Last night's game was aggravating to watch. Wade Davis struggled, but the offense fought back to tie the game 5-5. Then Big Trade Wade (h/t to Nighthawk at the Diner) and Bruce Chen combined to implode in the sixth, putting the game out of reach.
Saturday night's pitching matchup is one that should favor the Kansas City Royals, and it seems like the type of game you want a good baseball team to win. James Shields, who has pitched lights-out this season, is taking the mound for Kansas City, while the well-known but quite old Andy Pettitte will start for the New York Yankees.
Pettitte, who has an interesting Hall of Fame case to me (depending on how voters treat his admission of using PED's, of course), is not the pitcher he used to be. The 40 year-old left can still be effective in spurts, but no one is mistaking him anymore for the 7-win pitcher he was in 1997.
When the southpaw was at his best, he only posted around average strikeout numbers. Pettitte was great at eating a high number of innings, limiting the home-run ball in a homer-friendly era, issuing a below-average number of walks and inducing an above-average number of groundouts.
Pettitte can't throw 200+ innings a season anymore, and has surrendered a few more home-runs per nine the past two seasons then he did in his prime, but can achieve relatively similar results over a select number of innings. The starter posted a 2.87 ERA in 75.1 innings last season, and his 3.48 FIP and 3.27 xFIP were both below his career average.
The lefty has been less effective so far this season, as his strikeout and groundball rates have both dropped. Pettitte currently has a 4.08 ERA with a 4.12 xFIP, which places him around league-average for a pitcher. It's impressive that Pettitte is still a league-average pitchers after 18 big-league seasons and 3168.1 innings pitched, but the Royals should be able to score runs against an average pitcher.
Pettitte has struggled in his past two starts, as the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros have scored a combined ten runs against the starter in 9.1 innings. Pettitte surrendered 14 combined hits and two home runs, walking five batters while only striking out five. I'm not sure if that information really tells us anything, but I hope that the trend continues tonight.
Shields has basically been the same pitcher that he has always been, except his HR/FB ratio has been halved in his first seven starts. The righty's BABIP is also .40 points lower than his career average number, so some regression on those two numbers will lead to some more runs crossing the plate. Shields xFIP is currently 3.20, and I would expect his final ERA numbers to more closely resemble that number than his current 2.52 ERA.
It's still a strange feeling to enter a game expecting your team to win, but that's what I expect from the Royals tonight. If the team wants to have a serious shot at contention, then you need to win when your best starter is matched up against an average starter.