Underrated Petit's value goes beyond stats

March 5th, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- You can’t fully appreciate just by marveling at his impressive statistics, which only seem to get better as he ages into his late 30s.

The durability and massive success while only throwing an 88-89 mph fastball in a time where lighting up the radar gun with heaters is practically a prerequisite for relievers is only part of it. A full illustration of his value requires a deeper examination.

In an offseason that saw record-breaking deals handed out, the A’s bringing back Petit on a one-year, $2.55 million deal received minimal attention from the rest of the baseball universe. Within the A’s clubhouse, however, you would think the team had just made the biggest splash of the winter based on the nonstop buzzing of manager Bob Melvin’s phone with elated messages from his players after news of the signing broke.

“I got a ton of texts from the guys when we signed him back,” Melvin said. “Since he got to camp, everybody has had a smile on their face because they know we got Yusey back.”

Petit -- who has emerged as the glue that makes everything stick in Oakland’s bullpen -- somehow manages to continue flying under the radar. But the numbers suggest he has been one of the game’s elite relievers in recent years.

Since 2017, the right-hander’s 285 innings pitched leads all Major League relievers. It’s not just quantity, either. Over that same span, he’s posted a 2.78 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, while also holding a ridiculous 1.6% walk rate.

But Petit shouldn’t be coveted just for his dominance. That’s only scratching the surface of what the 36-year-old brings to the table.

“You look at the numbers and they tell the tale as far as production goes,” Melvin said. “He means much more to this team. The respect he gets in the clubhouse and his leadership qualities. For a guy that doesn’t say a whole lot, this is a guy that everybody looks to.”

There isn't too much A's pitching coach Scott Emerson can teach Petit that he doesn't already know. Instead, Petit often serves as a second pair of eyes in the coaching room.

"Yus is one of the best prepared pitchers I've ever seen," Emerson said. "He's like the rock of that bullpen. He leads by example, and it's fun to watch him be that leader.”

If you were to rank the A’s clubhouse by hierarchy, Petit has to be at the top. He’s like The Godfather. Though he might not be the most boisterous of the bunch, when he talks, the room goes quiet. Everybody listens.

“He’s been through it all. He’s seen it all. He’s won World Series titles,” A’s right-hander Chris Bassitt said. “He’s that cool, calm and collected guy we need, because all of us are kind of high strung and crazy. He’s the Dad of the bunch that barks at us and keeps us in shape when we need to calm down.”

There’s a special admiration that A’s players -- especially the pitchers -- have for Petit. They respect his grind. That’s because they know his journey, and how there was nothing easy about it.

Signed as a starter by the Mets out of Venezuela as a 17-year-old international free agent in 2001, Petit never played for New York. After three years in the club’s Minor League system, he was traded to the Marlins as a key piece in the 2005 deal that sent Carlos Delgado to the Mets. Arriving to Florida with high expectations, Petit hardly impressed and was traded again after one season. From 2006-09, he appeared in 71 games for the Marlins and D-backs, compiling a 5.57 ERA.

Designated for assignment by Arizona after the ‘09 season, Petit was claimed off waivers by the Mariners only to get DFA’d again just three months later. But even that wasn’t rock bottom.

Petit played for Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate -- the Tacoma Rainiers -- in 2010. He did not make it through the season, struggling to a 4.85 ERA in 24 appearances before getting cut in May.

There was zero interest in Petit after that. Looking for alternative options to continue playing the game he loved, he eventually decided on a move south of the border, where he signed to play for Guerreros de Oaxaca of the Mexican Baseball League.

It was in Mexico where Petit underwent a transformation. He found himself, picking up on the minute details that are required to sustain a pitcher's body and mind.

Back from his re-awakening in Mexico, Petit received a Minor League offer from the Giants in 2012 and jumped at the opportunity. And so began the rebirth of his career.

In San Francisco, Petit matured from once being considered a failed prospect into a valuable weapon out of the bullpen. If you want to get specific, it was the 2014 season when he really found his groove. Not only did he become a postseason hero that October during San Francisco’s run to a World Series title by tossing six do-or-die scoreless innings of relief in an 18-inning victory over the Nationals in Game 2 of the NLDS, Petit also made history during that regular season when he broke a Major League record by retiring 46 consecutive batters.

That breakthrough with the Giants catapulted Petit. It gave him the blueprint to longevity, which led to his next big goal: reaching 10 years of service time.

It’s an accomplishment that even some of the game’s greatest players never reach, because in addition to being good enough to stick in the Majors, you must stay durable enough to withstand the rigors of 162-game seasons.

Last year -- Sept. 16 -- Petit did it. He reached 10 full years of Major League service time, which means he is now fully vested in his pension.

“That was the goal I put in my mind when I got back from Mexico. I focused on that -- 10 years,” Petit said. “I’m proud of myself for doing that, because it’s something that gets harder and harder to do as the years go on.

“It has been a difficult career. There have been a lot of lows, but also plenty of highs, because I’ve accomplished so much here in MLB that I never imagined was attainable for me.”

So given the accolades. Given the journey, which makes him an invaluable resource for his wealth of knowledge. Given the durability -- Petit has managed to stay off the injured list since 2009, how weren’t there more teams lining up to bid for his services? Age could be a concern, though there’s no reason to believe Petit -- who said he feels he’s got at least two or three more good years left in him -- won’t continue to defy that.

“I’ve always evolved,” Petit said. “I’ve always tried to invest a little more into my body every year. Because as time goes on, your body becomes harder to maintain. You have to do more yoga. More stretching. I know the little things that are required to maintain my body.”

When it came down to the wire, Petit said the offers coming in from other clubs were similar to the one on the table from Oakland. Some may have been for slightly more money. But that did not matter to the veteran reliever.

For Petit, Oakland where he belongs. His A's teammates are like his family. From his mentorship of young left-handed phenom Jesús Luzardo, who constantly comes up to him with questions on the daily about how to better command his pitchers, to administering his own conditioning program to Bassitt, who admires his longevity, Petit has developed a special relationship with his teammates.

“I respect all of them like if they were my family. That was a big factor in coming back,” Petit said. “I feel connected to these guys. They’re good kids who work hard on all aspects of their game, on and off the field.

“I told myself if it came down to getting the same contract from another team or here, I’d prefer to stay here,” Petit said. “I didn’t want to experiment with another team and not know how I would feel. I feel comfortable here. I feel at home.”