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February 4, 2011

Prospectus Hit and Run

Dandy Andy Bows Out

by Jay Jaffe

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Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that Andy Pettitte gave word of his retirement on Thursday, and unless that rock was hiding under another rock, you probably know that this has been a likelihood ever since the television cameras found a moist-eyed Pettitte watching the late innings of Game Six of the ALCS, knowing that he wouldn't get another shot to put the Yankees on his broad shoulders and lift them into another World Series. The shame of it is that Pettitte had pitched so well in 2010, cruising through the first half (11-2, 2.70 ERA) like he never had in his 15-year career, at least until the fateful July day when he departed with a groin strain that cost him two full months. If that didn't hasten his decision to retire, it certainly lessened his will to put his body through the wringer one more time.

I've discussed Pettitte's Hall of Fame case in brief elsewhere, but I'm happy to elaborate here. For as much sentiment as I bring to this particular case—there's no pitcher whom I've seen throw more innings, or for whom I've cheered more often, or about whom I've written more words—I must admit that objectively, it's a stretch.

Pettitte finishes his career with a gaudy 240-138 record, but he can thank outstanding run support for much of that, 5.5 runs per game according to Baseball-Reference's methodology. His 3.88 ERA would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame, and while adjusting for the scoring levels of the era gives him an ERA+ of 117, one click shy of the just-elected Bert Blyleven's 118, Blyleven did so with 63 percent more innings, and notched 64 percent more strikeouts. Similarly, Gaylord Perry, Dennis Eckersley, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton, and Fergie Jenkins are all in the 115-117 range, but all except for Eck (due to a mid-career switch to the pen) had at least 47 percent more innings than Pettitte, along with much higher win totals. Perry, Niekro and Carlton had well over 300 wins, Blyleven 288, Jenkins 284. Additionally, Pettitte has just three All-Star appearances and one top-three finish (but four top-five finishes) in the Cy Young voting, both low totals for a Cooperstown candidate.

Turning to the JAWS case, the most recent numbers following Blyleven's election put the starting pitcher standard at 70.8 career WARP, 47.7 peak WARP, and a 59.2 JAWS.Pettitte finishes with 58.1 career WARP, 30.8 peak WARP and 44.5 JAWS, well off the mark. As I wrote the day after what turned out to be his final start, when his strong effort was negated by Cliff Lee's brilliance, he has as thick an October resume as you'll find, but it's still not enough:

[Pettitte's] case rests primarily on the willingness of the voters to grant him an enormous amount of credit for his postseason work. Reaching the three-tiered playoffs 13 times in his 16-year career has given him an inordinate number of opportunities that weren’t available to the players who preceded him, and he’s made enough hay with them to hold a suite of postseason record for pitchers via a 19-10 won-loss record, 42 starts and 263 innings en route to eight trips to the World Series and five rings won. At the same time, his 3.83 October ERA isn’t exactly Gibsonesque, and he’s taken his share of lumps, totaling seven disaster starts (more runs allowed than innings pitched), none more devastating than his 2001 Game Six World Series debacle, where everybody outside the Yankees dugout figured out he was tipping his pitches, and the Diamondbacks pummeled him for six runs in two-plus innings to force the fateful Game Seven.

As I noted back then, one obvious comp for Pettitte on the Cooperstown front is Jack Morris, whose 254-186 record and 3.90 ERA look superficially similar to that of Dandy Andy. But Morris was working in a lower-scoring era; his ERA+ was just 105, and because of that, his JAWS (36.2/27.3/31.8) falls way short not only of the standards but ofPettitte's numbers. Morris had a halo effect around his post-season numbers (7-4, 3.80 ERA) as well, with his 10-inning Game Seven effort in 1991 selectively remembered, while his pummelings were conveniently forgotten. (You won't hear the BBWAA's less refined voters saying much about his 0-3 record and 7.43 ERA in four postseason starts for Toronto in 1992. Pitched to the score, my ass.)

Furthermore, Pettitte's JAWS score falls short of other stalwart starters of recent vintage who wore pinstripes for at least part of their careers, including Mike Mussina(74.0/41.1/57.6), Kevin Brown (65.3/44.8/55.1), David Cone (53.9/38.2/46.1), and Dwight Gooden (51.9/37.6/44.8), though not David Wells (45.0/25.8/35.4). Pettitte was more valuable over the course of his career than some, but had a lower peak than most of them due to his high ERA and lower strikeout rate.

