Pettitte-O-Mania

pettitte_250_012609.jpgAs I take pen in paw here, reports are circulating that the Yankees are close to an agreement with L’il Orphan Andy Pettitte. This will no doubt make Andy’s many fans very happy, and for good reason, as he should be an asset this season. As I’ve written here several times over the course of the offseason, some of his second-half fade was attributable to very poor defensive support. It will also be fun to watch Pettitte add to a career which, while not of Hall of Fame quality, fits nicely into the wider but still relatively exclusive “Hall of the Very Good.”

That said, I do have some trepidation about the Yankees not reserving a spot for youth in the rotation. If Pettitte pitches the Yankees to a pennant, that’s one thing, but if not, at the end of the year he will (presumably) ride off into the sunset, leaving the team with nothing but memories. If Phil Hughes or Alfredo Aceves or anyone young was capable of giving the team something within ten percent of what Pettitte can, then the greater value would be in that pitcher gaining experience rather than the Yankees having a Cadillac in the Pinto part of the rotation.

ONE MORE MOLINA BIT FROM THE COMMENTS
…Before I close this subject until such time as Jorge Posada shows us the condition of his arm. This one is by “amdream23:”

You make two logical fallacies about Molina who would be fine as a full-time catcher with the Yankees, given their other hitting. You say he saved five runs based on throwing out 13 or so baserunners. But he didn’t play a full season so you should project that out further.

Second, what about the baserunners on first that didn’t try to steal since they knew he has a good arm? Isn’t there a deterrence effect? Rather than Molina, look at A-Rod’s failures. He excels in hitting mediocre pitching and padding his stats but chokes against good (never mind great) pitching. He’s another Winfield. The Yankees will never win in the playoffs with A-Rod anchoring the team.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, “am.” I thought a logical fallacy was something like assuming “after therefore because” or saying that fish can swim and so can Derek Jeter, therefore Derek Jeter must be a fish. No? I’m going to ignore the A-Rod bashing because it’s a non-sequitur in a discussion of catching, seems to suggest that we should somehow think Molina a better player than A-Rod. Maybe I’m misreading that, but it’s just weird. Finally, let us say this of Dave Winfield: yes, he had a miserable 1981 World Series, but not too long after leaving the Yankees he drove in the Series-winning runs for the ’92 Jays. Winfield was a terrific player and a lot of fun. His big sin with the Yankees was that he couldn’t pitch.

One logical fallacy I would like to stomp dead is the one in your first sentence: “Molina would be fine as a full-time catcher with the Yankees given their other hitting.” No. We should never look at it like that. It’s the worst kind of complacency, first because it says that a team can settle for mediocrity at a position provided that it did its job at the other positions, and second because it makes an assumption: “given their other hitting.” Every once in awhile, as with the Yankees in 2008, a team will spawn a couple of unexpected replacement-level hitters and suddenly the guy you could tolerate becomes the straw that broke the lineup’s bat — er, back. No, make that “bat.”

Let’s deal with MAD, Molina’s Alleged Deterrence. A full-season workload for most catchers is about 1200 innings, or about 140 full games. Molina caught 737 innings last season, so he got in about 60 percent of a full season. The Yankees played 1441 innings in total, so he took just a fraction over half of the team’s catching load. Now, here’s a very simple way of looking at things, but this is my take on all the baserunners that might not have run because Molina was in the game: they ran anyway. The average AL team saw 129 stolen base attempts last year — 94 steals, 35 caught stealing. Half of that would be roughly 65 attempts — 47 steals, 17 caught. Molina, though, saw 75 stolen base attempts. Another way of looking at it would be to say that the AL least year had .80 stolen base attempts per nine innings. Molina had .92 attempts per nine in the games he caught. Perhaps a lot of that was the pitchers, and had Molina not been catching even more runners might have gone, but that would be pure supposition.

