Turns out, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter won't be the only active members of the Yankees' vaunted "Core Four" in 2012. No, Jorge Posada isn't coming back. Rather, we haven't seen the last of Andy Pettitte giving hitters a piercing stare over his glove as he gets the sign. After sitting out 2011, Number 46 has returned to the Bronx on a minor league deal reportedly worth $2.5 million.
Last we saw him in 2010, the lefty was limited to 129 innings due to a groin strain but was still highly effective when on the bump. He struck out seven hitters per nine, walked 2.9 and boasted a 46% ground ball rate, good for a 132 ERA+ that trailed only CC Sabathia among Yankees starters.
The key for Pettitte was the cutter. That darting low-80s offering, thrown about one-fifth of the time, limited hitters to a .132 average, a .187 on-base percentage and a .271 slugging percentage. By contrast, batters hit .263/.322/.410 overall against cutters in 2010.
Pettitte uses his cutter as a chase pitch, going to it 44% of the time in two-strike counts. He gets ridiculous chase and whiff rates with the cutter. Check out hitters' swing rate by pitch location versus Pettitte's cutter in 2010, and then the league average:
Opponents chased 47% of Pettitte's cutters off the plate in 2010, tied with Cleveland's Josh Tomlin for the highest rate among starting pitches. And those chases led to lots of empty swings. Look at batters' contact rate by pitch location against Pettitte's cutter, and then the league average:
Hitters missed 40% of the time they swung at a Pettitte cutter, the second-highest clip among starters (Washington's Craig Stammen was first).
If the now 39-year-old Pettitte still has his cutter, he'll eventually join an already-deep starting mix including Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and prospects like Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Brett Marshall, D.J. Mitchell and Adam Warren. So much for that whole, "the Yankees don't have enough pitching" meme.