My colleague and friend, the excellent Joe Sheehan, has an article up at SI making a Hall of Fame case for Andy Pettitte. My sometimes colleague, the excellent Tim Marchman, has as an article up about why Andy Pettitte absolutely is not a Hall of Famer.
I have been mired in Super Bowl hype the last couple of days and have not had a chance to write about the retirement of Pettitte yet, and don't really have much new to add to all that has already been written. But two questions about the retirement do interest me.
1. Is that REALLY Sergio Mitre listed as the Yankees No. 5 starter on their website?
2. What role should the postseason play in the review of players career?
The Mitre thing just blows my mind. The New York Yankees, for the fourth straight year, will have a team payroll of more than $200 million. Only one other team in baseball history has ever had even a $150 million payroll, and that was last year's Red Sox (at $162 million). And that's all fine, we understand, the Yankees have more money, they spend more money. But how do you spend $200-plus million for four straight years -- about $50 million more year year than any team in baseball history -- and find yourself penciling in Sergio Mitre as your No. 5 starter?
Of course, I don't think Mitre will be their No. 5 starter. And I don't think Ivan Nova will be their fourth starter. I think they'll scrounge up a Kevin Millwood or something in free agency, they'll pick up some overpriced contract, they'll change their thinking on Joba Chamberlain, they'll have one of those reclamation projects -- Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon or Mark Prior -- as a five-inning starter for the first couple of months, something will happen. And then during the season they'll swoop in for some high-priced guy who is healthy and pitching well again like Johan Santana or Jake Peavy or Tim Hudson or something.
Still, mark it down: In early February, 2011, the mighty New York Yankees had listed as their fifth starter a 30-year-old pitcher with 13-29 record and a 5.27 career ERA who had not started 20 games in a season since 2007. And maybe for one moment, Yankees fans might have understood just a little bit what it is like year after year after year to root for the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals.*
*Though Mitre might be the No. 2 starter for the 2011 Royals.
The postseason question has interested me for quite some time. It seems to me that when it comes to the postseason we really have two clashing but clear thoughts:
1. Postseason games are much more important than regular season games.
2. Postseason performances tend to be widely ignored in much of our baseball analysis.
Here's what I mean: None of the awards we give out consider the postseason. The MVP, the Cy Young, the rookie of the year, the manager of the year, Gold Gloves ... all of these are based entirely on the regular season. The numbers players put up in the postseason are not added to career totals. Ask a baseball fan how many home runs Babe Ruth hit, and they will tell you 714 without an instant of hesitation. But he actually hit 729 home runs -- 15 of those in the World Series. It's fascinating that almost anyone would tell you that those 15 home runs Ruth hit in the World Series were the most important of his life, but they do not count for his career statistics.
But, hey, as Karl Malone once explained to an international journalist who asked why a basket is worth two points -- "That's just the way we do it here, my man." And I do think that people want the postseason numbers and regular season numbers separated. It doesn't feel FAIR to include postseason numbers into the career because, after all, Mickey Mantle played in 65 World Series games while Ernie Banks played in zero. Was that Ernie Banks' fault? Isn't it bad enough that Banks had to go his whole career without playing in the postseason without comparing his career numbers to someone like, say, Manny Ramirez who has hit 29 homers in 111 postseason games?
Then again ... what's fair about baseball and careers? Is it fair that Banks played half his career in the pitching-intensive 1960s while Manny played in the free-for-all Selig Era? Is it fair that Dale Murphy's body basically fell apart on him at age 30? Is it fair that Minnie Minoso had to start his career in the Negro Leagues? Is it fair that the remarkable Pete Reiser has to miss three war years just when he seemed on his way to become the best young player in memory and then kept running into walls? Fair, in some ways, has nothing to do with it. Stuff happens -- injuries, trends, good teams, bad teams. You can only play your own career.
Look: In many ways, Chuck Finley and Andy Pettitte had the same career. They were both tall and lanky and left-handed (Pettitte's 6-5, 225, Finley 6-6, 220). They made almost the same number of starts -- Finley started 467 games, Pettitte started 479. They both won 200 games. They had almost exactly the same ERA (Finley was 3.85, Pettitte 3.88) but Finley got more time in the pitcher-friendly 1980s and spent much of his time in pitcher-friendly stadium in Anaheim and so his ERA+ is slightly less (Pettitte's ERA+ is 117, Finley's 115).
Finley struck out more (2,610 to 2,251) but Pettitte was the better control pitcher (962 walks to Finley's 1,332). Pettitte kept the ball in the ballpark (263 homers allowed to Finley's 304) but Finley pitched more than twice as many complete games (63 to 25).
Pettitte's aWAR -- that's the average Wins Above Replacement between the dueling Baseball Reference and Fangraphs models -- is 58.5.
