Andy Pettitte’s 250th victory a rare feat to crown an outstanding career
Andy Pettitte held the Mariners to one run on three singles over 7 1/3 innings on Saturday to earn the 250th win of his career, becoming the first pitcher since Jamie Moyer in 2009 to reach that total, and quite possibly, per the work of my Strike Zone battery-mate Jay Jaffe, the last for quite a while.
The second table in this post by Jay assumes that each of the pitchers listed will play through their age-40 season and average ten wins per season over that span, an estimate that, if it is slightly pessimistic in terms of average win totals, is also very optimistic in terms of health and longevity, such that end result is a realistic estimate for all of those pitchers on the list who don’t flame out completely in the interim.
Jay’s list was designed to identify potential 200-game winners, so the two active pitchers other than Pettitte who have already reached that mark, Roy Halladay and Tim Hudson, aren’t included. Hudson, however, is already 37 and would thus top out at 237 wins using Jay’s method (current-season wins are thrown out, though the 4-5 Hudson is on pace for exactly 10 wins this year anyway). Halladay, who is 36, projects to 249 wins, but that’s with ten wins this year, a total he has no chance to reach given that he needs eight more wins to get there and will be lucky to make eight more starts this season due to his May shoulder surgery, which could very well prove to be season-ending.
That leaves only Pettitte’s rotation-mate CC Sabathia, who I identified six years ago on SI.com’s first baseball blog as the young pitcher most likely to win 300, as the only active major leaguer projected by Jay’s system to win 250 games, and at his current pace of 15 wins a year (he won that many last year and is on pace for the same this year) the 32-year-old Sabathia won’t get there until the very end of the 2016 season.
As for Pettitte, his career win total is a testament to his durability and fortitude on the mound, but also to his good fortune of having played for 14 playoff teams in his first 17 seasons in the major leagues (and the Yankees are in a playoff position again). Pettitte has been the benefactor of some of the most potent offenses of the last two decades, having received an average of 5.4 runs of support per start over the course of his career. He has also been the greatest benefactor of the greatest relief pitcher of all time, as Mariano Rivera has saved more wins by Pettitte than by any other pitcher, setting a record for a starter/closer tandem. It was fitting, then, that Rivera recorded the final three outs on Saturday for his 71st save among those 250 wins.
In attempting to factor out his tremendous run and bullpen support, Baseball-Reference’s neutralized statistics adjust Pettitte’s career win total down to 173 (or 174 including Saturday’s victory), in part by using Pythagorean calculations to put his career winning percentage at .518, a mark more in line with his career 117 ERA+ than his actual .632 winning percentage.
There’s sure to be a doozy of a Hall of Fame debate regarding Pettitte when his turn comes at the end of the decade. Again leaning on the work of my colleague, Mr. Jaffe, JAWS has Pettitte quite clearly on the outside looking in. I’m personally a huge fan of Pettitte, but I have to agree with JAWS. Pettitte was a stalwart, but never an ace.
Indeed, there’s a great resemblance between Pettitte and lightning-rod Hall of Fame candidate Jack Morris, who will be on his final ballot this winter after receiving 67.7 percent of the vote last year, and whom I also believe falls short of the Hall of Fame standard. In broad terms, both pitched for 18 seasons (so far, for Pettitte). Morris won 254 games to Pettitte’s 250 (again, thus far). Morris’s career ERA was 3.90, Pettitte is at 3.85. Morris’s career whip was 1.30. Pettitte is at 1.35.
Both also get considerable bonus points for their postseason work. Morris, prior to a rough showing with the Blue Jays in 1992, went 7-1 with a 2.60 ERA in his first nine postseason starts and, of course, threw a ten-inning shutout to win Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Pettitte, meanwhile, is the winningest postseason pitcher in history, having gone 19-11 in postseason play, in part because he’s also the most experienced postseason pitcher in history, having thrown 276 2/3 innings over 44 starts across those 14 postseasons. Heck, Morris and Pettitte even both had their greatest moment at the expense of John Smoltz, Morris in the aforementioned Game 7, and Pettitte in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, which saw him throw 8 1/3 scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over Smoltz that gave the Yankees a 3-2 advantage in that Series and effectively broke the Braves’ back heading back to New York.
I rank that Game 5 among the greatest games I’ve ever seen. To think that was 17 years ago and that Pettitte was back out there on the mound on Saturday dominating the Mariners, on the same day that the Yankees selected his son Josh with a courtesy draft pick (he won’t sign, he’s going to Baylor), no less, is amazing and a great testament to his career. It’s no insult to say that he’s not quite Hall of Fame caliber. Andy Pettitte’s place in this game is secure even without a plaque.