By In Stuff

Betteridge’s Law and Pettitte

Now, look, I certainly appreciate that this headline question — Is Pettitte greatest Yankee starter? — was written with the intention of sparking conversation and reaction. And it worked. I reacted immediately. And, here, I’m conversing.

I’m also aware of Betteridge’s law of headlines which states that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word, “no.”

Still, I must admit, I am baffled by the persistence of the Andy Pettitte love out there. It runs so counter to the stringent anti-drug stance that has choked and suffocated so many of the good feelings people have toward players of the Steroid Era. Roger Clemens gets 37.6% of the Hall of Fame vote, and few seem to care. Barry Bonds gets even less, and people seem happy about it. Players like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell and even Craig Biggio find their legacy weighed down by whispers and innuendo. Heck, Chris Davis goes on a hitting tear, and doubt rings around him.

Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte — who admitted (not exactly voluntarily) being a PED user — has hosannas thrown at him like rice at a wedding. It’s just kind of baffling.

Of course, my own stance is that the whole PED thing has been way overblown. The rules were vague at best, testing was nonexistent, enforcement was a shrug and a wink. I feel like steroid use before testing is a black mark on a players record — they knew it was wrong when they did it and I’m sure it had some effect on their performance — but it should not be THE black mark, that is to say it should not entirely define the players’ career. I appreciate that others disagree.

What I don’t understand is how Andy Pettitte seems immune to all of it.

In any case, the question of Andy Pettitte’s place in Yankees history — I figure as a starter he’s somewhere in the scrum with Red Ruffling, Lefty Gomez, Ron Guidry and all behind Whitey Ford — is not as interesting to me as the point that the Yankees, for all their astounding success, have not really had one of the 10 or 15 best pitchers in baseball history. Oh, Roger Clemens stopped by for a while, but I’m talking about as a core player.

Truth is, you can — with a semi-straight face — talk about Pettitte as the all-time Yankee pitcher, but if he was with the Giants or Braves or Cardinals or Indians or, heck, even the crosstown Mets, even suggesting Pettitte as the best would be enough to get you committed into the sports asylum. That just kind of strange.

I went through all the teams and listed off their top pitcher according to Baseball Reference WAR. As you see, the Yankees place 15th on this list, right in the middle of the pack. Another surprising thing: The Cincinnati Reds WAR leader since 1901 is Eppa Rixey with 40.

Team, pitcher, WAR

  1. Twins/Senators: Walter Johnson, 152.6

  2. Giants, Christy Mathewson, 95.7

  3. Braves, Warren Spahn, 92.2

  4. Cardinals, Bob Gibson, 81.9

5, Red Sox, Roger Clemens, 81.2

  1. Mets, Tom Seaver, 75.9

  2. Athletics, Eddie Plank, 73.7

  3. Phillies, Robin Roberts, 69.7

  4. White Sox, Red Faber, 68.3

  5. Orioles, Jim Palmer, 67.9

  6. Indians, Bob Feller, 65.2

  7. Dodgers, Dazzy Vance, 61.8

  8. Tigers, Hal Newhouser, 59.1

  9. Blue Jays, Dave Stieb, 57.2

  10. Yankees, Whitey Ford, 53.9

  11. Cubs, Fergie Jenkins, 53.3

  12. Diamondbacks, Randy Johnson, 52.9

  13. Angels, Chuck Finley, 52.2

  14. Pirates, Babe Adams, 50.1

  15. Royals, Kevin Appier, 47.2

  16. Astros, Roy Oswalt, 45.6

  17. Nationals/Espos, Steve Rogers, 45.4

  18. Reds, Eppa Rixey, 40.0

  19. Mariners, Randy Johnson, 39.3

  20. Rangers, Charlie Hough, 32.9

  21. Brewers, Teddy Higuera, 30.7

  22. Marlins, Josh Johnson, 25.3

  23. Padres, Jake Peavy, 24.7

  24. Rays, James Shields, 19.2

  25. Rockies, Ubaldo Jiminez, 18.7

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48 Responses to Betteridge’s Law and Pettitte

  1. kehnn13 says:

    I think Whitey Ford’s War Number is a bit misleading. He lost 2 years of his career to the military. In addition, Casey Stengel often adjusted Whitey’s schedule so he would pitch against tougher teams, thus depressing his totals until Ralph Houk became manager in 1961.

  2. Image is everything. Pettitte has probably played more innings on national TV more than any other pitcher in history. He comes across as a nice guy, family man, respectful and hard working. Fans see that and appreciate him. Compare that to a guy like Clemens or Bonds who gave impression that they were better than everyone else.

