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December 9, 2006

Richard Justice, Andy Pettitte's press agent

justice120906.gifIt's hard to keep up with the sloppy and illogical analysis of Chronicle sportswriter Richard Justice, so usually I don't even try to do so. However, sometimes it spills over to such an extent that it simply can't be ignored.

In this column, Justice criticizes Stros owner Drayton McLane for not matching the New York Yankees' absurdly rich $32 million, two-year contract offer for former Stros pitcher Andy Pettitte. In gushing over Pettitte, Justice really lets loose with a doozy:

[Pettitte] was one of the National League's best pitchers last season. He was 10th in quality starts and 13th in innings while going 14-13. His won-loss record was unimpressive because the Astros had one of baseball's worst offenses.

Say what? One of the best pitchers in the National League last season? Pettitte was barely the fourth best pitcher on the Stros last season (behind Oswalt, Clemens, and Wheeler). As of August 1st, before pitching well down the home stretch, Pettitte was one of the worst starters in the National League. Based on the key statistic of runs saved against average, Pettitte finished tied for 46th among National League pitchers who pitched more than 100 innings last season, resulting in a C grade in my post-season evaluation of Stros players. Regardless of what you think about Pettitte generally, he clearly was not one of the best pitchers in the National League last season.

So, let's see here. The Stros agreed to pay Pettitte a then high-market contract price of $31.5 million in 2004 for three seasons of his considerable pitching talent. In return, the Stros received one season (2004) that was a complete bust when Pettitte was injured and underwent elbow surgery, one season (2005) that was one of the best of Pettitte's career (2005) and one season (2006) in which Pettitte was pedestrian.

Now, given that the Stros went to the World Series in 2005 and Pettitte contributed greatly to that, I am not going to say that the Stros ended up on the short end of the stick in their deal with Pettitte. However, it's far from clear that the Stros wouldn't have done even better over the past three seasons by allocating the money that they paid Pettitte elsewhere. Moreover, it's even less clear that it makes sense to take the Yankees' risk of allocating $32 million over the next two seasons to a pitcher who is 34 years old and is a high injury risk. And oh yeah, about Pettitte's oral commitment not to exercise his player option for the 2008 season if he is injured, you better get that in writing, Yankees. Along with a specific contractual definition of the word "injured."

The surprising super-heated free agent market in Major League Baseball this off-season proved me wrong in my post-season evaluation of Pettitte that he would not receive anywhere close to $16 million to pitch in 2007. However, that does not mean that the Stros were wrong in refusing to pay such a price. It's just baseball and not particularly important in the big scheme of things, but it's disappointing nonetheless that the Chronicle editors allow Justice's bias to trump objective analysis of the situation. Not surprisingly, the Chronicle editors allow the same thing to happen on far more important issues.

Update: Justice's colleague at the Chronicle, John Lopez, nails the truth about the Pettitte contract negotiations in this column in Monday's paper:

The Astros being smart shoppers clearly was something Pettitte and his representation did not expect. They're used to having the Astros over a barrel, making them wait, calling the shots.

The Astros made one offer here and compared it to the one over there. That's not just smart baseball, it's smart business.

Fans are smart, too, and should realize this was about good, old American greed, nothing more and nothing less.

Pettitte has every right to cash in, sure. Good for him. He had his reasons for wanting to stay, but in the end Pettitte was no different than, say, Terrell Owens.

There were 32 million reasons home is where he'll hang his Yankees cap.

Posted by Tom at December 9, 2006 6:32 AM |

Comments

Would you say its safe to say Clemens is going actually retire this off-season? I always read that Pettitte pitching in Houston was always one of his main reasons for continuing to pitch, aside from his very lenient pitching schedule given to him by the Astros.

Posted by: Patrick Author Profile Page at December 9, 2006 10:05 AM

Patrick, it's unclear whether Clemens wants to pitch anymore. However, I can assure you that, if he decides to pitch again, his determination as to where he will pitch will have little to do with where Pettitte will be pitching. Except to the extent that the Yankees have the most money with which to pay Clemens. ;^)

Posted by: Tom K. Author Profile Page at December 9, 2006 1:12 PM

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