What Andy Pettitte’s comeback means for the New York Yankees

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Still reeling from the news that Andy Pettitte is coming back.  He sat in that press conference a little over a year ago and made a pretty convincing case that he was done.  I suppose they all do. And so many of them come back.

Which is fine. Because if you had the talent to do something that so many have described as the most magical wonderful experience in their lives — playing major league baseball — you’d hold on to it with all of your might.  So, no, there will not be any criticism of Andy Pettitte’s reversal from this quarter.  Good for him and God bless him.

So, with that out of the way, what does this all mean for the New York Yankees, who now have seven starting pitchers?

At first, probably nothing.  Pettitte is reported to have thrown some bullpens over the winter and he’s generally in shape, but it will take him a little time to get up to baseball speed.  He’ll likely take the rest of spring training to get back to major league shape and it would not be at all surprising to see him begin the year in extended spring training down in Tampa.

Oh, and after he gets in shape, one wonders if they’ll hold him beyond mid-to-late April. That’s when the Roger Clemens trial starts, and Pettitte is expected to be a witness.  Maybe no one with the Yankees cares about this, but I would think that it might be easier for all involved if he makes his big league return after that than before.

But when he does come back, who is the odd man out in New York?  My guess: Freddy Garcia.

At the moment, the fifth starter’s job is down to Garcia and Phil Hughes.  Hughes has worked from the pen before, however, and Garcia is just not suited for it according to most folks.  So the Yankees break camp with Garcia in the five slot and Hughes in relief.

But once Pettitte is ready, Garcia has no place. They could attempt to keep him around as a long man.  Or they could try to trade him. And assuming he gets one or two halfway decent starts under his belt before then, there may very well be a market for him.  But they could also simply DFA him and see if he’ll accept a trip to Scranton.  Doubtful he would, but worth a shot.

The upshot is that, assuming Pettitte is good to go, the rotation for most of the season should look like this:  Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pineda and Pettitte, with Garcia finding new employment.

Oh, one final question: how will Andy Pettitte actually, you know, do?

I think he’ll do pretty well.  His last year, 2010, was his best since 2005.  His strikeout rate (7.0 per 9 IP) was higher than his career average. His hits per nine innings (8.6) was lower than his career norms too.  His walk rate was right where it always is at 2.9 BB per 9 IP.

Yes, he’s two years older and yes he’s coming off a layoff, but even if you adjust down for that, Pettitte figures to be no worse than an average starter, and likely somewhat above average.  Which is not a bad pickup for $2.5 million.

Battle of the Aces: Max Scherzer takes on Clayton Kershaw tonight

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I hope you don’t have any plans tonight at around 10PM Eastern time, because that’s when we get a pitching matchup for the ages as Max Scherzer will take on Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium. When they meet tonight it will be the first time two pitchers with three or more Cy Young Awards have matched up since 2006. That year, and in 2005 and 2000, Roger Clemens faced Greg Maddux. In 2001 Clemens faced Pedro Martinez.

Kershaw won his hardware in 2011, 2013 and 2014, with an MVP award in 2014 to boot. Scherzer collected trophies in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Each has started the 2018 season in Cy Young form. Kershaw is 1-2, but that record is due to poor run support. He has a 1.73 ERA and has struck out 31 batters and has walked only three in 26 innings. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and a whopping 38 strikeouts to only 4 walks in 27 innings.

This will be the third time that Kershaw and Scherzer faced each other if you include the playoffs. The first meeting was a decade ago when both were rookies. They most recently faced off in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS, way back when Scherzer only had one Cy Young Award to his credit. Kershaw beat Scherzer in that playoff game and the Dodgers beat Scherzer’s teams in the two regular season matchups, with neither guy setting the world on fire. As so often happens in baseball, the hype hasn’t been matched by reality.

Still, there’s always a chance it will. And even if, in the end, this turns into a slugfest, the first couple of innings should at least give us some hope of something good. I’ll be watching.