Rays Hoping Hideki Matsui Pulls an Andy Pettitte

By Robbie Knopf

Once a Yankee, always a Yankee. Once an enemy, always an enemy. It still feels weird. Johnny Damon was our friend for a year. Now we hate him again for just about no apparent reason. Of course for the players who spend their entire career or at least a considerable majority of it as a member of one of the Rays’ rivals, our animosity towards them grows year by year- even though we have a great respect for them in most cases as well. Andy Pettitte is one of those players.

When Pettitte came back this offseason after sitting out all of 2011, people across baseball, and especially the Yankees’ rivals, had plenty of fuel to the fire of skepticism. They had even more support when in two 5 inning starts, one at Double-A and one at Triple-A, Pettitte allowed 9 runs, 6 earned, in 10 innings, striking out 8 while walking 3 but posting just a 15-18 groundball to flyball ratio (according to Minor League Central). What has Pettitte done in the big leagues? Well, after allowing a couple of homers in his first start of the season as he lost to the Mariners, he has tossed two 8-inning gems in a row and after three starts spanning 21.1 IP now, Pettitte has a 2-1 record and a 2.53 ERA, striking out 19 while walking just 5. He’s surpassed any possible expectations even the most optimistic Yankee fans had bestowed upon him. Maybe this is just a temporary thing. Maybe he reverts back into the pitcher that has a 3.87 career ERA and has only won 242 games because he played 14 of his 17 MLB seasons with the Yankees. (Fun stat: Pettitte has a 205-113 record, a .645 winning percentage with the Yankees with a 3.97 ERA. With the Astros, Pettitte posted a 37-26 record, .587 ERA, despite a 3.38 ERA.) But after not exactly dominating the minor leagues, Pettitte has really impressed by any measure since returning to the big leagues.

The Rays need Hideki Matsui to do the same thing- and then some. In 13 games at Triple-A Durham, Matsui posted just a .170/.231/.213 line with just 2 doubles and 4 RBI. He struck out 10 times compared to 4 walks, a strikeout rate just a tick below the league average and walk rate noticeably below, 7.7% to the 9.1% average. According to Minor League Central, his line drive rate was 18.4%, just below the 18.7% league average, although he did hit quite a few flyballs to the outfield, 34.2% of his batted balls compared to the 27.6% league average. That’s a good sign at least. Matsui did have just a .211 BAbip compared to the .299 league average despite batted ball tendencies that would normally suggest otherwise. But saying that Matsui is fine still has to be a leap of faith.

The Rays aren’t asking Matsui to come up and save their franchise like the Yankees essentially asked Pettitte to do. He’ll be a part time player- and if he sees more playing time, it will be because he’s playing well. The Rays are hoping that Matsui can follow in the path of his ex-teammate Pettitte and prove that his poor minor league stats have nothing to do with his ability to perform in the major leagues.