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.

MLB execs go to bat in favor of shrinking minor leagues

Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images
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Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports published an article this morning in which he quotes several executives of MLB teams, including Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen and Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro, defending the league’s proposal to cut 42 minor league baseball teams.

We first learned of the idea about a month ago. The proposal was widely panned, even drawing scorn from Congress as more than 100 members of Congress — including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — signed a letter condemning the league. In the time since, MLB has spent considerable time defending itself amid the public scrutiny. MLB also got into a bickering match with Minor League Baseball.

To generally sum up what was said in Brown’s column: the GMs echoed what MLB previously said in defensive of its proposal, which is that cutting 42 minor league teams (mostly in short-season and rookie ball) would free up more money to pay players more and improve their working conditions, including food and travel as well as facility conditions.

It is hypocritical for the league and team executives to express concern for the salaries and the quality of life for minor league players. After all, Major League Baseball spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress in order for language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to be amended. Doing so allowed the league to classify minor leaguers as seasonal workers and thus not owed things like a minimum wage and overtime pay, among other worker protections. This all happened because MLB is the defendant in a class-action lawsuit, originated by Aaron Senne and several other former minor league players, alleging that the league violated state and federal minimum wage laws with minor league players.

Shapiro is not a fan of Sanders’ constant harping on the league’s proposal. Shapiro said, “I’m never going to go toe-to-toe with him on domestic policy. But I will go toe-to-toe with Bernie Sanders on professional baseball.” As Brown explains, Shapiro is among those who believes that having a smaller minor league system would allow his organization to offer greater focus to each player remaining within that system. With the increased focus, the team would be better able to develop major league-caliber prospects. As we know, teams love prospects because their salaries are artificially depressed for the first six years of their careers.

One anonymous GM harped on the fact that “minor league baseball is not a moneymaker.” It didn’t sound like he was complaining; rather, simply recognizing how their parent teams view the situation. Another anonymous GM, however, said that the 42 teams are on the chopping block “for a reason.” He added, “I’m guessing that reason isn’t because they had overwhelmingly positive gate turnouts or that their facilities were in good shape. I think that’s been the criteria.”

As I pointed out last month, there are two teams that, at minimum, disprove the shabby-facility talking point. The Lowell Spinners (short-season) have had multiple renovations done in recent years. Team owner Dave Heller called his team’s stadium “arguably the best facility in the New York-Penn League.” The Quad Cities River Bandits, as another example, have earned awards from BallparkDigest.com for “Best Ballpark Improvement” and finished in third place as recently as two seasons ago for “Best View in the Minors.”

As for attendance, BallparkDigest has the 2019 numbers for all 160 teams here. The four Double-A teams on the chopping block — the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Chattanooga Lookouts, Erie SeaWolves, and Jackson Generals — ranked 91st, 74th, 80th, and 130th, respectively. Only one of those teams is significantly below the 50th percentile. Furthermore, one of the High-A teams on the list, the Frederick Keys, ranked 57th in attendance this past season, close to being in the top one-third of the entire minor league system.

The arguments are obviously facile. We should expect nothing less, however, as these execs do the bidding of their team’s ownership. Their jobs necessitate developing players efficiently and thoroughly. Chopping 42 minor league teams would have the double benefit to them of helping reduce overhead so the owners can report higher profits, as well as making their system run more efficiently (or so they think). So be it if thousands of jobs in towns across the U.S. get slashed in the process. So be it if small towns lose a central focus of their local economies and cultures. So be it if baseball becomes significantly less accessible across the nation.