Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Is Andy Pettitte a Hall of Famer?
By David Schoenfield
In a couple of weeks the clouds will burst, thunder will crackle and explode and children will run for cover. That's right, the annual Jack Morris Hall of Fame debate will commence.
Morris will almost assuredly get in this year. He received 66.7 percent of the vote last year, putting him on the brink of the 75 percent needed for election, and once a player gets that close the voters will put him over the top.
Which brings me to Andy Pettitte, who is apparently about to sign a deal to return to the Yankees for another season. Pettitte and Morris certainly have comparable résumés: similar career win totals and ERAs, key member of multiple World Series champions, workhorse mentality, big postseason moments, right on down to neither ever winning a Cy Young Award. Here, the career numbers for each:
The problem in electing a marginal candidate like Morris to the Hall of Fame is it opens the door for similar players. In fact, it's hard to prove that Morris is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Pettitte. Once you adjust for the different offensive eras each pitched, Pettitte comes out on top, with a better ERA and a higher Wins Above Replacement.
Morris, of course, has THE GAME, but it's not like Pettitte is devoid of big performances in the playoffs. Pettitte has started more games (44), pitched more innings (276.2) and won more games (19) than any pitcher in playoff history. Since 1995, he's in appeared in every postseason except four. His signature playoff performance was a 1-0 win over John Smoltz in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series (8.1 scoreless innings).
But like Morris, his overall postseason numbers don't quite match the reputation as an ultra-clutch playoff performers. Pettitte is 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA; Morris is 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. In other words -- good numbers, but essentially what both did in the regular season.
That's not to discount those accomplishments. The Hall of Fame does include the word "fame" and making 44 starts in the postseason serves to boost Pettitte's reputation. One thing Hall of Fame voters have historically rewarded is being a key member of championship teams -- players like Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and Tony Perez have weak statistical arguments for the Hall, but played on multiple World Series winners. That's one reason Morris will get in (he played on four winners, although he was injured in 1993 and had pitched poorly and didn't pitch in the postseason).
One more Pettitte note: Here are the career ERA+ (this statistic normalizes a pitcher's ERA for his era and home ballparks) of some pitchers, all with at least 3,000 innings pitched, since 1950:
Bert Blyleven 118
Tom Glavine 118
Gaylord Perry 117
Andy Pettitte 117
Dennis Eckersley 116
Steve Carlton 115
Phil Niekro 115
Fergie Jenkins 115
Jim Bunning 115
Robin Roberts 113
Nolan Ryan 112
All of them are in the Hall of Fame, of course, except Glavine (who will be, with his 300 wins) and Pettitte. Now, most of those guys pitched a lot more innings than Pettitte -- Perry, Carlton and Niekro each have more 2,000 innings on Pettitte -- so Pettitte isn't going to match them in career WAR. Even Eckersley, despite spending the second half of his career in the bullpen, has 150 more innings.
Morris, on the other hand, with his 105 ERA+ is aligned with pitchers like Kenny Rogers (107), Charlie Hough (106), Bob Welch (106), Frank Tanana (106), Tim Wakefield (105), Jamie Moyer (104) and, yes, Hunter (104). In fact, of 61 pitchers since 1950 to have thrown 3,000-plus innings, Morris ranks 50th in adjusted ERA. In terms of career WAR since 1950 (no innings qualification), Pettitte ranks 32nd, Morris 74th (remember, WAR calculates regular-season contributions only).
Look, player-versus-player Hall of Fame comparisons can be the worst kind of arguments to make. But when Jack Morris gets inducted in early January, Andy Pettitte's Hall of Fame candidacy will take a gigantic leap forward.
(OK, I realize I didn't give an opinion, in case you want one: Morris is below the fence for me; Pettitte is straddling it ... but I would be inclined to vote for him, assuming more qualified candidates like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina are in by the time Pettitte hits the ballot.)