Monday, February 7, 2011

Andy Pettitte: Hall of Famer?

As most of you have probably heard by now, Andy Pettitte has officially declared his retirement. This is going to cause a lot of problems for the Yankees rotation this year, but that is not really the topic of this post. As is frequently the case when a player with a lengthy and effective career retires, the debates have begun as to whether Andy Pettite should be in the Hall of Fame in 5 years when he is eligible. I am going to join that debate.

To start off, I am simply going to state that I do not believe Andy Pettitte belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Those who believe he should be in the Hall of Fame cite his impressive post-season statistics as the primary reason. If you didn’t know, Pettitte holds the record for the most wins in the post-season. This is no doubt impressive, but also something that should probably be taken with a grain of salt. Pettitte plays in an era where the postseason is set up in such a way that there are many chances for a pitcher on a very good team to get postseason wins. Great pitchers from the past have absolutely no chance to rank anywhere near the top of such a list, meaning that saying “Pettitte has the most postseason wins of all time” is kind of a hollow statement in that the current post-season format, as compared to the past, makes it much easier for him to accrue wins.

If you look at the list of the most postseason wins, everyone on the list is a modern pitcher. Now, it’s true that Pettitte has more wins than guys from his era who are known for their postseason ability like John Smoltz and Curt Schilling, but a comparison of their other stats shows that Pettitte was not the best postseason starter of all time, and simply benefitted from better run support and more appearances in the postseason. Here are those three pitcher’s postseason stats:

Pettitte: 19-10, 3.83 ERA, 5.9 K/9, 1.304 WHIP.

Smoltz: 15-4, 2.67 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 1.144 WHIP.

Schilling: 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 1.125 WHIP

It should be fairly clear from those statistics that despite having fewer wins, Smoltz and Schilling are in fact in a higher class than Pettitte as far as their post-season performances go. They won a lot of games in a lot fewer appearances, and put up much more dominant numbers than Pettitte ever did. I chose Smoltz and Schilling because they are both guys who are often cited as future Hall of Famers in part because of their post-season stats, so I thought it necessary to show what more legitimate Hall of Fame candidates had done in the postseason.

The other argument people tend to make is simply stating that Pettitte’s regular season statistics are good enough, combined with his postseason success, to get him into the Hall of Fame. Once again, I disagree.

Here is Pettitte’s career line: 240-138, 3.88 ERA, 1.357 WHIP, 9.4 H/9, 6.6 K/9.

Here is Pedro Martinez’s career line: 219-100, 2.93 ERA, 1.054 WHIP, 7.1 H/9, 10.0 K/9.

Once again, for comparison’s sake, I am using someone who is typically considered a future Hall of Famer to compare Pettitte’s numbers too, just to indicate how far off the pace he is in everything but Wins. While Pettitte’s career winning percentage is fairly impressive – No one who is 102 games over the .500 mark for Wins has ever NOT made it in into the hall of fame. The rest of Pettitte’s numbers are not anywhere near that elite. His ERA, WHIP, and Hits and Strikeouts per nine innings are all fairly solid, and fairly typical for a Number 3 starter. How many pitchers in the Hall of Fame have given up more than one hit per inning in their career? The answer is one, and he got in 65 years ago. How many Number 3 starters make the Hall of Fame? Only the ones who have the longevity to win 300 games, which Pettitte has not done. Once again, Pettitte’s win total is inflated by the great offenses he pitched for.

There may have been a time where Win Percentage MIGHT have been enough to get Pettitte into the Hall of Fame, but if the last two American League Cy Young Award winners, who were not even in the top 10 in Wins in their respective years (Zach Greinke, 16-8 in 2009 and Felix Hernandez, 13-12 in 2010) indicate anything, it is that voters are starting to look at more than just Wins.

Now, I feel it necessary to post a disclaimer in saying that I think Andy Pettitte is certainly a very good pitcher. If I did not think so, I would not have begun this article by stating that the Yankees rotation is going to miss him. However, being in the Hall of Fame means being MORE than very good. It means being among the best of your era. Something that Andy Pettitte certainly is not. It should be noted that I did not even bring up pitchers like Randy Johnson and other pitchers who seem to be a lock for first ballot on the Hall of Fame. Pettitte will forever be remembered as a good player with multiple World Series wins and rings, especially because he plays for the biggest team in the sport, but this does not make him a Hall of Famer.


Andrew said...

Your Yankee hate is flowing strong in this post. You make some good points, but bringing this back to reality, the fact that he had so much success for the team that he did will probably get him over the bump. First ballot? I certainly hope not. I really don't care at all if he gets into the hall of fame though. I don't think it would be a travesty if he didn't, and I don't think he is entirely underqualified either. I personally think the world series rings will bridge the gap for him and get him in, but that's entirely speculative on my part.

As a side note, all of your counter examples wore red sox uniforms at some point in their careers. Really?

Jacob said...

Hahaha, I don't know if saying I have "Yankee hate" is fully accurate. I may be a Red Sox fan, and have some degree of bias, but I think I am far more objective than the average Red Sox fan would be.

It is true that all three of my examples wore Red Sox uniforms at some point, though I would hardly count Smoltz. But honestly choosing Smoltz and Schilling is coincidental, at least as far as their status as Red Sox goes. As I explained in the post, those two are always cited as two of the most dominant postseason pitchers of Pettitte's era. I merely wanted to show what apparent postseason dominance looks like, as opposed to Pettitte's workman-like postseason stats.

Choosing Martinez is also coincidental, in that I chose the best pitcher of Pettitte's generation who has not reached 300 Wins, but was clearly dominant and is thought of by most as the most dominant pitcher of the era.

What can I say, the Red Sox get good pitchers..though Smoltz was hardly that by the time they got him.

Matt Velasquez said...

I agree Yankees pitching is a dice roll this year. It's an interesting strategy giving Prior and Colon another chance. If they can get thier kinks worked out I believe they can both be effective middle releif.

Now on to Pettitte's HOF run. You make some great points. I agree his stat of having the most postseason wins is diminished by the fact that the Yankees maintained a constant presence in the playoffs over the span of his career. Another thing that'll probably hinder his HOF run is admitting to use of HGH. He'll make the HOF in the last years of his ballot eligibility.

Jacob said...

You make a good point about the HGH, I tried to leave it out and just look at his numbers. In my opinion, Pettitte seems to have taken the least heat out of anybody for PEDs use, in part becasue he admitted to it immediatley, and in part because he is in general likeable -- something that Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds etc., are not. So he may not take as much heat regarding PEDs in the long run as some other guys have.

It will be interesting, in a general sense, to see how voters change over time in regard to PEDs. Perhaps by the time he is elligble, some kind of consensus will have been reached by the voters about PEDs.