New York Yankees left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte will announce his retirement from major league baseball today, making him an obvious candidate for a Prospect Retrospective and a look at his place in baseball history.
Pettitte was drafted in the 22nd round in 1990, out of high school in Deer Park, Texas. A "draft-and-follow" pick, he went to junior college for a year, then signed with the Yanks in May of '91. He made his pro debut that year, going 4-1, 0.98 in six starts in the Gulf Coast League, then 2-2, 2.18 in six starts for Oneonta in the New York-Penn League. His K/BB was excellent, at a combined 83/24 in 70 innings. From this distance in time it is hard to give him a prospect rating. . .I wasn't doing this for a living back then. . .but nowadays a similar pitcher would get something like a Grade C+ "with higher potential" rating, given the need for upper level data.
Pettitte had an excellent 1992 season, going 10-4, 2.20 in 27 starts for Greensboro in the Sally League, posting a 130/55 K/BB in 168 innings, allowing 141 hits. Strong numbers across the board. He ranked second in the Sally League in ERA, but surprisingly he was left off Baseball America's Top 10 prospects list for that circuit. His command was impressive and he pitched well, but his velocity and overall stuff were just average. Using my current standards, I'd probably have rated him a Grade B- or a strong C+ prospect, pending exposure to better hitters.
Promoted to Prince William in the Carolina League for '93, Pettitte had another solid year, going 11-9, 3.04 in 26 starts, 129/47 K/BB in 160 innings, 146 hits allowed. His control was excellent, but his strikeout rate wasn't super-impressive, and once again he was left off the Top 10 league prospects list. His grade would stay around B-/C+, and I probably would have written something like "Pettitte is a good control pitcher but will have to prove he can pass the Double-A test."
He did that just fine in '94, going 7-2, 2.71 in 11 starts for Double-A Albany, then 7-2, 2.98 in 16 starts for Triple-A Columbus, combining for a 111/39 K/BB in 170 innings. His walk rate got even better, but his K/IP was below league average. Still, he showed that he could get advanced minor league hitters out. I might have promoted him to Grade B/-B, but his below average K/IP would have kept him from a B+ rating.
Pettitte entered the Yankees rotation in '95, going 12-9, 4.17 in 26 starts and aside from a try at retirement in 2011, he's been in big league rotations ever since with the Yankees and Astros. He was never better than a Grade B prospect in the minors, but he showed the same skills against major league hitters that he showed against minor league ones: throw strikes, change speeds, keep guys off balance. Many pitchers who show similar skills in the minors have trouble doing it in the majors, as they lose the balance between "hitting your spots" and "nibbling." Pettitte made it work.
To this point, Pettitte has a career record of 255-152, ERA 3.86, ERA+117, with a 2437/1028 K/BB ratio in 3300 innings. Over 18 years in the majors, his ERA was below league average only once, in 2008, and even in that season he had a nice WAR at 4.1. His best season was his third season: 18-7, 2.88, ERA+ 156, WAR 7.2. Overall, his consistency and ability to eat innings gave him a career WAR of 68.1.
For historical comps, Bill James Sim Scores point us to David Wells, Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Orel Hershiser, Bob Welch, Herb Pennock, Juan Marichal, Catfish Hunter, and Carl Hubbell as comparable statistically. From a "style" standpoint, Wells and Pennock seem like good matches. In WAR terms, Pettitte's 68.1 mark puts him in the same neighborhood with Jim Kaat (69.8), Eppa Rixey (66.4), Jerry Koosman (66.3), Tom Glavine (63.9), Early Wynn (62.5), and Mickey Lolich (62.0).
All of those men were outstanding pitchers and some of them are in the Hall of Fame. Pettitte has a marginal case based on his regular season pitching, but don't forget his post-season record: he went 19-11 in 44 post-season starts, pitching 277 additional innings. Combine the post-season prominence with a very long career, and I think he would eventually get in the Hall under normal circumstances. However, his admission of using human growth hormone to help him overcome elbow problems in the early '00s could weight against him with the voters.