Do Recent Retirees Have Anything Left?

Andy Pettitte is back. Sure, it’s a minor-league deal but everyone expects Pettitte to be in the Yankees starting rotation by May. The Pettitte news got me thinking about other pitchers who recently retired from baseball with gas left in the tank. Then I had a twitter discussion about Mike Mussina. And it all came together.

What if Mussina came out of retirement? And Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux? What if they all came out of retirement today, did the work to get in shape, and, together with Pettitte, offered themselves up as a package-deal starting rotation? Would that starting five be better than any one of the thirty current starting rotation in the majors?

Quite possibly.

Let’s start with Pettitte. He pitched as recently as 2010, when he was 38, making 2012 his age-40 season. In 2010, he threw 129 innings with a 3.28 ERA and a 3.85 FIP, good for 2.4 WAR. Even before his comeback announcement, Marcel had projected Pettitte for this season at 73 innings pitched, a 2.20 K/BB, and a 4.06  FIP. After news broke last Friday, Dan Szymborski updated his ZIPS projections for Pettitte: 125.1 innings, 4.45 ERA, and 1.5 WAR.

We don’t have ZIPS projections for Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina or Greg Maddux but Marcel did provide projections for Johnson and Martinez, who pitched as recently as 2009. For Johnson, who would be in his age-48 season in 2012, Marcel projected 52 innings with a 4.36 FIP. For Martinez, who would be in his age-40 season in 2012, 60 innings pitched and a 4.13 FIP.

ZIPS projections come from a secret Szymborski family recipe. I don’t pretend to know what’s in the special sauce sauce. But let’s take the Marcel numbers we do have for Johnson and Martinez, and the data we have for them, Maddux and Mussina from the last three seasons they pitched, and make some very, very conservative estimates about what they could do for a full season in 2012.

Randy Johson

Johnson’s the toughest to estimate because he’s the oldest and retired after suffering the first shoulder injury his career in 2009. In addition, Johnson pitched only one full season of his last three, tossing 184 innings in 2008, his last year with the Diamondbacks. He threw only 96 innings in 2009 and 56 innings in 2007. His fastball velocity dipped below 90 mph for the first time in 2009; with the shoulder injury (now healed) and advanced age, we couldn’t expect Johnson’s fastball to average  much above 86 mph this season. On the other hand, his slider and split-finger fastball had stayed remarkably consistent  through the years. And Johnson was still getting batters to swing and miss on more than ten percent of his pitches in 2009.

Conservative estimate for Johnson for 2012: 100 innings, 2.10 K/BB, 5.15 FIP.

Pedro Martinez

Martinez hasn’t officially retired yet. He said last December that he expected to embark on some sort of retirement tour this summer, to put closure on his sure-to-be Hall of Fame career. Martinez hasn’t pitched since Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, for the Phillies. He had joined the Phillies mid-season after a disappointing end to his four years with the Mets.

Martinez hasn’t pitched a full season since he threw 217 innings in 2005 for the Mets. After that, he pitched only 132.2 innings (2006), 28 innings (2007), 109 innings (2008) and 44 innings (2009), fighting through a hip injury, a calf injury and a torn rotator cuff that required surgery. But when he joined the Phillies in mid-2009, he’d regained velocity on his fastball and change-up, resulting in his best strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2002.

Conservative estimate for Martinez: 120 innings, 2.15 K/BB, 4.95 FIP.

Mike Mussina

It’s especially fun to think about Mussina coming back this year because he retired after the 2008 season at the very top of his game: 200.1 innings pitched, a 4.84 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a 3.32 FIP. It was his first — and only — season with 20 wins.

Sure, Mussina had lost a few miles per hour on his three main pitches (fastball, slider, curve ball), but not his effectiveness. His strikeout-to-walk ratio that final season was 4.84, more than 1.0 greater than his career average and his home run/9 innings pitched was .76, below his career average. Mussina would be in his age-43 season if he pitched in 2012.

Conservative estimate for Mussina: 140 innings pitched, 3.0 K/BB, 4.50 FIP.

Greg Maddux

Maddux was always about movement and location and never about velocity. His fastball hovered in the higher 80s for most of his career, dropping to 83-84 miles per hour his final four seasons (2005-2008). But he maintained a first-pitch strike percentage around 65 percent and continued to get lots of swinging strikes. His walk rate sat below five percent every season from 2003 on. In his final four seasons, his FIP averaged somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.75, well above his career bests in the 1990s but better than league-average every season but his last. Maddux would be pitching in his age-47 season in 2012.

