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A thinking man’s approach to Andy Pettitte’s Hall of Fame candidacy

Feb 4, 2011, 2:27 PM EDT

Pettitte looks in

We have five years until we need to seriously think about Andy Pettitte: Hall of Famer. My view right now is that he’s not. That could change, or it could not. Depends on what I’m able to figure out and what others are able to figure out and express persuasively for his cause.

There have been a lot of “he has a lot of wins!” arguments floated in the past 24 hours and I don’t think those will ever persuade me.  Joe Sheehan, however, has the first serious attempt I’ve seen that I think has the potential to make headway. It’s less about “here are Pettitte’s numbers,” and more about re-defining what it means to be a Hall of Fame pitcher:

Pettitte’s raw statistics fall short of the standard for the Hall of Fame, but not by enough to keep him out of the discussion. Pettitte, by dint of the timing of his career, is going to be the focal point for two arguments about the electorate’s standards: that the line for starting pitchers has gotten too high, and that postseason work should be given greater weight then it ever has.

Again: if I had a vote today, I think it would be no, and part of that is because I’m not convinced, as Joe is, that Pettitte’s postseason work “pushed him over the top.” But Joe has identified a fertile line of inquiry here about era and context. And it would do us well to use the next five years to think hard about it.

Maybe that will change my mind and the mind of the majority of people who, I sense anyway, don’t think Pettitte is a Hall of Famer. Maybe it won’t.  But it certainly does us better than spinning our wheels like we seem to have done so much with starting pitchers in recent years.

  1. Paul White - Feb 4, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    I don’t buy the post-season argument at all. I would give it the weight Sheehan feels is needed if his post-season numbers were distinctly better than his regular season numbers. But they weren’t. They were pretty much exactly what we should have expected to see given his regular season performance, which Pettitte himself admits. Granted, he should get some credit for the difficulty of competition he faced in putting up those post-season numbers, but it would still be nice to see a distinct performance upgrade before giving him any bonus points. Curt Schilling was distinctly better in the post-season. So was John Smoltz and (so far) Cliff Lee. Pettitte seems more like a post-season compiler.

  2. sportsfan62 - Feb 4, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Andy is much too humble about his accomplishments. He was always scheduled to pitch the pivotal game in any of the playoff series he appeared in. While he did not win them all; he does hold the record for most wins in the post-season; and he kept his team in the vast majority of games he did not win or factor in the final decision. If QBs are judged by their ability to win Super Bowls then Andy’s HOF credentials are surely enhanced by his post season performances many of which were in crucial circumstances for his club.

    • nps6724 - Feb 4, 2011 at 3:37 PM

      He has the most postseason wins by virtue of playing in so many postseasons and his team going to so many World Series, not because he was necessarily great during the postseason. He has 42 postseason starts, 7 more than 2nd-place (Tom Glavine). In 15 of those starts he allowed 4 or more runs (all earned) yet he lost only 7 of those games.

      If you look at the top 10 for the all-time and single-season postseason records, Pettitte only shows up on overall leaderboards (wins, games played, innings pitched, strikeouts, and games started). He doesn’t show up on ERA, WHIP, hits allowed per 9, walks allowed per 9, or strikeouts per 9. He also doesn’t show up on the shutouts or complete games list.

      Like Paul White said above, Andy was a postseason compiler. He belongs in the Hall of Very Good and if he wasn’t a Yankee, this discussion wouldn’t even be taking place.

      • fribnit - Feb 4, 2011 at 3:56 PM

        :….and if he wasn’t a Yankee, this discussion wouldn’t even be taking place”

        That is patently false. Jack Morris was never a Yankee and the discusion is taking place.

        I agree Pettitte is not up to HOF standards. Don’t fall to the easy and false argument to defend your position.

        Pettitte’s numbers are Very Good. His post season numbers are VERY GOOD. I don’t compare his whip and era and era+ numbers to the top 5 or 10 becuase he pitched in a better friendly era and Gibson and Kofax and Drysdale and so forth pitched in a pitcher friendly era.

        The better comparison is, as you mentioned, his numbers in the post season V his regular season numbers and they are right in line with expectations.

        All good arguments

        The only weak argument is the “…and if he wasn’t a Yankee, this discussion wouldn’t even be taking place” argument.

      • hackerjay - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:12 PM

        ERA+ is his ERA in relation to the league he pitched in, so you can directly compare it to anyone from any time.

