One of the greatest careers in New York Yankees history is coming to an end.
The 41-year-old left-handed pitcher has two more scheduled starts—Sunday vs. the San Francisco Giants and next weekend in his hometown of Houston vs. the Astros—to add to his ledger of 255 career victories. Barring a miracle sprint to the finish by New York, Pettitte will not be afforded a trip to the postseason to add to his October legacy of 19 victories and five World Series rings.
Few could have predicted the success story of a 22nd-round pick in 1990, but as Pettitte prepares to depart from Major League Baseball for good, his career deserves celebration.
Competing for 15 of 18 seasons as a New York Yankee, Pettitte did more than enough to put himself among the all-time greats to ever wear the pinstripes. According to Baseball-Reference.com's Wins Above Replacement metric, Pettitte is the 12th-most valuable player in the history of the franchise.
Considering the 9.4 WAR he racked up, despite battling elbow issues, from 2004 to 2006 in Houston, it's safe to assume Pettitte would be one of the six most valuable players in the history of baseball's most successful franchise had his career not taken him away from New York for three seasons.
When you look at the top five names on that list, Pettitte's career and achievements become even more remarkable. Between Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Derek Jeter resides the pantheon of Yankees greatness dating back almost 100 years. Pettitte's value wasn't quite in that category, but his longevity and ability placed him in the next tier.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the list above: the arrival, within a matter of a few years, of Jeter, Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams. After a difficult start to the 1990s, the Yankees called up four players who all ended up as top-15 contributors in franchise history.
The end of Pettitte's career will conjure up many memories for baseball fans in New York, but nothing will stand out more than big-game performances and October success. Led by the four young, dominant stars of the late '90s, the Yankees reeled off four World Series titles in a matter of five seasons.
A look through Pettitte's video highlight archives at MLB.com reveals transcendent performances in the month of October. Considering the Yankees took their first step toward a dynasty in October of 1996, it's hard to imagine a more memorable night for Pettitte than Game 5 of the 1996 World Series.
Against a future Hall of Fame pitcher in John Smoltz, the 24-year-old Yankees lefty put his stamp on the Fall Classic by pitching into the ninth inning and not allowing a single run. One of the greatest pitching duels in World Series history was a performance by Andy Pettitte.
Hundreds and hundreds of words from the start of this piece, the headline question still must be answered fully: Where does Andy Pettitte rank among the all-time Yankees greats?
As detailed, an objective look at his career puts him in the top 15 in Yankees history, but considering the success, longevity and championships secured during his career, acknowledging Pettitte as one of the 10 best players in franchise history is not a stretch.
Among starting pitchers, only Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry appear on the list along with Pettitte. The Bronx Bombers have been known for impact bats over the years, but the three left-handed Yankees pitching stars stood out and deserve inclusion among the great bats.
The following table puts the careers of Ford, Guidry and Pettitte into context using ERA-plus. Due to the vastly different eras they played in (Ford in the 1950s and '60s, Guidry in the '70s and '80s, Pettitte since 1995), adjusting their career earned run averages to fit the time gives us an indication of who performed the best in their respective days.
Using ERA-plus, Ford is clearly the top starter of the three, but Pettitte and Guidry are very, very close. The greatest starter in Yankees history remains Whitey Ford, but given his slight edge over Guidry and 19 postseason wins, Andy Pettitte walks away from New York as the second-best starting pitcher in the long, storied history of the franchise.
In perhaps the most fitting tribute a team can afford a player, it will likely be a long, long time until the New York Yankees can develop, cultivate and keep a pitcher good and durable enough to provide over 50 WAR and multiple World Championships to their franchise.
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