A Painful Posting

For Evan, it didn’t matter that Barry Bonds was, by all accounts, a major ^*^%*. The circus he brought to the ballpark on a daily basis was fine with her, so long as he kept bashing homeruns into McCovey’s Cove. She was a fan–which we often forget is short for fanatic. And for a fan, it wasn’t that hard to convince herself that Bonds was completely natural (as well as both a scholar and a gentleman). From that perspective, I hate the post I’m about to write–because I’m a fan of Andy Pettitte‘s. And this is just one of the many examples I have to show that being both a fan and an analyst can be….difficult at times.

Because compared to the jump Evan was making with Barry Bonds (which required the turning of a blind eye to any number of Bonds’ foibles, the newspaper articles that seemed to come out daily, his own teammates potshots, not to mention his grotesque musculature), the jump I would be taking, nudging Andy over the finish line into the hall of fame would be quite small (though as I’ll show, not insignificant).

Unfortunately, I just can’t take that leap.

Let’s get one thing out of the way early–performance enhancing drugs have nothing to do with my conclusion. If this is the linchpin of anyone’s argument out there, they’ve probably missed the point. I can understand someone toeing the line against a rampant Andro user like McGwire (though I find it distasteful even at that point). However, Andy’s sin is quite different–he admitted to using human growth hormone momentarily. A steroid is not the same as HgH, is not the same as ritalin, is not the same as a corked bat, etc. There are different gradations, and Pettitte’s foible seems to me the least of them.

Next, let’s talk about what it means to get into the hall of fame. The purpose of the hall is to enshrine the best players of each generation, and as such, it’s sort of odd that most arguments seem to focus on players versus those already enshrined. Who really cares whether Andy looks like Dizzy Dean or not? They played in different eras, and the statistics aren’t particularly comparable due to context. I prefer to look at Andy versus his peers, because simply put, it would be very odd for 10 pitchers from the same decade to get in (though this number is rather arbitrary). Along that line, who are the best pitchers of Andy’s generation, so we can compare them?

The names that come to mind for me, and the names Andy will be compared to, run as follows (not in any particular order): Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, and Kevin Brown. Let’s take a look at them matched up properly.

Wins Win% WAR ERA+ IP K K/BB WAR/9IP
Martinez 219 68.7% 89.4 154 2827 3154 4.15 0.28
Clemens 354 65.8% 145.5 143 4917 4672 2.96 0.27
Johnson 303 64.6% 114.8 136 4135 4875 3.26 0.25
Schilling 216 59.7% 86.1 128 3261 3116 4.38 0.24
Maddux 355 61.0% 120.6 132 5008 3371 3.37 0.22
Mussina 270 63.8% 85.6 123 3563 2813 3.58 0.22
Smoltz 213 57.9% 82.5 125 3473 3084 3.05 0.21
Brown 211 59.4% 77.2 127 3256 2397 2.66 0.21
Pettitte 240 63.5% 66.9 117 3055 2251 2.34 0.20
Glavine 305 60.0% 67.1 118 4413 2607 1.74 0.14

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Postseason Wins Postseason Losses Saves
Martinez 6 4
Clemens 12 8
Johnson 7 9
Schilling 11 2
Maddux 11 14
Mussina 7 8
Smoltz 15 4 158
Brown 5 5
Pettitte 19 10
Glavine 14 16

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The above table tells the story pretty well. I’ve bolded the numbers that are particularly absurd, and italicized one in particular which should act as a veto. Though I imagine most of the readers of this blog know fullwell what these statistics mean at this point, for those of you who don’t, a primer.

WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement, and is a somewhat complicated equation which estimates the true value of a pitcher, taking into account league, era, park effects, etc. For instance, a pitcher that wins a game but gives up 15 earned runs has probably lost value in their career WAR, even though they get the shiny addition to their win-loss record. We like WAR around these parts.

ERA+ is a normalized version of ERA centered on 100, basically showing how much better or worse a pitcher was compared to their league average (by ERA). 110, for example, would indicate that the pitcher’s ERA was 10% better than average. 95, on the other hand, would be roughly 5% worse than average. This is a good statistic for comparing pitchers between different time periods–a 4.00 ERA in 2000 doesn’t mean the same thing as a 4.00 ERA in 1920, for example.

K/BB is how many strikeouts a pitcher had per walk. More is better, less is worse.

As you can see, the above table doesn’t do Andy any favors. He’s 6th in wins and 5th in winning percentage, but he’s 9th in ERA+ and dead last in WAR. His K/BB beats only Tom Glavine, who comes off looking pretty bad on this list. The only thing he has going for him is his playoff record–and frankly, the team he was on won a whole bunch of playoff games while he was on the team, even when he wasn’t pitching. Besides, we’re pretty much past the point of taking W/L record as a good indication of pitcher skill–why is it that when we slap the word “postseason” onto the statistic, we suddenly devolve 10 years to when such things seemed to matter?

