, accusing the Yanks of lacking direction. A day later, we learn that Pettite turned down a three-year, $39M from Steinbrenner, for $31.5M to stay home in Texas. So, the team moved on, and Newsday is reporting a Kevin Brown deal is all but finished. While I could spend an article writing about the 2004 Yankees, I'll save that for another day, and talk extensively about the Pettite signing.

First, a look at Pettite's 2003 overall splits (W-L, ERA, H/IP, K/BB):

Overall: 21-8 4.02 227/208.1 180/50
Home: 10-4 3.78 102/100 93/20
Road: 11-4 4.24 125/108.1 87/30
Pre-ASB: 11-6 4.63 131/116.2 101/30
Post-ASB: 10-2 3.24 96/91.2 79/20

First of all, Pettite's second half is deceiving. He faced the Orioles five times, and also pitched against the Devil Rays, Angels, Tigers, and Indians. The two losses came against the Mariners and Red Sox, and his two best victories were against the Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals. Also, Pettite had a majority of his starts in New York after the Midsummer Classic.

Although Yankee Stadium is a hitter's park, there is no question Pettite pitched better in the Bronx. Call it Yankee fans, but it's been a fact of Pettite throughout his career. In fact, each of the last five seasons he has had a better ERA at home, with his injury-plagued 2002 being the exception. But in 2001, Pettite had a 3.16ERA in New York, compared to a 4.97 on the road. This is the first worry, especially considering Houston had a 6.6% park effect, compared to 4.9% in Yankee Stadium, according to the SNWL reports at Baseball Prospectus.

Speaking of those reports, here's a look at Pettite's numbers:

SNW: 12.8 (21 actual)
SNL: 11.2 (8 actual)
SNWAR: 2.6

The latter stat is the one Michael Wolverton uses to evaluate pitchers, which is "the number of support-neutral wins a pitcher has above what what a .425 pitcher would get in the same number of decisions." Basically, when taking bullpen support, run support, and park effects into the equation, the SNWAR reports how much better the player is than a average, .425 pitcher. Surprising to me, was that Pettite's win-loss record was about 13-11 from Baseball Prospectus, much worse than the 21 he raked up with the AL champs. And the SNWAR? Here's the rest of the MLB pitchers with a 2.6:

Josh Beckett
Zach Day
Kevin Millwood
Brad Penny
Horacio Ramirez
John Thomson

Very interesting group, and it gives you a lot to think about. The Braves were said to be considering Pettite, but instead signed John Thomson, the last name on that list, for $7M less annually than Pettite gets. Horacio Ramirez, also a Brave, was the only other southpaw on the list, matching Pettite in his rookie season. Millwood and Beckett are familiar names, but their 2003s weren't THAT impressive. Andy is hardly in great company, and you have to wonder if John Scheurholtz was looking at this list when he inked Thomson.

I decided to look further into run support, as that is a key component in overvaluing a pitcher. I went through all of Andy Pettite's starts, totaling up the Yankees runs the day Pettite pitched. Divide that by the number of starts, and you have run support. Then, I did the same with the Astros five most-pitched starters, Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, Tim Redding, Jeriome Robertson, and Ron Villone, whom started 136 of the Astros 162. Here are my results:

Pettite: 6.58RS

Villone: 5.79RS
Robertson: 5.45RS
Oswalt: 4.90RS
Miller: 4.79RS
Redding: 3.75RS
Astros 5 total: 4.85RS

Houston's five main 2003 starters had 4.85 runs on average, to work with from their offense. Pettite's 6.58 is among the highest in the league, and he can't expect that with Houston. That's nearly two runs of difference assuming Pettite at least gets 4.85, and that alone should take a chunk from his win total.

