Andy Pettitte's retirement announcement has brought about the question of whether or not he deserves to be elected to the Hall of Fame. For some, the answer is an automatic no, given his admitted HGH use. For others, it is a no because he didn't have a good enough career, or enough of a peak as one of the best pitchers on his own team, let alone the league. I would say that these assumptions are not supported when looked at in greater detail.
Andy is borderline, but I think he should make it in. Sure, he played for really good teams and that has helped his win total and winning percentage, but he also pitched 200 innings a year in a high run-scoring environment and in the toughest division in baseball for most of that time.
Since his debut in 1995, he is 7th in fWAR. Of all pitchers who have pitched since 1994, only 8 of them ended up with a higher career fWAR than Pettitte's 67.2 (CC Sabathia is close to passing him). Here are the top ten:
The top four are no-brainer HoFers, the next three are pretty obvious also. Brown, Halladay and Pettitte are borderline, but all three have good arguments for induction. What this shows me is that during his career, Andy has been one of the league's best pitchers.
Pettitte is 61st all time in rWAR, 34th all time in fWAR. That means his career value has been among the all-time greats, and worthy of induction in Cooperstown. Detractors will say that this is due to longevity and compiling value, but is that true?
Among pitchers with at least 2500 innings pitched, he is 19th all time in fWAR per 200 innings pitched, at 4.11. So he hasn't been just a compiler. First is Pedro, at a crazy 6.14. Here are the top twenty in fWAR per 200 innings pitched:
And he is 12th in fWAR per 200 innings pitched among pitchers with at least 3000 innings pitched. So not only did he have enough career value to be considered a Hall of Fame pitcher, but he has also compiled his value in a concentrated manner not indicative of a compiler.
What about the argument of not being his team's best pitcher? First, we have to recognize that the Yankees, since Pettitte's debut, have been a dynasty willing to spend money to acquire and maintain some of the best pitchers in the league. With that said, Pettitte had the highest pitching fWAR on the team four times in his 15 years as a Yankee. He was the second-best on the team six times, including 2013, his final season. So 67% of his seasons as a Yankee, he has been one of the two best pitchers on the team, ranked by fWAR. He was the third-best on the team once, fourth-best three times, and fifth-best once, in his injury-shortened 2012. He has never been worse than the fifth-best pitcher during his time on the Yankees. As an Astro, he was third two years and fourth one year, behind Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens each year, and behind Brad Lidge as well in his injury-shortened (83 innings) 2004 season.
Here is the complete list for his years as a Yankee:
Going year to year opens this type of analysis up to fluky seasons and the impact of injuries. What if we looked at how he fared on the Yankees in multi-year increments? If we look at every five-year increment over his time with the Yankees, Pettitte ranked first in fWAR (2007-2010 only four years due to his first retirement):
Even in the past two season, as a 40 and 41 year old, he has been third, behind CC and Hiroki, although they both have pitched about 170 innings more than Pettitte over that time period. If adjusted to fWAR/200 IP, his second over the past two years, 0.06 fWAR behind Kuroda.
Some might point out that he has been one of the few on the team for a full five years, and with the ability (I'd say skill) to stay healthy. How about over four year stretches? He has been first in every four-year stretch as well, except for 1999-2002, when he fell 0.6 fWAR behind Roger Clemens (a virtual tie). He was first in most three-year stretches as well, except for 1997-1999, where he was 0.4 fWAR behind David Cone (again, a virtual tie), and 1999-2001 and 2000-2002 when he was 0.1 fWAR behind Clemens both times (another tie). He was definitively second-best in 2001-2003, when he was 2.9 fWAR behind Mike Mussina, and 2008-2010, when he was 1.1 fWAR behind CC Sabathia.
He has been one of the best pitchers in the league during his career, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball history, both in complete production and in how quickly he has created his value, and he has consistently been the top pitcher on the Yankees over multiple years, and one of the top two pitchers on the Yankees in single seasons two-thirds of his seasons with the team. If it were me, I would induct Andy Pettitte into the Hall of Fame. Would you?