Let the debate begin: Is Pettitte Hall-worthy?
Early survey of voters says lefty won't be Cooperstown bound
NEW YORK -- A decision won't have to come until five years from now. But the question can already be asked: Is Andy Pettitte a Hall of Famer?
His overall body of work makes it a tricky proposition and in no way a sure bet. And based on comments from numerous Hall of Fame voters the day he announced his retirement, that body of work may not have been good enough for Cooperstown.
But time will tell.
"I think this is going to be a great debate between now and 2016, when he is eligible for the first time," MLB.com senior correspondent Hal Bodley said. "Based on his regular-season record, I don't think so. But when you throw in the postseason -- no one comes close to him there -- it's another story."
Pettitte announced the end of his 16-year Major League career during a news conference Friday at Yankee Stadium. Though his name won't appear on a Hall of Fame ballot for quite some time, the debate has already begun in full throttle.
On one hand, there's the fact that Pettitte was one of the most -- if not the most -- successful postseason pitchers in baseball history.
Pettitte's 19 playoff wins, 42 starts and 263 innings pitched are all records that should hold up for a long time. And his five World Series rings and playoff ERA of 3.83 are nothing to sneeze at.
But some are put off by his good-but-not-great regular-season numbers -- 240 wins and a 3.88 ERA -- and insist he wasn't among the most dominant pitchers in his era.
That, coupled with his admission to using human-growth hormone during his playing career, is seemingly turning off Hall of Fame voters. At least initially.
"[My] first take is no; I think he falls short," said Newsday's Ken Davidoff. "[He's had a] very consistent career and occasionally excellent, but I guess not enough excellence. If he had put up another one or two characteristic seasons, I think that could've done it, but I guess he's not quite at the finish line for me."
Among pitchers in history's most iconic franchise, Pettitte stands up as one of the best. He ranks third in wins as a Yankee with 203 -- behind Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing -- and he trails only Ford for the franchise record in strikeouts.
But -- and this is perhaps the most important stat of all -- no pitcher in the Hall of Fame has an ERA higher than Pettitte's.
"I think it's going to be a borderline tough case for him," longtime New York Post writer Joel Sherman said. "I think with a lot of voters, the HGH [use] for a borderline case will hurt him. But I think even if he had never been outed as a user, I think it's still a borderline case that kind of falls, for me personally, right below the acceptable line. Because I think he's almost the definition of an outstanding No. 2 starter, and for me, outstanding No. 2 starters don't belong in the Hall of Fame."
But Pettitte could've been anybody's ace in the playoffs, where his win total is more than the combined total of nine other franchises.
"If someone builds a postseason Hall of Fame, then Andy Pettitte is a first-ballot lock," said MLB.com enterprise editor Mark Newman.
But as MLB.com columnist Mike Bauman pointed out: "Apart from that, he was a very good, but not dominant, pitcher."
Pettitte ranks 13th among left-handers in wins.
His career winning percentage of .635 (240-138) ranks eighth all-time among southpaws who began in 1950 or later, and Pettitte is the only pitcher in Major League history to post a .500 record or better while making at least 15 starts in each of his first 16 seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
All but one of the 19 Hall of Fame-eligible pitchers with a record of 100 or more games above .500 has been enshrined. Can Pettitte be another?
"I think his numbers are close, but not quite there," ESPNNewYork.com's Wallace Matthews added. "Obviously, when he's on the ballot, I'll take another look at it. But my initial impression is that he falls a little bit short."
With regards to wins above replacement, Pettitte is tied for 77th all-time among pitchers at 50.20. That's behind Mike Mussina (74.8), Curt Schilling (69.7), Kevin Brown (64.8) and David Cone (57.5); but ahead of Hall of Famers Clark Griffith, Waite Hoyt, Lefty Gomez and Goose Gossage.
Seven pitchers whose careers ended after 1950 are in the Hall of Fame with fewer wins: Jim Bunning (224), Catfish Hunter (224), Don Drysdale (209), Bob Lemon (207), Hal Newhouser (207), Sandy Koufax (165) and Hoyt Wilhelm (143).
"The Hall of the Uncommonly Good, of the Quite Reliable or the Occasionally Special," is where MLB.com's Marty Noble believes Pettitte belongs, "but not the Hall of Fame."
"He is a classic borderline case, very similar to Ron Guidry," MLB.com Rangers beat reporter T.R. Sullivan said. "A few more years and he would have been closer to Tom Glavine, who I think is a Hall of Famer. [Pettitte's] postseason record has to be considered, but some writers may not forget his HGH admission."
The humble Pettitte, for what it's worth, doesn't consider himself a Hall of Famer.
"I guess I've got to be close to having those credentials or guys wouldn't be talking about it as much as they do," said Pettitte.
Joe Girardi, his former catcher and manager, believes Pettitte belongs in Cooperstown. But, of course, he's a bit biased.
"He's a Hall of Famer in my book, just because [of] the amount of wins that he had," Girardi said. "I know the benchmark has always been 300, but that benchmark, if I'm not mistaken, was set at a time when they were on a four-man rotation, where they got more starts. But Andy took the ball every fifth day and competed, and competed at a very high level in a very tough division."
Numbers alone, Pettitte's Hall of Fame worthiness is seemingly a toss-up. And the problem is that's not the only aspect to consider. There's also the fact he was mentioned in the Mitchell Report in December 2007, then later admitted to using HGH on two occasions, in '02 and '04, to recover from injury.
The media has treated Pettitte pretty well compared with other users of performance-enhancing drugs. But will that be the case when it's time to vote for the Hall?
Bob Klapisch, a writer for The Record in New Jersey and FOXSports.com, believes Pettitte would be a Hall of Famer if not for the PED issue. But because it's there, he won't vote for him on the first ballot.
"I think we need time to evaluate what happens with the whole PED culture, so that needs time to sort of simmer and distill," he said. "Right now, I can just say I'm open to the idea of voting for him, but I'm not ready to commit to it yet."
Perhaps as time passes, Pettitte's case will become stronger -- like that of so many eventual Hall of Famers.
"I don't think he's a first-ballot guy," MLB.com Angels beat writer Lyle Spencer said. "But I think he'll grow on voters as the years pass -- like [Bert] Blyleven -- and eventually make it largely on his postseason success."
We'll get a good sense in five years.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and 'The Show', and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.