OK, well, two of the main keys people speak of for Pettite is that he's left-handed, and he is a great "clutch" postseason pitcher. The AL East is considered a very good offensive division, with two good offenses in the Red Sox and Blue Jays playing the Yankees a ton during the regular season. Houston? They get to play the Cubs, Reds, Pirates, and Brewers' offenses nearly half the season. So I went through all the division teams, totaling up their 2003 OPS vs. left-handers:

Boston: .803
Toronto: .821
Tampa Bay: .714
Baltimore: .729
AL East OPS vs. LH: .767

St. Louis: .860
Chicago: .772
Cincinnatti: .674
Pittsburgh: .758
Milwaukee: .748
NL Central OPS vs. LH: .762

Not nearly the difference I anticipated, which means that Pettite will hardly have an easier schedule of opponents in the NL. It's something, but minute. OK, what about the postseason experience part of his resume? Pettite has pitched in 21 different playoff series, and six different World Series. Here are his numbers in that time:

Overall Playoffs: 17-5 4.05 195/186.2 118/52
World Series: 5-2 3.90 66/60 42/18

Considering Pettite's career ERA is 3.94, he's just about at his average when he pitches in the post season. But, that is a positive, considering it is against the best teams, at the highest stakes.

One thing I love about Pettite, is his consistency. Andy has failed to appear in 30 games just once in his career, 2002, when he still registered only 22 starts while injured. Pettite has six two hundred inning seasons, for a career average of 6.33 IP/G, just about six and a third innings per start. Andy matched that total in 2003 (6.33), so you know he's dependable.

In his old age, Pettite's become more of a strikeout pitcher than at any other time in his career. Here are the K/9 rates for all of Andy's nine Major League seasons:

1995: 5.86
1996: 6.60
1997: 6.22
1998: 6.07
1999: 5.68
2000: 5.50
2001: 7.36
2002: 6.48
2003: 7.78

After his rookie season, Pettite had a 6.60 K/9 rate in a very good 1996 season. After that, he had four straight years in which those numbers declined, causing more than a few worries. But since, Pettite has become a different pitcher, with a 7.30 K/9 rate in the last three years, almost a full strikeout higher than his career average of 6.40. Strikeouts should be easier to come by against the likes of Milwaukee and Cincinnati, so fantasy owners have at least one thing to look forward to.

Recap time. We have proven that Pettite is an overvalued player, that a large part of his wins were due to the confines of Yankee Stadium, as well as the huge run support his team gave him. Minute Maid Park likely won't treat him the same, and the Astros are hardly as helpful as the Bronx Bombers. Baseball Prospectus calls $3.5M John Thomson a similar pitcher, so I think I've proven Pettite is over payed.

2004 is an important season in Houston. After next year, Jeff Kent, Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo, and Craig Biggio are all free agents offensively. Their buyouts will cost $3.7M, Ausmus will be $2M, and Bagwell and Pettite combine for $25.5M of their $75M payroll. The team has about $32M spent towards next years team, but will have to pay up for arbitration-eligibles like Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, and Octavio Dotel, likely escalating the payroll to $50M.

OK, coming back to 2004, let's look at the Astros team as we know it:

1. Criag Biggio- CF
2. Morgan Ensberg- 3B
3. Jeff Bagwell- 1B
4. Jeff Kent- 2B
5. Lance Berkman- LF
6. Richard Hidalgo- RF
7. Brad Ausmus- C
8. Adam Everett- SS

1- Andy Pettite- LHP
2- Roy Oswalt- RHP
3- Wade Miller- RHP
4- Tim Redding- RHP
5- Robertson (LH)/Duckworth (RH)/Hernandez (LH)

CL- Octavio Dotel
SU- Brad Lidge
MR- Ricky Stone
MR- Pete Munro
MR- Kirk Saarlos
LH- Dan Miceli

So really, the only battles are for the fifth rotation spot, which I would give to Carlos Hernandez, whom is pitching fairly well in winer ball. Jeriome Robertson did good against left-handers last year, and might be an asset in the bullpen. Please, just forget his 15 wins. Send Duckworth to AAA, and make him prove to you that he's ready.

After a great 2003 race, the NL Central is poised for another great showdown in 2004. The Cubs and Astros are both ahead of St. Louis, which needs a bullpen and a second starter to become a real threat. Houston is good, but they still can't match the Cubs' pitching. We'll see what the Cubs do in the Winter Meetings, but don't anticipate the NL Central champions losing their crown next season.

And for Pettite? Well, I'll just say it won't surprise me to see something like 14-11, 4.40 with about 170-180 strikeouts.

ESPNews reporting Miguel Batista is going to sign with the Blue Jays, and an interesting story posted over at the Cleveland Indians Report, likely a hoax. Anyway, keep your eyes and ears tuned to New Orleans, and break on Sunday to watch Rex Grossman's first NFL start. I'm out...