by Allan Doherty

A MLB team should secure one of the biggest names and best performing pitchers in the game with $16M. On the surface, that was achieved with the weekend agreement between former Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees. But, did the Yankees once again pay too much for a pitcher on the back end of his career?

The name Andy Pettitte brings an immediate sense of excellence and intimidation to mind. Excellence brought about by his World Series winning years with the Yankees in the late 90s; Intimidation by the televised images of his determined stare prior to his wind-up and pitch. Those two impressions are great for public consumption, but what will American League batters be chewing on when Andy Pettitte takes the mound in April 2007.

Physically, Pettitte is in great shape. He has an excellent regimen that keeps him at the top of his fitness game. But his pitching elbow has given him some trouble. In 2004, he only had 15 game starts due to an elbow injury that finally required surgery. Just last season, he experienced an elbow strain that forced him to leave a game prematurely, miss a start and receive a cortisone shot to carry him through the remainder of the season. Is that elbow worth $16M? But let’s go beyond that and take a look at some simple stats and an unscientific fair market comparison.

Last season, Pettitte was a .518 pitcher finishing with 14 wins and 13 losses. In the weaker hitting National League, he posted a 4.20 ERA. Ted Lilly (AL, 15-13, 4.31 ERA), Greg Maddux (NL, 15-14, 4.20 ERA) and Tom Glavine (NL, 15-7, 3.82 ERA) posted similar numbers. Further examination will find that Pettitte allowed more runners to reach base per inning than each of these other starters, with Maddux having the lowest total. The only pitcher allowing more walks per 9 innings than Andy was Lilly. Pettitte allowed the most hits per 9 innings. From an individual standpoint, Andy allowed career highs in hits (238) and home runs (27). Clearly, the former Houston ace didn’t have a standout performance in 2006.

The comparison could continue. For example, Lilly’s numbers were posted in the better hitting American League; Glavine and Maddux are 41 years old, six years Pettitte’s senior. They are in the final years of their careers and are posting numbers similar to, if not better than Andy’s. You get the idea. No matter how far you go, you will come to the same conclusion, Pettitte is not a ‘great’ pitcher. He is not a Red Sox version of Pedro Martinez. Andy is a ‘very good’, maybe an ‘excellent’ pitcher, with similar stats to Lilly, Maddux and Glavine. At 35 years old, the newly signed Yankee doesn’t have an upside. His performance overall will not improve; the quality of his starts will deteriorate.

The three comparison pitchers were mentioned because all of them signed one to four year contracts during the Winter Meetings. Maddux signed a two-year pact providing him with $10M the first year and $6.5M with incentives to reach the $10M plateau during the second year. Lilly signed a four-year, $40M deal, averaging $10M per year. Glavine signed a one-year agreement worth $10.5M. These pitchers will remain in their respective divisions in 2007. Only Pettitte is moving from the weaker hitting National League to the DH stocked American League. Chances are very good that transition will work toward diminishing his overall performance. His 2007 ERA could be pushed over 5.0 for the first time in his career, exceeding the 4.24, 4.70 and 4.35 marks he posted during the ’98, ’99 and 2000 Yankee seasons.

When everything is said and done, it appears that the Houston Astros made an excellent offer to Pettitte with a $12M contract. They also made a wise choice by not budging from their initial offer. When the Yankees offered Pettitte $16M, Astros GM Tim Purpura was quoted as saying that they did not want to get into a bidding war with the Yankees. More correctly, he should have said that he wasn’t going to get trapped into over-paying Pettitte for his performances. He was rational enough to allow the Yankees to continue their foolish spending ways.

I believe, the Yankees paid Pettitte about $3-4M or 25%-33% more than he is worth. But, that assessment could be incorrect. After all, I thought Carl Pavano and Kevin Brown were ‘slightly’ over-paid as well.

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