Your request that we give Molina credit for the half-season he didn’t play won’t make him look any better. As above, he played roughly half a season, starting 81 games behind the plate and relieving in 16 more. If we simply double his playing time, we have a player who saved ten runs in dead baserunners and was roughly 30 runs worse than the average catcher and maybe 40 runs worse than the average hitter. Giving you more of Molina doesn’t make him any better; it just increases the damage.

FIXING A HOLE
I have a “Flight of the Conchords” song stuck in my head. I’m off to clear it out with some Beatles. 

12 Comments

Molina is a decent back up catcher but I agree he is not the one you want as a full season starter. As a back up he looked good and at times hit ok. But he is a big guy and when he cataches every day I think his body wears down. As with any catcher when they get tired their hitting is impacted first. Unfortunately Molina is not a strong natural hitter and any drop in hitting becomes very obvious. All this said the Yankees can start the season with Molina if Posada needs a few more weeks to get ready. They just can’t go the whole season. If he could the Yankees would never have rented IROD for the last part of the season in 2008.

Hi Steve,
Thanks for your always thoughtful commentary. I however, disagree somewhat with your assessment of the Pettitte signing. On the one hand, it does cause a slight blockage of the Youth movement in the #5 spot. But, on the other, you can never have enough pitching as we have found out in recent years. And I think most experts would be astounded if all 5 of their top starters made the requisite 30-35 starts next season. Thus, Hughes/Kennedy/Aceves/Coke/other young guy fight to be the permanent floating replacements if/when one of the stars go down or hits an innings limit (Joba). If the #5 spot had remained open for youth, then the substitute starter is that much less likely to be of replacement level forcing Cashman to find this year’s reclamation project/Aaron Small/Sidney Ponson lightning in a bottle.

I like the Pettitte is back. Other than Sheets, he was the best pitcher left on the market, and he’s one of ours. He also has less questions than Sheets does, even though I love the guy’s stuff. This is a great move, and at even better price.

The thing I disagree with though is that now there isn’t a spot for the young guys. This isn’t true, since Joba is that young guy in the rotation. You’re not the only one who’s said that either, Steve, and I keep scratching my head about it. Last year, we started with two spots for young guys and the experiment epically failed. This year, caution is the way to go. Joba is in the young guy spot, and lets see how it goes. The rest of the boys will back everyone up, and next year Pettitte’s spot will most likely be available for another one of the boys. It’s all about trickling these guys in slowly.

-Sal Cipriano

I think you raise a very valid point about bringing up young talent. The Red Sox have really fostered this in the last few season and have had much success with it. And in the long run it is cheaper, I think, to train talent in-house instead of always having to trade for it.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Sabathia, Pettitte, Wang, Hughes, Burnett,( not necessarily in that order) and Joba in the pen where he belongs, holding the lead for Moe. I’ll take it. As far as the youth movement, Wang, Hughes, and Sabathia are under 30. I feel good about our chances.

By the way, it wouldn’t hurt to bring Abreu back for another year. Give him an incentive laden contract. With a chance for a ring, I think he would take it. Joba belongs in the bullpen because Moe isn’t going to last forever, and I think Joba would be a good candidiate.

Hey Steven,

Just to drive home your point a bit further… given that his .92 steal attempts per nine innings was above average, yet his caught stealing rate was also higher than average at 44%, it is more likely that over the course of a full season, the steal attempts against Molina would return to the mean, especially given his caught stealing rate. With less attempts, he’d have less caught stealing, which would actually drop the number of runs he could save with his arm. Maybe it would only change the net effect my a run or two, but it certainly wouldn’t help. And don’t forget to point out to “am” that the base runner on first has a better chance of scoring if they don’t try to steal. Thus, deterrent arms don’t necessarily help the defense.

