A Deep Look at Andy Pettitte's Chances for the Hall of Fame
After the 2008 season—a season where he pitched better than he had in years—Mike Mussina abruptly retired. Never mind that his ERA was the lowest it had been since 2001; likewise his WAR—the lowest since 2001. And never mind that Moose had won 20 games for the first time in career, putting him at 270 wins for his career. 300 wins—and a guaranteed Hall of Fame invite—was within reach. Figure 2 to 3 more seasons (which the Yankees would happily offer him as they needed the pitching) of 10 to 15-win seasons— a reasonable expectation considering he just came off a 20-win season—and he’d be assured of the Hall.
Instead he left. Gone. Done.
The Mussina exit is interesting because a very similar situation is occurring right now with Andy Pettitte wavering on retiring. Coming off a bounce-back type season—where he had his lowest ERA for the Yankees since 2002—where Andy is showing that there are still rounds left in the lefty’s rifle, why would Pettitte retire? And more to the point of this article, why would he retire when he potentially close to Hall of Fame consideration.
Comparing Andy Pettitte to Mike Mussina—who should expect Hall of Fame consideration when the time comes—one finds very similar pitchers with very similar careers. (So close are these 2 that on Baseball-Reference’s “Similar Pitchers by Age” feature, for Andy Pettitte; the last 4 years that pitcher is Mike Mussina.) Pettitte’s win percentage is .635 compared to Mussina’s .638. Pettitte’s ERA+ is 117; Mussina’s is 123+. Both spent, if not the entirety, the lion’s share of their career in the AL East during the steroid era. And while Mussina’s lifetime WAR of 85.6 trumps Pettitte’s 66.9, Mussina did pitch over 500 more innings than Pettitte. And Pettitte, a well-known big-game pitcher does have 5 World Series rings, compared to Mussina’s zero.
However, where Mussina truly leads Pettitte in Hall of Fame consideration is the benchmark “300 Wins” consideration. Mussina is only 30 away and ended on a 20 game season. Pettitte is 60 away at 240 wins—though again, he does have practically the same win percentage as Mussina. The question is: If Pettitte comes back, what will it take to seriously aid his HOF chances?
At the bottom of Baseball-Reference.com’s page on Andy Pettitte, of the 4 Hall of Fame Statistics, Pettitte only rates as a Hall of Famer on one of them—the Hall of Fame Monitor. Pettitte is close on the Hall of Fame Standard statistic, just 8 points away from “average” Hall of Famer.
But is Pettitte really that far off? Compare Pettitte’s career to that of Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. Marichal ended his career with 243 wins, just 3 more than Pettitte. Marichal’s win percentage was .631, just below Pettitte’s .635. Marichal’s ERA+ was 123, just above Pettitte’s 117 ERA+. But consider that 2 important facts; one; Marichal pitched 500 more innings than Pettitte to get his 243 wins at a time when relief pitchers were far less common and two; Marichal pitched in National League during the glory days of pitching of the 1960s, instead of the steroid-era American League East.
Catfish Hunter is another good example. Hunter, a Hall of Famer has a lifetime ERA+ 105, far below Pettitte’s 117. His win percentage of .574 is also far below Pettitte’s Hunter despite that fact that Hunter pitched on the 1970s Yankees and A's. Hunter though did have 5 20-win seasons compared to Pettitte’s 2, and was a Cy Young winner while Pettitte only came in second once. Hunter though, pitched 400 more innings than Pettitte, won 16 fewer games (and lost 26 more) than Pettitte, and has roughly 140 less strikeouts. Like Pettitte, however, he has 5 World Series rings.
But the example I like to use when thinking of Pettitte's Hall of Fame chances is Don Sutton. Sutton, a Hall of Famer has 324 wins, thereby guaranteeing his admittance. Yet Sutton’s win percentage is far below Andy Pettitte’s, at .559; this despite being on the Dodgers in the 60s and late 70s. Sutton also never won a Cy Young, won 20 games only once and has a much lower K/9 than Pettitte. And like Marichal, pitched in the National League in the non-steroid, glory era of pitchers, while Pettitte’s career enveloped the heart of the Juice Era in the AL East.
Yes, despite the favorable comparisons to Sutton, Mussina, Marichal (as well as Ferguson Jenkins, Phil Niekro, Early Wynn, and Gaylord Perry, among others) the sense is that Pettitte probably isn’t a Hall of Fame pitcher. Why? Because he doesn’t have the benchmark 300 wins and never won a Cy Young. Excepting Marichal, all the guys I mentioned have one or the other. What Marichal had was that he led the league in a number of categories; Wins, ERA, Complete Games, Shutouts, WHIP, ERA+, HR/9 etc, while Pettitte only led the league in wins once and HR/9 once, both early in his career.
In a sense, what the zeitgeist is regarding about Pettitte's Hall of Fame's chances is that Pettitte didn’t dominate his time. He was a very good pitcher, a tough postseason pitcher, but not the guy the league looked to as the pitcher of his age.
I’m not sure there is anything Pettitte could do to seriously aid his Hall of Fame chances. It’s highly dubious that Pettitte could win a Cy Young if he hasn’t already. The same goes for dominating the WHIP, ERA, or Shutouts categories of the AL. And short of pitching another 4 to 5 seasons of 12-16 wins—something Pettitte doesn’t want to do and might not be able to anyway—Pettitte’s chances for the Hall are about as good as they are going to be. If he wins 20 games this season, maybe the Hall would take kinder to Pettitte—as they might do with Mussina and his final season—but that is a wild shot on an extremely dark day.
A while back I wrote about Pettitte’s chances for the Hall of Fame, and looking back at that article, I have to say I was wrong. I concluded that Pettitte’s 5 World Series rings would get him in. However, after reviewing my argument, I’d have to say that no, Pettitte won’t get him. While, yes, he did win 5 World Series rings, he was never considered the unquestioned "Ace" of the staff on any of those teams, as say a Whitey Ford was. And yes, his stats may measure up favorably with several Hall of Famers—indeed, in some areas, beats them quite handily—Pettitte has none of the yardstick-type requirements: the Cy Young, the 300 wins, or the sense that he was a the dominating pitcher of his time.
There is the old adage: "It ain't the Hall of the Very Good. "And after further review, Andy Pettitte was a very, very good pitcher. But not a Hall of Fame one.
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