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Andy Pettitte’s complicated Hall of Fame case

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Andy Pettitte was never a dominant starter. That’s pretty much indisputable.

In 18 big-league seasons, Pettitte has never won a Cy Young Award, an ERA title or a strikeout crown. The only “black ink” on his Baseball-Reference page comes from the three times he led or shared his league lead in games started. He’s thrown four career shutouts, which is one more than Justin Masterson has this year.

Yet here he is. As he retires for a second time, he leaves MLB as the active leader in wins with 255 and strikeouts with 2,437 and the all-time leader with 19 postseason victories.

So, yeah, Pettitte’s Hall of Fame case is based largely on wins, which should lead to a great deal of skepticism given that he spent most of his career pitching for baseball’s most successful franchise. Among pitchers with at least 300 decisions since 1901, Pettitte ranks 16th with a .627 winning percentage, ahead of obvious Hall of Famers like Tom Seaver, Carl Hubbell, Warren Spahn, Bob Gibson and even Walter Johnson. Make the cutoff 400 decisions instead and Pettitte jumps all of the way to eighth on the list.

One could argue that says as much about the Yankees as it does about Pettitte.

On the other hand, it might surprise people to see Pettitte currently sitting with a 117 ERA+. That’s not Jack Morris territory (he’s at 105). That’s squarely in the Hall of Fame range. Baseball-reference’s Play Index gives us 51 Hall of Fame starting pitchers since 1901. Pettitte’s ERA would sit right along sign Gaylord Perry at No. 30 in that group. It’s better than Steve Carlton and Fergie Jenkins at 115. It’s much better than Don Sutton’s 108. It’s just below Bert Blyleven at 118.

Of course, Pettitte didn’t pitch as much as those guys. Jenkins has the low innings total of that group at 4,500. Pettitte is currently at 3,300. And given that modest innings total, one would certainly like to see more dominance than Pettitte offers.

Going by Baseball-Reference’s WAR, Pettitte’s 60.4 puts him right around Hall of Famers Juan Marichal (61.8), Jim Bunning (60.5) and Hal Newhouser (60.4) and ahead of guys like Whitey Ford (53.9), Early Wynn (51.6) and Catfish Hunter (36.5). But it also ranks behind non-Hall of Famers like Kevin Brown (68.7), Rick Reuschel (68.2), Luis Tiant (65.9) and David Cone (61.8). WAR rates question marks Mike Mussina (82.7) and Curt Schilling (80.7) as much more deserving.

So, Pettitte’s Hall of Fame case largely comes down to two things: the postseason and doping. Some will disqualify him automatically based on his admitted hGH use. I think that’s a discussion for a different time, though. The postseason is of more interest to me here. Pettitte clearly deserves some sort of boost for making 44 postseason starts and going 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA. He has five World Series rings, and he wasn’t a bystander for any of them.

How much credit is the tough part. I’m sympathetic to both sides of the argument. If Pettitte had been drafted by any team other than the Yankees, it’d doubtful he’d have any Hall of Fame case right now. His career is hardly any different than Chuck Finley’s.

On the other hand, Pettitte made the most of the opportunities he was given. And he’s pitched the equivalent of an extra season and a third. Would Pettitte’s regular-season numbers look better if he didn’t so often make an extra five or six starts in October? I think they probably would.

Personally, I think Pettitte still comes up short. I like my Hall of Famers to have higher peaks — to have been among the best players in their leagues, even if only for a couple of years. But it’s unfair to dismiss his case as just being Yankee hype. He has a better argument than Jack Morris, and there are certainly worse pitchers enshrined already. But there are better ones to pick from, too.

Great Moments in Not Understanding The Rules

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Bill Livingston of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is a Hall of Fame voter. In the past he has voted for players who used PEDs, but he’s never been totally happy with it, seeing the whole PED mess as a dilemma for voters.

On the one hand he doesn’t like voting for users and doesn’t like harming those who were clean by shifting votes away from them, but on the other hand, he doesn’t want to pretend history didn’t happen and that baseball hasn’t been filled with cheaters forever. What to do?

This year he decided to abstain altogether. A fair and noble act if one is as conflicted as Livingston happens to be. Except . . . he didn’t actually abstain:

Major league baseball will confer bronzed immortality on a few players Wednesday when the results of the national baseball writers’ balloting for the Hall of Fame will be announced.

I had a 2017 ballot. I returned it signed, but blank, with an explanatory note.

A blank ballot, signed and submitted, is not an abstention. It’s counted as a vote for no one. Each “no” vote increases the denominator in the calculation of whether or not a candidate has received 75% of the vote and has gained induction. An abstention, however, would not. So, in effect, Livingston has voted against all of the players on the ballot, both PED-tainted and clean, even though it appears that that was not his intention.

This is the second time in three years a Cleveland writer has had . . . issues with his Hall of Fame ballot. In the 2014-15 voting period, Paul Hoynes simply lost his ballot. Now Livingston misunderstood how to abstain.

I worry quite often that Ohio is gonna mess up a major election. I guess I’m just worrying about the wrong election.

Hall of Fame voters are making news, not exercising democratic rights

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Last month the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to make all Hall of Fame ballots public beginning with next year’s vote for the 2018 induction class. In the past 24 hours or so, as this year’s Hall of Fame voting period comes to a close, a lot of folks have been talking about that. Most notably in Jayson Stark’s piece over at ESPN regarding next year’s brave new public world.

Stark is pro-transparency on the ballots, as are the vast majority of BBWAA members who voted on the public ballot measure (it passed 80-9). Not everyone Stark quotes in his article is on board with it, though:

“I’ve already seen a lot of people change their votes from one year to the next,” said one of the strongest dissenters to this decision, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “People have changed their votes based on public opinion.”

Two other sources in the story, Scott Miller of Bleacher Report and a voter who asked to remain anonymous equated their Hall of Fame vote with democracy and invoked the sanctity of the secret ballot. “The No. 1 reason I was against this rule is that in this country, it’s a democracy, and everyone has a vote on different things. And I hate to see a blanket rule that forces everyone to go in one direction,” Miller said. Here’s what the anonymous guy said:

“To me, a secret ballot is a fundamental of democracy. You should be able to vote your conscience without having to explain your vote. But once it’s public, you’re open to public pressure. And that’s not what we want in a democracy. We’re not elected representatives. We’re chosen to be part of a voting group.”

This is ridiculous of course. Voting for the Hall of Fame is not exercising democratic rights. It is making news and making history. Hall of Fame voters are making decisions which will fundamentally alter baseball history and which matter greatly to a large number of baseball fans. They are not advancing their own or society’s interests at the ballot box the way citizens do on election day. Despite the fact that the form of their action here is, technically speaking, a ballot, they are making news in the same way a GM makes a news with a trade, the commissioner makes news with a rule change or a team makes news by winning a World Series.

Would any of these voters — who are credentialed members of the media, by the way, and like to style themselves as truth-seeking members of the Fourth Estate — accept silence from the people who make the news on the beat they cover? Would they be content if the newsmakers whose acts they chronicle demanded anonymity the way they themselves do now? Of course they wouldn’t. And if they got the same silent treatment they’d prefer to give, they’d write one of those petulant little columns they love about players who “duck the press” after a game.

Suck it up, journalists. Act the way you expect the newsmakers you cover to act and own your decisions. Don’t pretend for a moment that you’re not the subject of, and not the reporter of, the story when Hall of Fame season comes around.