Another potential comparison, this one offered by readers in the immediate wake of Pettitte's retirement, is to Tom Glavine. On the surface it makes some sense: venerable lefty who was a major part of a dynasty, not quite an ace, but with a long October resumé. Like Pettitte, Glavine was exactly 102 wins above .500, and his 118 ERA+ fits the picture too. Beyond that, there are major differences. Glavine tossed 44 percent more innings than Pettitte, and went 305-203 for his career, putting him in the elite 300 Win Club, and as far as Cooperstown goes it must be acknowledged that it took 14 years for the voters to come around on Blyleven, and 20 since they voted in Jenkins, the last non-300 winning starter. Again with the wins, Glavine won 20 games five times in a season, compared to two for Pettitte, which shouldn't really matter but still does, at least to voters of a certain age.

With 10 All-Star appearances and two Cy Youngs, Glavine has got Pettitte beaten on the subjective honors front, and handily. On the other hand, Pettitte has got the edge onGlavine when it comes to the postseason, with the latter going 14-16 with a 3.30 ERA and just the one world championship and four pennants, compared to five and eight. As for JAWS, it's 81.4/40.3/60.9 for Glavine—his peak is below the standard, but his career far enough above to get him over the line.

What's interesting when you compare the two southpaws is that Pettitte was more of a strikeout pitcher despite spending most of his career in the AL, where he didn't have the advantage of facing other pitchers. He struck out 6.6 per nine, and was at 7.1 for the final decade of his career. Glavine struck out just 5.3 per nine, and spent four of his last six years in the low-to-mid fours. Pettitte had slightly better control (2.8 walks per nine, compared to 3.1) giving him a significant advantage in K/BB even after washing away the unintentional passes, 2.44 to 1.92.

Where the two pitchers differ most is in their results on balls in play. Considering the pitchers with at least 3,000 innings since 1977, a cutoff chosen to incorporate Morris' entire career as well:

 

Rk

Pitcher

BABIP

IP

Years

1

Charlie Hough

.256

3406

1977-1994

2

Jack Morris

.272

3824

1977-1994

3

Nolan Ryan

.273

3451

1977-1993

4

Dennis Martinez

.275

3972

1977-1998

5

Tim Wakefield

.276

3071

1992-2010

6

Bob Welch

.277

3092

1978-1994

7

Orel Hershiser

.280

3130

1983-2000

8

Danny Darwin

.281

3016

1978-1998

9

Frank Tanana

.283

3347

1977-1993

10

Tom Glavine

.285

4413

1987-2008

11

Bert Blyleven

.285

3061

1977-1992

12

Jamie Moyer

.286

4020

1986-2010

13

Greg Maddux

.286

5008

1986-2008

14

Roger Clemens

.286

4916

1984-2007

15

John Smoltz

.287

3473

1988-2009

16

Kevin Brown

.293

3256

1986-2005

17

Randy Johnson

.295

4135

1988-2009

18

Mike Mussina

.295

3562

1991-2008

19

Kenny Rogers

.295

3302

1989-2008

20

David Wells

.296

3439

1987-2007

21

Curt Schilling

.297

3261

1988-2007

22

Chuck Finley

.300

3197

1986-2002

23

Andy Pettitte

.312

3055

1995-2010

Glavine winds up in the middle of the pack, Pettitte dead last, and an outlier to boot. Some of that had to do with their respective leagues and time frames; the weighted average for the NL during Glavine's career was .294, while for Pettitte (who spent 13 years in the AL, three in the NL) it was .300. Those figures don't correct for ballpark or the quality of the defenders behind each pitcher, but we've got a tool for that, Delta-H, which can be found on the Davenport Translation cards (which are undergoing a facelift and haven't been unveiled yet, but if you know how to look). Glavine had a delta on hits allowed of -54, meaning that based on the rate of his team's conversion of balls in play into outs over the course of his career, he still came out with 54 fewer hits allowed than you'd expect. By that same token, Pettitte allowed 149 hits more than you'd expect given his teams' BABIP rates. Thank you, Derek Jeter.

While subject to environmental factors as well as the two pitchers' styles, since Pettitte got ground balls a bit more often than Glavine, those BABIPs aren't just flukes that can be waved off at the level of innings we're dealing with. A better supported Pettitte would have saved himself a considerable number of hits and runs, trimming that ERA and likely adding some wins (and even innings) to his ledger, but Pettitte didn't quite have the stuff to dominate. He was a Clydesdale, not a Thoroughbred, and toparaphrase Billy Martin, no matter how much you beat that Clydesdale, he's not going to turn into a Thoroughbred when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

That's without considering the impact that Pettitte's admission of having used human growth hormone will have on the voters. Though he's never drawn the public ire the way that big sluggers such as Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro did once their transgressions were exposed, the fact remains that both McGwire and Palmeiro have been left off of the overwhelming majority of Hall of Fame ballots despite numbers which are otherwise Hall-worthy. Pettitte, with less than Hall-worthy numbers, certainly can't expect much charity there, even after the voters' treatments of Bonds and Roger Clemens—at whose trial Pettitte will apparently be testifying this summer instead of wearing pinstripes — provide more clues as to the eventual fates of PED-connected candidates. We'll see how that all plays out in five years.

