Looking at the Hall-of-Fame Ballot: Andy Pettitte
Does Andy Pettitte belong in the Hall-of-Fame?
This is a complicated question and one that does not have an easy answer. Like Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte is a borderline candidate with many compelling reasons to let him in. Also like Sheffield, steroids muddy his case. If steroid use is a reason to exclude a player, than Pettitte stays on the outside looking in.
Unlike many of the other candidates in this series, Pettitte was a long time Yankee, a Yankee great, and a fan favorite.
Let’s take a look at the Hall-of-Fame case for Andrew Eugene Pettitte:
The Low Bar (or the Harold Baines Test):
Regular readers will know that my first test for any player to be included in the Hall-of-Fame is what I call the “Harold Baines Test.” In short, a player must have a lifetime WAR (Baseball-Reference) above that of Harold Baines. If the player’s lifetime WAR is below that of Baines, it is my opinion that he does not belong in the Hall-of-Fame. Ranked by WAR, Harold Baines comes in as the 552nd best player of all-time with a WAR of 38.7. This is the low bar. There are literally hundreds of players better than Baines who are not in the Hall-of-Fame. We have no business electing players who rank lower than Baines.
Andy Pettitte aces this test. Pettitte’s lifetime WAR was 60.2. By WAR, Andy Pettitte ranks as the 185th best player of all-time. 185th is a lot higher than 552nd.
But….while all players of all positions are included on this WAR list, pitchers are unlike any of the other positions. So, while I am pleased that Pettitte ranks so high here, I don’t feel it’s an accurate representation of his true value. With pitchers, I like to compare them just against each other.
And, if we just look at pitchers, good ol’ Andy shoots up the charts. (That’s what I was hoping for.) By just isolating pitchers, Andy Pettitte ranks as the 61st greatest pitcher in baseball history.
Andy Pettitte is off to a good start. A compelling case can be made that of the thousands and thousands of pitchers who ever played Major League Baseball, being 61st all-time indicates some level of greatness.
Awards, Honors, and the Like:
It seems logical to assume that a Hall-of-Fame player would have received a good deal of honors and awards during his playing days.
This is where we encounter some bad news. Real bad news. Andy Pettitte was a real good pitcher for a long time, but he never dominated the sport.
Andy Pettitte was an All-Star only three times.
In an 18-year career, Andy Pettitte only placed in the Cy Young Award voting five times. He was the runner-up in 1996 and on other occasions he placed 4th once, 5th twice, and 6th once. That doesn’t scream, “Hall-of-Famer!”
Andy Pettitte led the league in wins once (21, 1996).
We can debate pitcher wins, but one would think that a Hall-of Fame starting pitcher would win 20-games, at least a few times (Mike Mussina notwithstanding). Andy Pettitte won 20-games twice (1996 and 2003). His biggest win totals in his other seasons were 15 wins (twice), and 16, 17, 18, and 19 wins (one season each).
He led the league in games started three times (1997, 2006, and 2007).
And… that’s it.
Andy didn’t get much hardware – and much of the hardware he did get seemed to have come mostly in one season (1996). That does not help his case.
In an age when the 300 game winner is (probably) no longer, Andy Pettitte won 256 games. That a high total. That helps his case. Over time, I believe that 250 wins will be seen an important mark for starting pitchers. Andy makes that mark.
Andy Pettitte’s 256 wins ranks him 42nd all-time. That’s pretty good.
Pettitte did not reach 3,000 strikeouts. He also just missed 2,500 ending at 2,448.
Here is an area where Pettitte shines.
No player – no one – has as many post season wins as Andy Pettitte, and it isn’t particularly close. Andy Pettitte won 19 post season games. Nineteen! (To bad he didn’t get one more. Twenty sounds so much better.)
John Smoltz is second all-time with 15 post season wins. Tom Glavine and Justin Verlander have 14 each. Roger Clemens is next with 12.
In this area, Andy Pettitte pretty much laps the field. This greatly enhances his candidacy.
JAWS By Position:
By JAWS, Pettitte ranks as the….
91st best pitcher ever.
Pettitte’s WAR among just pitchers ranks him 61st. What happened? He just dropped 30 slots.
Pettitte’s JAWS score is 47.1. That’s just not… great.
On the list, Andy Pettitte is surrounded by a lot of very good pitchers. Among other contemporaries ranked right around Pettitte (but actually ranked higher) are Bret Saberhagen (70th), Dave Stieb (71), Kevin Appier (78), Chuck Finley (79), Cole Hamels (80), Johan Santana (81), Tim Hudson (83), Orel Hershiser (84), and Mark Buehrle (89). I don’t think there is a Hall-of-Famer among that bunch.
Pettitte ranks above these contemporaries: Dwight Gooden (97), Roy Oswalt (102), Felix Hernandez (108), and Frank Viola (113).
None of this helps his case. These are just not Hall-of-Famers.
On the other hand, Pettitte’s lifetime JAWS ranking still places him above a host of well-known Hall-of-Fame starting pitchers including Whitey Ford, Dizzy Dean, Waite Hoyt, Bob Lemon, Herb Pennock, Jack Morris, and Catfish Hunter.
Most Similar Players:
Baseball Reference lists the ten most similar players to each MLB player for their career.
Of the ten, there are three Hall-of-Famers on the list, and one future Hall-of-Famer. These are: C.C. Sabathia, Mike Mussina, Jack Morris, and Carl Hubbell.
The six non-Hall-of-Famers are: Bartolo Colon, David Wells, Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Kevin Brown, and Bob Welch.
This doesn’t make this an easy decision.
Andy Pettitte was a great Yankee in a great Yankee era.
In 15 seasons as a Yankee, Andy Pettitte won 219 games. He was a rock in the post season (most often, at least). I loved his stare over his glove when he stood on the mound. When Andy Pettitte pitched, when he was locked in, everything seemed under control. All was well when Andy was on the hill.
If Andy Pettitte were elected to the Hall-of-Fame, it wouldn’t be a crime. He had numbers to justify inclusion into the hallowed grounds. I actually think, one day, Pettitte will get in.
I have been reading articles from baseball writers regarding the Hall-of-Fame for decades, close to fifty of them. I have seen them flip flop on players time and again.
Last year, in looking at the data, I felt Pettitte came up short. He’s a borderline case. Maybe I’m feeling generous this year. Maybe I’m feeling more generous than I should. But as I look at all of the above. I think he deserves to get in. By an eye lash.