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Making the Hall of Fame case for Andy Pettitte

The winningest pitcher in postseason history makes his first appearance on the ballot this year.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Two members of the Yankees’ vaunted Core Four make their first appearances on baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot this year. I presented Mariano Rivera’s case last week, and today I make the argument in favor of Andy Pettitte’s enshrinement.

Pettitte made his major-league debut with the Yankees in 1995, left to pitch for his hometown Houston Astros for three years beginning in 2004, and then returned to the Bronx. He retired for one year following the 2010 campaign, before rejoining the Yankees for a two-year encore.

Pettitte’s career, by the numbers

In 18 big-league seasons, Pettitte posted a 256-153 record — good for a .626 winning percentage. He pitched to a 3.85 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 3.74 FIP, and 117 ERA+ over 3,316 innings. He also notched 2,448 strikeouts.

The left-hander led the league in wins once and games started three times. Pettitte finished third in the Rookie of the Year Award voting in ‘95, received MVP votes twice, and placed among the top six vote-getters for the Cy Young Award five times — including a second-place finish in ‘96. He was a three-time All-Star and won 20 games twice.

A workhorse throughout his career, Pettitte started at least 30 games in a season 13 times — including making 34 or more starts four times. His teams reached the playoffs 14 times, won eight pennants, and five World Series championships.

Pettitte won more games than any other pitcher from 1995 to the present — that’s one year shy of a quarter-century. He was also the winningest pitcher from 2000-2009 (148 wins), and for the 15-year period beginning in ‘95 (229). He produced more quality starts than any other pitcher (301) from 1995-2013, and is fifth in that category with 262 from ‘95 to the present — only Greg Maddux (297), Tom Glavine (294), Randy Johnson (286), and Mike Mussina (266) bested him.

Just 27 pitchers in baseball history finished their careers at least 100 games over .500. Pettitte, Mussina, Clemens, and nineteenth-century hurler Bob Caruthers are the only ones without Hall of Fame plaques. Pettitte’s winning percentage places him 15th on the all-time list among pitchers who tossed at least 3,000 innings. Everyone ahead of Pettitte except Clemens and Mussina are already enshrined in Cooperstown.

How Pettitte compares to pitchers already enshrined

Only 17 of the 71 pitchers already enshrined in the Hall of Fame boast a higher career winning percentage than Pettitte, nine of whom pitched primarily during the Live Ball Era (since 1920). Pettitte bested all the rest, including contemporaries Maddux (.610), Glavine (.600), and John Smoltz (.579). Precisely half of the 64 starting pitchers enshrined in Cooperstown won fewer games than Pettitte.

Forty-seven Hall of Fame inductees produced a higher ERA+ than Pettitte. He topped an impressive list which includes Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, and Nolan Ryan, among others. Pettitte’s career ERA+ slots in just under Warren Spahn, Glavine, and Gaylord Perry.

Additionally, Pettitte’s FIP tops eight Hall of Famers. His 60.3 WAR bests a whopping 22 starting pitchers already enshrined in Cooperstown. Even Pettitte’s 34.1 WAR7 tops seven Hall of Famers. Finally, Pettitte’s 47.2 JAWS score beats 16 Hall of Fame starters. In fact, his JAWS score compares closely to Sandy Koufax (47.5).

Pettitte’s postseason prowess

With 19 wins, Pettitte is the winningest pitcher in postseason history. He made 44 starts and hurled 276.2 innings, both records. His 183 strikeouts place him second behind Smoltz. Only seven pitchers won more World Series games than Pettitte’s five, and all except Allie Reynolds are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Whitey Ford (22) is the only pitcher with more starts in the Fall Classic than Pettitte’s 13.

Pettitte is the first (and only) pitcher since Ford retired in ‘67 to pitch for eight-pennant winning teams. And Pettitte wasn’t just a bystander, he was an indispensable part of each teams’ success.

With the 1996 World Series knotted at two games apiece, Pettitte threw 8.1 scoreless innings against the Braves in Atlanta in Game Five. He out-dueled Smoltz to put the Yankees one win away from their first championship in 18 years. In 2001, he allowed just four earned runs in two starts against the 116-win Seattle Mariners to claim ALCS MVP honors. Pettitte went 4-0 in the 2009 playoffs, winning the clinching game in each of the three rounds.

Will Pettitte earn induction?

Although Pettitte’s Hall of Fame credentials appear rock solid, his path to induction is fraught with peril. Some BBWAA voters will undoubtedly disregard his win-related stats, while others won’t even look at his sabermetric bona fides. Some will discount him because he mostly pitched for a dominant Yankees team, some will ignore his postseason success entirely, and many will hold his admission of HGH experimentation against him.

Complicating matters is an overflowing ballot containing six milestone-achieving holdovers who have been kept out due to PED suspicions. Although BBWAA members voted to increase the number of candidates that each writer could name to 15, the Hall’s board refused to approve the change, so the limit stands at 10. Unfortunately, it looks like the ongoing backlog will continue to slow the candidacies of players like Pettitte.

Because of these factors, Pettitte’s chances of being elected by the writers looks slim. Sadly, he may not even garner the five-percent minimum required to remain on the ballot another year.

That will likely change once Pettitte is considered by the veteran’s committee. In addition to a solid overall resume, Pettitte’s candidacy boils down to one overarching factor. The baseball Hall of Fame is a museum which exists to tell the story of baseball history. How can one adequately tell baseball’s story of the last 25 years without including Pettitte?