Pettitte's Hall of Fame case strengthens with every win

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How exactly do we weigh opportunity?
Andy Pettitte has been far from an ace while finishing with ERAs over 4.00 each of the last four seasons, yet he keeps winning 14 games every year and is now up to 229 victories for his career. That comes with being an above average starter for very good teams. Pettitte’s career ERA is 3.91, yet he has a .629 winning percentage.
Of course, a 3.91 ERA in today’s game is hardly bad. Even though Pettitte has had just two seasons in his career in which he’s made at least 30 starts and finished with an ERA under 3.80, his ERA+, which is adjusted for league and ballpark, is 116. Tom Glavine, in comparison, finished only slightly better at 118. Legitimate Hall of Famers Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins and Phil Niekro came in at 115. Pettitte isn’t their equal — they all have big win and inning advantages — but it demonstrates that the quality of his performance is at a Hall of Fame level.
Where Pettitte’s case really comes together is with the addition of postseason stats. Pettitte is the all-time postseason leader with 16 victories, one more than John Smoltz. He’s pitched more than the equivalent of a season in October, coming in at 38 starts and 237 1/3 innings (both records). Over that time, he has a .640 winning percentage and a 3.83 ERA.
In the World Series, his ERA has held steady at 3.82, but he’s gone 3-4 in 11 starts. His teams are 4-3 in seven World Series. In just one of them did Pettitte pitch badly for a team that lost, as he went 0-2 with a 10.00 ERA against the Diamondbacks in 2001. He went 1-1 with a 0.57 ERA in the loss to the Marlins in 2003, and while with the Astros, he gave up two runs over six innings in a no-decision versus the White Sox in 2006.
Pettitte’s Hall of Fame case will likely be compared to that of Jack Morris. The two have practically identical career ERAs, with Morris coming in at 3.90. Assuming that he opts to continue his career, Pettitte’s will probably be a bit higher by the time he matches Morris’ total of 254 victories. Morris, though, pitched in a worse era for offense. His career ERA+ is just 105, which would be historically low for a Hall of Famer.
That Morris gets significant Hall of Fame support is largely because of his postseason record. He did have a couple of poor Octobers to go along with his two fabulous performances, though, leaving him 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. Besides their strong postseason credentials and the fact that they were typically above average pitchers on good teams, there’s not a lot similar about Morris and Pettitte. Morris still has 900 innings on Petttitte. He recorded 175 complete games and 28 shutouts. Pettitte has just 25 complete games and four shutouts.
Pettitte’s regular-season career is much more similar to a group of contemporaries who, rightly or wrongly, have no chance of stiffing the Hall of Fame:

W-L	ERA	IP	ERA+
Pettitte	229-135	3.91	2926	116
Finley	200-173	3.85	3197	115
Wells	239-157	4.13	3439	108
Cone	194-126	3.46	2899	120
Hershiser	204-150	3.48	3130	112
Rogers	219-156	4.27	3303	108
...
Schilling	216-146	3.46	3261	127
Brown	211-144	3.28	3256	127
Mussina	270-153	3.68	3563	123

I’m including Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina just to show how much more successful those three were. Pettitte’s performance rates a bit above some of the guys from the first group, but his ERA+ may yet suffer as he approaches the higher innings totals. Hershiser, for instance, was at 115 through 1998, when he had 2926 2/3 innings pitched.
So, back to opportunity. Pettitte happened to be signed by the perfect team at pretty much the perfect time. His debut in 1995 coincided with the beginning of one of the greatest runs in baseball history, not that Pettitte didn’t have quite a bit to do with that himself. If he had come along a few years earlier and joined the Angels instead, he might have ended up turning in exactly the same career as Chuck Finley. If he had been traded before reaching the majors, he still might be looking for his 200th win, instead of being all of the way up to 229.
Then again, if Pettitte hadn’t had to pitch those 238 innings in the postseason, he’d likely have been healthier. If he hadn’t had to pitch through soreness so frequently during the decade, his ERA would probably be lower. Pettitte hasn’t missed a lot of time, but he’s dealt with plenty of nagging injuries. It’s fair to say they’ve taken a toll on his performance.
Pettitte talks about retirement every offseason, but if he chooses to keep going, odds are that he’s going to finish with 250 wins. He might get a fifth World Series ring next week, and by the time he’s eligible for the Hall of Fame, there’s a good chance he’ll still be the all-time leader in postseason victories. It might be tough to deny him entry into Cooperstown, though he’d go in without a Cy Young and little in the way of regular season honors. He has just four career shutouts, fewer than Shawn Estes, Brian Moehler and Steve Trachsel. Hershiser had four different seasons with at least that many. He’s never led his league in ERA, strikeouts or innings pitched. In fact, he’s finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA three times.
It makes Pettitte a unique case. He’s probably not going to show up on any more single-season leaderboards, so it’s important that he hit a few more career milestones before he’s done.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.