Reassessing Andy Pettitte's Hall of Fame Candidacy After Win No. 250
Make it 250 for Andy Pettitte.
He can put that career milestone in the bag. While he's at it, the rest of us now have an excuse to discuss whether Pettitte's career will ultimately be given the most coveted validation baseball has to offer: a ticket to Cooperstown.
It's not the simplest of discussions. Pettitte is more a borderline Hall of Fame candidate than a slam-dunk candidate, and I know I didn't have him pegged as a future Cooperstown alum when he initially retired back in 2010.
I suppose it pleases me to report that I've come around since then. If I had a Hall of Fame vote, Pettitte would get it. And either way, my best guess is that Pettitte will get in eventually anyway.
It's just that "eventually," in his case, is most likely going to mean a long wait.
We'll get to that in good time. First, let's talk about why Pettitte's Hall of Fame candidacy, while not ironclad, is strong enough.
We're framing this discussion around 250th career win, but Pettitte's win total is hardly the biggest feather in his cap. It's my duty as a stat geek to remind everyone that pitcher wins mean jack-all, and Pettitte is a perfect example of why that is.
Pitcher wins are team accomplishments as much as they are individual accomplishments, and Pettitte has been very fortunate to have spent his entire career playing on good teams.
In Pettitte's 18 years of service, he has yet to play on a sub-.500 team. The Yankees haven't finished below .500 in over two decades, and the Houston Astros finished over .500 in each of Pettitte's three years with the team between 2004 and 2006.
To boot, Pettitte has always had the luxury of a strong offense at his back. Per Baseball-Reference, Pettitte's career run support amounts to an average of 5.4 runs per game. That's compared to a league average of 4.8.
This is a sticking point for yours truly, and it will be a sticking point for some of the voters when Pettitte's time comes. It's tricky enough that his career win total doesn't feature the magic 300 number, and there are bound to be voters who consider the teams Pettitte played on and conclude: "Heck, I could have won 250 games on those teams!"
Beyond the wins, Pettitte doesn't have much in terms of accolades. He's only been an All-Star three times, and he hasn't won a Cy Young. He came darn close in 1996 when he finished second in the voting, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Pettitte also doesn't rate that well in light of everyone's favorite performance indicators: ERA and WHIP. He went into Saturday's start with a career 3.86 ERA and a 1.35 career WHIP. Among left-handed starters with at least 1,000 innings pitched, Pettitte's 3.86 ERA ties him for 142nd place. In that same crowd, his 1.35 WHIP places him beyond the top 150.
Point being, Pettitte is far from an extraordinary pitcher, which is something that you knew already. He's only ever been solid and consistent.
I mean that as a compliment—and a big one at that. Being extraordinary is all well and good, but many years of solid consistency can go a long way.
Consider where Pettitte ranks among the best left-handed starters in history in terms of WAR:
So as far as WAR is concerned, Pettitte is among the 10 most accomplished left-handed starters in history. "Most accomplished" is not the same as "best," mind you, but you can see just how far being solid and consistent for so many years can go.
If you're not into the whole WAR thing, there's another stat that can vouch for Pettitte's career: ERA+.
ERA+ is a version of ERA that's park- and league-adjusted, which makes it handy in comparing pitchers from different eras. And if we dial up the list of southpaws with at least 3,000 innings pitched:
Once again, Pettitte is among the top 10 and is very nearly on the level of Tom Glavine, who is likely going to get into the Hall of Fame on his first try next year.
Pettitte's 117 career ERA+ also tops those of a few lefties who are already in the Hall of Fame, namely Steve Carlton, Eppa Rixey, Herb Pennock and Rube Marquard.
So if Pettitte were to be elected, he would hardly be out of place next to the southpaws already in Cooperstown. He'd actually be better than a few of them.
I'd be willing to send a vote Pettitte's way based solely on that, but his career can't be fully appreciated without also considering what he's done in the postseason.
Pettitte has never been regarded as one of the elite postseason performers of all time, a la Curt Schilling. But his postseason track record is nothing if not extensive, and it's uncanny how much his postseason numbers mirror his regular-season numbers.
*Not including his latest start.
While Pettitte's never been an elite postseason performer, these numbers show that he's never been one to wilt in the postseason either. Throughout his career, he's essentially been himself in October. You can't say the same about too many other pitchers.
And yes, there are Pettitte's five rings to consider. I look at those the same way I look at Pettitte's 250 wins, but the rings will undoubtedly help his cause with the voters. They alone won't get him the requisite 75 percent of the vote, but they should serve to keep him relatively close to the magic mark until the support for his cause grows strong enough.
But as I noted way back when, that's going to take time. The voters are going to have to come around to Pettitte's unspectacular career numbers, and that's not the only hurdle standing in his path to the Hall of Fame.
We found out when the Mitchell Report was released in 2007 that Pettitte used human growth hormone during his career. He owned up to it pretty much immediately, and to this day, there seems to be a general satisfaction with the explanation that he used it to recover from an elbow injury.
Has Andy Pettitte had a career worthy of the Hall of Fame?
But you know how it is with Hall of Fame voters and PEDs. They're not fans, and it's going to take both time and some turnover in the ranks for the stance on PEDs and the Hall of Fame to soften enough for Pettitte to get in.
Take the HGH drama and put it next to Pettitte's unspectacular numbers, and you have the reason it's going to take a while for him to get into Cooperstown. A generous guess would be a five-year wait, but I'd put the smart money on something more like 10 or even 15 years.
In the long run, however, that won't matter. As long as Pettitte eventually gets in, he'll be a happy man.
Here's hoping. Pettitte's case is as tough as they come, but he's going to be worthy of Cooperstown when he finally hangs up his spikes for good.
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