JAWS and the 2024 Hall of Fame Ballot: Mark Buehrle, Andy Pettitte, and a Little Experiment

Andy Pettitte
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2024 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

It’s no secret that we’re in the midst of a lean period for starting pitchers getting elected to the Hall of Fame via the BBWAA. Since the elections of 300-game winners Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson in 2014 and ’15, just four starters have gained entry via the writers, two of them alongside the Big Unit in the latter year (Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz) and two more in ’19 (Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina). From a demographic standpoint, Halladay is the only starter born after 1971.

It’s quite possible we won’t get another starter born in that shag-carpeted decade unless voters come around on Andy Pettitte (b. 1972) or Mark Buehrle (b. 1979), a pair of southpaws who cleared the 200-win mark during their exceptional careers, producing some big moments and playing significant roles on championship-winning teams. Yet neither of them ever won Cy Young awards, created much black ink, or dominated in the ways that we expect Hall-caliber hurlers to do. Neither makes much of a dent when it comes to JAWS, where they respectively rank 92nd and 90th via the traditional version, about 14 points below the standard, or tied for 80th and 78th in the workload-adjusted version (S-JAWS). Neither has gotten far in their time on the ballot; Pettitte maxed out at 17% last year, his fifth, and Buerhle returned to double digits with 10.8% in his third year of eligibility — still a couple eyelashes short of his debut share.

After updating both pitchers’ profiles last year, I’ll stick to excerpting them this time before getting back to my latest thinking on the subject.

Mark Buehrle (10.8% on 2023 ballot)

2024 BBWAA Candidate: Mark Buehrle
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR Adj. S-JAWS
Mark Buehrle 59.1 35.8 47.4
Avg. HOF SP 73.0 40.7 56.8
214-160 1,870 3.81 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the intro:

At a moment when baseball is so obsessed with velocity, it’s remarkable to remember how recently it was that a pitcher could thrive, year in and year out, despite averaging in the 85–87-mph range with his fastball. Yet thats exactly what Mark Buehrle did over the course of his 16-year career. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, the burly Buehrle was the epitome of the crafty lefty, an ultra-durable workhorse who didn’t dominate but who worked quickly, used a variety of pitches — four-seamer, sinker, cutter, curve, changeup — moving a variety of directions to pound the strike zone, and relied on his fielders to make the plays behind him. From 2001 to ’14, he annually reached the 30-start and 200-inning plateaus, and he barely missed on the latter front in his final season.

August Fagerstrom summed up Buehrle so well in his 2016 appreciation that I can’t resist sharing a good chunk:

The way Buehrle succeeded was unique, of course. He got his ground balls, but he wasn’t the best at getting ground balls. He limited walks, but he wasn’t the best a limiting walks. He generated soft contact, but he wasn’t the best at generating soft contact. Buehrle simply avoided damage with his sub-90 mph fastball by throwing strikes while simultaneously avoiding the middle of the plate:

That’s Buehrle’s entire career during the PITCHf/x era, and it’s something of a remarkable graphic. You see Buehrle living on the first-base edge of the zone, making sure to keep his pitches low, while also being able to spot the same pitch on the opposite side of the zone, for the most part avoiding the heart of the plate. Buehrle’s retained the ability to pitch this way until the end; just last year [2015], he led all of baseball in the percentage of pitches located on the horizontal edges of the plate.

Drafted and developed by the White Sox — practically plucked from obscurity, at that — Buehrle spent 12 of his 16 seasons on the South Side, making four All-Star teams and helping Chicago to three postseason appearances, including its 2005 World Series win, which broke the franchise’s 88-year championship drought. While with the White Sox, he became just the second pitcher in franchise history to throw multiple no-hitters, first doing so in 2007 against the Rangers, then adding a perfect game in 2009 against the Rays. After his time in Chicago, he spent a sour season with the newly-rebranded Miami Marlins, and when that predictably melted down, spent three years with the Blue Jays, helping them reach the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

Though Buehrle reached the 200-win plateau in his final season, he was just 36 years old when he hung up his spikes, preventing him from more fully padding his counting stats or framing his case for Cooperstown in the best light.

More here.

