Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 17, 2005
BASEBALL: Dandy Andy
I can't think of any major league ballplayer who did more in 2005 to help his chances of possibly making the Hall of Fame someday than Andy Pettitte (and yes, if you're clicking the link, baseball-reference.com now has the 2005 stats up). Entering 2004, Pettitte was a guy who'd racked up an impressive number of career wins (regular season and postseason) through age 31, but had never pitched away from the Yankees, had posted an unspectacular-looking 3.94 career ERA, and always seemed to be on the verge of an arm injury that would derail his career. In 2004, Pettitte played down to those expectations, losing half the season (including the Astros' magical playoff run) to an injury.
So, this season's comeback of 17 wins, a career-low 2.39 ERA, and 222.1 injury-free innings, and some solid postseason starts has done wonders for Pettitte's credentials. With 172 wins through age 33, Pettitte has a plausible outside shot at 300 wins and a pretty good shot at 250; he has just 5 fewer victories than John Smoltz and 20 fewer than Curt Schilling, both of whom are 5 years older (granted, Pedro Martinez, who is the same age as Pettitte, has 27 more wins, but you don't have to be Pedro to make the Hall of Fame). Better yet, Pettitte started, in 2001, transitioning to a top-notch control pitcher, but this was the first time since then that he was able to sustain that kind of control record (1.66 BB/9) over a full season without getting tagged for a very high number of hits (1997 was the only year of Pettitte's Yankees career that he allowed less than a hit per inning). The ability to throw a lot of strikes without getting totally shelled is something that will serve Pettitte well in his 30s.
Predicting where Pettitte goes from here is another matter. Baseball-reference.com's list of similar pitchers through age 33 is loaded with active and recent pitchers: Mike Mussina and Jimmy Key are the two guys over 900 in similarity scores, and Kevin Brown is on the list as well. There are two Hall of Famers on the list, at #9 and 10: Warren Spahn and Lefty Gomez, neither of whom really had a similar career, although both - like Pettitte - pitched in pitchers' parks in high-scoring eras for powerhouse offensive teams most of their careers. Tommy Bridges, pitching hero of the 1935 World Series, is perhaps a better comparison, but pitcher career paths are notoriously hard to compare anywyay.