    • anon says:

      This is critical and it wouldn’t surprise me if this has a major role in our evolution of views about the steroid era. Eventually either Pettitte gets in to the HOF or someone who we all “respect” that is already enshrined eventually comes out as a user. Then it becomes clear that what is feeding our distaste about Bonds and Clemens (and A-Rod) is not just steroids but distaste for their personalities. And then we start rethinking their banishment from Cooperstown.

    • Ben Wildner says:

      Try this theory on for size. Fans feel users disrespected the game and them by using. Pettite owned up and has been perpetually respectful to the media/fans. Therefore fans/media don’t feel insulted by his use.

    • Steve O says:

      I’m sure prior perception is part of it; after all, people already disliked Clemens, A-Rod and Bonds, though they were surly, that they were jerks, that they were arrogant.

      But what about Sosa and McGwire? People loved them, and completely turned on them when they were outed as cheaters. McGwire has since admitted, and hasn’t gotten the same sort of clemency as Pettitte.

    • rpmcsweeney says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Watchdog says:

      plus you can point to Pettitte using only to recover from injury, and presumably that one period of time.

    • Which Hunt says:

      I’ve got a bridge to sell you. I think a lot of it stems from Pettite being an openly devout Christian. Christians are all about forgiveness when its one of their own

  3. Doug Drotman says:

    Joe — I think the leniency towards Pettitte stems from the fact that he was pretty clear that he used the HGH for a limited time to specifically come back from an injury. Whether that is true of not, it appears the public believes it and does not believe his career was changed by this limited steroid use.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yes, that was his story…. after he was caught. Probably more true than Barry Bonds saying he thought “The Clear” was an oil. But not really the truth.

    • KHAZAD says:

      Then later, while under oath, he admitted to using it again two tears later when faced with evidence that he did so. He did that under immunity while throwing his friend under the bus. He is a teflon sleazeball.

    • Dodger300 says:

      “…pretty clear that he used HGH for a limited time to specifically some back from an injury…”

      Just curious. What flavor was the Kool-Aid that you drank?

  4. Steve O says:

    I’d say he’s comfortably above Guidry, Ruffing and Gomez. He’s clearly, IMO, the 2nd best Yankee starter ever, only behind Whitey Ford.

    And yes, the Yankees lack a Walter Johnson/Tom Seaver type pitcher in their history. Ford’s a clear Hall of Famer, but he’s not in that elite class of pitchers. But sometimes that happens. Remember that the all-time games played leader for the Indians is Terry Turner, of all people, even though they’ve employed Lajoie, Speaker, Doby, Averill, and many other Hall of Fame position players in/near their prime.

  5. Congrats to Randy Johnson for being on the list twice!

    • Jeremy T says:

      King Felix will probably pass him for the Mariners spot later this year or at the start of next year, though. Johnson had 39.3, Hernandez is at 36.8.

  6. Michael says:

    Let’s consider this headline with a question mark:

    Is Fox Sports Populated by Morons?

    The answer, clearly and unequivocally, is yes.

  7. Also, Mariano Rivera is now listed as the top pitcher for the Yankees with 55.4 WAR.

  8. It’s because Pettite has rehabilitated himself and turned his life around and continues to be a productive member of the workforce, thus deserves our praise. Clemens and Bonds continue to be unemployed drug abusers. That’s the only explanation I can come up with

    Pettitte is ahead of both Ford (and Rivera) for career WAR, so if someone wants to make a controversial headline, they could find some ways to support the idea.

    Dazzy Vance ahead of Koufax, who would have guessed that? Amazingly Stan Coveleski is tied with Feller, but pitched a few years for other teams. And while Feller lost years to the War, Coveleski pitched 2000 innings in the minors before finally getting a chance at age 26.

    Ted Lyons and Bret Saberhagen falling short are the other surprises for me.

    • NRJyzr says:

      Koufax was only the Koufax everyone recalls for four or five years, and then largely only at Dodger Stadium. His splits are fairly entertaining in that way.

      Vance pitched for 16 years, and had a similar number of top shelf seasons as Koufax, so it stands to reason he’d have a higher WAR. 🙂

  9. Finally (perhaps), Phil Niekro has the unfortunate distinction of having the most WAR for one team and not making the list, as he has 90 WAR to Spahn’s ~92 WAR for the Braves.

  10. Josh says:

    How long until Strasburg becomes the best Nationals/Expos pitcher ever?

  11. JRoth says:

    I see that the only non-expansion team behind the Pirates is also one of the only older teams in baseball. Perhaps the Ohio River somehow suppresses pitching performances.

