NEW YORK, NY: Former New York Yankee Andy Pettitte receives the ball from Jorge Posada #20 after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game Two of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Does history tell us anything about Andy Pettitte's attempted comeback after a one-season break?
As you've probably heard, Andy Pettitte -- 39 years old (40 in June) and winner of 259 games in the major leagues, including championship tournament play -- is bidding for a return to the majors after taking a whole season off. This is sort of a big story, considering that a) Pettitte's trying to do something that is rarely done, and 2) he's doing it with the New York Yankees, about whom much is written, said, and yelled.
The Obvious Question: Does Andy Pettitte have anything left? Or rather, does he have enough left to help a team that's gunning for a 193rd World's Championship?
According to Chad Jennings, Pettitte looks like he's in great shape. Does that mean he can still pitch great? From Jennings (via LoHud Yankees Blog):
"Our expectation is that he’s going to be who he was when he left," manager Joe Girardi said. "I don’t think we would have signed him if we didn’t expect him to be who he was when he left."
That’s an awfully high standard for a 39-year-old who last pitched in a game 17 months ago, but the Yankees seem to believe it. General manager Brian Cashman believes it so much, he was ready to offer Pettitte $10 million to 12 million in December.
Because he’s been throwing batting practice to his sons, the Yankees believe Pettitte’s arm is in pretty good shape. They say it’s his lower half — his ability to drive with his legs — that’s a higher priority at the moment.
Pettitte will be given a full six-to-seven-week spring training to get ready and likely won’t be ready to pitch in the big leagues until early May at the earliest.
Ten million dollars seems like a lot to me, but maybe Cashman was given the go-head from ownership to included a (sort of) hometown bonus, just because.
I do think a bit much has been made of Pettitte's long vacation. It's not like we've never seen a pitcher miss a season and come back strong. For one thing, we've got many examples of pitchers missing a season because of injuries and coming back strong. You know about all the Tommy John surgeries, of course; if not usually done on pitchers of Andy Pettitte's, um, particular vintage.
But we have more than injuries. We also have wars.
Spud Chandler missed nearly all of the 1944 and '45 seasons because of World War II, but returned to the Yankees in 1946 and went 20-8 with a 2.10 ERA. He was 38 that season, and it was the best season of his career.
Hall of Famer Pete Alexander missed nearly all of the 1918 season because of World War I; unlike most major leaguers, Alexander actually served in combat, with an artillery unit. After pitching in only three games in '18, Alexander returned to the Phillies in 1919 and posted a 1.72 ERA, the best in the National League.
Granted, Ol' Pete was only 32. But players typically aged faster in Alexander's era than in Pettitte's. Here's a list of starting pitchers who have turned in good (or great) seasons in their 40s, in recent years: Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, David Wells, Kenny Rogers, Jamie Moyer, Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez.
When it comes to pitchers, 40 probably isn't the new 30 ... but it might be the new 35. Before taking last season off, Andy Pettitte had probably pitched for more than 30 years. Did his mind and body forget how to pitch last year? I really doubt it. Most pitchers stop pitching because they're not good enough to pitch any more. That obviously wasn't the case with Pettitte. In his last season, he basically pegged his career numbers before capping things with two fine postseason outings. Despite missing most of the second half of that season with a groin injury, Pettitte was worth upwards of $10 million in 2010.
In 2012, the Yankees signed Pettitte to a minor-league contract that will reportedly pay him $2.5 million (pro-rated, presumably) if he's added to the major-league roster. Maybe there will be some incentives atop that $2.5 million. Either way, though, here's a prediction for you, though: If Andy Pettitte's healthy enough to make that major-league roster, he'll rank among the major leagues' biggest bargains.