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Is Andy Pettitte a Hall of Famer?

January 20, 2011

As things currently stand, the New York Yankees will go into the 2011 season without Andy Pettitte as part of their starting rotation. We’ve known for some time now that this could be a real possibility as he had stated at the end of the 2010 season the same sentiment he’s made at the end of each of the past few seasons – that he was considering retirement so that he could spend more time with his family as his kids get older. The old line was always “either Yankees or retirement”. Pettitte hasn’t ruled out pitching this year, and hasn’t officially retired, but at the least we know he won’t be starting the year with the team.

So, barring a midseason return for part of the season, it seems as though we can now begin to evaluate where Pettitte stands in baseball history and ultimately, whether he is a future Hall of Famer. First, let’s take a look at some numbers.

Player A 216-146 .597 3.46 128 3,116 8.6 711 2.0 4.38 1.137 69.7
Player B 219-100 .687 2.93 154 3,154 10.0 760 2.4 4.15 1.054 75.9
Player C 240-138 .635 3.88 117 2,251 6.6 962 2.8 2.34 1.357 50.2
Player D 236-106 .690 2.75 133 1,956 5.6 1,086 3.1 1.80 1.215 55.3
Player E 209-166 .557 2.95 121 2,486 6.5 855 2.2 2.91 1.148 65.7
Player F 243-142 .631 2.89 123 2.303 5.9 709 1.8 3.25 1.101 64.0

The above chart shows some of the career totals for six of the top pitchers in baseball history. We know that one of those six pitchers is Pettitte but the identities of the other five we do not yet know (unless you either cheated and skipped ahead or have an uncanny ability to identify them solely based on their career numbers). But let’s see how they compare to one another before I reveal their names. I will say that all six had roughly the same length to their careers (an average of 16.667 seasons). Each pitched between 2,800 and 3,500 career innings. So, for all intensive purposes we’re working with similar sample sizes.

At first glance, all six pitchers seemed to have had fairly similar statistical careers in many regards. In terms of overall win-loss records the six are all very close. Player F has the highest win total but Player D holds the best win-loss percentage for his career. Player D holds the best ERA, yet Player B has the best ERA+ (how he held up against his peers within his era). Player A and Player B have significantly better K/BB ratios and ultimately came in with the highest totals for career bWAR. Overall, there are certainly some differences between each player’s respective careers but the numbers are largely similar in nearly every fashion. Just looking at the statistics, without placing names to each line, it is tough to determine who is a Hall of Famer and who is not.

So, let’s look at some of the other factors that, be it right or wrong, get taken into consideration when we evaluate a player’s place in history.

Player A made 6 All Star Game appearances and won 20+ games three times. He finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young Award voting 4 times, with his best finish being 2nd place (three times). Of the four times his teams reached the World Series they won three and lost one.

Player B made 8 All Star Game appearances and won 20+ games twice. He finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young Award voting 7 times, winning the award three times. His teams reached the World Series twice, winning once.

Player C made 3 All Star Game appearances and won 20+ games twice. He finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young Award voting four times, with his best finish being 2nd place. His teams reached the World Series 8 times, winning five of them.

Player D made 8 All Star Game appearances and won 20+ games twice. He finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young Award voting twice, including one win. His teams reached the World Series an astonishing 11 times, winning it all 6 times.

Player E made 8 All Star Game appearances and won 20+ games twice. He finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young Award voting just once, but did win that year. His teams reached the World Series five times, winning three.

Player F made 9 All Star Game appearances and won 20+ games a remarkable 6 times. He finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young Award voting only once, finishing 8th in the voting. His teams reached the World Series once, and lost.

Now, factoring in that additional information we still cannot find a significant difference between the six players. Each was able to lead their teams to the World Series and all but Player F were able to win at least one championship. Three of the six won the Cy Young Award but all six finished in the Top 10 in voting at least once. Each pitcher had multiple 20+ win seasons. Each made multiple All Star Game appearances.

All six pitchers seem, at least on paper, to be quality pitchers deserving of a place in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Now, what would you say if I told you that three of them already are enshrined in Cooperstown?

Player D is none other than Whitey Ford. Pitching for the New York Yankees in 1950 and from 1953-1967 (16 seasons) he led his teams to 11 World Series appearances, including wins in 1950, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, and 1962. Of the group above, Ford has the worst BB/9 and K/9 rates but holds the best career win-loss percentage. His lone Cy Young Award came in 1961 when he finished 25-4 with a 3.21 ERA in 283.0 innings pitched. The Yankees beat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series that year in five games. Ford started and won two of them, including a complete game two-hit shutout in Game 1. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1974.

Player E is none other than Don Drysdale, who pitched for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1956-1969 (14 seasons). He helped the Dodgers to World Series wins in 1959, 1963, and 1965. Of the above group, he won the fewest games and holds the worst career win-loss percentage. His lone Cy Young Award came in 1962 when he went 25-9 with a 2.83 ERA in 314.1 innings pitched. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1984.

Finally, Player F is none other than Juan Marichal. He spent 1960-1975 (16 seasons) in the Majors, primarily with the San Francisco Giants. His lone World Series appearance came in 1962, when the Giants lost to the Yankees in seven games. Marichal won 20+ games an impressive six times – 25 in 1963, 21 in 1964, 22 in 1965, 25 in 1966, 26 in 1968, and 21 in 1969. Yet, only once (in 1971 – when he went 18-11 with a 2.94 ERA) did he finish in the Top 10 in Cy Young Award voting. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1983.

