Thursday, May 24, 2007

Yankee Breakdown: Find the Big Game Pitcher

The Yankees have two veteran starting pitchers in their rotation with many similarities. Here they are with their career ERA, career ERA+ and number of top-five Cy Young Award finishes:

Pitcher A: 3.66, 124, 6
Pitcher B: 3.79, 120, 4

I’m not interested in breaking down their careers, but rather the perception that surrounds them in New York. The media, and many Yankee fans by extension, consider one of these pitchers a “Big Game Pitcher” and the other “soft.” Generally, such labels are based on the small sample sizes of postseason play and then attached to regular season games as writers see fit.

So, let’s throw sample size to the wind and see if we can at least spot where one of these guys might be considered “Big Game” and the other “soft.” In deference to the New York media’s conjured image, we will only look at the postseason numbers these two pitchers have put up with the Yankees (I’m sure by now, most of you have figured out which two pitchers these are, so you know they’ve both been to the postseason with two teams).

Career postseason with the Yankees:

ERA, BB/9, K/9

Pitcher A: 3.80, 1.75, 8.68
Pitcher B: 4.05, 2.51, 5.69

Pitcher A has an edge in all metrics, but both have acquitted themselves just fine.

We can’t stop there. If I show this to my Yankee fan friends, they’ll tell me that the “Big Game Pitcher” has a knack for always stepping up after a loss. Here are their numbers in starts following a Yankees postseason loss:

ERA, BB/9, K/9

Pitcher A: 3.18 , 1.59 , 6.88
Pitcher B: 3.42, 2.73, 6.72

Pitcher B closes the gap in strikeouts while both shave their ERAs by nearly two thirds of a run. Even though this is intentionally disregarding sample size, I should mention that Pitcher A only has three starts after a Yankees postseason loss. This is due, in part, to the fact that he has started the first game of so many series. Pitcher B has been inconsistent in these starts. He’s put up seven quality starts out of 12—including four starts of at least seven innings and allowing one earned run or less, and two starts where he’s failed to get out of the fifth inning. Upon inspection, neither of these guys has a demonstrated knack for always stepping up or any apparent softness.

Many Yankee fans might still say that with the season on the line, they prefer “Big Game Pitcher.” Let’s check the numbers in starts where the Yankees faced elimination—and make the mockery of sample sizes complete—in pursuit of the origin of these images.

ERA, BB/9, K/9

Pitcher A: 4.66, 1.86, 6.52
Pitcher B: 5.19, 2.60, 6.75

Those numbers represent two starts for Pitcher A and three starts for pitcher B, one quality start each. As a team the Yankees went 1-1 in Pitcher A’s two starts in this group and 1-2 in Pitcher B’s three. Pitcher A also added three scoreless relief innings in a game seven (not included in the numbers above).

I’m sure you know where this is going, so here it is:

Won -Lost

Pitcher A: 5 -7
Pitcher B: 13-8

For those of you who still can’t figure it out (how did you find this blog?), Pitcher A is Mike Mussina and Pitcher B is Andy Pettitte. These two have both pitched similarly for the Yankees in the postseason, but Pettitte has a huge edge in Win-Loss record. One last stat:

Yankees Runs Scored/Game

When Mussina starts: 3.27
When Pettitte starts: 4.37

As another Yankees-Red Sox series goes in the books, keep this in mind when you read about Mussina coming up small again and hear the pundits add another feather in the cap of “Big Game Andy.”