        I agree that Pettitte pitched in a very hitter friendly time, but that doesn’t mean anything when there have been many pitchers that pitched at the exact same time as him, and were much better. Heck, several of those guys that were better played on his teams.

      • nps6724 - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:26 PM

        Andy Pettitte wasn’t the winningest-pitcher in a decade though :)

        Morris is going into his 12th year on the ballot. He never even received 40% of votes until 2006. And most of Morris’ support is coming from that goofy claim of winning the most games in the ’80s.

        Several of Pettitte’s contemporaries are on the same lists so even if you disregard the Gibsons and Koufaxes and Drysdales, there’s still Clemens, Pedro, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Schilling, etc.

      • Kevin S. - Feb 4, 2011 at 5:30 PM

        Actually, nps, Pettitte was indeed the winningest pitcher of the Aughts.

    • Paul White - Feb 4, 2011 at 3:39 PM

      He was “always scheduled to pitch the pivotal game” in each series? That’s impossible to prove, for several reasons.

      First, who defines pivotal? It could be fairly argued that every single game of a playoff series is pivotal. Game 1, clearly pivotal, you either put your team ahead or behind in the series. Game 2, also pivotal, you either tie the series up or give you team a big advantage or put them in a big hole. Game 3, also pivotal, because you can either break the tie, kill your team entirely, or put a hammerlock on the series. And so on.

      Second, who’s to say which pivotal game is “the” pivotal game in any given series? Is it the opener? Is it whichever schedule puts a guy in line to pitch game 7 (or 5 in the first round)? Who knows?

      Third, without knowing in advance what the series record will be, how was it possible for Pettitte’s managers to “schedule” him to pitch “the” pivotal game? Down 2-0 in a series, Game 3 suddenly become “the” pivotal game, especially in a 5-game series. Up 2-0, Game 3 isn’t nearly as pivotal, so how could any manager look into a crystal ball and slot a particular pitcher to pitch “the” pivotal game? It’s impossible.

      The only games that are clearly considered pivotal on a consensus basis are the first scheduled game of a series and the last scheduled game, either #5 or #7.

      I don’t have the time to look up every single post-season series Pettitte pitched in, but I did look up the first few. Through 2000, how many times did he start Game 1? Twice, in 12 post-season series. The first one of those, in the ’96 ALCS, he gave up 4 runs in 7 innings and blew two leads. The second one was in the ’96 World Series, which he lost, getting hammered in the process (7 runs in less than 3 innings). How many times did he pitch the clincher? Also twice in those 12 series. The first time, the ’97 ALDS, he pitched Game 5 and lost the game and the series to Cleveland, giving up 4 runs in 6.2 innings. The second time, the ’00 ALDS, he also pitched Game 5 and did win the game and the series, but he was spotted a 6-run lead by the Yankee offense before he ever took the mound.

      Sorry, but none of this is compelling evidence that Pettitte’s post-season performances were particularly clutch or “pivotal” or HOF-worthy.

    • scatterbrian - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:31 PM

      Pettitte is more likely realistic about his accomplishments. W-L records and ERA aren’t great gauges, but 19-10, 13 no decisions and a 3.83 ERA doesn’t really scream “great”. He just wasn’t the dominant starter people seem to want to believe.

  3. Old Gator - Feb 4, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    Isn’t that….acne on his back?

    I thought so.

    He’s out.

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:06 PM

      Joe Sheehan must be looking at too many numbers lately.

      Pettitte is not better than Morris, yet Morris doesn’t deserve it and Andy Pettitte does? As much as he shouted to the World that Morris didn’t deserve it, and to come up with this? I’m disappointed actually.
      Here we go and about face. Now Joe is saying “He knows how to win” That’s just lame. He wrote a good article and many people will agree with him. But c’mon Joe, you’re being a hypocrite here.

      • Kevin S. - Feb 4, 2011 at 5:32 PM

        Except he is better than Morris. ERA+, FIP, WAR. etc. all favor Pettitte.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 4, 2011 at 6:01 PM

        You know what? You’re right. When you glance at traditional stats it says differently. But you are correct. War for Morris is all over the place when you look at it. Pettitte was pretty even Keel. Morris went from great to crap one season to the next. I wonder why he even was in consideration honestly. Pettitte does have a better case imo. I still think he’s less than HOF material though.

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:08 PM

      Sorry Gator, wasn’t meaning to reply to you…….

  4. monsieurbear - Feb 4, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Are you characterizing those with different approaches to Andy Pettitte’s HoF candidacy as “non-thinking men”?

