Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thanks For The Memories

The Core Four, and Bernie, have special significance for me. They aren’t the first Yankees that I remember knowing (Don Mattingly, followed by Roberto Kelly, Jim Abbot, Mel Hall, and Mike Stanley), but they are the first Yankees whose career I got to watch from start to finish. They are the Yankees that I grew up with. We all have these players for whatever team we root for. It is extremely unique, however, to have five of them, all home-grown, come up around the same time, put together first-ballot to borderline Hall of Fame careers, and combine for 24 World Series rings (and hopefully counting). I feel very lucky in this regard, that I got to grow up with one of the more special groups in baseball history, and I am mindful of just how rare it is. It just makes it that much more sentimental when one of them hangs it up.

A big part of that goes back to the whole home-grown thing. It’s what we all want as sports fans. No matter how much I may love Sabathia, Amare, Teixeira, whoever, it’s always a little different when players come up with your club, even if they aren’t as good as acquired players. There’s also a little extra bump, I think, when the player is a starting pitcher. We love young starters. When they burst on the scene, it’s even more so. Burst onto the scene Pettitte did, winning 12 games his first year in ‘95, winning 21 and finishing 2nd in Cy Young voting and helping win a World Series in ’96, and putting up a 2.88 with another Top 5 Cy Young finish in ’97. Across those first three seasons, Pettitte averaged a 17-8 record, 212 innings, and a 3.58 ERA. As far as age 23-25 seasons go, that’s about as good as it gets.

Pettitte would continue to put up similarly great numbers almost every year for the rest of his 16 year career. He didn’t really take that next step into superstardom the way someone that started as fast as he did might, but he also started so fast simply being able to keep it up for so long and so consistently is still an incredible accomplishment, and makes him a very, very good player. As we’ve discussed before, he’ll be a very borderline case for the Hall of Fame. Many of his traditional peripherals would fall short. But he’s 102 games over .500 for his career, and I don’t believe there has ever been a pitcher to be +100 for his career to not get in. He also won five World Series, and was one of the best big game pitchers of this generation. For what it’s worth, Bill James’ Hall of Fame monitor gives Pettitte a score of 123, good for 65th best all-time. The average score to get in is around 100. Pettitte gets a big bump being part of so many winning teams, which is a consideration in this system, but (1) it should be and (2) 123 is substantially more than 100, so it’s not like this factor is carrying him to the bare minimum. Pettitte had a great (but not Hall of Fame) individual career, and having been such a big part of so many winning teams is why he will get serious consideration. This makes a lot of sense.

Whether he gets in or not is not overly important to me, however. The totality of his career has been long and excellent – he’s 2nd all-time on the Yankees in wins, and they’ve had a good pitcher or two – and I have a great appreciation for all of it. What I appreciate most, though, what I will remember most, is all of the big-game memories. I’ll remember 1996 World Series Game 5, when a 24 year-old Pettitte went 8.1 scoreless innings, making a 1-0 lead against John Smoltz hold up, on the road, to tip the balance of the series from 2-2 to 3-2 Yankees, heading back to the Bronx. And I’ll remember all of the others just like them. The amount of 7+ IP, less 2 ER or less performances Pettitte put up in the playoffs is staggering. Yes, he had a lot of chances, making 42 playoff starts over 263 innings, more than an extra season of work. But he made the most of it, going 19-10 with a 3.83 ERA. He had his share of stinkers too, but considering his career ERA is 3.88, being able to be even slightly better for the totality of his playoff career over that many starts is impressive, and is a big reason why he has the most playoff wins all-time. He just knew how to step up when it counted most, and he did it time and time again. Even in defeat. I was fortunate enough to be at the last game Pettitte pitched, when he gave the Yankees every chance to beat Cliff Lee, going (you guessed it) 7 innings and giving up 2 runs. Thankfully, there were many more of those in victory.

So thanks for the memories, Andy. Thanks for the consistency. Most importantly, thanks for winning all of those big games that put the Yankees in better position to win five World Series over the course of your career.

5 comments:

The GM said...

PF,

If you can churn out one of these a week, I think the final year of HYD will be just fine.

On to the actual content: I love the Mike Stanley shutout. It's somewhat weird that he's one of your favorite Yankees of all time and he's one of my favorite Red Sox of all time. I can say the same about Big Scumbag and Little Scumbag, although all three of those guys spent a lot more time with NY than Boston. Plus, Scumbag and Scumbag (Big Scumbag's term) both have perfect games with the Yankees. And home-grown stars, unless they are jackasses - I can think of two of these currently with the Red Sox - are always more special to a fan.

Pettitte's Hall of Fame credentials are probably completely moot because of the two and only two isolated times he took HGH. This point was conveniently left out of your post. But let's just subtract those ten seconds of Pettitte's life and it's an interesting argument.