Andy Pettitte (17.0% on 2023 ballot)

2024 BBWAA Candidate: Andy Pettitte
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR Adj. S-JAWS
Andy Pettitte 60.2 34.1 47.2
Avg. HOF SP 73.3 40.7 56.8
256-153 2,448 3.85 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the intro:

As much as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte was a pillar of the Joe Torre-era Yankees dynasty. The tall Texan lefty played such a vital role on 13 pinstriped playoff teams and seven pennant winners — plus another trip to the World Series during his three-year run with Houston — that he holds several major postseason records. In fact, no pitcher ever started more potential series clinchers, both in the World Series and the postseason as a whole.

For as important as Pettitte was to the “Core Four” (Williams always gets the short end of the stick on that one) that anchored five championships from 1996 to 2009 — and to an Astros team that reached its first World Series in ’05 — he seldom made a case as one of the game’s top pitchers. High win totals driven by excellent offensive support helped him finish in the top five of his leagues’ Cy Young voting four times, but only three times did he place among the top 10 in ERA or WAR, and he never ranked higher than sixth in strikeouts. He made just three All-Star teams.

Indeed, Pettitte was more plow horse than racehorse. A sinker- and cutter-driven groundballer whose pickoff move was legendary, he was a championship-level innings-eater, a grinder (his word) rather than a dominator, a pitcher whose strong work ethic, mental preparation, and focus — visually exemplified by his peering in for the sign from the catcher with eyes barely visible underneath the brim of his cap — compensated for his lack of dazzling stuff. Ten times he made at least 32 starts, a mark that’s tied for seventh in the post-1994 strike era. Within that span, his total of 10 200-inning seasons is tied for fourth, and his 13 seasons of qualifying for the ERA title with an ERA+ of 100 or better is tied for first with two other lefties, Mark Buehrle and CC Sabathia. He had his ups and downs in the postseason, but only once during his 18-year career (2004, when he underwent season-ending elbow surgery) was he unavailable to pitch once his team made the playoffs.

Even given Pettitte’s 256 career wins, he spent the first four years of his candidacy overshadowed by two other starters on the ballot (Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling) who were better at missing bats and preventing runs, and who also had plenty of postseason success. Both of those pitchers offered reasons for voters to exclude them from their ballots even while finding them statistically qualified, and the same is true for Pettitte, who was named in the 2007 Mitchell Report for having used human growth hormone to recover from an elbow injury.

More here.

If you need a refresher, the idea behind S-JAWS, which can be found all over Baseball Reference in the same places as JAWS, is to reduce the skewing caused by the impact of 19th-century and Deadball-era pitchers, some of whom topped 400, 500, or even 600 innings in a season on multiple occasions. The way I’ve chosen to do this is by prorating the peak-component credit for any heavy-workload season to a maximum of 250 innings, a level that the current BBWAA candidates rarely reached; among active pitchers, only Justin Verlander has, albeit by a single inning a decade ago. Given the current trends in the game regarding starting pitcher usage, five or 10 years from now, evaluating candidates on a 200- or 225-inning basis might make more sense, but I think this is a reasonable place to start the adjustments.

Hall of Famers as a group lose an average of 9.1 WAR in the adjustment of their peak WARs and an average of 4.6 points in the conversion from JAWS to S-JAWS. That lowers the standard from 61.4 to 56.8. It doesn’t cost either of these two lefties, who topped out in the 240ish-inning range, anything score-wise, but Pettitte still winds up 9.6 points south of the S-JAWS standard, and Buehrle is 9.4 points shy.

I’m reluctant to start scaling those peak seasons down even further because it will cut into the scores of these candidates, but given that I anticipate having some space on my ballot this year and that I’ve been discussing the scarcity of viable Hall starters for quite some time — see here for my latest in-season entry on the topic — I’m wondering just what it would take to find a JAWS-driven reason to support these candidates. Consider this a thought experiment that one could use as ballot guidance if so inclined; what I’m about to illustrate is an attempt at something akin to gerrymandering or reverse engineering to produce a desired outcome.

