Pettitte is getting batters to chase pitches out of the strike zone at a much higher rate this season than in 2010. Opposing batters have swung at 37.1 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone. That compares favorably to his 29.7 percent rate of 2010. That might be the biggest factor in his swing and miss rate, which is also much higher. Batters are swinging and missing on 11.2 percent of his offerings. This is easily his highest rate since this kind of data began recording in 2002 and it blows away the 7.6 percent swing and miss rate of 2010.
And for an old guy who got a lot older in the past two seasons, he is going deeper into games. He averaged 6.15 innings per start in 2010 and is averaging 6.88 innings per start in 2012. He is also throwing more first pitch strikes than at any point in his career. 67 percent of his first pitches are strikes. Compare that to 63.3 percent in 2010 and his career average of 61.2 percent. Getting ahead in the count allows him to make his pitches and also aids him in getting batters to chase pitches out of the zone.
The big fear when Pettitte returned is that he would have much diminished “stuff.” But that really hasn’t been the case. While his four-seam and two-seam fastballs are down only a mile an hour or a little more, his cutter is actually zipping in there faster than in 2010. And talk about “stuff,” In 2010, Fangraphs gave his fastball and change-ups negative values. All of his pitches are scoring in positive values. And yet there is still more.
His current ground ball rate is the highest it has been in years. 57.4 percent of his batted balls are ground balls giving him a ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.95. He hasn’t seen that kind of rate since his first two years with the Astros. And while he is creating ground balls, he is greatly limiting line drives. His line drive percent is only 13.2 percent. That is greatly reduced from 2010 and his career numbers.
Are there concerns about these numbers not holding up? Sure. He is 40 years old. Every time he pitches, you have to hold your breath. The line drive rate could normalize and thus increase his BABIP (currently only .290) and create problems for him. Batters could get the word to become more patient at the plate and make him throw strikes. It seems beyond the level of comprehension that Andy Pettitte could continue to pitch this well. But then again, it is already beyond comprehension that he has done what he has already done in his seven outings to date. Great stories do not always have happy endings. But this one sure has had a happy start.