Sunday, October 11, 2009

Andy Pettitte: Assessment and Appreciation

Andy Pettitte takes the hill to start Game 3 of the American League Division Series. I have seen Andy pitch in person, and probably also on TV, more than I’ve seen any other pitcher.

There was a game in 2000, or 2001, somewhere around there, where he was pitching, and I was listening on the radio, and John Sterling said to Michael Kay, "You know, Michael, if Andy pitches, and the Yankees win, 9-5, people will say, 'Oh, Andy’s looking good. He's still got it. Never lost it.' But if the Yankees lose, 5-2, people will say, 'Oh, Andy’s losing it. He hasn't got it anymore. He's throwing the cutter too much.' And he's pitched the exact same game.'"

What point was Sterling trying to make? Possibly that wins and losses is not a sufficient statistic by which to judge a pitcher's effectiveness. Possibly that people who watch baseball aren't always as smart as they think they are. Possibly that Sterling likes the sound of his own voice.


I've often been of the belief that Andy usually follows a good postseason start with a bad one, and also usually follows a bad postseason start with a good one. I decided to look up his record, to test my theory.

Series: Game, IP, result, conclusion.

1995 ALDS: Game 2, 7, ND, bad – but Yanks won anyway.

1996 ALDS: Game 2, 6 1/3, ND, bad – but Yanks won anyway. So far, no pattern.

1996 ALCS: Game 1, 7, ND, bad – but Yanks won anyway; Game 5, 8, W, good. Pattern established.

1996 WS: Game 2, 2, L, bad; Game 5, 8, W, good.

1997 ALDS: Game 2, 5, L, bad.

1998 ALDS: Game 2, 7, W, good.

1998 ALCS: Game 3, 4, L, bad.

1998 WS: Game 4, 7, W, good.

1999 ALDS: Game 2, 7, W, good. There goes the pattern, for the moment, but that's good.

1999 ALCS: Game 4, 7, W, good. Pattern still gone, but that's good.

1999 WS: Game 3, 3, ND, bad – but Yanks won anyway. Pattern reestablished.

2000 ALDS: Game 2, 7, W, good; Game 5, 3, ND, bad – but Yanks won anyway.

2000 ALCS: Game 3, 6, W, good.

2000 WS: Game 1, 6, ND, bad – but Yanks won anyway; Game 5, 7, ND but better, good – Yanks won anyway.

2001 ALDS: Game 2, 6, pitched well, so good, but L, so bad.

2001 ALCS: Game 1, 8, W, good; Game 6, 6, W, good, pattern gone again, and in a good way.

2001 WS: Game 2, 7, L, bad; Game 6, 2, L, bad. Sure wish the pattern had held that time – if it had, Game 7 wouldn't have been necessary.

2002 ALDS: Game 3, 3, L, bad. That’s 3 bad ones in a row.

2003 ALDS: Game 2, 7, W, good. Pattern reestablished.

2003 ALCS: Game 2, 6, W, good, pattern broken, but that's okay; Game 6, 5, ND, bad, pattern reestablished.

2003 WS: Game 2, 8, W, good; Game 6, 7, pitched well, so good; but L, so bad.

Then he went to Houston. He was injured for the 2004 postseason.

2005 NLDS: Game 1, 7, W, good.

2005 NLCS: Game 1, 6, L, bad; Game 5, 6, pitched well, so good, but ND, Brad Lidge gave up that blast to Albert Pujols, so bad, but that's not Andy's fault. The pattern holds.

2005 WS: Game 2, 6, ND, bad.

2006: Astros did not reach postseason.

2007: Back with Yankees; ALDS: Game 2, 7, pitched well, so good, but ND, Yanks lost in 11 (The Bug Game), so bad.

Overall, Andy's teams are 21-12 in games he starts; his own record is 14-9. Following starts that I would classify as "good," in his next start his record is 8 good, 10 bad. Following starts that I would classify as "bad," in his next start his record is 11 good, 3 bad.

In other words, Andy Pettitte is more likely to follow up a bad postseason start with a good one, than he is to follow up a good postseason start with a bad one.


Would Andy have made the difference for the Yanks in the 3 years he was in Houston?

2004 ALCS: As I said, he was injured in October. Presuming he still would have been injured as a Yankee, he would have made no difference. But if he were healthy… Game 1 saw Joe Torre start Mike Mussina, Game 2 Jon Lieber, Game 3 Javier Vazquez and Game 4 Orlando Hernandez – and it certainly wasn't El Duque's fault the Yankees lost that game.

Nor was it Mussina's that the Yankees lost Game 5, or Lieber's that they lost Game 6: In the 1st 9 innings of Game 5, and in all of Game 6, the Red Sox scored 4 runs; but in each game, the Yanks got 12 hits but could only get 4 runs out of them. It sure would have been nice to have Andy available for Game 7, though, instead of the hopeless Kevin Brown.

2005 ALDS: Mussina started and won Game 1. Chien-Ming Wang – remember him? – then a rookie, started Game 2, and didn't pitch badly, allowing just 2 runs over 6 innings, but the Angels scored off him in the 7th and he lost. Randy Johnson started Game 3 and was horrible, but the Yankees came from behind to take the lead, before Aaron Small, who had been 10-0 in the regular season, picked a hell of a time to put up his 1st loss in Pinstripes.

Shawn Chacon started Game 4, and pitched rather well, throwing 5 shutout innings before allowing 2 runs in the 6th, and the win went to Al Leiter in relief, in what turned out to be his last big-league game. Game 5 was started by Mussina, and he just didn’t have it.