  5. ralphdibny - Feb 4, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    Hey Craig,

    Neyer has a post up saying that he would vote for Pettitte. I’d be curious to know if his reasoning seems more convincing to you.

    • bravesfaninbama - Feb 4, 2011 at 3:41 PM

      Is it just me or did Neyer use wins and winning percentage to justify voting for Pettitte for the HOF? Wins clearly have too much to do with the team to factor into a HOF discussion, especially when a pitcher spends just about his entire career with the Bankees. I thought we’d already gotten past this with the whole Felix/Cy Young vote.

  6. Brian Murphy - Feb 4, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    As you said yesterday, Craig, this is just wasted breath — or electronic paper.


    Until we see any change in the committee’s firm (read: ridiculous) stance against users, those three letters will keep him far away from the Hall.

    • baseballisboring - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:27 PM

      That’s the thing, though…I have a feeling that isn’t gonna keep him out. Which just highlights how hypocritical the whole PED moral high ground thing is. No one ever even mentions Andy’s PED use. For some reason we just trust him because he’s relatively skinny and seems like a nice guy. Whatever, his numbers aren’t good enough anyway

      • Brian Murphy - Feb 4, 2011 at 5:00 PM

        The moral ground is as stable as a waterbed and I would like to see Andy make the Hall just to give precedent of a known, admitted user being voted in.
        I think no one mention’s Pettitte’s HGH use because he never denied it. He came out, admitted it, never forced the media to chase him and his secrets. He took the cover off and the machine moved on to investigating suspects who shut everyone out. But when Pettitte’s name comes up in five years, that use will be remembered by some and reminded to those who had forgotten. I hope the view changes, but right now, the voters are staunchly against any user, admitted or suspected. Numbers aside.

      • baseballisboring - Feb 4, 2011 at 11:48 PM


  7. Ace - Feb 4, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    I don’t know how factoring in era and context will help his case. He’ll be appearing on the ballot shortly after Clemens, Maddux, Smoltz, Johnson, Martinez, Glavine, Mussina, and Schilling, all of whom have stronger numbers (in my opinion). I think that after 5 years of poring over the stats of Pettitte’s predecessors, his case won’t look any better than it does now.
    And I realize Neyer is sort of on the fence, but I found his argument uncharacteristically weak. His whole comparison study is based on an arbitrary cutoff, including only pitchers who won between 220 and 260 games. Why? Ok, since 1901, Pettitte ranks 10th in wins amongst pitchers with 220-260 wins. Wow?

  8. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    I realize Pettitte might be the wrong guy to use for this argument, but the vast majority of Pettitte’s career was played during the “Steroid’s Era.” It seems that pitchers pitching in that era, like pitchers pitching in Coors Field, should be given a little extra credit.

    In general I think (hope) that in 5 years people will be sick of trying to separate users from non-users and start evaluating guys on performance, enhanced or not.

  9. Jonny 5 - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    Since when does Joe Sheehan ignore the numbers? this is totally lame BS. Now all of a sudden it’s ok to vote for guys who “know how to win” huh? He owes Jack Morris an apology after this crap article.

  10. baseballisboring - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:21 PM

    N, O.

  11. aaronmoreno - Feb 4, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    The big issue here is that you almost HAVE to define the wins down to get into the HOF, otherwise Martinez, Mussina, and Schilling won’t get in with their current totals, let alone Pettitte.

  12. bigtrav425 - Feb 4, 2011 at 10:20 PM

    My answer is NO today and will be NO 5 yrs from now.Good starting pitcher,but not great by any means….I do tend to agree with whoever said this discussion wouldnt even be taking place if he wasnt a Yankee.Only Yanks and Red Sox players who are Mediocre go thru this type of stuff,other players from any other team doesnt

    • baseballisboring - Feb 4, 2011 at 11:51 PM

      Well yeah, I think the east coast bias thing is kind of imaginary but I agree we wouldn’t be talking about him if he weren’t on the Yankees. If he played somewhere else he would’ve probably had like 190 wins and 10 or maybe 15 postseason starts.

  13. bigleagues - Feb 5, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    He’s not done anyway. I’m willing to bet my left family jewel that he comes out of retirement to pitch for the Rangers sometime in the next 18 months. After the Yankees do their “Andy Pettitte Day”, his conscience will be free to wander towards a Rangers comeback.

    I said it first. Mark my words. You heard it here first.

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