    That said, this is a case of a big split between B-R and FG; Fangraphs has Bob Friend 14 wins ahead of Adams, at 63.9 (B-R has Friend 3 wins back of Adams). I’m not really sure why the difference, since Friend’s FIP (which is what FG uses instead of ERA) isn’t that far off his ERA – 3.33 vs 3.55.

    Anyway, it is odd that a team that produced two of the 5 greatest SS of baseball’s first century (and Vaughn is still #8), 2 all-time great OFs (not inc. Bonds, since he left), and the history’s best defensive 2B has been such a dud with pitchers. I’m no good at using B-R, so let’s just roll with FG’s listings. Behind Adams and Friend are a bunch of guys pretty much no one outside Pittsburgh remembers; by the time you reach #8, John Candelaria, you’re down to just 29.9 career fWAR. Hell, there’ve only been 4 guys, in 132 years, who’ve started more than 300 games as a Pirate.

    • Phil says:

      I think Wilbur Cooper is the Buccos’ best: a five-year win title 1919-1923, four seasons 5.9 or better bWAR, and a record that should have been 230-164 (Dutch Leonard (the latter)/Dolf Luque/Joe McGinnity territory).

  12. Ian says:

    Peditte doesn’t interest me but this was a neat article.

    Twins/Senators’ Johnson was amazing. He had 8 of the Twins top 10 seasons. #10 on the list is Johan Santana’s 8.6 WAR 2004 season, his first cy young season. That’s gotta be the best 10th place season. The other non-Johnson is Blyleven’s 9.9 season (came in 7th in cy young voting).

  13. Rob Smith says:

    Pettite isn’t a HOFer regardless of the PED usage. The HGH merely puts the final nail in that coffin.

  14. Sean says:

    “Another surprising thing: The Cincinnati Reds WAR leader since 1901 is Eppa Rixey with 40.” Sadly not surprising to Reds fans. Who’s the best pitcher of the postwar era? Maloney? Rijo? Soto? Browning? The walls of Cooperstown are adorned with the names of great Reds hitters from Lombardi to Larkin. But you can count the number of Reds’ HOF pitching candidates on one finger — and Eppa Rixey is a weak choice.

    • Phil says:

      Eppa Rixey is an underrated no-doubt Hall-of-Famer. He led all of baseball in wins 1921-1925 (100, tied with Eddie Rommell), which is the Hall of Fame criterion for below-300 winners: and his Reds cost him some 33 wins, as he would have had a record of 299-218 pitching for league-neutral teams over his career.

  15. Dinky says:

    So why has Dave Stieb been forgotten? I mean, forgotten during his career and after it. He led the AL in ERA+ in back to back seasons, both with 265 or more innings pitched, and could get only 7th in the Cy Young voting. One of those seasons he also led in ERA. He also had a season where he led the league in IP, CG, and ShO and finished fourth. His contemporary Jack Morris has a career ERA+ of 105 (versus 122 for Stieb), ERA of 3.90 (versus 3.44) WAR of 57 versus 43.8, and yet Morris is on the verge of the HOF because he had the good fortune to play for good teams, not bad ones. Now that Blyleven’s in, maybe it’s Stieb’s turn for a groundswell. But no, that will wait for the veterans.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I agree. Stieb’s case is one I’ve looked at because I remember how dominant he was. He did have a peak of about 10 seasons, but two of those years were not very good…. and then just like that, his career was over. Unfortunately without a long career, unless you’re Sandy Koufax, you just don’t get in the HOF. He was definitely a better pitcher than Morris, but on worse teams… only two post season appearances. So, no love from the voters. BTW: if you want a good comparison to Jack Morris, look at Chuck Finley. Definitely comparable and in the same era. Nobody thinks Finley is a HOFer.

  16. Reds – 12 MVPs, 0 Cy Young Award winners!

  17. Mark Daniel says:

    The reason Pettitte gets a pass, I think, comes from 3 things:
    1. Lots of steroid users in clubhouses
    2. steroids were easy to obtain
    3. nobody cared if you used steroids

    When a situation like that exists, then even good people will do bad things. I mean, speeding on the highway is technically illegal, yet probably 98% of people drive faster than the posted speed limit. But there’s a difference between a guy going 72 in a 65 and a guy doing 90. The problem with steroids was that nobody was monitoring people doing 90 (Clemens, Bonds, etc), making it even that much easier for someone to do 72 (Pettitte). My guess is that many people believe Pettitte was drawn into the steroid mess because of 1-3 above, even though he’s a regular, stand up guy.

  18. Marco says:

    Pettite gets a pass because he was (is):

    1. good enough to be loved
    2. not so good that he broke “unbreakable” records
    3. white

    I actually think this covers it. Minorities tend to be vilified as cheaters, bit players are easy to look down on in disgust (wouldn’t even have made the majors without cheating!), and if you break a major record the perception is that you wouldn’t have been able to do it without PEDs.

