With Andy Pettitte(notes) announcing his retirement announced today, the debate du jour is whether he deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Keith Olbermann thought he did last year, comparing Pettitte to Whitey Ford and saying that Pettitte's case is "surprisingly compelling."
Tim Marchman, however, vociferously disagrees, writing the following on Thursday:
Andy Pettitte is no Hall of Famer, no matter how much someone with the sound motive of sheer contrarianism works through the numbers, and the only reason anyone thinks he is one is because of the blind moral squalor of the population of New York City, which has convinced itself that it lives in a finer place than any other ...
Pettitte's case will obviously be a very divisive one, but ESPN just published a very telling statistic in the wake of his decision: "Only two pitchers in history — one a Hall of Famer and one who is sure to be — have recorded more consecutive seasons (than Pettitte) with a win percentage of .500 or better," it read.
The network was referring to Grover Cleveland Alexander and Greg Maddux, but neither is remotely comparable to Pettitte in any other respect. That statistic says two things: First, Pettitte played for extraordinarily good teams, and probably wouldn't have won nearly as many games (or championships) if he played anywhere else. Second, his Hall of Fame case is so weak that ESPN was forced to mention such a dubious stat in the first place. As Jayson Stark reported today, a baseball executive recently told him that Andy Pettitte was "the greatest No. 3 starter of his generation."
Still, even though it was largely a product of pitching on high-payroll teams with numerous other stars, Pettitte's career .635 winning percentage is undeniably impressive. It is the 11th-highest winning percentage of all time among pitchers with 200 wins.
However, two spots higher than Pettitte on the list is the man who deserves his Hall of Fame spot: Mike Mussina. And until Moose gets in — a scenario that hasn't been talked about much and is nowhere near a lock — Pettitte's case shouldn't even be on our docket.
Let's take a look at how the two teammates stack up:
Mussina's career line: 270-153, 3.68 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 3.58 K/BB, 123 ERA+
Postseason: 7-8, 3.42 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 4.39 K/BB
Pettitte's career line: 240-138, 3.88 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 2.34 K/BB, 117 ERA+
Postseason: 19-10, 3.83 ERA, 1.30, 2.40 K/BB
Unlike Pettitte, Mike Mussina was long considered one of the best pitchers in the league — not a mere No. 3 starter — though he never won a Cy Young award, either. Still, he was named to five All-Star teams and received Cy Young votes in eight different years. He also won seven Gold Gloves. In all, Mussina won 30 more games, pitched 507 1/3 more innings and two more seasons, and made two more All-Star teams than Pettitte. His career was also worth somewhere around 20 more Wins Above Replacement than Pettitte's.
(There are multiple ways to calculate Wins Above Replacement; the two main publicly available ones are on fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com. On Fangraphs, Mussina's career was 18.7 wins better; on baseball-reference, it was 24.6 wins better.)
Two years ago, before Mussina announced his retirement, Joe Posnanski discovered that his stats were remarkably similar to Juan Marichal's, and mused: "I'm wondering if he is simply the overlooked pitcher of our era, sort of the Bert Blyleven of the time." Yet Mussina's Hall of Fame case isn't a lock, and Andy at Baseball-Reference hits all the major points of contention: Mussina also played for very good teams, which inflated his stats. His good playoff ERA actually obscures the fact that he alternated between terrific and horrendous playoff starts. Finally, he never really came close to winning a Cy Young, despite pitching for very good teams.
For all these reasons, Mussina may have a difficult time going in on the first ballot when he's eligible. But he deserves to go in eventually.
Mussina was clearly a better pitcher than Pettitte, but he wasn't as good as erstwhile teammates Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson(notes), he wasn't as good as Pedro Martinez(notes), and he probably wasn't as good as any of Atlanta's Big Three. Unfortunately, they all retired around the same time. Mussina's first year on the ballot will be 2013, the same year as Glavine and Maddux; in 2014, Martinez, Johnson, and Smoltz will all be first-timers. Mussina could definitely get lost in the shuffle for a few years.
(You'll note that I haven't mentioned performance-enhancing drugs anywhere in this piece yet. Pettitte, of course, is an admitted user of HGH, and Clemens has been indicted for lying to Congress regarding his own drug use. Pettitte has previously said that Clemens admitted using HGH. Obviously, their drug use significantly complicates their Hall of Fame cases.
But in my view, the point is moot: Clemens was so dominant that I think he deserves to be a Hall of Famer, even though he almost certainly used performance-enhancing drugs, and Pettitte's case simply wouldn't merit Hall of Fame induction even if he had never taken performance-enhancing drugs. So, while I didn't view the drug use as necessary for the case against Pettitte, voters will certainly consider it in five years.)