Finley's aWAR is 57.5.
Point is there really isn't much at all separating the career value of Chuck Finley from the career value of Andy Pettitte. And then you look year-by-year at some of the goofy things people look at -- Finley was a five-time All-Star, Pettitte a three-time All-Star; Finley got Cy Young votes only once, Pettitte got votes five years; Pettitte led the league in wins once, Finley led the league in complete games and innings once; Finley finished Top 5 in strikeouts six times, Pettitte led the league in starts three times, Pettitte won 20 twice, Finley finished second in ERA twice and threw more than three times as many shutouts -- and you really can't help but think there just isn't much separating the two guys. An argument for one offers a perfectly reasonable counter-argument for the other. Two players are never interchangeable, but Chuck Finley and Andy Pettitte seem just about interchangeable.
But are their careers really interchangeable? Of course not. Nobody -- and I mean NOBODY -- thinks Andy Pettitte and Chuck Finley were even similar. This is largely because Andy Pettitte spent most of his career playing for the great New York Yankees teams, and Chuck Finley spent most of his career playing for the not great at all California Angels. Finley's first full year was 1988, his last with the Angeles was 1999, and in those years the Angels never finished higher than fifth in the league in runs scored and finished 10th or worse eight times (they finished dead last in runs scored four times).
Pettitte's Yankees meanwhile, led the league in runs scored five times, were second in runs three more times, and never finished 10th.
These different circumstance meant that Andy Pettitte had a much more noticeable career. Playing for the high scoring Yankees meant that Pettitte -- pitching basically like Chuck Finley -- put up a 240-138 career record. His .635 winning percentage is 10th among pitchers who have made 400 starts.
Finley's 200-173 record looks pedestrian by comparison.
And, of course, the Yankees made playoffs just about every year (the Houston Astros made the playoffs two out of Pettitte's three years). Pettitte started 42 postseason games while Chuck Finley started four -- all four in his late 30s after he was really done as a good pitcher.
Pettitte pitched in the postseason exactly as he pitched in the regular season -- his 19-10 record fits perfectly into his career record, his 3.83 ERA fits perfectly into his career ERA, he had some superb performances and some less-than-superb ones just like he did throughout his career. He never threw a postseason shutout -- never in fact threw a complete postseason game (thanks Mariano) -- but he was awfully good against Florida in Game 2, and Atlanta in Game 5, Oakland in Game 4 and so on.
Chuck Finley got one Hall of Fame vote in 2008, and if anyone even noticed it was to ask WHY he got even that one vote.
Meanwhile, I think Andy Pettitte will get serious Hall of Fame consideration. I'm not saying he will get in. I don't know, five years is a long time to build or break a reputation. But he will get 10,000 times the consideration Finley did, almost entirely, it seems, because he played for a great team that scored runs for him, and because he got to do his thing in the postseason a lot.
Is this fair? I think about this a lot, and more and more I think it's the wrong question. No two careers are like. If Jim Rice had played in Houston and Jim Wynn had played his home games at Fenway Park, if Jim Kaat had played a whole career with the Earl Weaver Orioles defense behind him and Jim Palmer had played for the White Sox and Twins, if Jim Bunning and Jim "Catfish" Hunter and Jim "Mudcat" Grant and Jimmy Key all played musical chairs with their careers, if Jimmy cracked corn and I didn't care, well, there's just no bending your mind around all these Jimnastics. There's no way to know if Chuck Finley would have been able to do what Pettitte did in New York. And there's no way to know how Pettitte would have done in Finley's cleats.
We only know what happened. Sure, we will try to dig through the hype and misunderstandings and myths to find true value, but it is also true that you can also find yourself going in circles chasing after might-have beens. There is a simply reality here. Andy Pettitte pitched for a great team and so won almost two-thirds of the games he pitched. And Pettitte won 19 game in the postseason.* With the extra waves of playoffs, postseason baseball has become more important than ever. My sense is we do need to think about a better way of incorporating postseason performance into our Hall of Fame thinking.*
*Just got this email from Bill James: "We DO under-rate post-season performance for the Hall of Fame; I am certain we do. It's one of those problems we just haven't figured out how to think about yet, because it's really a new phenomenon, that players have so much bulk in post-season numbers. But. . .a guy wins 16, 18 games in post-season play, that's got to count as 30, 40 wins in regular season, at least, right? ... Back to where we started. ..we really don't know how to think about this."
Here's my thought on Pettitte at this moment, just after he retired: I think when you take it all into consideration, he was was one of the ten best starting pitchers of his era. It seems to me that you can break down the 10 pretty easily.
-- Greg Maddux
-- Roger Clemens
-- Randy Johnson
-- Pedro Martinez
I put these in no particular order ... they're all slam-dunk Hall of Fame players. Obviously there is the PED issue to deal with but as players, they are the four Hall of Fame locks, four of the best to ever pitch a baseball.
