On a staff loaded with young, elite, marquee names signed through free agency, veteran home-grown talent Andy Pettitte continues to lead the way for the first place New York Yankees.
Taking the ball on Saturday, Pettitte once again victimized his opponent, toying with the Angels for eight innings, baffling the lineup into a comatose-like state.
While Los Angeles was able to scrape out six hits against Pettitte, they amounted to only one run (on a sacrifice fly). And while Andy may not possess the "Louisiana lighting" that once ripped forth when he took the mound, his eight strikeouts and no walks show that Pettitte has evolved into a complete and cerebral pitcher that has quite a few wins left in his 37-year-old arm.
Pettitte's numbers are the best amongst the Yankees starters. While he hasn't flirted with no-hitters recently like his counterparts Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia, his 3-0 record and 1.29 ERA lead the team and his 22 strikeout total is one less than CC's 23 in only one more inning pitched. Tellingly, he has allowed only four runs on 22 hits in 28 innings pitched this season and most importantly walked a miniscule nine men.
In typical cases, pitchers flare brightly when they are young and eventually hit a transition point. Some accept the fact that many of their natural physical gifts are gone and instead focus on becoming more "resourceful" in their pitching approach (think David Cone). Others refuse to adapt and pay the price for their diminished variables (think Kevin Brown). Mike Mussina is a vivid example of the look and production of both — first a pitcher who failed badly hanging on to his old ways, and then a 20-game winner who used his Stanford pedigree and years of pitching experience to make his final season arguably his best.
Many have raved about how Pettitte is "turning back the clock" to his youthful tenure with the Yankees, but this isn't entirely accurate. At his best, Pettitte was dominant. But he was only at his best about four or five seasons out of a 16-year career in the majors. Elbow troubles — likely from overuse as a young pitcher — resulted in high ERA, WHIP, and hit totals, even in seasons when he racked up high win totals.
But this season Pettitte has given up very few hits, even fewer runs, and has maintained low walks totals while still striking batters out. He currently shares the AL lead in ERA with John Danks and Francisco Liriano.
One could easily make the case that Pettitte has been the AL's best pitcher on the AL's best team thus far. And the Yankees' 7-1 offensive stomping of the Angels on Saturday, combined with Pettitte's absolute mastery of Mike Scioscia's lineup, further supports this evidence.