Note: I have no idea if I’m the first to do this, but quite frankly I don’t care.
I feel as though this will be the article where my disclaimer is put to full use, as this seems to be a comparison that is an easy one to make, but no one (at least from what I can tell) is making it. Andy Pettitte and Mark Buehrle have very similar career ERA’s (3.88 and 3.85, respectively); they were both late-round draft picks, as I covered earlier, and…well, that’s basically where the similarities end.
Buehrle is obviously famous for his durability, having never gone on the DL, and while Pettitte has had some durability issues recently, he’s been pretty durable for his career, with 10 seasons of 200 innings in his first 14 years in the majors. Obviously, Pettitte has considerably more innings pitched (3255.1 to 2829.1), as he’s existed for five more years.
One key difference between the two is peripherals. Pettitte’s career K% is a solid¹ 17.4%, whereas Buehrle’s is, well, a less solid 13.8%. While Buehrle also has better career control than Pettitte (5.5% to 7.3% BB%), Pettitte is a little more groundball inclined (48.6% to 45.4% GB%).
Put it all together, and Pettitte has a career xFIP² of 3.70, whereas Buehrle’s sits at 4.21, a 51-point difference that would suggest that these two men are not very similar. Their respective WAR values (4.1 WAR/200 IP for Pettitte, 3.3 for Buehrle) also works to support this conclusion. However, this is FanGraphs WAR, based off of FIP; looking at their Baseball-Reference WAR–i.e. runs-allowed WAR–it would appear that Buehrle is better than Pettitte (3.8 to 3.6)³.
While we’re on the subject, let’s see some other pitchers in that general vicinity of career rWAR/200 innings, that I may or may not have picked selectively to further my argument⁴.
Are several of these pitchers people from the days of yore whom you’ve never heard of? Yes. Are they all Hall of Famers? Also yes.
So why is Pettitte considered to to have a strong case for the Hall of Fame, while Buehrle is borderline at best? It all comes back to that key pitcher stat: wins. Because, as the article cites, Pettitte is part of an elite group: only 46 pitchers have 250 career wins, and 32 of them are in the Hall⁵. Buehrle, meanwhile, is toiling away with a meager 182 wins, only 157th all-time.
Obviously, wins are a completely meaningless statistic, and Pettitte having that many career wins is almost entirely circumstantial. The above article mentions that Pettitte played on playoff teams for 14 of his first 17 seasons, compared to only two for Buehrle’s first 13 seasons, and, of course, Pettitte has played most of his career with one of the best closers of all time, whereas Buehrle played much of his career with a guy who partakes in, uh, unusual fowl ingestion techniques.
There’s also the fact that Pettitte played most of his career in New York, the attention pimp⁶ of cities; while Chicago is one of the larger cities in the U.S., its media shrivels up and dies in comparison to the Big Apple’s. How much this contributed to Pettitte’s alleged divaism–and confirmed indecisiveness–will never be known; what we do know is that Buehrle is humble about himself and his achievements, probably more so than Pettitte.
In many ways, the situation with Pettitte and Buehrle mirrors that of NFL linebackers Ray Lewis and London Fletcher; both Lewis and Fletcher have very similar career stats, but the former is a surefire Hall of Famer, while the latter has more of an outside shot. Some have theorized that the reason for Lewis’s increased fame are twofold: first, that he came from a high-profile school (Miami) as a high-round draft pick (26th in the first round), as opposed to a low-profile school (John Carroll) as an undrafted free agent; obviously, since both Pettitte and Buehrle are both very low-round draft picks (22nd and 38th, respectively) from very low-profile schools (San Jacinto and Jefferson, respectively), this is obviously irrelevant.
And the second reason for Lewis being more popular than Fletcher? Well, this. In short, what Mr. Easterbrook’s theory states is that Lewis–and possibly, by connection, all similarly-inclined athletes–act the way they act in order to promote their own fame, and build up a case for the Hall of Fame. This could easily be applied to to Pettitte and Buehrle; the former is considerably more self-promoting, while the latter is much more willing to give his teammates credit.
So, while this may have been a largely pointless article, the main message remains clear–two pitchers are very similar in most respects, instead of their reputation, and that reputation may have a lasting effect on their immortality. Why are men judged by their reputations instead of their accomplishments? Now there’s a question worth answering.⁷
¹Remember, this was mainly accrued during the steroid era, when that level was (roughly) average.
²Please note that xFIP only goes back to 2002, and Buehrle’s and Pettitte’s careers (and their career ERAs cited above) go back to 2000 and 1995, respectively.
³If aggregate WAR values are more your thing: Buehrle has nearly 20 fewer career wins than Pettitte by fWAR (47.3 to 67.0) but is less than five wins worse than him by rWAR (54.0 to 58.5).
⁶I.e. one that makes attention whores out of the famous.
⁷Believe me when I say I did not intend that to sound as deep as it did.