|Pettitte’s Hall of Fame Chances||| Print ||
Written by Justin Zeth (Contact & Archive) on February 11, 2011
I don't know if Andy Pettitte is a Hall of Famer.
A guy retires and there's a rush to decide RIGHT NOW whether he was a Hall of Famer. Every time someone puts that question to me, I like to point out that there's a good reason for the five-year waiting period before the writers are allowed to put it to a vote. Nobody thinks being rational and careful about it is any fun, though, right? So I'll take a stab at it, as long as we all understand I can and probably will change my mind several times over before five years is up.
But when someone asks you if you think Andy Pettitte's a Hall of Famer, they don't want to hear your small Hall/big Hall opinion. They want to know if you think he measures up to the current standards.
My favorite question to ask first is, Are pitchers that had careers like Andy Pettitte's generally in the Hall of Fame, or likely to get there? I'm going to approach that two ways.
First, similarity scores. These just measure how similar one guy's raw career statistics were to another guy's. Interestingly, nobody scores over 900 on the similarity scale to Andy Pettitte; 900 is the threshold for "very similar." No pitcher in history had a very similar career to Andy Pettitte. I think that's a fair thing to say.
But a big pile of pitchers had similar careers. There are nine guys that score between 850 and 900 on the scale, five of whom are between 869 and 879, which are essentially identical scores. Those five are Orel Hershiser (869), Juan Marichal (872), Dwight Gooden (875), Mike Mussina (875) and Bob Welch (879). (Oh, and I forgot to mention, there's a fairly minor penalty applied for comparing a left-handed pitcher to a right-handed one.)
That's actually pretty good news for Pettitte; Marichal's in the Hall of Fame, and Mussina will be even if it takes a few decades. Gooden isn't going in, and I think 40 or 50 years from now some veteran's committee is going to get clutch-crazy and vote Hershiser in, but it's safe to say I'm in the minority there. Welch is interesting; nobody's ever suggested he should be a Hall of Famer, but his career statistics are almost literally identical to Hershiser's. In fact, last I looked Welch and Hershiser have the highest similarity score in history, among players that had real careers.
Of course, while Pettitte's statistics are fairly similar to those guys' statistics, he was not similar to any of them, not in style and not in career shape. Mussina was probably the most similar in career shape, but that's not surprising, seeing as how they played in the same era and, for a few years, on the same team. Hershiser and Gooden were both Cy Young pitchers who were overused and suffered career-altering injuries.
That brings us to Pettitte's top two comparables. His No. 2 comparable ended up with substantially similar career statistics to Pettitte, and, like Mussina, was a teammate for a few years, but really he was the anti-Pettitte in almost every way: Kevin Brown. Andy was left-handed; Kevin was right-handed. Andy was calm and quiet; Kevin was a loudmouth and a renowned destroyer of clubhouse equipment. Andy had a nice, steady career, pitching pretty well year after year; Kevin pitched spectacularly for a few years and then flamed out. Andy's career playoff statistics line up perfectly with his regular-season statistics, underlying his consistency; Kevin stunk in the playoffs.
So it's interesting that two such different pitchers retired with such similar statistics, but not instructive. Brown should be a Hall of Famer based on his performance -- his career was more valuable than half the guys in the Hall of Fame, and he was pretty much the Juan Marichal of the steroids era -- but he's never going to get close. Most of your advanced statistics crowd will tell you Brown was better than Pettitte and it's not close, because of Brown's very high peak.
That brings us to the pitcher in baseball history most statistically similar to Pettitte: David Wells.
The things Andy Pettitte was, David Wells was more so. Pettitte was steady but not usually spectacular; Wells was even steadier and even less spectacular. Wells' career ERA+ is 10 points lower than Pettitte's, but he pitched 400 more innings. Pettitte's performance didn't change in the postseason; Wells improved in the postseason. Pettitte won 20 games twice; Wells, once. Pettitte is not a high peak pitcher when you compare him to Gooden and Brown, but his peak is higher than Wells'.
They had differences, of course. David Wells was the most cantankerous player of his era, was lazy as hell and bounced all over the league for most of his career. But on the field, most years, Wells and Pettitte were a pretty good match, with different styles but usually similar results. Pettitte had more good years -- Wells was league-average a lot of years -- so Pettitte ultimately had the better career. Wells is near the front of the lengthy "if Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, I am too" line. Pettitte had a better career than those guys and doesn't belong in that group.
Okay, so that was a lot of words and it's about time I drew a conclusion. The conclusion is that Pettitte's list of most statistically similar pitchers does not encourage one to think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. A couple of the guys further down his list (Catfish Hunter and Herb Pennock) are in, but are generally regarded among the weakest Hall of Fame pitchers. Pennock is probably the best Hall of Fame test case for Pettitte, and the best evidence in the case that Pettitte will go in, setting aside whether he should: Pennock was a good pitcher that had some good years pitching for a dominant Yankees team. He made it. Pitching for the Yankees makes you famous, and it's a Hall of Fame after all. And Pettitte needs a little extra oomph to separate himself from the David Wellses of the world; pitching in New York might just be enough.
But the most statistically similar guys to Pettitte were guys that pitched in or near his own era and mostly were not-quite-Hall-of-Famers: David Wells, Kevin Brown, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser. Mike Mussina is a little better regarded than those guys and will probably make it. Pettitte's closer to the Wells/Hershiser group than the Schilling/Smoltz group. As far as Hall of Fame case is concerned, Pettitte may fairly be described as the left-handed Orel Hershiser, with a New York bonus. It may get him in the Hall... someday.
Soon, we'll look at pitchers comparable to Pettitte a different way.