Commentary

Don't rush to pick up Pettitte

Return of veteran lefty causes more confusion among Yankees starters

Updated: March 16, 2012, 3:38 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Well, at least when Andy Pettitte decides to announce he's un-retiring and returning to the New York Yankees, he doesn't do it in May from the owner's box.

Instead, he does it on a relatively quiet mid-March afternoon, a day after another diminished-velocity Michael Pineda outing, which was previously the "buzzworthy" fantasy-related story coming out of Yankees camp.

Pettitte's return, on a minor-league deal with a potential $2.5 million salary for 2012, gives the Yankees one more viable rotation candidate, entering a race in which they previously had seven men vying for one spot.

Andy Pettitte
AP Photo/Charles KrupaAndy Pettitte had a 3.28 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 21 starts in his last season in 2010.

This puts three of the (now) seven under the microscope: Pineda and Phil Hughes, each of whom has a minor league option remaining, and Freddy Garcia, the originally projected No. 6 starter who is now nursing an injured hand. One of those three will lose his bid for a rotation spot by Opening Day, barring an injury to a higher-ranked starter. And a second will be bumped once Pettitte is ready to return, perhaps only days into the regular season.

Pineda might seem an obvious choice to go considering his spring reports; he's also the pitcher who stands the most to lose in terms of fantasy value. He has been clocked consistently in the 90-91 mph range with his fastball -- that was his range during his Thursday start -- after averaging 94.5 mph during the 2011 season. There are already whispers that the Yankees might consider using his minor league option; general manager Brian Cashman, however, disputed that Pettitte's signing was a direct result of Pineda's velocity questions. Still, Pineda continues to plummet in our fantasy rankings. He's now outside our top 30, and has slipped to No. 31 in my personal starting pitching rankings. That's not a "panic button" move, but it acknowledges that these concerns are now very real.

Hughes, due to his bullpen experience, also stands to lose some value, as another candidate to miss out on a job in the starting five. He'd be a mere setup man and maybe fourth in line to Mariano Rivera in that role, and that's the kind of role with minimal value outside of deep AL-only leagues.

As for Pettitte, he's now 40 years old, and is beginning his spring preparations a month behind his competition for a starting role. He's not going to begin the regular season with the Yankees; he'll stick behind in camp to keep working on building up his stamina. At his age, it might be mid-April, or it could be as late as May.

When last we saw Pettitte, however, he was coming off one of the better seasons of his career, a 2010 season during which he registered a 3.28 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 21 starts, pitching well enough in the first half to earn an All-Star berth. He might yet have something left in the tank; his 3.88 ERA and 1.36 WHIP during his career, as well as his age, do make the prospects of anything more than matchups consideration in mixed, or a low-level AL-only target, significant.

ESPN's Stats & Information team took a closer look at what made Pettitte successful in 2010, and David Schoenfield examined pitchers of similar age to Pettitte and their successes and failures here. Both are relevant reads; any fantasy owner now targeting Pettitte is taking a leap of faith.

We've added Pettitte to the ranks only as a late-round AL-only target, meaning he doesn't even warrant mixed-league consideration. If anything, for our purposes his return does little more than create further confusion evaluating Yankees starters.