The trio have impressive resumes and are widely considered three of the best pitchers from their respective eras. The other two “mystery pitchers” can each say the same about their respective careers.

Player A is none other than Curt Schilling. He split his career, 1988-2007 (20 seasons), with the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Boston Red Sox. He won the World Series in 1993 with the Phillies, 2001 with the Diamondbacks, and in 2004 and 2007 with the Red Sox. Of the six pitchers above, he holds the best K/BB ratio. Schilling never won a Cy Young Award but did finish second a total of three times – 2001, 2002, and 2004. Working in his favor is also a stellar postseason record of 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and an impeccable off-field reputation. Schilling will first appear on a Hall of Fame ballot in 2012 and while he may not be a first ballot inductee, he should end up enshrined in Cooperstown.

Player B is none other than Pedro Martinez. Martinez’s career spanned from 1992-2009 (18 seasons) and he played for the Dodgers, Montreal Expos, Red Sox, New York Mets, and Phillies. He was part of the 2004 World Series winning Red Sox team and the 2009 Phillies team that would lose to the Yankees. His career K/9 and ERA+ were hands down the best from the group above. Martinez won three Cy Young Awards – 1997, 1999, and 2000. His 1999 and 2000 seasons are widely considered as two of the best single season performances by a pitcher in history when he went a combined 41-10 with a 1.90 ERA with 597 strikeouts in 430.1 innings pitched. He has not yet officially retired but did not pitch at all during the 2010 season. If he does not make another return to the Majors, he will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2014 when he should be an easy choice for induction.

As if there were any doubt left, Player C would be none other than Pettitte. His career has spanned from 1995-2010 (16 seasons) primarily with the Yankees aside from three seasons in Houston. He was part of the Yankees’ World Series winning teams from 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009. He also was a part of the WS losing teams in 2001, 2003, and 2005. Pettitte holds a career postseason record of 19-10, the most wins by any pitcher in postseason history. Despite finishing in the Top 10 in voting five times, the closest he has come to winning the Cy Young Award was a 2nd place finish in 1996 when he went 21-8 with a 3.87 ERA in 221.0 innings pitched.

Pettitte’s case for the Hall of Fame may be less clear than those of Schilling and Martinez on paper. He has never been viewed as one of the top pitchers of his era and some of his accomplishments have been overlooked by many because of the players that surrounded him in New York. When you look at his career accomplishments purely from a statistical standpoint, he stacks up favorably against three current Hall of Famers in Ford, Drysdale, and Marichal. The body of work from his time on the field certainly leans, in my opinion at least, towards his induction into the Hall of Fame.

However, as we know from the voting results for the Hall of Fame each of the past few seasons, the voting members of the BBWAA have not looked kindly on any eligible player who has been associated with performance enhancing drugs. Unfortunately for Pettitte, he too is guilty of such association.

In December 2007 when the infamous Mitchell Report was finally released, Pettitte’s name was included. Information had been provided to investigators from his former strength trainer Brian McNamee that Pettitte had used human growth hormone (HGH) on multiple occasions during the 2002 season in an effort to help an elbow injury heal quicker. Two days after the Report’s release, Pettitte verified that McNamee’s claims were indeed correct. He stressed that he took HGH only to return as quickly as possible from injury, not to boost his performance, because he felt an obligation to return to the team.

Two months later, in February 2008, Pettitte found himself testifying before Congress about his involvement with performance enhancing drugs. During that testimony he admitted to a second occurrence of use, one day in 2004, but again stressed that it was only to recover from injury and not in an effort to perform better on the field. It was during that same session of Congress that Pettitte and McNamee also admitted to knowledge of the use of HGH by Roger Clemens, Pettitte’s longtime training partner and teammate. Clemens has steadfastly denied any involvement with HGH or steroids and his perjury trial still awaits before we will know his fate or the truth behind his usage. The relationship between the two has reportedly been “strained” since that date and it remains to be seen whether Pettitte will have to testify again during Clemens’ perjury trial. Upon arriving at Spring Training a few weeks later Pettitte held a press conference apologizing to his teammates and fans.

Now how Pettitte will ultimately be viewed by the Hall of Fame voters remains to be seen. Will they look at his prompt admission to his HGH use as a positive? Will that be enough for the same voters to eventually overlook his transgressions and support his candidacy for induction? Or will be lumped in with the suspected and known performance enhancing drug users like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Barry Bonds and kept out of the Hall of Fame altogether?

Time will tell how the situation ultimately plays out, just as time will tell how history views those connected to the Steroid Era. We may ultimately see some of the players from that era reach the hallowed grounds of Cooperstown. Those that do will have their candidacy viewed carefully based on their on-field performance and their off-field reputations. The BBWAA will eventually have to decide whether to allow some of these players into the Hall of Fame based on the severity of their transgressions or they’ll need to make a blanket statement by keeping everyone out with any association to performance enhancing drugs. Pettitte will be a highly watched case in such discussions. In the end, how he handled the situation and how he has handled himself as a professional should work in his favor.

Ultimately, in the end Pettitte should be a Hall of Famer, at least in this writer’s opinion.

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