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Pettitte's Hall of Fame case strengthens with every win

Oct 30, 2009, 4:07 PM EDT

How exactly do we weigh opportunity?
Andy Pettitte has been far from an ace while finishing with ERAs over 4.00 each of the last four seasons, yet he keeps winning 14 games every year and is now up to 229 victories for his career. That comes with being an above average starter for very good teams. Pettitte’s career ERA is 3.91, yet he has a .629 winning percentage.
Of course, a 3.91 ERA in today’s game is hardly bad. Even though Pettitte has had just two seasons in his career in which he’s made at least 30 starts and finished with an ERA under 3.80, his ERA+, which is adjusted for league and ballpark, is 116. Tom Glavine, in comparison, finished only slightly better at 118. Legitimate Hall of Famers Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins and Phil Niekro came in at 115. Pettitte isn’t their equal — they all have big win and inning advantages — but it demonstrates that the quality of his performance is at a Hall of Fame level.
Where Pettitte’s case really comes together is with the addition of postseason stats. Pettitte is the all-time postseason leader with 16 victories, one more than John Smoltz. He’s pitched more than the equivalent of a season in October, coming in at 38 starts and 237 1/3 innings (both records). Over that time, he has a .640 winning percentage and a 3.83 ERA.
In the World Series, his ERA has held steady at 3.82, but he’s gone 3-4 in 11 starts. His teams are 4-3 in seven World Series. In just one of them did Pettitte pitch badly for a team that lost, as he went 0-2 with a 10.00 ERA against the Diamondbacks in 2001. He went 1-1 with a 0.57 ERA in the loss to the Marlins in 2003, and while with the Astros, he gave up two runs over six innings in a no-decision versus the White Sox in 2006.
Pettitte’s Hall of Fame case will likely be compared to that of Jack Morris. The two have practically identical career ERAs, with Morris coming in at 3.90. Assuming that he opts to continue his career, Pettitte’s will probably be a bit higher by the time he matches Morris’ total of 254 victories. Morris, though, pitched in a worse era for offense. His career ERA+ is just 105, which would be historically low for a Hall of Famer.
That Morris gets significant Hall of Fame support is largely because of his postseason record. He did have a couple of poor Octobers to go along with his two fabulous performances, though, leaving him 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. Besides their strong postseason credentials and the fact that they were typically above average pitchers on good teams, there’s not a lot similar about Morris and Pettitte. Morris still has 900 innings on Petttitte. He recorded 175 complete games and 28 shutouts. Pettitte has just 25 complete games and four shutouts.
Pettitte’s regular-season career is much more similar to a group of contemporaries who, rightly or wrongly, have no chance of stiffing the Hall of Fame:

W-L	ERA	IP	ERA+
Pettitte	229-135	3.91	2926	116
Finley	200-173	3.85	3197	115
Wells	239-157	4.13	3439	108
Cone	194-126	3.46	2899	120
Hershiser	204-150	3.48	3130	112
Rogers	219-156	4.27	3303	108
...
Schilling	216-146	3.46	3261	127
Brown	211-144	3.28	3256	127
Mussina	270-153	3.68	3563	123

I’m including Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina just to show how much more successful those three were. Pettitte’s performance rates a bit above some of the guys from the first group, but his ERA+ may yet suffer as he approaches the higher innings totals. Hershiser, for instance, was at 115 through 1998, when he had 2926 2/3 innings pitched.
So, back to opportunity. Pettitte happened to be signed by the perfect team at pretty much the perfect time. His debut in 1995 coincided with the beginning of one of the greatest runs in baseball history, not that Pettitte didn’t have quite a bit to do with that himself. If he had come along a few years earlier and joined the Angels instead, he might have ended up turning in exactly the same career as Chuck Finley. If he had been traded before reaching the majors, he still might be looking for his 200th win, instead of being all of the way up to 229.
Then again, if Pettitte hadn’t had to pitch those 238 innings in the postseason, he’d likely have been healthier. If he hadn’t had to pitch through soreness so frequently during the decade, his ERA would probably be lower. Pettitte hasn’t missed a lot of time, but he’s dealt with plenty of nagging injuries. It’s fair to say they’ve taken a toll on his performance.
Pettitte talks about retirement every offseason, but if he chooses to keep going, odds are that he’s going to finish with 250 wins. He might get a fifth World Series ring next week, and by the time he’s eligible for the Hall of Fame, there’s a good chance he’ll still be the all-time leader in postseason victories. It might be tough to deny him entry into Cooperstown, though he’d go in without a Cy Young and little in the way of regular season honors. He has just four career shutouts, fewer than Shawn Estes, Brian Moehler and Steve Trachsel. Hershiser had four different seasons with at least that many. He’s never led his league in ERA, strikeouts or innings pitched. In fact, he’s finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA three times.
It makes Pettitte a unique case. He’s probably not going to show up on any more single-season leaderboards, so it’s important that he hit a few more career milestones before he’s done.

  1. Josh - Oct 30, 2009 at 6:55 PM

    To quote a player, “I was a good player. The Hall of Fame is for great players.” Despite being a postseason workhorse, you can hardly say that Andy Pettitte is one of the true greats that the game has seen. His stats certainly do not support the idea.

  2. joel Barnhart - Oct 30, 2009 at 7:11 PM

    Putting Pettitte in is like putting Bernie Williams in. Good player on some great teams, lots of opportunities (especially with the expanded format), but was the guy every considered an ace? Not really.
    Does he get a monument in Yankee Stadium? Of course. But I don’t see how he gets any more than that.

  3. Fisher King - Oct 30, 2009 at 9:28 PM

    He is a good pitcher but not a great pitcher. This author apparently has a “man-crush” for Pettite. The Hall is for the great ones. Not the good ones.