Best Wishes,

Rich

There is no way Molina can be a starting catcher. I don’t know his exact numbers but it wasn’t good. Throwing guys out is a plus in my opinion. Yes, it’s important but at the same time, I rather have a guy like Posada who will give you some offense and be fine behind the plate. I really don’t know why all the Yankee fans are having a tough time thinking Posada won’t be back to 100%. There is no reason he shouldn’t be. I’d be suprised if he wasn’t. On another note, I like the Pettite signing. That was big for us. It solidified the bottom of the rotation with experience. It was a big sign in my opinion. I wouldn’t be so against moving Joba to the pen now. I’d go with Hughes as my 5th starter. No questions asked. With Joba in the pen to throw the 7th and 8th innings, it makes your starters that much better and obviously your bullpen that much better. But either way Yankee fans, we have Joba Chamberlain to start or to relieve.

Steve,

I think your point about the catching situation is valid. Unfortunately, Yankees management does not seem to see this as an issue. If Matsui and/or Nady together with Molina could be exchanged for a quality younger catcher, Posada could become the team’s regular DH and backup catcher. This would likely prolong his career and avoid late season fatigue.

Roger

While I think it’s great to keep Pettitte in pinstripes, I do agree with you on the youth movement. With that being said, though, Im sure one of our starters will go down at some point this season, and it will give us a chance to see what Aceves or Hughes or Brackman or some other young pitcher is made of. Then, if Andy retires after this year, we can have a sport in the roation for youth next year. Also, here are some questions I’d like to know your opinion on:

1. If either Hughes/Aceves/etc. if looking great in spring training, wouldn’t it be better to move Joba into the bullpen and give them one of the starting spots. I know Joba wants to start, but we’ve seen what he can do as a relief pitcher. And we can’t lose faith in Hughes, who was once regarded higher than Joba and is still very very young.

2. I know you are highly in favor of the Yankees signing another catcher. What about Jason Varitek? He won’t cost as much as let’s say, Pudge, that way if Posada is in full form it won’t be a big deal if we use him as a back-up catcher. And to steal him away from the Sox would be all to sweet.

A couple of notes: With the #5 spot going to Chamberlain, it is still a slot devoted to youth, as Chamberlain is young as well… Unfortunately, Hughes and Kennedy got hurt last year (and failed to win a game), and Chamberlain made the transition to a starter and had some success in the spot. Now, why would you deny Joba a chance to start when he had the most success of the bunch last year (and potentially develop into an ace)? Now, I am all for Hughes and Kennedy, but to deny Joba at least the opportunity to start is the wrong course of action IMHO. Now, if you want that #5 slot to go to whoever wins ST between Joba, Hughes, Kennedy, Coke, Aceves, Johnson, Brackman, etc, that’s a good situation to be in, as if Joba loses the starting slot, THEN you can move him to the setup role as you now have a better option in #5 and you can now groom Joba for Moe’s job…
On to Molina – His offense was just terrible, even for the #8-9 hole… I remember at LEAST 25 games when we had 7-8-9 coming up in the 6th-8th inning, and they always seemed to go down 1-2-3 when we needed AT LEAST 1 of them to get on base and extend the inning enough to get to the top of the order and possibly get into the bullpen an inning earlier… I think you said it right – Molina’s downside as a starter is much worse than his upside as a backup. We could possibly get a second #1 catcher to replace Posada as a backup plan, but now you have a #1 catcher sitting on the bench rather than being on the field, which is where a #1 catcher should be earning his contract. The alternative is getting a backup catcher who can hit, but I don’t think there is a backup catcher in the league that can hit at a #1’s level, with very few that hit at HALF a #1’s level (I consider Molina at 1/4 of a #1’s level)…
-Big Jay
http://jerseybombers.mlblogs.com/

I really wonder why the Yankees are having Phil Coke come to spring traing prepared to pitch as a starter. I personally would rather have Coke in the bullpen so we can have two lefties for late inning situations. Plus, as a starter in the minors he was barely hitting 90 mph, as a reliever in the majors Coke’s fastball was averaging 94 mph. It just doesn’t make sence to me keep him as a starter when he doesn’t throw that hard and when he only has two real good pitches.

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