Andy Pettitte is my wife’s favorite player – and let’s just say, she knows more about the latest reality show on Bravo than baseball. However, I’ve got to give the wife major bonus points, as Pettitte also happens to be one of my favorite players. This past weekend we were at my mom’s celebrating my birthday, and I pulled this gem out of my baseball cabinet. It’s a Birthday present from my 9th Birthday, so I thought it fitting to share with her. My wife’s face lit up, giddy with excitement, and mentioned she has a similar Andy Pettitte autographed plaque. It quickly became clear – time to pay a little homage to the Texas southpaw.
Pettitte had a highly accomplished 18-year career, spending 15 of the 18 with the Yankees. He’s 1st all-time in Yankee history for strikeouts with 2,020, 3rd all-time with 219 Wins, and 3rd all-time with 2,796 Innings Pitched. He’d rank 1st in all three of these categories had the Yankees not mistakenly let him leave for the Astros for three seasons, including the 2005 season in which he helped lead them to the World Series. It’s painful to note he could have been the difference maker for the Yankees that season when considering a couple things. First, the 2005 Yankees starting rotation average age was 35 and loaded with injury risk. Almost immediately, the rotation imploded with the likes of Carl Pavano, Jarett Wright, and Kevin Brown, posting a combined 13-18 record in only 243 IP with a 5.73 ERA. That’s from 3-5 in the rotation, compared to 17-9, 222 IP with a 2.39 ERA, and a 1.03 WHP by Pettitte. He single handedly almost threw as many innings as the 3-5 starters in the Yankees rotation while posting an ERA over 3+ runs better. In spite of the rotation collapse, the Yankees still won 95 games, and lost in five to Angels in the ALDS. The Chicago White Sox ended up winning the World Series in 2005, but the Yankees unquestionably had a better offense, and with Pettitte, probably would have had a better rotation (Pettitte, Randy Johnson, Mussina vs. Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland). Odds are the Yankees would have taken the White Sox down in the ALCS and then potentially faced a Pettitte-less Astros team in the World Series. It’s conceivable that letting Pettitte leave cost the Yankees a 2005 World Series Championship, if not more.
His historical standing in Yankee history is unquestionable, but the same can’t be said for his Hall of Fame candidacy. Pettitte is up for Hall of Fame election in 2019, and has an interesting case that can be viewed through two polarized lenses: the 2007 Mitchell Report and a complete statistical assessment combining his regular and post-season statistics. Pettitte admitted he took HGH in 2002 when rehabbing an elbow injury and apologized publicly for the mistake. Stating this was the only time he ever took HGH (which was not a banned substance by MLB in 2002), he was largely forgiven by the public, but ultimately we’ll have to wait and see how the Baseball Writers’ Association of America views this. When analyzing his statistical case for the Hall of Fame, his combined post-season and regular season numbers paint a respectable comparison to two current Hall of Famers, and Jack Morris who got as high as 67.7% before failing to make the cut. No player in the history of baseball gets a greater boost by their post-season numbers than Pettitte does.
Across 18 seasons and five World Series rings, Pettitte won 275 games posting a gaudy .626 career winning % (8th all-time among pitchers with 400+ decisions), highlighted by winning 24, 23, and 21 games in 2003, 1996, 2000, respectively. He posted a 214 strikeout season and threw 230+ innings 7 different seasons, while topping 200+ IP in 12 seasons. Between his 2nd and 3rd season he threw over 500 innings! Lucky his left arm didn’t fall off. When strictly analyzing his post-season numbers, he’s the all-time leader in starts with 44, the equivalent of an extra season and a third. Playing against the league’s best competition year-after-year, he’s the all-time leader with 19 career post-season wins and 276 2/3 Innings Pitched. He’s 58 2/3 innings ahead of Tom Glavine whose 2nd all-time with 218 Innings. Known as more of a workhorse than a dominant starter, this is where Pettitte loses ground when judged against other Hall of Famers. Pettitte’s career numbers compare to Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter, but Bunning and Hunter were significantly more dominant in their primes.
Catfish had a string of 5-straight 20+ win seasons while winnings the 1974 AL CY. Over the course of a conversation I had with Ron Guidry, he mentioned diabetes debilitated Catfish’s playing career. After the age of 30, he never pitched a full season again; otherwise he probably would have been a 300 game winning. Pettitte’s career stats also compare to Hall of Famer Jim Bunning’s, but Bunning was also more dominant in his prime. Bunning had a 4-year run where he averaged 19-11 with 298 IP and 248 K’s, and when he retired in 1971 sat 2nd all-time in strikeouts with 2,855, only behind “The Big Train”, Walter Johnson. The best comparison is probably Jack Morris, who finished in the Top-5 in CY voting 5 times and had two fewer regular season wins than Pettitte. Pettitte finished in the Top -5 in CY voting 4 times, and working against him has the highest career WHIP of the group at 1.35. Morris compiled a career 1.29 WHIP, and Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter finished with a significantly better career 1.13 WHIP. Pettitte’s regular + postseason career totals definitely leave voters with something to think about, but considering Morris was close but no cigar, I think Pettitte will ultimately fall short as well. Regardless, Pettitte will always have a special place in my wife’s heart and in my memorabilia cabinet. I leave you with this excellent MLB produced Andy Pettitte Highlight Reel – enjoy.