It all ended when Bengie Molina grounded out to Alex Rodriguez, though no one knew it at the time. It was actually a well-struck ball heading down the third base line, but Rodriguez laid out, sprang to his feet, and fired a one-hopper that Mark Teixeira scooped out of the dirt. In celebration, Andy Pettitte let loose with a mighty pump of the fist. With today’s news that Pettitte will announce his retirement tomorrow, that fist pump marks his final act on a pitching mound.
Pettitte’s career will always be looked on more fondly by Yankees fans than baseball fans in general, but that doesn’t mean he’s undeserving of the accolades laid upon him today. In fact, all you have to do is check out the career pitching WAR leaders to see where Pettitte stacks up with his post-1980 peers. His 66.9 WAR ranks 13th, which certainly puts him into some interesting conversations.
The first such conversation involves Pettitte’s place in Yankees’ history. If we take out the 11.2 WAR he accumulated in Houston, that leaves Pettitte with 55.7 WAR as a Yankee. The only Yankees who produced more WAR than that were Dwight Gooden, David Cone, David Wells, Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, and Roger Clemens. Yet none of them produced even the majority of their career WAR totals in New York. Pettitte’s total far outranks theirs by a considerably margin: Mussina is the next closest at 38.2. It is safe to say that Pettitte was the most valuable Yankees pitcher since 1980.
Only three pitchers in Yankees history have thrown more innings for the team than Pettitte: Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing, and Mel Stottlemyre. Our own WAR doesn’t go far back enough to capture pitchers before 1980, but Baseball Reference’s version does. According to bWAR, Pettitte ranks No. 6 among all-time Yankees pitchers with 42.7 WAR. Only Lefty Gomez, Ron Guidry, Ruffing, Ford, and Mariano Rivera rank ahead of him. His career 114 ERA+ and 3.75 FIP don’t put him in such impressive company, but they are both very good marks, especially when we’re framing the conversation in terms of all-time Yankees.
The bigger conversation, of course, involves Pettitte’s chances of enshrinement in Cooperstown. Craig Calcaterra took up the case earlier this afternoon, and came to a sound conclusion. By the numbers Pettitte probably doesn’t have the strongest case, but we know that writers don’t alway go by the numbers. As we’ve seen with many pitchers in the past, his case will be built around postseason performances and the five rings he owns. That might be enough to get him in after a few years on the ballot.
In terms of his actual case, I’m not sure it’s strong enough. His 66.9 WAR compares well with Tom Glavine’s 68.5 WAR, and Pettitte has a stronger postseason argument. He also accumulated those numbers in almost 1,400 fewer innings. But in terms of current Hall of Famers, the only post-1980 induction to whom Pettitte really compares is Catfish Hunter. But just because Pettitte probably had a better career than one relatively recent Hall of Famer doesn’t mean he should get in. There are plenty of pitchers, including Al Leiter, to name one, whose careers compare favorably to Hunter’s. They’re not all getting in.
While the Hall of Fame might not be in his future, Andy Pettitte will be remembered by the current generation of baseball fans. He is one of the game’s more recognizable pitchers, both because of his prowess on the mound and his presences on national screens nearly every October. In the next few day we’ll talk about how this affects the 2011 Yankees. But for now, it’s an homage to the career of a solid, if not spectacular, starting pitcher.
Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.