Thursday, July 31, 2008

Make room for "Moose"

There is little question that we’ve seen the greatest collection of elite pitchers in any one era in MLB history. Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez are four of the ten best pitchers of all-time. John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Johan Santana and Curt Schilling aren’t in the same league as the aforementioned four but all are among the top 75 players in MLB history. With such a brilliant group of hurlers, it’s easy to see why Mike Mussina might get tossed aside. Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, and Martinez have been so good that it’s easy to dismiss pitchers who don’t equal their dominance as not worthy of the HOF. Heck, it’s happened with Schilling who has clearly had a Hall of Fame career. It’s important to remember that those four pitchers are pitchers for the ages. They are so much better than most Hall of Famers that to judge a pitcher like Mussina against them is simply unfair. Mussina deserves to be judged on his own merit. So, I’ll attempt to do that.

Most baseball people (fans, analysts, executives etc.) would probably tell you that Mussina is not a Hall of Famer without giving it much thought. Mario Impemba and Rod Allen advocate the “look test” to judge whether a player should be in the HOF or not. The “look test”, of course, refers to looking at a player’s name and coming up with an answer in three seconds. Thankfully, the “look test” isn’t mandatory for election. Unfortunately, too many people use the “look test” as legitimate research. Impemba and Allen have used it numerous times to give the “thumbs down” to Jim Thome. If Thome isn’t a Hall of Famer then they’ll have to start rescinding membership starting with Harmon Killebrew. If the “look test” keeps a player like Thome out of the HOF, then it’s not worth Nate Robertson’s ERA (6.06). I suspect Mussina will fall victim to the “look test”. I’m not saying he deserves to be elected. I’m just saying he probably won’t get a fair look unless he reaches 300 wins.

Mussina has had a long and successful career that should continue for a number of years now that he has evolved into a finesse/command pitcher. He has been maligned for a). not having a 20-win season and b). not winning a Cy Young. Certainly, it helps your case to accomplish those feats. However, no pitcher has ever finished in the top six of the Cy Young voting as many times as Mussina (8) and not made the HOF. There are a number of Hall of Famers who a). never won a Cy Young and b). didn’t come close to finishing in the top six of the Cy Young voting eight times. Plus, a strong argument could be made that Mussina should have won the Cy Young in 2001 when he had better numbers across the board than his teammate, Roger Clemens. So, it would be nice if the notion that not winning 20-games and not winning a Cy Young precludes a pitcher from reaching the HOF. Look no further than Juan Marichal.

Mike Mussina1222633488.7.635274881.19
Juan Marichal1232433507.33.631230301.1

Mussina is definitely not a “slam dunk” HOFer. In fact, it takes a bit of research—research that Mussina deserves—to come to the conclusion that he probably should be a HOFer. This discussion may become moot as Mussina inches closer to the 300-win plateau. However, if Mussina pitches three more seasons (almost a formality barring injury) he’ll reach 4,000 innings pitched. At that point—even without 300 wins—Mussina will have reached a mark that should guarantee his inclusion into the “Hall”. No pitcher in MLB history has pitched at least 4,000 innings with an ERA+ of 120 or better and not been elected into the Hall of Fame. Mussina is at 122. Similarly, no pitcher in MLB history has pitched at least 4,000 innings with a winning percentage of at least .630 and not been elected in the Hall of Fame. Mussina is at .635.

The only way I see Mussina not deserving is if he pitches horribly over the next two seasons, doesn’t reach 300 wins, and falls below a 120 ERA+ and a .630 winning percentage. He would then lose all the precedent that is currently on his side and his case would go the way of Tommy John’s. Ironically, even if that does happen, his numbers will be as impressive as Bert Blyleven who currently holds the title as “best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame.” If Mussina falls off, I don’t expect him to get the same grassroots support as Blyleven but I could be wrong. Although, anyone who thinks Blyleven should be in the “Hall” probably should think the same thing about Mussina.

Mike Mussina1222633488.7.635274881.19
Bert Blyleven1182874970.534370131.2

As for the odds of Mussina reaching 300 wins, they are really good. He should be close to 270 wins by the end of this season. If he continues to pitch for the Yankees or another "good" team, then that would put him 2+ years away from the milestone. So, it might be a good idea for baseball fans to start preparing for Mussina, the Hall of Famer.


Bill Morran said...

He'll have 20 wins after this year, and he'll get at least a bit of Cy Young consideration. Book it.

Anonymous said...

excellent column. i agree with you 100%. long live the moose.

.-∙° Nick °∙-. said...

Should Mike Mussina be in the HOF?

Not at all.

0 Cy Youngs
0 perfect games
0 no-hitters
0 World Series Titles
0 MVPs


He played 18 years, 10 with Baltimore and 8 with New York. Ironically, the New York Yankees started out as the Baltimore Orioles.

During his time with the Birds:

Five-time all-star
(on a team that was an o.k. team except for ‘91 and 2000, the first and last years he was with them)
MVP voting twice
Cy Young voting 7 of 10 years
Lowest Team ERA 8 of 10 years
Average an 18% share of his team’s wins

During his time with the Yanks:

Never made the all-stars
MVP and Cy young voting only one year (2008)
Lowest Team ERA 4 of 8 years
Only one year had 18% share of his team’s wins (in 2008)

The biggest thing I noticed was the fact that his completed games dropped off significantly during his time with the Yankees as did quality starts, but his innings per year didn’t. He started more games, but won less. He won more than 50% of the games he started in Baltimore, but less than 50% in New York. Even with a better team, better pitching staff, and a much better General Manager, Mussina did not fair as well as he did with the Orioles.

Mussina averaged a win less per year with the Orioles, but almost a 3% share of wins more. The Yanks averaged 32 games above .500 when Moose played with them, but when he played with the Orioles, they averaged 3 games above .500. When you look at his post-season numbers, it’s more clear why Mussina is not a Hall of Famer. He can’t win when it counts, the post-season. He’s two games over .500 in the post season and faired the same no matter which team he played for.

He played in an era where 250 wins weren’t as important a milestone as 300 wins were. He played in an era where performance enhancers ran rampant. I have been saying for a long while that players need to prove they were clean since most are hiding behind the MLBPA and not speaking up about what went on. Especially when you play on teams that had so many PROVEN users, it’s not hard to speculate that Mussina could have pitched 200 innings per year due to a little “boost.”

When Mussina left the Orioles they sucked bad, but before that they were a decent team. He never had Ace numbers and had an excellent closing staff at New York. This one, to me, is a no brainer, and I live in Williamsport, PA.


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