5. Tom Glavine
He's a lock too. He won 300 games and won two Cy Youngs. He's a touch below the Top 4, but he will go and I imagine he will go first ballot.
6. John Smoltz
He's a weird one because he spent four years as a closer. But in a way I think that will help him -- Eckersley coasted in first ballot because he was a good starter and a dominant closer. Smoltz was a dominant starter and (for a short time) a dominant closer. I think he's in and comfortably so. So that's six. The last four, to me, are all borderline guys and I don't have a good sense what order to put them in.
-- Mike Mussina
-- Curt Schilling
-- Kevin Brown
-- Andy Pettitte
Each of the four has plusses and minuses in his case:
Plus: Won 270 games (most of the four), was a superb pitcher for a long time, finished off his career winning 20.
Minus: Never won a Cy, didn't win 300 or strike out 3,000, often overlooked or viewed as a good but not great pitcher.
Plus: Greatest strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history, staggering postseason record, memorable performances, dominant seasons, outspoken personality.
Minus: Never won a Cy Young, only 216 wins, spotty and inconsistent career, outspoken personality.
Plus: Career 127 ERA+, twice led league in ERA, could be considered best pitcher in his league multiple times.
Minus: 211 wins, never won a Cy Young, not especially well liked, PED connection.
Plus: Consistent winner on highest profiled team of his era, sterling winning percentage, several excellent postseason moments, legendary pickoff move.
Minus: Never won a Cy Young, often seen as good but not great, PED connection, highest ERA and lowest WAR of the group.
Brown has already come and gone from the ballot -- he got just 12 votes, fewer than half of what he needed just to stay on the ballot. So he got no support. It's hard to imagine Kevin Brown getting absolutely no Hall of Fame support and Pettitte getting into the Hall, when you look at just three numbers:
Pettitte: 479 starts, 3.88 ERA, 58.5 aWAR.
Brown: 476 starts, 3.28 ERA, 71 aWAR.
But that's not how voters look at things. Fair or unfair, right or wrong, agree or disagree, voters tend to look at careers as entities. Kevin Brown's entire case simply did not persuade voters. Why? Could be lots of reasons. He pitched lousy in the World Series, he had some health issues that kept his numbers down, he was prickly and unlikable, he had a PED connection, he simply didn't make it through the ballot numbers game -- there were undoubtedly many reasons people did not vote for Kevin Brown.
Pettitte's career will get him a more thorough look. Even though admitted to PED use, he was generally very well liked. People thought he played with dignity and class. He was the one starter who was there in 1996 when the Yankees won the World Series, in 1998 when they made their case as the greatest team ever, in 2001 when they played in that marvelous World Series, and in 2009 when they won again.
Then there were those postseason performances. I was just watching an NFL Films Top 10 list about Franco Harris. You know Franco built a reputation through his career as a guy who would run out of bounds to avoid contact, a reputation he did not really deny. His feeling was that there were times to take on tacklers for an extra couple of yards and there were (more) times not to take on that extra punishment. He was not afraid to admit that a postseason game meant more than a regular season game, that gaining an extra couple of yards in the Super Bowl was worth the pain, but gaining an extra couple of yards against Cincinnati in November was probably not.
And you know what? His postseason performances sort of back him up. He was the feature back in 17 playoff games and ran for 100-plus yards five times, scored 17 touchdowns. In his four Super Bowls, he scored five touchdowns. He, of course, scored one of the most famous touchdowns in postseason history when he made the immaculate reception. He raised his game.
It's pleasant to think that baseball players can do that too -- that pitchers can raise them game for the postseason, that hitters can raise their game for a big at-bat, and this gets into all sorts of questions about clutch hitting and the nature of pitching that we probably don't want to discuss this many words into this ridiculously long piece. But whether or not a player can consistently be BETTER in the biggest moment is not as relevant here as whether or not a player can be GREAT in the big moment. Andy Pettitte because of the nature of his career was placed in a lot of big moments. And he was often great. Does this alone make him a Hall of Famer? No, of course not. Is it part of his case? Absolutely.
All of which leads us back to the beginning: How much of a role should the postseason have as we review a player's career? I don't have an answer for that. I don't know how much Jack Morris' Game 7 should add to his Hall of Fame case. Some think it makes him a clear cut Hall of Famer despite his career shortcomings. Some think it's just one part of a long career, a debit to his account but not enough to get him to the goal. Some think it's just one great game and must be judged as just one great game.
Who's right? Nobody. And everybody. A lot of people think Jack Morris belongs in the Hall. I suspect many of those same people believe that Pettitte belongs too. It's all how you look at it.