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Andy Pettitte's a tough Cooperstown case


Upon the news that Andy Pettitte is retiring (again), I'm wondering if he belongs in the Hall of Fame. I've wondered this before, but the wonderful thing about the human mind is that it's plastic ... I'm not going to read what I've written before on this subject, because I might think of completely new things without the burden of past thoughts. I was, after all, a completely different entity the last time, with different cells and neurons and night terrors and stuff.

I will admit that, just taking a quick glance at Andy Pettitte's page, my reaction is that of course he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He's got 255 wins and only 152 losses, for a phenomenal .627 winning percentage. He's got roughly 60 Wins Above Replacement. And he's won 19 postseason games, with an ERA roughly the same as his regular-season ERA. No, he's not going to win 300 games. But there are oodles of Hall of Fame pitchers without 300 wins.

But does that combination really add up to the Hall of Fame? Or rather, has it?

There aren't many pitchers with Pettitte's 250-odd wins and .625-ish winning percentage. Here are the pitchers with between 225 and 275 wins, and a winning percentage between .600 and .650:

.604 David Wells
.621 Bob Feller
.622 Carl Hubbell
.627 Andy Pettitte
.631 Juan Marichal
.638 Jim Palmer
.638 Mike Mussina
.648 Mordecai Brown

David Wells isn't getting into the Hall of Fame, but Mike Mussina might be. The other non-Pettitte guys are in.

Now, here are the starters with between 55 and 65 Wins Ab-- actually, that list is too long for this space. Here are the eight pitchers on either side of Mussina on the career Wins+ list:

57 Jerry Koosman
58 Frank Tanana
58 Chuck Finley
59 Jack Quinn
60 Andy Pettitte
60 Hal Newhouser
61 Jim Bunning
61 Don Drysdale
62 David Cone

and moving up even farther on the list, we find a bunch of Hall of Famers ... but also non-Hall of Famers Tommy John, Luis Tiant, Rick Reuschel, Kevin Brown, and Curt Schilling. Not to mention Mussina.

Of course, few pitchers can match Pettitte's postseason record. In a literal sense, of course, nobody can. He's won more postseason games than anyone. And while his 3.81 postseason ERA isn't anything special, it's certainly quite good, especially considering he was pitching against (generally) good-hitting teams after a long season.

The problem with evaluating Pettitte as a Hall of Fame candidate is that the Hall of Fame is based on precedent, but there's never been another pitcher quite like Andy Pettitte, with his winning percentage and his 255 victories and his postseason success and ... yes, his relative paucity of big seasons. Despite usually pitching for good (or excellent teams), he won more than 15 games in only six seasons, and finished in the top three in Cy Young balloting just once.

Once is a very small number for a Hall of Fame candidate. Very small.

Upon reflection, my support for Pettitte is softening. He certainly wouldn't be misplaced in the Hall ... but that may also be said about many of his contemporaries, most of whom actually seem more deserving. Without getting into the whole drugs thing, here's a list of pitchers I would choose before Andy Pettitte. Just off the top of my head:

Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson

That's a lot of guys, and it's going to take a long time for the voters to work their way through all of them. Meanwhile, guys like CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay will be working their way onto that list.

Pettitte really is the perfect borderline candidate. Without the postseason, I would probably say no. Barely. With the postseason, I would probably say yes. Barely. But I really can't fault a voter's opinion either way, because it depends almost entirely on the value of his October innings. For which there's essentially no precedent at all.

Oh, and by the way? At 41, he's still a pretty good pitcher. For the second time in his career, he's leaving on top. For whatever that's worth.

For more about Pettitte's retirement and his Yankees, please visit SB Nation's Pinstriped Bible.