I think your Mike Mussina candidacy argument is a lot more valid than any argument you can make for Pettitte. You mention the peripherals, and the fact that he's calling it quits so early would (not will) hurt his case. As much as he would be helped by being on a good team, there's a flip side to that because he has only had to be "consistent." Has Andy Pettitte ever had to be an ace? No. Has he ever had to be the stopper? No.

But you nailed it. He never reached superstardom. He's injected himself big-time into the Hall of Very Good, but while Mussina does have the necessary credentials, Pettitte would be in the same category as Jack Morris. Some killer playoff performances. A few big-time HOF loyalists. But not too much serious consideration.

Ross Kaplan said...

Pat, I cou'dn't have said it any better myself. I have vague memories of watching Mariano Duncan, Mattingly and Abbot but I grew up watching the so called Core Four. I'm just disappointed you left out my fave Yankee growing up, Bernie Williams. This was a guy who just exuded class who just went out everyday and did his job without being a prim dona about it. Ironically, he also just recently announced his plans to formally retire.

Anonymous said...

PF

That post covers all the bases with Pettitte. It deals the highs and the lows, the selling points, and the exposure. And it really doesn't leave much to argue with. Well done.

DV

We all know that I love Jack Morris even though I can only remember seeing him pitch live once. Not just the famous quote, but he seems like the type of guy who would go the bars in Milwaukee in the middle of a three-game set, get drunk and kick everybody's ass.

Also, are there that many differences between Pettitte and Schilling? I think this could be an interesting topic.

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

ross -

i mentioned bernie williams in the first sentence of this post.

dv -

mike stanley wasn't one of my favorite yankees, just one of the first i remember.

i won't turn this into a PED debate with you, and if i respond to your point on this topic that's exactly what it will turn into. you, and the rest of the people that care about PED's, are just going to have to accept the fact that some people who are known to have used are going to get into the HOF. even more are going to get in that used but were never outed, which is why it doesn't bother me if known users get in.

i think the tendency is that when a fan of a team/player says they are a "borderline" case, that is taken to mean they really think they should be in. that's not what i'm saying here. i think he's a true borderline case. mussina deserves to be in. he had a far better individual career than pettitte. pettitte, just based on his own performance, is out. but he won 5 rings. five. and he wasn't just an innocent bystander. he was the one starting pitcher who was a big part of every single one of them, besides el duque the best big game pitcher the yankees had, the guy you undoubtedly wanted to have the ball in the biggest game. that means something.

in addition to that, the two things that stand out to me are the 100 games over .500 and bill james' predictor. other than than these things and those above, it's a tough sell. that's why he's borderline.

still, i think some of your points are irrelevant. he's calling it quits early? he's 38 and pitched 16 straight seasons. you're also short-selling him a bit on his place in his respective rotations. no, he was never counted on to be the "ace". but there are tons of HOF caliber pitchers who spent most of their career in rotations with other star pitchers. so you have to look deeper than just them not being the "ace". pettitte absolutely was counted on to be the stopper, in fact he made an entire career out of it. even when he wasn't the "ace", he was the guy you wanted to have the ball as i said. that's who he was. no doubt, he never reached super-stardom. but he had to be a lot more than just consistent to do all the winning he and his teams did. he had to be consistently very, very good, and often dominant in the biggest games.

gunn -

thanks.

interesting comparison. obviously, they arrived at their total career production in different ways. pettitte had more consistency and has a little more "winning" on his career despite not being quite the individual talent schilling was. schilling had a few more "superstar" type years, and had better peripherals, the better individual pitcher of the two. they were both two of the better big game pitchers of this generation. and their total career production is pretty similar. good spot here.

the gm at work said...

Gunn,

You were the first person that came to mind when I said Jack Morris had a devoted fan club. Pat's points about how the Yankees wanted one guy on the mound when it counted is the same argument hashed by Morris guys.

Pettitte had the ability to shut up more than Schilling did. Pettitte also never put up sick numbers with bad teams - because he never needed to. Pettitte's closer to the Hall of Fame than Schilling is, once again, if you keep out the PED debate.

Pat,

I'll happily refrain from the PED pissing match that I could easily pick up right now. Let's pick that up in an angry post I'll author somewhere around Memorial Day.

I'm glad we're in agreement about Mussina. And your two points are very much valid.

The subjective stuff that I brought up can be justified as follows:
-Calling it quits early. While in some cases (Brett Favre, Tim Wakefield), this is admirable, this is a guy who would need to pad his counting stats to get the respect of the BBWAA. The guys with a lot of wins are playing into their forties. Want to throw out the exception of Koufax? Sure. But it's not an argument at all that Pettitte's along the same dominance lines of Koufax, Pedro Martinez, or any of those short-career guys.
-The not counted on to be an ace guy. Obviously, it's not his fault, and it's probably a nice situation to be in. The counter-argument is Tom Glavine, who also was never (at least for the most part) counted on to be an ace behind Maddux and arguably Smoltz. Glavine's the best 2-starter in baseball history. He also padded those counting stats.

I'm not discounting his career or even disagreeing with anything you said here. He needs a little bit more, however.