Like many of my statistically-inclined colleagues, I tend be wary of arguments that put a lot of stress on “experience”. Too often that line of thinking seems to result in managers playing declining veterans instead of more talented young players, something fans of many, many teams gnash their teeth over every year. Experience will only get you so far; the ability to hit a good fastball, or throw a great curve, will get you farther. So I don’t put a lot of stock in automatically favoring a player just because they’ve been there before.
But — did you guess there was a “but” coming? — with that said…
I can’t help feeling a bit relieved knowing that if the Yankees get to a Game 7 in the ALCS, Andy Pettitte will be on the mound and not Phil Hughes. That’s not only because of the experience factor – I think that when healthy Pettitte pitched a bit better, or at least pitched well more consitently, than Hughes this year; Hughes is absolutely a quality Major League starter now, but he’s still got a few kinks to iron out, as just about anyone does at that age.
But it’s more than that. I mean, there’s experience, and then there’s experience. And Andy Pettitte has experience. Postseason experience, sure, having thrown the equivalent of more than an entire regular season just in the playoffs, but I’m not so worried about that – I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything to suggest that Phil Hughes will suddenly crack under pressure, Game 7 or not. It’s more that Andy Pettitte just plain knows what the hell he’s doing out there. He knows what to throw to who when, and he knows exactly how he can best compensate when his velocity isn’t quite there, or when his cutter isn’t cutting; he knows how to get double plays and hold runners on and the odds of catching him sleeping are slim. He may not win – he may not even pitch well, he’s blown his fair share of postseason starts – but there likely won’t be too many what-ifs about it. If Phil Hughes pitches and loses Game 7, I think you start going over how things might have gone differently, pick over mistakes or questionable choices. If Andy Pettitte loses Game 7… well, what are you gonna do?
So I don’t know, maybe it’s the same old “experience” fallacy tricking me one more time. But one of these years, Andy Pettitte’s going to stop his annual (and by now kind of comic) contemplation of retirement and actually retire; until then, I hope the Yankees squeeze everything they can out of his seasoned veteran brain.
…Okay, it sounds kind of gross when I phrase it like that. But you know what I mean.