Andy Pettitte never earned a Cy Young Award.
He never pitched a no-hitter, nailed triple digits on a radar gun or secured a $100 million contract. But over the course of his stellar career, Pettitte did one thing better than just about anybody else — win, and he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Pettitte was the ultimate competitor. A 22nd round pick in 1991, the 41-year-old lefty admits he gritted and grinded to make every pitch, retire every hitter and compete in every start. Nothing came easily for him, but now 18 seasons and 256 wins after his MLB debut, Pettitte retires as perhaps the greatest starting pitcher to ever don the Yankee pinstripes.
The lefty’s regular season accomplishments alone should be enough to garner a plaque in Cooperstown. He finishes his career as just the 26th pitcher to post a career record at least 100 games above .500. Of the first 25 to do so, 18 already hold a spot in the Hall of Fame, and five others await enshrinement once they become eligible in the next few seasons.
Pettitte’s 256 wins place him 11th all-time among left-handers and are more than that of 32 current Hall of Fame pitchers. Additionally, Pettitte remains the only player in MLB history to pitch at least 15 seasons without a losing record. His complete game gem in the final start of his career Saturday against Houston pushed his record total to 18 seasons.
His career 3.85 ERA is the biggest knock against Pettitte’s numbers, but it should not be ignored that he pitched through the heart of the steroid era, when batters and, non-coincidentally, home run totals seemed to get bigger by the season. His 117 adjusted ERA, which considers home ballpark and time period, figures to be a fairer indication of his success, and it puts him in line with current Hall of Famers Burt Blyleven, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry and Ferguson Jenkins.
Simply put, all of this means that Pettitte fits in as one of the best pitchers of his generation, but it’s his postseason achievements that cement him in baseball lore.
Pettitte won five World Series and eight pennants with the Yankees and Astros. His 19 postseason wins are the most all-time and are more than that of eight MLB franchises.
Additionally, Pettitte tops the list for innings pitched in the postseason, where he posted a 3.81 ERA against baseball’s best teams each year. In 2009, he became the first pitcher to ever start and win the clinching game in each round of the playoffs en route to the Yankees’ 27th World Series title.
The case can be made that Pettitte’s postseason numbers benefit greatly from playing 15 seasons with Yankees teams that contended annually. The same case can be made that those Yankees teams suffer without Pettitte in the rotation, and they likely failed to capture five World Series titles between 1996 and 2009 without their postseason ace.
Pettitte’s link to HGH remains unshakable, but it’s worthwhile to clarify that his usage — under a trainer’s recommendation to recover from an elbow injury — came in 2002, three years before the substance became banned by baseball. While some voters still figure to hold this against him, a number of studies failed to find any ways that HGH could enhance the athletic prowess of an athlete. Some even believe HGH could be a lower risk alternative to surgery, and it’s not impossible that the hormone will be legalized by MLB by the time Pettitte is eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Pettitte never dominated a game or overmatched a hitter the way Sandy Koufax or Randy Johnson did, but his accomplishments are undeniable. His remarkable consistency and prowess for winning the big game helped lead the Yankees to five World Series championships, and he deserves a spot in Cooperstown.