Andy Pettitte’s Hall of Fame candidacy in many ways exemplifies the quandary of the modern ballot.Is he to be judged on his many high-profile turns
Andy Pettitte’s Hall of Fame candidacy in many ways exemplifies the quandary of the modern ballot.
Is he to be judged on his many high-profile turns in October’s spotlight in helping the New York Yankees win five World Series titles? Or his slightly better than league-average ERA over 14 seasons?
His 256 wins and four top-five Cy Young Award finishes? Or his allowing one and a third baserunners per inning, suggesting a lack of dominance?
His durability and reputation as a consummate teammate? Or his ties to performance-enhancing drugs, including an admission of unauthorized use of human growth hormone?
Those factors all weigh heavily as Pettitte appears for the third of up to 10 times on the Hall of Fame ballot.
No starting pitcher has been more prolific in the postseason. Pettitte is the game’s all-time leader in playoff wins (19), innings (276 2/3) and starts (44) and he ranks fourth in strikeouts behind surefire Hall of Famers Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and John Smoltz.
Not many of those innings went to waste: Pettitte won at least two postseason starts for the Yankees’ 1996 and 1998-2000 champions. His finest hour might have come in 2009, when, at 37, he joined CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in starting on three days’ rest throughout the playoffs. The Yankees won four of his five starts as he went 4-0 with a 3.52 ERA, a crucial piece of the Yankees’ only championship since 2000.
He was plenty prolific from April through September, too. Pettitte twice won 21 games and pitched at least 200 innings in 10 seasons. His 219 wins as a Yankee trail only Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231), both Hall of Famers.
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There aren’t many Hall of Famers in Pettitte’s ERA rent district. Ruffing, at 3.80, comes closest to Pettitte’s mark of 3.85, and Ruffin won 273 games and enjoys an edge in Wins Above Replacement (68.6 to 60.2). Pettitte had flashes of dominance but was never truly dominant; despite his gaudy innings pitched totals, Pettitte never struck out more than 180 batters in a season, nor did he ever rank in the top 10 in key rate stats like strikeouts or walks per nine innings, or strikeout-walk ratio.
His 1.35 career WHIP doesn’t boost Pettitte’s case for indomitability. While Pettitte’s signature cutter enabled him to suppress home runs – he gave up less than one per nine innings – his propensity to find bats resulted in uneven Fielding Independent Pitching marks – ranging from a low of 2.90 to a high of 4.67 in his first seven full seasons.
And while Pettitte’s career numbers are a byproduct of pitching through the heart of the steroid era, he, too, benefited from performance-enhancing drugs. Pettitte admitted to taking human growth hormone “for two days” in the wake of his inclusion in baseball’s 2007 Mitchell Report, an explanation experts found implausible.
His friendship with Roger Clemens and work with shamed trainer Brian McNamee suggests a stronger connection to PED use.
Pettitte’s not off to a great start – moving from 9.9% of the vote to 11.3% in his second year on the ballot – but this year could provide a better sense of his fate. There are exactly zero no-doubt candidates on the current ballot, and a jump in support this year could bode well for future viability toward the 75% needed for induction.
So far, he’s getting it: Pettitte has been named on 17% of publicly-revealed ballots via Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame ballot tracker. That number would figure to drop in the end, since non-public ballots tend to be unfriendlier to fringe candidates and those connected to PEDs.
Will Pettitte’s candidacy age well? Yes and no. Advanced metrics aren’t particularly kind to him, but at the same time, his body of work will become rarer as the years advance. It’s worth noting his old teammate, Mike Mussina, debuted at 20.3% of the vote before earning induction in his sixth year of eligibility.
Pettitte has twice as far to climb from Year 1. Even if he matches Mussina’s debut total this year, the clock is already working against him.