For the first time since 2010, New York Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte has announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season. This time, it's probably not a sabbatical but instead forever. He leaves the game along with closer of closers Mariano Rivera, who made a similar announcement in March. Pettitte's final start at Yankee Stadium is scheduled for Sunday, when the team will get its own chance to honor Rivera.
Pettitte's first retirement, coming in February 2011, lasted into the 2012 season, when he made 12 starts and looked as good as ever. Via the LoHud Yankees blog of the Journal-News, Pettitte offered this statement Friday:
“I’ve reached the point where I know that I’ve left everything I have out there on that field. The time is right. I’ve exhausted myself, mentally and physically, and that’s exactly how I want to leave this game.”
Add the possibility that Derek Jeter has played his last game because of an ankle injury and this is going to be a hard winter to stomach for Yankees faithful. But Pettitte, all by himself, is going to be tough to replace.
Pettitte is 41 years old and sports a 3.93 ERA in 28 starts this season — not much higher than his career mark of 3.86 — though his effectiveness has waned a degree or two. He has logged precisely 3,300 innings and 2,437 strikeouts for his career, with 25 complete games and four shutouts and a 1.354 WHIP. He has faced 14,018 batters, a mark of longevity that is as good of a place as any to talk about his case for the Hall of Fame.
Pettitte's 18 years in the bigs, along with his success in 44 career playoff starts, should push him over the top for Hall voters at some point. Like another pitcher from Yankees lore, Whitey Ford, the regular-season numbers aren't overwhelming. But his presence in the playoffs, helping the Yankees (and the Houston Astros — remember them?) go 26-18 overall in his Pettitte's starts will matter. Yeah, Andy Pettitte's teams also lost 18 times when he pitched in the playoffs. It just seemed like he went 44-0.
Ultimately, people will see him in photos and videos with the Commissioner's Trophy and associate him with great performances that helped the Yankees win. There's a lot of truth in those thoughts.
One factor that will cost him votes: He's an admitted PED user. Some of the electorate will hold it against him. Some will ignore it, or let it slide. But his association with Roger Clemens — his good friend, at least at one time — will be a hangup.
Another detail that might hold him back: Nine times, Pettitte has posted an ERA over 4.00. Nine times? Nine times. There's no way, even given the context of his home ballparks, or the juiced ball/player era, that you can spin that as being great.
He also compares poorly on league-leader lists, per season and by career. He made only three All-Star teams, but he did pretty well in Cy Young voting, finishing in the top six five times. That might show how the media thought more of Pettitte than players did, or it might show he had better second halves than first, or it might just be nothing.
Going by Baseball-Reference.com, Pettitte is tied for 58th all-time in wins above replacement. Among players eligible for induction, David Cone's WAR is a little higher. So are Tommy John's, Luis Tiant's, Rick Reuschel's, Kevin Brown's, Tom Glavine's and Mike Mussina's. Among the top 100, pitchers with a WAR lower than Pettitte also are in the Hall.
Getting back to steroids. In the long run, Pettitte's chances could be helped by them. Taking into account the widely held belief that the recent era has been tougher for pitchers because of the perception that PEDs have helped hitters more, many voters probably will give pitchers from the 1990s and early 2000s a bigger degree of difficulty, and will look more favorably on Pettitte's numbers. On the surface, Pettitte has been more "quantity" than "quality." But there's a greatness in that, too.