Today is going to be an emotional day at Yankee Stadium. Mariano Rivera Day will be shared by Andy Pettitte. That Rivera encouraged Pettitte to announce his retirement to share in the special day says as much about Rivera as anything else written about the man. And that Pettitte was concerned about impeding on Rivera’s day says a lot about him as a man as well. And much will be said today in flowering terms. And rightly so. The two pitchers are part of a dynastic era and were two big cogs in all those successful teams. Along with the hyperbole when discussing the two pitchers today will be their Hall of Fame chances. Rivera will be considered a lock. Pettitte will be considered just short.
There are a lot of statistics that will back up that assessment of Pettitte’s career. His 3.93 career ERA would be the highest of any pitcher ever elected to the Hall of Fame. Pettitte’s starts during his career have benefited from a 5.4 runs per game support. The Major League average during that time was 4.7 runs of support.
Andy Pettitte never won a Cy Young Award. He did finish in the top ten in voting five times. Pettitte only made three All Star teams in his career. He was not even considered the best pitcher on the Yankees or the Astros for most of his time with those two teams. He only pitched four shutouts in his eighteen year career and only had 25 complete games.
And then there are those that rank Hall of Fame numbers. There is the JAWS scale where Pettitte is considered the 86th best starting pitcher of all time. While quite the accomplishment, Pettitte does not meet any of the HOF requirements based on the way baseball-reference.com measures them and JAWS has his seven year peak and his career WAR being below the HOF standard.
But there are other arguments that can make Andy Pettitte a borderline case for the Hall of Fame. The game has changed since most of the HOF pitchers pitched. The eighth inning specialist and closer meant that starting pitchers did not finish games like in the past. And since the Yankees have always been strong in those areas, Pettitte was not going to rack up a lot of complete games.
The four-man rotation has been replaced by five in Pettitte’s era meaning less innings pitched per season and less chances per season to total WAR figures. Consider that since 1963, Pettitte only has the twentieth highest WAR among starters. But if you look at just the last 20 years, then Pettitte is seventh. Those ahead of him read like the Who’s Who of pitchers: Johnson, Martinez, Maddux, Schilling, Clemens and Mussina.
Those six pitchers ahead of Pettitte over the last twenty years are all Hall of Fame pitchers from this bleacher seat.
The obvious ERA question is the link with pitching for all those great Yankee teams. The wins and winning percentage statistics have fallen out of favor with Brian Kenney being the latest band wagon leader. And while it is agreed that basing a pitcher’s worth solely on those statistics is proven not to be the way to go, the belief here is that it should not be completely thrown out the window either.
Andy Pettitte has 255 wins. To make more sense of that, let’s put it this way: There have been 255 times that Andy Pettitte has pitched better than his opponent did. Did that 5.4 runs per game of support help. Sure. But baseball-reference.com has a stat that looks at cheap wins and tough losses. That site considers that Pettitte had 50 cheap wins. But he also had 42 tough losses. So can we fairly state that is an eight win advantage for him? Perhaps.
You can also look at Pettitte’s FIP and xFIP. Both are less in his career than his ERA.
And then there is the post season. What kind of value do you add to a career for pitching in the post season? The competition is tougher. You are only pitching against the best teams. There are no easy opponents. And yet, his statistics in the post season match or are better in many areas than his regular season statistics. His ERA is lower. His WHIP is lower. His K/BB ratio is higher. In other words, when the competition was at its peak, his stats were even better than the regular season.
While it is believed here that if you get enough repetitions in the post season, your numbers should come close to your career norms, Pettitte has slightly exceeded that and has won 63 percent of his post season decisions. Compare that to Greg Maddux, for example, who finished 10-14 in post season games with peripherals higher than his career norms.
From the era that Pettitte pitched and the way the starting pitching role has changed, Andy Pettitte has been a highly successful pitcher. He is arguably the seventh best pitcher of the last twenty years. Add in the post season and do not overstate his pitching for a winning team all those seasons and you have a strong borderline case for a Hall of Fame career.
And now for at least a little of the goopy part: For a generation, he has been rock-solid Andy, a member of the Core Four and a big part of five New York championships. He has been such a fixture and such a comfort for so long, that losing him along with Mariano Rivera is the end of an era. The level of sadness in that is somewhat equal in the thankfulness at sharing those two careers for so long.