Before showing you how this turned out, I’ll reiterate that there’s more to any candidate’s Hall of Fame case than just WAR and JAWS, and that I’ve outlined both pitchers’ portfolios within the aforementioned profiles; they include the good stuff as well as the bad. For Pettitte, that includes his admission of using HGH in 2002, which falls in the “Wild West” era where PEDs weren’t tested for and, in this case, when the substance in question was legal and not banned by baseball until 2005. Still, I wanted to see if I could get these two pitchers within hailing distance of some line, and if that helped improved the outlook for upcoming candidates.

Instead of further scaling down peak score, I’ve explored using a percentile rank threshold. I’ve always used the means of Hall of Famers’ career WAR, peak WAR, and JAWS to determine the standards instead of the medians, not only because the latter are often higher (which isn’t the case for pitchers, actually) but also because where the means of career and peak WARs add up to produce the mean of JAWS, that doesn’t happen with the median. It’s messy.

Starting Pitcher JAWS
Mean/Median Standards Comparison
Version Career Peak JAWS mJAWS
Original Mean 73.0 49.9 61.4
Original Median 66.3 49.5 57.5 57.9
S-JAWS Mean 73.0 40.7 56.8
S-JAWS Median 66.3 39.3 53.6 52.8
mJAWS = average of median Career and Peak (best seven seasons) WARs

A JAWS that averages the means of career and peak is just JAWS, and the same goes for S-JAWS, but a JAWS or S-JAWS that averages the medians of the two components is a different number (mJAWS above) from the medians of either flavor. To avoid confusion and clutter, for this thought experiment I’m going to ditch the components and just focus on the median JAWS and its percentiles. Here’s how Pettitte and Buerhle stack up in both versions; as points of comparison, I’m also throwing in the percentile rankings for CC Sabathia (the top upcoming candidate of those retired, eligible next year), 2024 ballot newcomer Bartolo Colon (whom I’ll profile at length later), two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana (who went one-and-done amid an overstuffed 2018 ballot), and the just-retired Adam Wainwright (eligible in 2029):

Starting Pitcher JAWS Percentiles
Version Median JAWS 25th 75th AP% MB% BC% CCS% JS% AW%
Original Median 57.5 48.0 71.4 24 25 8 29 25 8
S-JAWS Median 53.6 45.8 65.5 27 28 13 39 30 12
AP% = Andy Pettitte percentile ranking, MB% = Mark Buehrle percentile ranking, BC% = Bartolo Colon percentile ranking, CCS% = CC Sabathia percentile ranking, JS% = Johan Santana percentile ranking, AW% = Adam Wainwright percentile ranking

That… isn’t tremendously encouraging, but it does at least show this ballot’s two southpaws somewhere in the second quartile, unlike Colon and Wainwright, but still well behind Sabathia, a pitcher I intend to support next year. If you’re wondering about active pitchers, the top one is Verlander (65th in original JAWS, 75th in S-JAWS), just nosing out Clayton Kershaw (65th and 74th). While I’m sure readers will have questions about other popular candidates such as the ones profiled in my Best Starting Pitchers Outside the Hall series from 2022 (I, II, III, IV), I’m not going to inventory them at this stage. Let’s just say that they wind up doing much better than the guys above yet remain short of the top four active starters, all of them locks for Cooperstown at this stage (Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer being the others).

Since the goal here is to improve the light that shines upon Pettitte and Buehrle, what if we exclude, say, all of the pitchers whose careers began before 1893, the year that the 60-foot-6 distance was established, since those pitchers threw so many innings? Or if we pick another reasonable year as a cutoff? At the risk of drawing this article out for days, I did just that, calculating the percentiles in question for both versions and for the five pitchers in the table using 1893, and then the Baseball Reference Stathead cutoff dates, namely 1900 (Modern Era), 1920 (Live Ball Era), 1947 (Integration Era), and 1961 (Expansion Era). If a Hall of Famer threw a pitch before those cutoff years, I excluded him from the calculations that went into that set.

