Too early? Nonsense!
When we ask if someone is a Hall of Famer, we’re really asking two questions. (1) Does he deserve to make the Hall of Fame?; and (2) Will he make the Hall of Fame, deserving or not.
First question: They give a guy a five year waiting period for a reason, but my quick reaction is no, Pettitte is not a Hall of Famer. I covered this back on Christmas Eve, but based on the traffic reports that day none of you read it so I’ll say it again.
Pettitte has been good — at times very good — but never great. His postseason performance helps him, but it’s easy to overstate that too. Pettitte’s regular season winning percentage, ERA and K/BB ratio is .635/3.88./2.34. Postseason? It’s .655/3.83./2.40. He’s had some big performances, but over a little more than a full regular season’s worth of playoff starts, he’s around the same pitcher he’s always been. Give him a bump because of the stronger competition in October, but it’s not like he’s been transcendent.
One thing a lot of people will say about Pettitte is that he was never even the best pitcher on his team. That’s an overstatement I think. He was the best starter on the 1996 championship team (David Cone pitched better, but he was only there for 11 starts). He was pretty close to the best in 1997 when the Yankees won 96 games (Cone was probably better, but again, he pitched 45 fewer innings than Pettitte). After that there were always one or two better Yankees starters in any given year, be it Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, Orlando Hernandez or even Chien-Ming Wang. My sense: if you’re going to go to the mat for any Yankees pitcher of that era, you should probably go to the mat for Mike Mussina, who was far superior to Pettitte over the course of his career. But let’s leave that for another day.
Now the second question
Second Question: I think Pettitte will get a lot of support. Most of it will be based on the “fame” part of Hall of Fame. He was a Yankee. He was the most constant of their starters over the Jeter era. He had a lot of wins. There will be people bending over backwards to make a case for Pettitte in ways that they’d never consider making for other pitchers. A lot of these cases will be intellectually dishonest in that those making the case won’t ding Pettitte for his admitted HGH use the way they’ve dinged other guys like Bagwell for his merely suspected use. It’s going to get ugly when guys start writing their Pettitte Hall of Fame columns, frankly. I can’t wait!
But I have this sneaking suspicion that he’ll make it eventually. It won’t be on the first ballot, but I think he’ll hang around a long time and eventually get over the hump. People like Andy Pettitte. And for good reason. And he’s got a non-trivial case for induction, even if it’s not up to snuff in my view. Without hard analysis I think his case is better than Jack Morris’ for example.
But I suppose we can save all of this for 2016.