Andy Pettitte: a borderline Hall of Fame candidate (so he won’t get in)

5 02 2011

Andy Pettitte’s retirement announcement came with the predictable speculation and debate: Will he be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame? Should he be elected?

He probably should but he probably won’t. Yankees who should be automatic Hall of Famers (see Ron Guidry, Roger Maris, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly) get rejected from Cooperstown, so a borderline candidate like Pettitte has little chance.

Beyond whatever achievements he had in his career, Pettitte will face two strong biases that influence the baseball writers who hold the keys to the Hall of Fame. He is a Yankee, and Hall of Fame voters consistently vote against borderline Yankees (see Graig Nettles and Tommy John). And he used performance-enhancing drugs. We don’t have much history of how the drug scandals of his generation will influence Hall of Fame voting. But clearly the drug issue is keeping out Mark McGwire, who would be a lock otherwise. It has to hurt a borderline player.

I’ll make the case for Pettitte: He is the winningest post-season pitcher of all-time. This tells you two important things about Pettitte: He helped his teams get into the post-season, and he helped them achieve post-season success. Those are the two goals of every player every season and few have succeeded as clearly as Pettitte.

You can note that earlier generations didn’t have three rounds of post-season, and, of course, that’s true. But Pettitte pitched in an era with lots of great pitchers: Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz. They all had the same chance Pettitte did to get into three rounds of post-season play again and again. And he won the most. Against the great teams you face in the post-season, Pettitte had a 19-10 record. When Smoltz goes into the Hall of Fame, you can be sure they will cite his 15-4 post-season record, as they should. So Pettitte should make the Hall of Fame on the strength of his 19-10 record.

He helped his teams win a lot of championships. The Yankees won five World Series with Pettitte as a mainstay of their rotation. The Astros won their only National League championship ever with Pettitte anchoring their rotation. If he were a football player, he would be a lock for the Hall of Fame. Comparable Packer and Steeler players were voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

While Pettitte didn’t pass the 300-win barrier that ensures Hall of Fame election, most pitchers who reach 240 make it to Cooperstown. You certainly don’t need to make an exception to let him in. He had more wins, and a much higher winning percentage, than Don Drysdale and Catfish Hunter, for instance, and Drysdale and Hunter pitched in an era of four-man rotations when pitchers got more starts and wins. While this year’s new Hall of Famer, Bert Blyleven, won more games, Pettitte averaged 17 wins a year, three better than Blyleven.

Pettitte probably should have won the Cy Young Award in 1996, when he had more wins and fewer losses than Pat Hentgen, the winner, and led his team to a division title. When a Yankee pitcher does that, his achievement is diminished because he plays on a great team. But when Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz did that, they got credit for leading their teams to greatness.

But I can’t be outraged if Pettitte doesn’t win election to the Hall of Fame. I already cited half a dozen contemporaries who were clearly better. And you can add Roy Halladay to that list. If you’re at best the eighth-best pitcher of your time, you’re a borderline Hall of Famer. He only made three All-Star teams and except for leading the league in wins with 21 in 1996, he never led the league in any important statistical measures. In fact, I’d put another Yankee teammate ahead of him: David Cone, a Cy Young winner and five-time All-Star who does belong in the Hall of Fame.

It would be interesting to see how the drug issue played out if Pettitte was otherwise a lock for the Hall of Fame, say if he had won 300 games. Would his use of human growth hormone keep him out because voters punish everyone who used performance-enhancing drugs? Or would his ready admission of drug use, and his testimony against close friend and teammate Clemens, get him a pass.

But frankly, I think Pettitte is a long shot for the Hall of Fame without considering the drug issue. Hall of Fame voters do not place much importance on post-season performance. Pettitte didn’t reach the dominance of Guidry or Catfish Hunter (a better comparison, since Catfish made the Hall of Fame) and he didn’t pitch as long as Blyleven. Throw in the voters’ longstanding bias against Yankees, and I think Pettitte is unlikely to get that call from the Hall of Fame.



23 responses

5 02 2011
Tweets that mention Andy Pettitte: a borderline Hall of Fame candidate (so he won’t get in) « Hated Yankees --

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steve Buttry, Steve Buttry. Steve Buttry said: Andy Pettitte: a borderline Hall of Fame candidate (so he won't get in) […]


5 02 2011

No way is he a HOF. Maybe if he won a Cy Young Award and was recognized as a dominant pitcher it would help his case but no, he was not dominant.

Wins are also a flawed measure. They are so dependent on so many other team factors.

He’s not a HOFer and for that I’m glad irregardless of drug use.


5 02 2011

Well, how many Hall of Famers (Bert Blyleven, who just made it for one) never won a Cy Young? Pettitte was dominant in the post-season (facing the best teams from his league and from the other league).

Wins are actually the best measure of a pitcher’s greatness. No player has more influence, game after game, on the outcome, than the pitcher. You have winning pitchers on losing teams and losing pitchers on winning teams because the starting pitcher has that much influence on the outcome of the game. Pettitte played on winning teams and had a higher winning percentage than his teams most of the time. Every statistic is a flawed measure. But the pitcher’s job is to win games. And Pettitte was one of the best of his generation to do that. And one of the best ever to do it when it mattered most. That would make him a Hall of Famer if not for anti-Yankee bias. And the drug thing.


5 02 2011

Actually, Greg, your criteria of winning a Cy Young Award and being dominant have nothing to do with getting into the Hall of Fame. Ron Guidry won a Cy Young Award and was dominant longer than most Hall of Fame pitchers and he’s not in the Hall of Fame. To get in the Hall of Fame, you have to be pretty good for a long time. And Pettitte was certainly that.


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[…] for players judged to be minimal offenders: perhaps David Ortiz, who failed a single drug test, or Andy Pettitte, who readily admitted use of PED’s once when recovering from an injury. Maybe everyone named […]


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[…] borderline players on that team are either still awaiting eligibility on the writers’ ballot (Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada), hoping for writers’ election in their last year eligible (Tim Raines) or […]


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[…] With 52 percent of the vote, Mussina crept 9 percentage points closer to election in his fourth year on the ballot. I expect him to be voted in by the baseball writers someday (you get 10 years, provided you keep getting enough votes to remain on the ballot), though I can think of four ex-Yankee starting pitchers who belong there ahead of him: Tommy John, Ron Guidry, Allie Reynolds and Andy Pettitte. […]


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