Clydesdale though he may have been, Pettitte was an exemplar of his breed, and ultimately worth every heart-in-throat moment he provided. On a sweltering hot July afternoon, without his best stuff he might look like Granny Gooden, navigating a lineup with all the grace of an elderly woman on an icy staircase. On a frigid October night, with the brim of his cap pulled low and a season on the line, he was the coolest of customers. Over his last 17 post-season starts, from the 2003 postseason onward, he went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA and 13 quality starts, with two of those losses coming in shutouts.

Pettitte fell one out short of another quality start in the 2009 World Series clincher, where he pitched on three days' rest, giving him the distinction of delivering the knockout blow in all three rounds of a single postseason. In a nutshell, that was Andy Pettitte: grinding it out when he didn't have enough to dominate, leaving every last ounce of effort out there on the mound, for himself, his teammates, and his fans. Whether or not he makes it to Cooperstown, he'll be greatly missed.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

Related Content:  Cooperstown,  Andy Pettitte,  1986,  The Who

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Ric Size

Too often we don't fully appreciate the careers of players who fall short of the HoF, and let their retirement pass into oblivion. Not every player can be a HoFer, and just because they fall short of that line doesn't mean they weren't valuable to their team or entertaining for the fans. Each player should be remembered and appreciated for their own merits. Andy Pettitte was a quality pitcher and fascinating to watch. He will be greatly missed, even by those of us who aren't Yankee fans. Great article Jay, and good luck Andy Pettitte!

Feb 04, 2011 06:47 AM
rating: 6
 
eighteen

If the Red Sox can get Jim Rice into the Hall, Pettite is a lock. It may take a few ballots, but he's in.

Feb 04, 2011 09:26 AM
rating: -2
 
tweicheld

I'd be interested to see a side-by-side comparison between Pettitte and another Yankee icon who IS in the Hall - Whitey Ford. He (Ford) was from before my time, but I didn't think he had the slam-dunk Hall-worthy numbers of some. Or is this one of those cases where you can't compare because of how the game has changed?

Feb 04, 2011 09:27 AM
rating: 2
 
Richie

People like Andy Pettitte. At some point either a roidster will make the Hall, or one already in will confess to it. Then Pettitte will be voted in due to voters seeing HGH as much less than roids, due to his postseason record and due to his being liked.

I predict either his last year of eligibility, or his first as a "Veterans' Committee" candidate. Whatever suffices for such a Committee by then.

Feb 04, 2011 09:31 AM
rating: 0
 
steve.k

Andy Pettitte was a terrific pitcher for some very good teams. And my wife would always comment on how handsome he is. Pettitte also stands out with his PED confession. All that said, though, he is not a HOF-er.

Any comparison to Whitey Ford should show Ford well on top. Whitey did not have the career numbers that others had because Casey Stengel pitched him less often and usually matched him up against the stronger clubs, not the weak sisters. If I had to find a Yankee comp, I'd think about Red Ruffing who is in the Hall, but whose numbers were seriously helped by playing on the great Yankee teams of the 30's.

Feb 04, 2011 09:53 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Whitey admitted much later on that he doctored the ball ... fwiw ...

Feb 04, 2011 10:06 AM
rating: 1
 
npb7768

I have no emotional ties to Andy Pettitte...Though omitted from the article and comments, I would credit him with having the best pick-off/holding-runners-on-first ability of any pitcher I can ever remember. Other than that, I think he was a solid pitcher over a lengthy career, but nothing special. He certainly should not be in any Hall of Fame discussion...

Pettitte basically kept having Dennis Martinez's 1979 season over and over again --- characterized by a lot of game-to-game variance, but which is solid, not spectacular, and probably very much appreciated by his team’s fans...I think career-performance-wise he most closely resembles Milt Pappas --- both had about the same number of solid seasons over about the same length of career, with similar variances to their in-season pitching performances (though the NL Pappas pitched in 1966-72, was far superior to the one Pettitte did).

Feb 04, 2011 10:31 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Re: Pettitte's pickoff move, I'm kicking myself because I meant to include a snippet about that when talking about his abnormally high BABIP; his ability to control the running game lessened the damage those hits caused both in terms of preventing those runners from advancing and in erasing some of them completely.