For me, the most damning number is one you’ve probably not seen before–WAR/9IP. I threw this together mostly to fisk Tom Glavine‘s candidacy (up front, I think it’s silly he’s going to get in). This is basically showing the rate at which players accrued wins above replacement. Of this list, only two names are below 0.20–Pettitte and Glavine. Let’s take a moment to consider how much lower Glavine’s is…I think it’s clear that one of these things is not like the others. Let me write this quite clearly–the only reason he’s in this conversation whatsoever is that he pitched 4413 innings–every one of which was in the NL, and mostly for winning teams–but I digress.

So the question becomes this: How many pitchers is the coop going to let in from this time period? It’s clear that Pedro Martinez will walk in, as will Maddux and Randy Johnson. Clemens probably would have walked in as well if he’d just admitted his steroid use and moved on–but he’s turned himself into a pariah. At this point, I don’t know how you keep him out of the hall of fame (to be clearer, I think he should be in)–but I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if it took him a decade to make it. After that you’ve got Schilling, Mussina, Smoltz and Pettitte, all of whom have serious postseason credentials. Smoltz has the 158 saves (4 in the postseason) which will grease the skids for him. Schilling has the bloody sock, to go along with the crazy 4.38 K/BB rate and ~86 WAR. Mussina has the 270 wins, the ~86 WAR, the and a pretty darn high 3.58 K/BB of his own. Pettitte, well, Pettitte has five world series rings. Kevin Brown is already off the ballot, not even managing to stay on for a second year, and the only thing Pettitte has on Brown is wins. Then we’ve got Tom Glavine, who is like a much crappier, but more more determined version of Andy Pettitte (by these numbers).

So we’ve got four pitchers who will be no doubters: Martinez, Maddux, Johnson, Glavine. Actually, it’s pretty hard to argue that Smoltz won’t be a no doubter as well. Then there’s Clemens, who is probably the best pitcher ever, but has that little steroid/court/^*(%^*(% factor to deal with. Then you’ve got Schilling, Mussina and Pettitte. And of the three, unless you’ve got blinders on and are only worried about postseason wins, Pettitte is the least compelling. And hell, even if you do massively overweight postseason performance, Schilling’s got that calling card, too.

I entered this post thinking that if Andy had played another two seasons, he’d probably be a lot closer to induction–but if you actually look at the table, he’d still be 9th in WAR, last in ERA+, second to last in K, second to last in K/BB, etc. If we’re really honest about it, Andy isn’t even really a candidate.

Which really sucks for us fans.

Will is a lifelong New Yorker and Yankees fan who splits his time between finance, music, and baseball. He was one of the early contributors to IIATMS, though life took him away for some time. He is very excited to be back.

16 thoughts on “A Painful Posting

  1. Great analysis man, I really liked the way you thought that through and used stats. One thing I think you need to point out, however, is how much you weigh stats. Is a higher winning percentage more important than WAR, for example. You mentioned how WAR doesn't really care about how many W's a pitcher gets because it takes into account how many runs he gave up, yet you still list the wins and winning percentage categories.

    For the record, I'm a big fan of WAR, ERA+, K/BB and WHIP.

  2. LarryAtIIATMS

    Will, great post! I'd be interested to hear your reactions to Rob Neyer's piece here. Rob seems OK with Pettitte in the HOF. http://sbn.to/fkHYhY. Personally, I'm pleasantly surprised that Pettitte grades out as high as he does with you.

    One correction: Bonds was popular in Northern California — maybe only in the immediate environs of San Francisco. In L.A. we truly hated the guy.

  3. Great stuff, Will. I want Pettitte to remain in the discussion for HOF but like you, I fear he's going to spend the next 20 years (5 year waiting period, 15 years on the ballot) sitting on the cusp. By that point, he'll be up for selection by some version of the veteran's committee, where he will presumably have a better shot.

  4. So weird to click on a Rob Neyer link and not be taken to ESPN.com. That's going to take some getting used to.

    Anyhow, I agree with Will. Bearing in mind that I'm someone who prefers to err on the side of keeping the Hall of Fame small, I don't think Andy qualifies. There are marginal candidates, and then there are people who are on the margins of attaining marginal candidate status. I think Andy's in the latter category.

    If he'd pitched another couple of years and impressed us until the age of 40? It might be harder to decide, because I think longevity and consistency combined can sometimes make the case for Hall-worthy excellence for a pitcher who is otherwise merely very good. And while Andy has been a model of consistency, the longevity is only decent, not superlative.