Conservative estimate for Maddux: 150 innings, 2.75 K/BB, 4.75 FIP.

How would this starting five stack up against the thirty current rotations?

It’s hard to know, of course. But we do have ZIPS projections for the anticipated rotations and the Positional Power Rankings published in the last two weeks. Dave Cameron ranked the Padres as thirtieth out of thirty rotations, but they have such an advantage pitching in PETCO, I’m not prepared to say our out-of-retirement starting five would out perform the Padres rotation this season.

But the Pirates? It’s very close.

Looking at Dave’s Positional Power Ranking numbers for the Pirates, we see a rotation made up of eight starters with no one pitching more than 130 innings. The top five pitchers — Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Brad Lincoln, Kevin Correia, and Jeff Karstens — are expected to combine for 620 innings pitched.  We estimate the out-of-retirement rotation to pitch 635 innings.

Our middle-aged warriors could also outperform the Pirates top five starters in K/BB. By my conservative estimates, the out-of-retirement five would average 2.64 K/BB over the 635 innings. The Pirates top five are expected to average 2.07 K/BB over 620 innings.

Things don’t look so good when we get to FIP. Yes, I was conservative in estimating FIP for our forty-somethings, but those numbers are closely tied to how those pitchers performed in their last season. The older gang comes out with an average FIP of 4.75 as compared to 4.3 for the top Pirates’ hurlers.

So it’s close. Pretty darn close. We’ll never know how it might have turned out, but it’s fun to dream about.

Well, unless you’re a Pirates fan.




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Wendy's baseball writing has also been published by Sports on Earth. ESPN.com, SB Nation, The Score, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


32 Responses to “Do Recent Retirees Have Anything Left?”

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  1. Mark Geoffriau says:

    A comment about ambiguous language:

    “Would that starting five be better than any current starting rotation in the majors?”

    That could mean a couple different things. It could mean (as I believe it was intended):

    “Would that starting five be better than at least one current starting rotation in the majors?”

    However, it just as easily (and more naturally) reads as this:

    “Would that starting five be better than all of the current starting rotations in the majors?”

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    • vivalajeter says:

      She wrote better than *any* not better than *every other*. I didn’t think twice about her intentions on that one.

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      • Mark Geoffriau says:

        If I wrote the following:

        “Is Albert Pujols better than any current starting 1B in the major leages?”

        Would you assume I was asking if Pujols the best 1B, or merely if he’s better than the worst starting major league 1B?

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      • Ken says:

        The sentence is certainly ambiguous, because of the word *any*, not in spite of it. If I answered using the same wording as the question, it would read:

        “Yes, that starting five would be better than any current starting rotation in the majors.”

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Mark, if you wrote that sentence I would assume you were asking if he was the best 1B, because the grammatically correct meaning of the sentence wouldn’t make sense (he’s obviously better than the worst 1B).

        In Wendy’s case, she used the proper word and only one of the scenarios makes sense – obviously that rotation wouldn’t be better than Philly’s rotation. It seems like you’re calling her out for being grammatically correct.

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      • dartjeff says:

        I thought her meaning from the headline was that they would be better than every rotation. I didn’t figure out that was wrong until reading her conclusion.

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    • Barney says:

      I must admit, I had to reread that sentence, but I think the only reasonable interpretation is your first suggestion.

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    • Wendy Thurm says:

      I changed the language to make it clear that I was asking if the rotation of retirees would be better than any one rotation of the thirty current ones.

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  2. adohaj says:

    the unmentioned AJ will win the cy young of course

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  3. Choo says:

    This sounds a lot like that Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, and David Spade movie . . . without the promise of seeing Salma Hayek’s breasts.

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  4. DD says:

    Don’t forget Moyer! He’s still older than all of them!

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  5. Jason says:

    I dont like the premise of these sorts of articles. Essentially what you did was state that, in your opinion, the old guys would be better than some current rotations. There is no data. There is no analysis. You just made up the numbers you ascribed to the old guys.

    An important part of a data driven analysis is accepting when there is no data to address the question you are asking. You don’t get to just make the data up and then treat it as if it is meaningful.

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    • Shane says:

      Agreed, this article really had nothing to do with sabremetrics. Intellectually it was quite shallow. I expect more from you guys because you gals and guys are better than this. It feels more like one of those boring slide shows about nothing on Fox Sports.

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    • brendan says:

      the numbers for the old guys come from the projection systems. wendy didn’t make them up.