Which game would Andy have started? If he'd still been there, Wang might never have been brought to the majors – or, at the least, not that soon – but there's no way to say for sure that Pettitte would have done better in Game 2 than Wang. Or maybe Pettitte would have started Game 4 instead of Chacon, but Chacon kept the Yankees in the game, and they won it. So Andy probably wouldn’t have made a difference this time.

2006 ALDS: Wang started Game 1, and although he was the winning pitcher, he didn't pitch all that well in it. Mussina started Game 2 and wasn't all that good. The Big Unit started Game 3, just like in '05, and, as he was then, he was awful again. Jaret Wright, a real pain in the ass to the Yankees for Cleveland in '97 and '98, started Game 4, and had nothing.

The clearest decision is this one: If Andy Pettitte were still a Yankee in 2004, '05 and '06, Randy Johnson would never have been signed.

So, if Andy starts Game 3 in 2005, and wins it, as he actually won Game 1 of the NLDS that year, the Yanks are up 2-games-to-1, and Chacon and the bullpen win Game 4, and the Yankees go on to face the White Sox in the ALCS. Except... The White Sox were a team of destiny that season. I don't think the Yanks would have beaten them. But at least it would have been a better ending to that season than the Yanks actually got.

But if Andy starts Game 3 in 2006, and wins it, then the Yanks are up 2-games-to-1 on the Tigers, and… Wright still has nothing for Game 4, but maybe Wang pitches Game 5 back in New York and wins it. Then the Yankees face the A's, whom the Tigers swept, and then the Cardinals in the World Series, the Cards who won the Pennant despite winning 83 games, and maybe…

Yes, maybe, in 2006, Andy Pettitte, 34 years old with an ERA+ that season of 106, could have made the difference between the Yankees looking pathetic in a Division series loss, and the Yankees winning their 27th World Championship. Which would have taken the monkey off the backs of Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Mike Mussina.


There's one more thing I’d like to examine in regard to Pettitte: His credentials for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In his career thus far, from 1995 to 2009, he's won 229 games and lost 135. That's a winning percentage of .629. Starting pitchers already in the Hall with fewer wins include Catfish Hunter (whose career was cut short at 33 by a shoulder injury), Jim Bunning (worthy of Cooperstown if not of continued re-election to both houses of Congress), Chief Bender, Jesse Haines, Don Drysdale, Bob Lemon, Hal Newhouser, Rube Marquard, Jack Chesbro, Dazzy Vance, Ed Walsh, Rube Waddell (career shortened by injuries and alcoholism), Lefty Gomez (career shortened by WWII service), Sandy Koufax (career ended by elbow injury at 31), Addie Joss (died of meningitis at 31) and Dizzy Dean (injuries left him pretty much finished at 28).

And, while they are not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame, Andy's also won more games than Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz (though he's also spent some time as a reliever, which is why I don't include former starter Dennis Eckersley, who is also a HOFer with fewer wins than Pettitte). And his 192 wins in a Yankee uniform leave him 3rd on the Pinstripes' all-time list, behind only Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing, ahead of Monument Parkers Gomez, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds.

Andy's .629 winning percentage is higher than every starter already in the Hall except for Ford, Koufax, Gomez, Dean, Lefty Grove, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, pre-lively ball starters Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Three-Finger Brown and Grover Cleveland Alexander, and pre-60 feet, 6 inches starters John Clarkson and Kid Nichols.

His career ERA is 3.91, but his ERA+ (ERA in comparison to the rest of the league) is a much sharper 116. That's higher than HOFers Bunning, Bender, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro, Eppa Rixey, Mickey Welch, Robin Roberts and... Nolan Ryan.

His WHIP (Wins + Hits, that total divided by Innings Pitched) is 1.361, not HOF material. He has 2,150 career strikeouts, but only 921 walks, for a K/BB ratio of 2.33 – or, for every 9 innings, 6.61 strikeouts and 2.83 walks. Pretty strong. He averages 9.42 hits per 9 innings, meaning per 9 innings he allows 12.25 baserunners, but divided by his 3.91 ERA, it means he only lets 3.13 of those 12.25 to score.

Andy's postseason record is 14-9, and his ERA of 3.96 means that, against Playoff lineups, his ERA goes up by only 0.05. Only Smoltz, at 15-4, has more postseason wins. Tom Glavine also has 14 postseason wins, but he also has 16 losses. (The other member of that Braves triumvirate, Maddux, is 11-14.) gives him a "Hall of Fame Monitor" of 107, with 100 being a "Likely HOFer." But they also give him a 35 for "Hall of Fame Standards," which are weighted more toward career achievements, whereas the "average HOFer" has 50.

According to B-R, the top 10 pitchers whose statistics most closely resemble his are Dwight Gooden (that's sure to shock Met fans), Bob Welch, Kevin Brown, Jimmy Key, Dave McNally, Dazzy Vance, Frank Viola, Orel Hershiser, Jack Stivetts and Kevin Appier.

Of those 10, only Vance is in the Hall, and if they ever had to reduce the Hall's membership (which would be a cruel thing to do), Vance would be on the short list of pitchers to remove. The rest, well, Gooden and McNally had their careers shortened by injury, Hershiser had one great season and several other but not enough good seasons, Brown and Viola tailed off, Key pretty much just hung 'em up too soon (he was 6-3, 4.20 at 37), and the rest were pretty much very good pitchers but not great enough for Cooperstown.

That might be the way to sum up Number 46. But it just may be that, in a few years, we could see a Monument Park Plaque for Andrew Eugene Pettitte. It would be a fitting tribute to one of the cornerstones of the 1996-2003 dynasty, and a fitting choice to be the man to start the last game at the old Yankee Stadium.

Tonight, he just might be starting the last baseball game at the Metrodome. Who knows, he could end up starting the last game of the 2009 season, a World Series clincher.

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