by Allan Doherty

Losing Andy Pettitte to the NY Yankees was a blessing in disguise for the Astros.

Last week Pettitte walked away from a $12M offer from his hometown Houston team in favor of a $16M contract with the Bronx Bombers. The 35 year-old lefthander posted a record of 14-13 with a 4.20 ERA in 2006. Similar 2006 performances were rewarded with contracts ranging from $10M-$12.5M per year. Like Pettitte, a couple of those pitchers were on the back end of their careers. One of them, Glavine, will pitch in the Big Apple (Mets) for $12.5M. Pettitte’s ability to perform in a Yankees’ uniform was presented as justification for his higher-than-market paycheck. Others, outside the NY organization, say it was a desperate act and pointed to the Yanks aging, injury plagued pitching staff.

Whatever the reasons, Andy Pettitte left a gap in the Astros rotation that many thought could not be filled; the number 2 starter behind Roy Oswalt. Enter Astros GM Tim Purpura. Purpura just closed a deal that will send 3 players to the Colorado Rockies for 28 year-old starting pitcher Jason Jennings and 26 year-old Miguel Ascencio. Ascencio, hopefully, will develop into a reliable member of the bullpen. It’s Jennings that the Astros are justifiably thrilled to welcome.

Texas born Jason Jennings was the NL Rookie of the year in 2002 and has spent his entire career, 5 years, with the Colorado Rockies. He is the currently Colorado’s career leader in games won (58). He also leads all Rockies with three shutouts; two were posted in 2006.

Jennings’ record last season was 9-13, which seems disappointing. So, why would Astros GM Purpura state that his organization was impressed by Jennings’ 2006 performance? Don’t forget Jennings pitched for the frequently less-than-MLB quality Rockies and that Coors Field is a batter’s dream park. Posting a 3.78 ERA with Coors Field as your home park is an accomplishment in itself. Pettitte posted a 4.20 ERA with the Astros in 2006.

But beyond that, there were eight games during 2006, where Jennings pitched fantastically and didn’t come away with a victory. In those 8 games, Jason pitched 56 innings, gave up 11 earned runs, posted a 1.77 ERA and was credited for 8 loses. One game, in July, was a complete game performance against the World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals. Jennings allow 1 (one) earned run and took a 1-0 lose. In August, he pitched 7 shutout innings against the San Diego Padres and took a 2-0 lose. There were 2 other loses during those 8 games where the Colorado Rockies were shutout. In those 8 games, the Rockies scored 7 runs, which worked out to 0.875 runs per game. Only Bob Gibson could consistently come close to posting wins with that kind of run support.

If you turn a few of those games around, by putting a MLB team behind Jennings, he could easily have posted a 15-7 record in 2006. That is the potential the Astros see in Jason Jennings.

When Jennings’ other 2006 stats are compared to Pettitte’s, Jennings’ prove slightly better without the use of any ballpark-equalizing formulae. At 28 years-old, 7 years Pettitte’s junior, Jennings is a starting pitcher with ‘great’ potential provided he remains with a team that can play defense and score a few runs.

The Astros have clearly benefited from Pettitte’s greedy move to the Yankees. Pettitte walked away from a $12M Astros offer; Jennings is signed for $5.5M in 2007 and will become a free agent at the end of the season. The Astros will probably attempt to sign Jason to a contract extension prior to the end of the season, thereby securing his pitching services through the prime of his career.

Astros GM Tim Purpura should be recognized for not adding to the escalating cost of average pitching services. He avoided a bidding war with the Yankees over Pettitte. He should then be congratulated for capitalizing on excellent scouting reports by bringing a young pitcher with significant potential into the Astros fold, at one-third the price of Pettitte.
Allan Doherty maintains

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