As you probably have heard, Andy Pettitte is set to announce his retirement today. We'll save the discussion for how this affects the Yankees in 2011 (the answer is "a lot") for another day. Today, we're going to look at Pettitte's Hall of Fame candidacy.
"Now wait a minute" you might ask. "Don't we have five years until we need to talk about this? Shouldn't we let his record stand up for a few years until we make a decision for someone in the Class of 2016?" Well, yes and no. If more information comes out in the next few years, by all means it should be considered. Bert Blyleven's numbers didn't change at all between 1993 and 2010 - only the analysis of them did. So of course, if we find out that, say, Pettitte's ability to hold runners actually let to him preventing significantly more runs than we think, then that should be considered. Still, as of today, his raw numbers are not changing, so it can't hurt to start the discussion. If I look like an idiot in six years... hey, it won't be the first time.
Much of the discussion about Pettitte's Hall of Fame candidacy seems to be related to his "record-setting" 19 postseason wins. I do accept that postseason should be considered in Hall of Fame voting. If someone's case may otherwise be borderline, but their postseason numbers are outstanding, I think it's reasonable to put them in. For example, Mariano Rivera has a postseaon ERA of 0.71 in 139.7 innings. That's ridiculous. Against the best competition in the world, during the most important games, he gives up a run every 13 innings. Pettitte though? Once we get past those 19 wins, it gets a little shaky. We find out that his postseason ERA is 3.83 - right in line with his regular season numbers. We find that he's started 42 postseason games, so he has wins in less than half of those. We also find that he's third all time in postseason losses, with 10. Digging a little deeper, we find that there have been 11 pitchers in history with 130 or more postseason innings. Pettitte has the highest postseason ERA of all of them. So giving Pettitte credit for all of those postseason wins would essentially be giving him credit for pitching on the Yankees. There doesn't seem any way that I can boost him above his regular season value, since his claim to postseason fame simply seems to be "having been there a lot on a team that happened to be the best at the time."
So, without further adieu, let's get into Pettitte's regular season qualifications. I've chosen to compare him with eight contemporaries, who are near him in innings pitched and wins. I've chosen to leave out Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine who, as incredibly durable 300 game winners and first ballot slam dunks, are unfair comparisons to someone who will have a borderline case. The contemporaries here are Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown, Chuck Finley, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, David Wells and David Cone.
We will start by comparing them in the standard first order stats that voters will look at immediately:
Of this group of stats, Pettitte's winning percentage certainly stands out. Beyond that, though, he ranks seventh out of these nine in innings, eighth in ERA, ahead of David Wells, and eighth in strikeouts, also ahead of only Wells. The complete games and shutout numbers are shockingly low - Mussina himself had two individual SEASONS where he had as many shutouts as Pettitte did in his career. It's hard to make the argument that complete games were simply no longer part of the game anymore, since these were all his contemporaries. We're not comparing him to Rube Marquard and Three Finger Brown here.
However, the Hall of Fame doesn't just honor durability, it is concerned more with dominance. We've shown above that Pettitte didn't pitch as much or as long as these guys - but maybe he pitched better? Plus, Pettitte's backers will point out that he pitched most of his career in Yankee Stadium, which is a tough place to pitch. So, while I turn my cheek to the flaw in that argument, since the old Yankee Stadium was actually quite kind to lefthanded pitchers, here is another round of stats, this time just slightly more advanced.
ERA+ is a measure of a pitcher's ERA over the course of a season when compared to the league average - it does include Park Effects. WAR is Wins Above Replacement. There are many formulas for this, I used baseball-reference.com because it was most convenient. There isn't a whole ton of disparity here, but if you want to search for other sites calculations, please do. FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching, which is exactly what it sounds like - it filters out the things a pitcher does himself, and normalizes balls in play.
As you can see from the numbers, this is where Pedro Martinez really shines. 10 strikeouts per nine innings over his entire career, and a stellar 2.91 FIP. Furthermore, despite being dead last among these nine in innings, he leads the way in WAR.
On the other hand, this really emphasizes how weak Pettitte's Hall of Fame case is. Among these nine, he's dead last in WAR, behind David Wells and Chuck Finley, neither of whom will come close to the Hall of Fame. He has the second lowest strikeout percentage, and the third highest walk percentage. His FIP shows that he wasn't especially unlucky, and ranks ahead of only Finley and Wells. Meanwhile, David Cone and Kevin Brown, who both fell off of the ballot after one year, both blow him away in WAR, ERA+ and FIP.
To further illustrate the point, I've broken down the outstanding seasons for each of these pitchers. I've defined that in two categories - seasons with an ERA+ of over 130, and seasons with a WAR above four:
||WAR > 4.0||ERA+>130|
This scale just makes it that much more evident that Pettitte didn't compare to the other top pitchers of his time. In order to enter the Hall of Fame, a player should be either extremely durable or exceptionally outstanding. Pettitte was very good, but he was neither of those things. With the bar already set at a level where Brown, Finley and Cone are not on the ballot for even a second try, a vote for Pettitte is essentially a vote for the Yankees, because Pettitte's individual performance does not warrant it.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27003603@N00/3877027082
Statistics credit: www.baseball-reference.com and www.fangraphs.com
Also, special thanks to http://tableizer.journalistopia.com/ which enabled me to take my spreadsheets and convert them to HTML, saving me lots of time and headache.