But that’s not completely the case with Andy Pettitte, who announced today that he was coming back with the Yankees. The club got his name on a minor league contract, Andy has promised to round himself into proper pitching form, and if we had to bet, we’d say the lefty will be back on the mound at Yankee Stadium sometime later this spring. Yes, the money is probably a factor, but his unmatched competitive nature is the driving force.
Regardless of what the 39-year old does in his return from a one-year hiatus, one thing won’t change – his stature as one of the best pitchers of his era. When he does decide to hang his spikes up for good, Pettitte deserves to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. former teammate and quasi-friend Roger Clemens may never earn that honor, but Pettitte has earned it.
First, let me address the apparent double standard in that statement. Clemens and Pettitte both have been accused of using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), Pettitte admitting to using them and Clemens denying it despite evidence to the contrary. Pettitte himself admitted that his buddy Roger used PEDs and suggested that he use them too. The pair spent countless hours together in weight rooms and on pitching mounds, crafting their bodies for the grueling task of pitching at the big league level. When Pettitte was injured he admits, on two occasions he took growth hormone to help himself recover. According to Andy, it was Roger who supplied the stuff through his personal trainer. Clemens vehemently denied this, even though his wife, Pettitte, and others have made statements or testified that he has used PEDs. A trial awaits in the case against Clemens for perjury and obstruction of justice, but Pettitte’s career hasn’t prosecuted.
The ironic thing about Pettitte’s career is that he was rarely the most famous pitcher on the staff. With the Yankees there was always a David Cone or Roger Clemens or Mike Mussina or C.C. Sabathia filling the role of staff ace. But when it came to crunch time, Pettitte was the go-to arm for the Yanks.
In 42 post-season starts, Pettitte had 27 quality starts (at least six innings and three earned runs or less). he pitched into the 8th inning nine times and into the 7th inning 32 times. He won 19 games in the post-season: 18 for the Yankees and one for the Astros. He was at his best in closeout games, winning the clinching game of a playoff series or World Series seven times.
But post-season success is just one reason Pettitte deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. His regular season stats warrant the honor, especially when compared to other starting pitchers who’ve been elected in the last 30 years. Catfish Hunter and Don Sutton are two excellent examples. Like Pettitte, Hunter was “fortunate” to play for very good teams in his career, which helped him win 20 games in five straight seasons. Hunter won 224 games in his career, Pettitte has won 240. But Hunter also lost 166, while Pettitte has a glimmering .635 winning percentage (240-138). Admittedly, wins and winning percentage can products of the team not an individual pitcher’s greatness. But Hunter made the Hall of Fame based largely on his wins and win rate. Ditto Sutton, who won 324 games and pitched for excellent teams as well. Pettitte should get the same consideration. He was on the mound when his team won a lot of games, and lost infrequently. That characteristic places him in the same category as a pair of Yankee Hall of Famers from a bygone era – Herb Pennock and Red Ruffing. Neither was the ace of the Yankees staff in their prime, but they won a lot of games and appeared in a lot of World Series, and both ended up in Cooperstown. And when compared to Pettitte in ERA+ (which measures the pitcher’s ERA against his peers and accounts for the ballpark and era he pitched in), Pennock and Ruffing are inferior. Pennock’s career ERA+ was 106, Ruffing’s was 110. Pettitte so far has recorded a mark of 117.
There’s no reason to believe that Pettitte won’t be able to be effective in his return. Two years ago, in what was supposed to be his final season, he posted a 3.28 ERA, his lowest mark in the American League in eight seasons and the fourth lowest ERA of his career. He’s still in excellent shape, had marvelous mechanics, and he has an astronomic pitching IQ. He’s one of those guys who could, if he wanted, pitch into his mid-40s.
Yankee fans will settled for one more season of their left-handed pitching hero, a man can rejoin Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera for their 12th season as teammates. There’s no doubt that Jeter and Mariano will one day get their plaques in Cooperstown. Pettitte deserves to be there too.