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March 27, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Andy Pettitte & Kei Igawa
by SG

With the regular season approaching faster than I realized, it's time to start doubling up my preview posts. So I'll take a look at Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa together.

Yankee fans already know a lot about Pettitte, as one of the faces of the Yankee run from 1996-2001. I always considered Pettitte to be a little overrated, but he's a good pitcher, whose peripherals improved after 2000.

In the chart above, HR+ is league HR / league batters faced divided by HR/Batters Faced. It's a way to compare a pitcher's HR rate to the league, where a number higher than 100 is better than average, less than 100 is worse than average. BB+ is calculated the same way for BB, and K+ is calculated by dividing the pitcher's K rate by the league K rate, so it scales the same way. Pettitte's K+ spiked after 2000, and has remained above league average since. He's always been fairly good at controlling HRs until 2006, and his control has been pretty good for most of his career.

Pettitte picked up some velocity when the Yankees got Roger Clemens, which was credited to him working out with his idol. That led to improvement across the board. I actually felt Pettitte went from being overrated to underrated from 2001-2003. However, when his contract was up at the end of 2003, Pettitte left as a free agent. Whether it was the Yankees not giving him the 'respect' he felt he deserved or the rumors of family-related reasons, the Yankees watched Pettitte go to Houston, where he pitched pretty well for the most part, with an injury-shortened first season and a lousy first half in 2006 marring his record.

04/04/2006 - 6/28/2006
IP: 108
H: 136
R: 74
ER: 67
HR: 18
BB: 38
K: 81
ERA: 5.58

07/04/2006 - 9/30/2006
IP: 106.3
H: 102
R: 40
ER: 33
HR: 9
BB: 32
K: 97
ERA: 2.79

I have no idea why Pettitte was so bad in the first half, but the second half numbers are a good sign that he's got something left in the tank.

When Pettitte left, the Yankees got a compensation first round draft pick from the Astros. They used that pick to take Phil Hughes.

I've seen a little of Pettitte in spring training, and he's looked pretty good. He's not throwing as hard as he did during his peak, but he's a different pitcher now, using a curve and changeup more frequently.

Pettitte won't be asked to repeat his 1997 greatness, but he should be above average this year.

The other lefty in the Yankee rotation is Kei Igawa, the consolation prize when the Yankees failed to land the more coveted Daisuke Matsuzaka. Fairly or not, he'll be compared to Matsuzaka all year, but let's ignore that and just look at what he brings to the table on his own merits.

I took a look at Igawa a few months ago, so I won't rehash the scouting report stuff here. Now that I've seen Igawa pitch a couple of times, I'm more comfortable with his signing than I was at the time. He has good stuff for a lefty. His fastball sits at 89-90, and I've seen him hit 92 once in a while. His breaking ball isn't as sharp as I'd like to see, but it's passable. His changeup is pretty good, probably his best pitch. He has struck out 19 in 17 spring innings. He's also kept the ball in the park, allowing just one HR. Unfortunately, he's also walked 12 in those 17 innings. Even ignoring the walk total, his command has been pretty shaky, as he seems to miss the catcher's target a lot. If that's just nerves or getting used to the difference between the MLB ball and the Japanese League ball, it will hopefully get worked out.

The HR has been the biggest issue with Japanese League pitchers coming over to the majors. Here are my latest Japanese League to MLB translations. I refined these from the previous Igawa post by matching the innings totals for both samples so that the numbers wouldn't be skewed.

H: 1.10
R: 1.14
ER: 1.16
HR: 1.84
BB: 0.78
SO: 0.87

What these numbers mean is that a pitcher from the Japanese leagues coming over to the majors will give up hits at a 10% higher rate, runs at a 14% higher rate, etc. Their walk rate actually decreases in the majors, as does their strikeout rate. The number that really stands out is the spike in HR rate.

In 2004, Igawa gave up 29 HRs in 200 IP. In 2005, he gave up 23 in 172 IP. In 2006 he gave up 17 HRs in 209 IP. Controlling the HR will be the key in Igawa being successful. He supposedly changed his approach last year, knowing that his old style wouldn't work in MLB. If you translate just his 2006 using the numbers above, you get an ERA in the mid 3s, which would be great. However, we can't ignore 2004 and 2005 when projecting him.

So, speaking of projecting Igawa (and Pettitte), here you go...

Full spreadsheets available at this link

I'd take a combined 380 innings of above average pitching. If you slot Pettitte and Igawa to replace Randy Johnson and Jaret Wright, you go from 340 innings of -10 RSAA(runs saved above average) to 380 innings with an RSAA of 8. So an 18 run or so upgrade, roughly two wins.