    If you’re just good I think it’s hard for people to put their finger on what the impact was, and without something to point to it’s hard to be outraged.

    • Frank says:

      The race card is not as stereotypical as you think. Look at the following steroid era players: Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire – white – vilified. Barry Larkin, Frank Thomas – black – HoF or HoF-bound heroes. Both Roger Maris and Hank Aaron were vilified (in certain quarters) for breaking Ruth’s records.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I agree with the first two points, not the third. Pettite also gets a pass because people believe he owned up to what he did. In fact, he owned up to doing “something” once he was already caught. Claiming he was doing it for injury only doesn’t ring true. He was Clemens buddy and Clemens was all in on PEDs. Do you really think Pettite just used HGH once to recover from an injury? Think about it. BTW: playing the race card here is stupid, especially when there are guys like Bagwell and Piazza not getting HOF love from the white writers either… even though there is no proof of any kind that either used…. other than their body’s look like it. If race was a factor, under your logic, both would have gotten passes & would be giving HOF speeches, while Frank Thomas would be getting vilified for looking like a user. It didn’t happen that way, did it? Don’t you hate when facts get in the way of your “race is everything” narrative?

    • Dan Shea says:

      Frank – Clemens and McGwire fail criterion number 2 (broke “unbreakable records”). And Larkin and Thomas are not linked to PEDs, and in fact are kind of the poster children for eating your veggies and staying clean, so citing them is beside the point. The counter-example you’re looking for would be someone who was good enough to be loved, not good enough to break records, took PEDs and was loved nonetheless, and was black.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Dan, that’s a pretty short list of guys who were good enough to be loved, not good enough to break records, tooks PEDs and were loved…. regardless of race. Pettite is the example given here. Name one more. Like I said though, I can go counter to that with the Bagwell/Piazza example. There are whispers, hell, I even believe them…. but there’s no proof they did anything wrong, but they’re being hung out to dry…. and they’re white. Personally, I could lump Thomas, with his freakish size in with Bagwell as a black counter example. The white guys certainly aren’t getting a pass, but Thomas gets lilacs blown up his rear. How do you know Thomas didn’t use? Because the press told you so? Because he told you so? Same as Bagwell and Piazza.

  19. Hey, Whitey Ford cheated too.

    I will be surprised if Pettitte gets any serious HOF consideration, though.

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  21. Frank says:

    Joe – I don’t think Pettitte gets as much of a pass on PED’s as you think. When it comes time for his first HoF vote, I bet he gets less than 25%.

    I think some of the others get more scorn because they were so arrogant about it. Pettitte was not the one who waggled his finger at Congress. Pettitte was not the one who suddenly couldn’t speak English. Pettitte didn’t make a flax seed oil or B-12 claim. I could go on about the guys who took the public for fools.

    Still, Pettitte’s claim that he “only took PED’s for injury recovery” rings hollow – as if that made it ok.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Funny. Yeah some of the guys really looked lame in front of Congress. Don’t forget the “I don’t want to talk about the past. I came here to talk about the future”. Ha. I often wonder if McGwire would have came completely clean if he would be viewed differently. If he would have just said, yeah, I did it. I wish I didn’t. It was pretty prevalent and I could have chosen not to do it, but I made the wrong choice. My fault. I own it. He pretty much admitted it the way it went down, but it could have been done so much better. Maybe his lawyer told him not to speak on it, but I am sure he was embarrassed too and didn’t want to completely own up.

  22. Al B says:

    Joe, I love your stuff, but the last Andy Pettitte article was better written, more explanatory and very recent.

    The fact is we can’t tell who used, how much, or why. We CAN use our normal sincerity detection methods when we hear people speak about their sins/failings/mistakes. Alot of people think Pettitte has told the truth about the extent of his use — and the fact that he took a couple of weeks to tell the whole story seemed understandable.

    But, hey, fine, that’s not what you think. Okay.

    Almost no one really thinks that he belongs in the HOF. He was a good/very good pitcher for a long time, and is still a tolerable starter for a middling team. I’m glad to have seen him pitch, but he wasn’t Clemens (not guilty, by the way) or Pedro or Randy Johnson.

    And he wasn’t Mariano.

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  27. Dave Hanson says:

    WAR is still a subjective stat, it doesn’t necessarily close ‘who is the all-time best’ arguments, but definitely gives you an idea. I have a bit of trouble calling Kevin Appier the greatest Royals pitcher (all-time leader in K’s, and should have won the Cy Young in 1993) when compared to Bret Saberhagen (World Series MVP, 2 Cy Youngs won legitimately).

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