Friday, February 4, 2011

The Ripple Effect

By The Common Man

Now that he’s retiring, everybody seems to be wondering whether Andy Pettitte is going to be a Hall of Famer. The answer is likely that he doesn’t deserve to on merit, but there’s a distinct chance that his fame and his postseason success could push him over the top. But Pettitte is more interesting for how his candidacy touches on and affects the candidacy of others. What does The Common Man mean?

The Steroid Issue:

In 2007, Andy Pettitte admitted to using Human Growth Hormones to help him recover from an elbow injury. His apology for and explanation of his use was relatively well received. Michael Wilbon fogave him on PTI. Then with ESPN, Steve Phillips wrote that “Andy Pettitte is a good person and a great competitor and that’s not going to change. So I think in this regard he did help himself.” Similarly, Tim Kurkjian wrote, “I mean, if we really look at this in 2002. A guy who used HGH a couple of times in order to get his elbow better so he can come back and help his team. If that is an offense that demands a suspension, then boy we are going to have a whole lot of suspensions out there…. There is a really big difference between using anabolic steroids and HGH a couple of times. HGH helps in recovery. It doesn’t make you bigger and stronger technically. Since then, his use has gone largely unremarked upon and Pettitte has escaped the public shaming that has befallen Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, and others, even though some of those players apologized as well.

If Pettitte receives significant support for the Hall of Fame, especially among writers who haven’t voted for PED users in the past, what will it mean for other “tainted” players? Guys like McGwire and Bonds, Palmeiro and Clemens? What will it mean for Jeff Bagwell, who never was implicated in steroid rumors, but has been painted with the same brush? If writers are willing to look past Pettitte’s use, would they also be able to see their way clear to evaluate other users in the context in which they played? And if not, wouldn’t that basically discredit the entire electoral process?

Borderline Candidates:

Much has been made about the supposed backlog of incredible candidates that starts in 2013. Consider:

Bonds, Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, and Craig Biggio

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent, Mike Mussina

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz

Pettitte is going to be on the ballot for the first time in 2016, with other first timers Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. And maybe even Vlad Guerrero, if he can’t find a job that suits him. Assuming that Barry Larkin, Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Johnson, Martinez, and Biggio all get in before then, that will leave a ballot in 2016 that may consist of (depending on how the voting shakes out before then): Pettitte, Griffey, Hoffman, Wagner, Bagwell, Kent, Schilling, Mussina, Smoltz, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro as players who are seriously deserving of consideration. With that many players on the ballot worth considering, it’s hard to see Pettitte getting much play. But let’s pretend for a minute that he does.

The Common Man has listed 17 guys who will be Hall of Fame eligible in 2016, who are worthy of consideration, and who will all probably still be on the ballot (Jack Morris falls off in 2014, by the way). Under the current rules, writers can only vote for 10 guys on a single ballot. Which means that the electorate is going to be very fractured in 2016. Here’s a look at all the candidates, as ranked by Wins Above Replacement:

Ken Griffey, Jr.85.678.582.1
Jeff Bagwell83.979.981.9
Mike Mussina85.674.880.2
Curt Schilling86.169.777.9
John Smoltz82.563.973.2
Rafael Palmeiro75.566.070.8
Larry Walker72.267.369.9
Edgar Martinez71.667.269.4
Alan Trammell69.566.968.2
Tim Raines71.064.667.8
Mark McGwire70.663.166.9
Jeff Kent61.959.460.7
Andy Pettitte66.950.258.6
Fred McGriff61.350.555.9
Lee Smith29.030.329.7
Billy Wagner24.729.727.2
Trevor Hoffman22.930.726.8

Pettitte comes in pretty low on that list, far below the other starters, Mussina, Schilling, and Smoltz, who will be hanging around. The only guys who finish lower than he and McGriff are the relievers, and they’re a weird bunch. So it’s pretty clear that Pettitte should rank lower on ballots than these other guys. But when intangibles and the randomness of the voters is thrown into the mix, chances are that Pettitte is going to draw significant support away from other guys who are down on the ballot. Guys like McGwire, Trammell, Palmeiro, McGriff, McGwire, Walker, and Raines. It will become increasingly difficult for candidates to build momentum for their candidacy, especially as Pettitte hangs around longer and longer. It also is possible that, in the rush to give Pettitte support in his first year of eligibility, he may push some of these players (in particular McGriff, Palmeiro, McGwire, and Walker) below the 5% threshold.

Postseason Heroes:

One of the central selling points for Pettitte, which has been repeated a lot yesterday and today, has been the notion that he’s a postseason hero, and has the most postseason victories of any pitcher in baseball history. Bill’s got a good explanation as to why that’s misleading. But the fact remains that it will be persuasive for some voters. And as they think about postseason heroics, their attention will inevitably turn back to Jack Morris and to Curt Schilling (who fares much better in the above system than TCM anticipated and is clearly deserving of induction). Will these three be lumped together by writers who weigh postseason moments and contributions more heavily? (By the way, Morris drops off in 2014, and Smoltz jumps on in 2015, meaning the two miss a Game 7 rematch by a single season. Bummer.)


All in all, Andy Pettitte may be a Hall of Famer, if you are a Big Hall kind of guy (which TCM is). But it’s hard to see him making it in his first few years of eligibility. And it's impossible to legitimately push him past other more deserving candidates on the list.  He may hang onto the bottom of the ballot for a while, and get a Morris or Blyleven-esque rise in his totals in down years, but his indication (if it happens) is still a long way off. What is more interesting is how his case will interact with these other candidates, and in some cases, muck them up.

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