Feb 04, 2011 10:52 AM
 
edwilli

read somewhere every pitcher with 100 more wins than losses is in the Hall..anyone know if that is true?

Feb 04, 2011 11:12 AM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

Yes, I do happen to know that. The question intrigued me enough to visit baseballreference.org and spend 30 seconds looking it up. Thanks for suggesting it.

Feb 04, 2011 11:40 AM
rating: 3
 
rrvwmr

Did I miss Sosa admitting he used PED's or a confirmed positive test implicating him? If not should we be lumping him in with others who have?

Feb 04, 2011 15:57 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Sosa was outed by the New York Times' Michael S. Schmidt as having tested positive during the 2003 survey testing. To the best of my knowledge he has never admitted to using nor has he tested positive in any MLB-administered test which carried any penalty, but he's there along with Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz because somebody deemed the public's burning desire to know as more important than any confidentiality agreement or legal right to privacy.

As a group, the Hall of Fame voters almost certainly won't care how they collectively came about the knowledge that Sosa used, they'll just lump him with McGwire et al.

Feb 04, 2011 16:32 PM
 
amazin_mess

Pettitte in the Hall would be another positive indication that the institution is a complete farce.

a) he wasn't good enough
b) he'd be in while guys like Rose and Bonds aren't

Feb 04, 2011 19:22 PM
rating: 2
 
conwell

Honestly, I don't see how an empirical analysis of Pettitte could lead to a conclusion of HOFer and I appreciate that Jay didn't come to that conclusion. He basically had the same regular season career as Chuck Finley (seriously, check out their career IP, ERA, ERA+ etc, BABIP as shown by Jay). The big exception is that Pettitte had much better taste in teammates than Finley did (hence the postseason performances and more wins and winning percentage). Unless we give him a lot of extra credit for being lucky enough to be drafted by the Yankees, I couldn't vote for him for the HOF.

Feb 05, 2011 07:53 AM
rating: 3
 
Matt Kory

He should get some extra credit, not for being a Yankee, but for pitching an extra seasons worth of post season games and for doing it well (if not as spectacularly as I fear people will remember).

Feb 05, 2011 10:55 AM
rating: 2
 
ScottyB

I'm suprised that both Joe Sheehan and Rob Neyer support Petitte for the HOF.

Sheehan's reasoning is very solid. Basically HOF voters have unrealistic expectations for starting pitchers in this modern era, as evidenced by Blyleven's struggle to get elected, and the fact that he's the 1st SP elected since Nolan Ryan.

BTW- Pettite in the Hall would actually help for the eventual inclusion of the "steriod generation" players. Say he gets elected in 2020 in his 5th year on the ballot. At that point, voters and/or a veterans committee will have to look at the better players of his generation not in and, with the benefit of time and voter turnover, elect Clemens, et al.

Feb 05, 2011 13:31 PM
rating: -3
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Fellow BP alum Keith Law had a very effective shot which seemed to take aim at Sheehan's reasoning: "If the argument for Player X to get into the Hall of Fame is 'it's time to lower our standards,' count me out."

I tend to agree. Pettitte was a good pitcher whose reputation was enhanced by his teammates, which gave him a bunch of extra wins (thanks to both a high-powered offense and a bullpen with Mariano Rivera at the end of the line) and that gaudy winning percentage, not to mention more opportunities than your average bear in the expanded playoff system which emerged to exactly coincide with his career. He was not an elite pitcher when it came to run prevention - only three times did he crack a league's top 10 in terms of ERA or ERA+ - and run prevention is job 1 for a pitcher.

Feb 06, 2011 09:38 AM
 
juiced

Does not deserve a HOF induction. Period. He had a fine career, but is not a top 1%er

Feb 05, 2011 14:04 PM
rating: 0
 
Patrick M

"Top 1%er" seems like a rather stringent standard.

Applied literally, that seems to suggest that you'd have roughly one future Hall of Famer for every four teams in MLB.

Feb 06, 2011 04:27 AM
rating: 0
 
monkeyfly78

the biggest similarity between Petitte and Glavine was that both did a great job of expoliting umpires' general unwillingness to enforce the rulebook.

For Pettite, his move was a balk, plain and simple. If the foot goes towards home plate, you have to throw a pitch.

For Glavine, he thrived for years with Lopez setting up half a foot outside, hitting the spot and getting a strike call more often than not. It'd be awesome to have pitch/fx data for Glavine's peak.

Feb 06, 2011 06:13 AM
rating: 2
 
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