  4. CJ - Oct 30, 2009 at 9:31 PM

    We cannot just base everything on numbers. The intangibles is what makes a player great and Andy has done that. This article is perfect timing. He needs to sustain the Yankees with his pitching and hopefully the team can get the win for him.Maybe a consideration to the Hall of fame is realistic.

  5. Ray Bottorff Jr - Oct 31, 2009 at 4:49 AM

    Andy Pettitte in the Hall before Bert Byleven, Jack Morris, Mickey Lolich, or Luis Tiant? This is just another example of overhyped New York players, who get Hall consideration while better players languish for years on other market teams trying to get into the Hall. If any of the pitchers I just mentioned played, at their peaks, for that last 15 years for this current Yankee franchise, how many would we now be considering shoe-ins for the Hall? Lolich, the most dominant lefty strikeout pitcher before Carlton would have had a series of 20 win, 200+ strikeout, and 10+ complete game seasons for a long stretch of time instead of what he got with the up and down Tigers of the late 60 and early 70s. Byleven and Morris toughness would have been worship as the second coming in the Bronx. And Tiant would have inspired all Cuban ball players to want to become Yankees. But Byleven had to suffer with less exposure in Minnesota, Texas, and Pittsburgh. Tiant spent his best fireballing years in Cleveland. And Morris, like Lolich, had to deal with the up and down Tigers too. But any of them on this Yankee club this past 15 years and Andy would have been, Andy who?

  6. Rick - Oct 31, 2009 at 11:35 AM

    First of all, not every pitcher in the Hall of Fame is going to meet stringent criteria that people suggest here – an “All Time Great.” Historically there are a quite a few border liners in there and that’s just a fact. Some very good pitchers that probably fall short of Greats, but nevertheless are in the Hall. Don Sutton is a modern day inductee that could be placed in this category.
    Secondly, pitchers in this modern era (1980′s ->) rarely reach the earlier type career numbers. You have quite a few contenders from this period that won’t finish with 300 wins. Clemens blew through it, but many of those final 50 wins are going to be looked up skeptically. Maddux made it to 300 at about age 41. If Pettite goes to age 41 expect him to be at 275 wins +.
    One that has hurt Pettitte in terms of ERA is that he has been on teams that relied heavily on middle relief staffs. This is a modern era phenomenon and the Yankees had some really good “holders” such as Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson, and Ramiro Mendoza. This meant that Pettitte would often pulled after the 6th inning and having an extra inning or two of scoreless baseball would definitely have helped his ERA. He frequently would leave a game after 6 or 6 1/3 innings with 2 or 3 earned runs scored against him and therefore his game ERA ends up being closer to 3 or 4 runs. It paints a somewhat deceptive picture of the actual effectivness of the starter. Pettitte pitching under a Billy Martin would have been going into the eighth inning a lot more – for better or worse. The Yankees had the luxury of using him for only six innings and so they did the cautious thing.
    He is definitely a border line case and wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer today. He needs to pitch to age 40 and get the wins totals clearly past 250 without wrecking his very good win/loss percentage.
    Mitigating in his favor is that he is a great clutch performer. Post season stats of 16 wins versus 9 losses and a 3.83 ERA is pretty impressive when you consider the elite batting orders that he was facing. simply amassing victories in the post season wouldn’t be that impressive because as noted he has the good fortune to be in a lot of play series, but stats are impressive.

  7. Tonyrose - Oct 31, 2009 at 12:35 PM

    Where am I

  8. Josh - Oct 31, 2009 at 2:59 PM

    This whole argument is based on his number of wins and, a tiny little bit, on his ERA. Both are deeply flawed ways to assess the quality of a pitcher, but wins are absolutely the worst criterion I can think of. The Yankees won a ton of games while Pettitte pitched for them; if being on one of the five best teams in baseball during a dominant decade (plus) makes you “one of the best,” then the Yankees’ entire coaching staff should go into the Hall. They certainly do more, every day, than Pettitte does every fifth day, right? That’s no more absurd than saying that, because he wasn’t a terrible pitcher and he played most of his career for an offensive powerhouse team, Pettitte’s inflated win totals put him near Hall consideration. I’d like to see some numbers on his run support and also the number of wins he had against the quality AL teams vs. the bottom-dwellers. That’s just for starters.
    If Andy Pettitte pitched 10 years for the San Diego Padres, he’d have a much better ERA, WHIP, and every other mainstream pitching stat except wins – but no one would ever say he deserved Hall consideration. Think about that.

  9. Nobi Katze - Oct 31, 2009 at 6:53 PM

    Come on, be serious! Jamie Moyer has a better case for hall of fame enshrinement than Andy Pettitte and has more 20+ win seasons. Andy Pettitte would need 2 more 2008 Mike Mussina seasons to even be considered for the hall of fame and even so, he would still be behind Blyleven. I have never thought of Pettitte as being even one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball at any time in his career and that is proof enough that he should not be enshrined.

  10. Damian - Nov 5, 2009 at 11:01 AM

    What is the Hall of Fame about anyway? Simply the best statistics? To me, the Hall of Fame is (or should be) about excellent players who define their baseball generation (in a good way). Players who, when you look back on their era, you recognize as being great at their trade, and at being winners. Whether you love them or hate them, the Yankees have been an October fixture. Looking back in 20 years on the 1995-2009 Yankee run, people will remember Pettite as being a winner first and foremost. Most statheads will disagree, but not all wins are created equal. I’m not saying by any means that Pettite is a lock to be in, but sometimes the quality and timing of their performances means just as much as their sheer numbers.

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