    I'd love to make a trip to Cooperstown to see a guy as nice and as thoroughly pinstriped as Andy Pettitte get inducted. But, I just don't see it. And personally, I can't honestly advocate for it.

  5. Joe Gualtieri

    "It’s clear that Pedro Martinez will walk in"

    I hope you're right, but the further we get from Martinez's dominant era, the more I'm afraid voters will forget and only look at his low career win total.

    • Pedro will have no problem getting in, low win total or not. His highs, his period of domination relative to the rest of the league, in the era he was in… utterly dominant. Ridiculously so.

  6. Sam

    His number retired and a plaque in monument park would mean more to me now than him getting into the HOF at this point. I just feel like 1,000 people robbed a bank at once, some took a little, some took plenty, all took some and the police could only catch a few dozen while the rest sneaked away.. so my generations inductees will always be scrutinized no matter what. I still hang my Mark McGwire ornament on the christmas tree. I still love baseball.

  7. joseph

    I hope Jaime Moyer plays until he's 52 so he can get 300 wins. Maybe then people will realize Glavine does not deserve to get inducted just because he has 305 wins

  8. billybeaneismyhero

    Awesome article man. It's nice to see that someone else agrees with about Glavine. He was a good pitcher, but he never would've won 300 games if hadn't played on those tremendous Braves teams. It still bothers me to this day that he won the 1998 NL Cy Young over Kevin Brown and Greg Maddux, both of whom put up superior seasons, but that's a topic for another day.

    As for Pettitte getting in, I don't think I would be disappointed if he made it–as long as the other pitchers on the list also made it as well. I don't consider myself a "Big Hall' guy, but there were so many tremendous players during the last 20 years, it's hard to draw a line as to who should/shouldn't get in.

    Great analysis.

  9. J.Leeker

    In defense of Glavine, his lower WAR could be a due in part to his ability to constantly outperform his FIP and xFIP. His career ERA of 3.42 is lower then his FIP of 3.95 and markedly lower then his xFIP 4.58. Some advanced stats such as WAR could be undervaluing Glavine because we haven't quite figured out how to value, to use an overworked cliche, the crafty lefty type pitcher (or in the case of Matt Cain, crafty righty).

    • hk9

      While it's true that he consistently outperformed his FIP and xFIP, his ERA+ was only 118 (barely above Pettitte and below everyone else on the list.

  10. Mark

    As much as stats may indicate what the true value of a player is, it seems to me that Hall of Fame has something to do with winning and fame. In basketball or football, championships matter the world for how a player is remembered. It is not right to marginalize Yankees players for being on a winning team. Winning it all is what its all about. The postseason leader in wins (by a large margin) should be in the hall of fame. That is a famous and impressive accomplishment, with no way around it.

  11. J.Leeker

    Pettitte's Career Stats: ERA: 3.88 FIP: 3.75 K/9: 6.63 BB/9: 2.83 WHIP: 1.36

    Postseaon Stats: ERA: 3.83 FIP: 4.17 K/9: 5.92 BB/9: 2.46 WHIP: 1.30

    Pettitte's postseaon performance is in line with his regular season performance. He was a good, above average pitcher (with a wicked pick off move) who had a long career. His postseason wins are the byproduct of being on a bunch of very good teams that made it far into the postseason and not some magical ability to up his game during the playoffs.

  12. usuomojinga

    Maybe I'm missing something, but all you established in the post is that the players listed had better careers than Pettitte. Don't you still have to define a Hall of Fame floor to determine who does and does not get in?

    My guess would be everyone on the list does get in (save Brown, of course), so I'm not sure you really answered the question you set out to answer.

    • Will Moller

      Usuomojina: As I stated up there, it becomes a question of how many players from a given era get into the hall of fame. I'd personally draw the line after Mussina, and before Schilling. That leaves Andy out in the cold.

      You can't just draw a statistical line in the sand–if you think about it, 40 years ago, 500 home runs was an absolute slam dunk of a hall of fame ticket. 40 years from now, that may seem rather quaint (though I doubt it).

      40 years ago, 250 wins was almost required to get a lot of HOF interest. Going forward, that's not going to be the case, as the structure of pitching staffs have changed dramatically.

      So, I want to look at players versus their peers. On "everyone" on the above list getting in–well, Brown was pretty comparable to some of the players on that list, and he didn't even stick around for a second year on the ballot. Seems pretty optimistic to think that everyone up there will outperform him so dramatically (when some of them didn't on the field).

      I suppose we'll see, of course. It would make me smile to see Pettitte get in. I'd probably make the pilgrimage to hear the speech. I just don't think it'd be deserved.

      Will

  13. Tony

    Excellent post. I am curious though-you said Clemens is probably the best ever-would you care to post a comparison of him with other 'GOAT' level pitchers? I would love to see how he stacks up. I think he is the best I've ever seen.

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