Starting Pitcher JAWS Percentiles With Chronological Cutoffs
Version Cutoff # Median JAWS 25th 75th AP% MB% BC% CCS% JS% AW%
Original none 66 57.5 48.0 71.4 24 25 8 29 25 8
S-JAWS none 66 53.6 45.8 65.5 27 28 13 39 30 12
Original 1893 58 56.2 46.1 70.9 27 28 9 33 29 9
S-JAWS 1893 58 53.4 44.1 65.5 30 30 15 41 33 13
Original 1900 54 56.2 45.8 71.1 28 29 10 34 30 9
S-JAWS 1900 54 53.6 44.1 66.7 30 30 14 38 32 13
Original 1920 37 57.9 50.2 71.5 19 19 7 25 7 7
S-JAWS 1920 37 54.0 49.5 68.7 21 21 8 27 22 8
Original 1947 26 62.3 54.0 72.0 16 16 6 21 17 6
S-JAWS 1947 26 61.1 51.8 69.3 18 18 7 23 19 7
Original 1961 19 65.7 57.6 72.4 10 10 7 13 11 7
S-JAWS 1961 19 63.4 53.7 70.0 11 11 8 13 11 7

I won’t belabor the point: this doesn’t help much, and it doesn’t do what I thought it might, because the Hall of Famers aren’t evenly distributed throughout the JAWS rankings. While removing the pitchers who started their careers before 1893 or 1900 does improve the standing of the pair at the center of our inquiry as well as the four on the periphery, once we start decreasing the set of pitchers further, the new kids (so to speak) suffer increasingly.

What this is telling us is that a lot of the pitchers whom Pettitte, Buehrle and company outrank in either flavor of JAWS are the ones from those earlier eras, mostly elected by the Veterans and Era Committees, not the writers. As an increasing number of them are excluded from the set by the cutoffs, our dynamic duo drops. This starts to make sense when you consider that of the 10 lowest-ranked Hall of Famers in JAWS — from 43.5 on down — only one (Jack Chesbro) began his career before 1900. Five others did so before 1920 (Addie Joss, Herb Pennock, Charles Bender, Rube Marquard, and Jesse Haines, the lowest-ranked of them all), with Catfish Hunter and Jack Morris the only ones from the expansion era. Remove the pre-integration guys, and it’s rougher sledding for everyone, and particularly as That Seventies Group — the 10 incredibly durable Hall of Famers whose careers took place within the post-1960 expansion era, who mostly went on to reach the 300-win and 3,000-strikeout plateaus, and who found their way into my Bert Blyleven chapter in The Cooperstown Casebook — occupies a greater share of the remaining group.

Long story short, if we’re looking at current and future candidates, I don’t think the chronological cutoffs help much, but the percentile rankings may have some merit. If you’re comfortable with the prospect of electing pitchers such as Pettitte and Buehrle who are in the lower part of the second quartile by this methodology, fair enough; I’m not going to egg anyone’s house for including them on their ballots (and to be clear, I wasn’t egging anyone’s house before either). As for casting votes for either of these pitchers, I’m going to chew on the results awhile longer and possibly return to the drawing board before I commit to including either on my ballot.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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5 months ago

If there were a Baseball Hall of Famous Uncalled Balks, Andy Pettitte would be the undisputed king. Because the rule says you can’t step toward home and throw to first in an attempt to deceive the runner, but evidently it doesn’t apply to Pettitte.

5 months ago
Reply to  docgooden85

The other guy being discussed in this article liked to test the boundaries of that rule as well.

5 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

All the great ones do. It’s like how in basketball, history’s best dribblers were always right on the edge of legality for their time.

Last edited 5 months ago by mariodegenzgz
Sonny Lmember
5 months ago
Reply to  mariodegenzgz

90’s kids remember emulating Ken Griffey Jr’s swing. They don’t remember as fondly the times they tried to replicate Pettite’s pick off move because it was called a balk, they fell over, and the ball flew 10’ over the 1B’s head. It was low-key an extraordinarily athletic movement on the mound. Almost Licecuinian.

Cool Lester Smoothmember
5 months ago
Reply to  Sonny L

Yer man giving big “Jordan traveled every time” energy.

Cool Lester Smoothmember
5 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

Pretty sure it’s called “Being good at pickoffs.”

5 months ago

Are you Joe West? Because that’s what he would probably say.

5 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

Marky B was the best defensive pitcher I’ve ever seen, unless it was Maddux. And he stepped toward the bag.

Pepper Martin
5 months ago
Reply to  docgooden85

Actually it’s just the best pickoff move ever.

5 months ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

Cheating is always the most effective strategy, if allowed.