I’m a die-hard New York Yankees fan. I live and breathe by defending people like Alex Rodriguez (until recently), watching Yankees’ classics and debating whether Yankees players like Don Mattingly (no) and Mike Mussina (yes) belong in the Hall of Fame. So when Andy Pettitte walked off the mound having dominated the Seattle Mariners and officially winning his 250th career game two innings later, inevitably the discussion began.
And the answer is easier than whether or not Pettitte deserved the Cy Young in 1996.
He’s the last very good lefty pitcher the Yankees developed and his number should and will be retired in the Bronx. His career should be recognized for what it is; a very good one during an era where not many pitchers ended up with very good careers.
Still, he’s in the “Hall of Very Good” and there is no argument for an induction anywhere else.
Pettitte is 250-145 in his career, more than 100 games over .500 and when all is said and done he will likely be between 250-275 wins, short of the “automatic” induction at 300 wins.
His stats for now are as follows: 501 starts, 3.85 ERA, 3,192 innings, 6.7K/9, 1.35 WHIP. He has no Cy Young awards, (top five four times, top 10 five times), no top 10 MVP votes and was an All Star three times, the most recent of which (2010) he finished with just 21 starts.
In other words, Pettitte has never been the best pitcher in his league (he came closest when he finished second in Cy Young winning to Pat Hentgen in that 1996 campaign), nor has he consistently been an elite pitcher in his own league (he will finish this year having not been voted in the top 10 pitchers in his own league in 13 of 18 total seasons).
So how does that compare to other Hall of Fame pitchers? Of starters with at least 500 starts, Pettitte is likely to beat just one (Jim Bunning) with total wins. He would have the worst overall ERA for a starter or reliever with only Red Ruffing (3.80) higher than 3.67. And of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame with an ERA of 3.60 or higher, they have: 260, 273 and 240 wins respectfully. Herb Pinnock, him of 1912-1934 fame, is the only one with an ERA within .30 of Andy who also had less wins.
This means Pettitte, barring a strong second half or a 19th season, will have the worst starting pitching numbers of any pitcher in nearly 80 years. Pinnock, for those comparing different eras, had 247 complete games, 35 shutouts and more than 80 starts less than Pettitte.
Andy Pettitte has two things going for him. One is his playoff resume, and the other is his total wins, and neither of them is completely his own doing and the latter, as we just established, is not particularly impressive given the amount of starts he has been able to make.
If Pettitte played for the Kansas City Royals, this discussion would not be a discussion. Pettitte would likely be challenging 200 wins to finish off a career and would have been unlikely to get a taste for a postseason, let alone had 44 starts during them.
If Pettitte wins a playoff game this season it will be his 20th, an all-time record. As of now, he already has the most, but even in October (and November), Pettitte is 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA. He has a 1.30 WHIP and has surrendered more than a hit per inning. He has been reliable, won many more than he’s lost, but still did not post eye popping numbers (like say, his first-ballot teammate, Mariano Rivera).
And that’s been the beauty of Andy’s career. He’s Louisiana born with a Texas sized heart and a Roger Clemens‘ esque competitive fire. We all love that about him. He is old reliable, and short of tipping his pitches in Game Six against the Diamondbacks in 2001, he has always come through when we needed him.
But he is the world’s best two or three starter, and they aren’t the world’s best pitchers, which is what the Hall of Fame should take.
This is Pettitte’s 162 game average: 17-10, 3.85, 214 innings, 1.35 WHIP. That’s as workman-like as it gets, but nothing in those statistics is elite.
And unlike a pitcher like the aforementioned Mussina, Pettitte has had PED allegations brought against him in the past. While I don’t believe that tarnishes his numbers (because I can’t prove who used and never was caught), it can’t act like his playoff resume and be a variable in his favor either. You can’t look at his stats and wonder what would have been if nobody was using because Pettitte himself, was using and admitted as much.
And for all of those reasons we will cherish Pettitte’s appearances at Old-Timers day, we are happy his son was drafted by our team and we will all be watching when New York never lets another player wear the number 46 Pettitte has worn throughout his Yankees’ career.
Pettitte will walk off into the sunset a five time World Series winner with the assurance the dynasty left with him when he went to Houston and the Yankees were never winners again until he returned and pitched on three days rest, clinching each series in the 2009 postseason.
But when he rides off into the sunset it will not be to Cooperstown, it will simply be in the hearts of Yankees’ fans.