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      • Jason says:

        From the article:

        “We don’t have ZIPS projections for Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina or Greg Maddux but Marcel did provide projections for Johnson and Martinez, who pitched as recently as 2009. For Johnson, who would be in his age-48 season in 2012, Marcel projected 52 innings with a 4.36 FIP. For Martinez, who would be in his age-40 season in 2012, 60 innings pitched and a 4.13 FIP.”

        “ZIPS projections come from a secret Szymborski family recipe. I don’t pretend to know what’s in the special sauce sauce. But let’s take the Marcel numbers we do have for Johnson and Martinez, and the data we have for them, Maddux and Mussina from the last three seasons they pitched, and make some very, very conservative estimates about what they could do for a full season in 2012.”

        Translation: She made them up.

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  6. gonfalon says:

    as a Pirates fan, I don’t know whether to feel insulted that the author omitted AJ Burnett and Erik Bedard, or grateful that JoJo Reyes wasn’t mentioned in the article.

    :shrug:

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  7. Hurtlockertwo says:

    This reminds me of the line in the Ty Cobb movie where he is asked what he thinks he would hit against the pitchers today, and he says about .270. The guys says really, are they that good these days and Cobb says no, I’m 70 years old. As an old guy myself, I really think I’m a lot better baseball player than I am in reality. I suspect Andy Pettitte will find out the same thing. The rest of those guys are toast.

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    • Kris says:

      Agreed. Pettitte and Mussina might manage to stay at the back end of a bad rotation, but the other guys are toast. And I would say the “projections” are not conservative at all for any of them, but really really optimistic. If Martinez and Johnson were able to combine for 100 innings total, ignoring quality, I’d be shocked. I’m sure the quality of their few innings would be awful, too.

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      • Shane says:

        Even Mussina was working with smoke and mirrors that last year when he won 20 games at age 39. Now after missing 3 seasons, I’m guessing he has very little to offer at the age of 43. 140 innings, 4.50 FIP that seems unlikely to me. Truthfully those are the kind of stats I would expect from Pettitte at this point. Pettitte would be the best bet obviously at this point but I do wonder what Martinez could provide even today in a small sample size. He would never last the whole season but I could still see him dominating for a couple or handfull of games if he got in shape and had the desire.

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  8. PiratesHurdles says:

    If you are really buying the projection that no Pirate pitcher will go more than 130IP you are nuts. Last year all 5 Pirate starters were over 150 IP with 25+ starts and Maholm is replaced by the durable AJ Burnett (who is already throwing). I’ll take the Bucs rotation in the NL central over the O’s, A’s, Indians, Royals, Rockies, Astros, or Mets.

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  9. Resolution says:

    I miss Kenny Lofton and Frank Thomas.

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    • Shane says:

      Ah the question is do you think they would make for better leadoff and cleanup hitters respectively than at least one of the current 30 teams combined production from those two spots in the order. Seattle Mariners, Maybe. I could see a mid forties version of each out producing modern day Chone (shoulda stayed in LA) Figgins and Justin (no poke) Smoak.

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  10. matt says:

    this is a fckin joke of an article and this website is usually above it

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    • yefrem says:

      You’re right! This article is completely irrelevant and has no present-day context.

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      • Shane says:

        It really is bad, I mean not only no present day context, Just no context at all. No predicative value whatsoever. I wonder if this quintet could even make the Toledo Mudhens better. Is someone screwing the editor because I don’t see how else this got through. I’m gonna take heat for saying that but I doubt I’m the only one whose mind considered that.

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  11. Great article, Wendy. You took what could have been glib subject matter and offered a thoughtful, detailed approach. The Marcel Projections and mention of ZiPS are nice touches (I don’t know how Dan Szymborski derived the latter metric either.)

    Very nice work, as always.

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  12. shthar says:

    No clemens?

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  13. rcbucs says:

    That assumed Pirates rotation is incorrect. Bedard should be inserted and Lincoln removed. Also, once Burnett returns, someone else will be heading to the pen.

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  14. TheBigStapler says:

    I nominate Billy Wagner for closer.

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    • Shane says:

      Thing is that might even be realistic. He missed last year but was maybe the most dominant closer two years ago at 38. Billy Wagner’s 2010 stats. 7-2, 275 ERA+, 37 saves, 70 innings, 38 hits allowed, .865 whip, 13.5 K’s per 9, 0.6 HR/9, 3 BB/9. 2.7 rWAR, 2.2 fangraphsWAR. I’m sure their are some bullpens who would give him a shot at the age of 40.

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