Jobu weighs in on former Yankee and Oriole Mike Mussina‘s chances at getting into Cooperstown.
I imagine the best part of being in the Hall of Fame is that you don’t have to pay to get in. I mean that figuratively as a play on words, of course, but I do actually hope those guys don’t have to pay to get into the museum. That would be ridiculous. Anyway, the Hall of Fame ballot came out a week or two ago, and it’s chock full of big time HOF potential names like Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Craig Biggio and Greg Maddux. I know there’s a DH bias working against Thomas, but those guys should probably all make The Hall without issue. There are a couple of borderline guys, however, and one of them is Mike Mussina, the man the call “Moose.” Should he get in? Let’s take a look, shall we?
Let’s start by looking at Mussina’s career numbers. Mussina, a Stanford University grad, was drafted by the Orioles in the first round of the 1990 draft. He would make his big league debut the very next year, and ended up making 12 starts during his first tour of duty in the bigs, going 4-5 with a 2.87 ERA for a terrible Orioles team. He never looked back from there, immediately becoming the O’s ace the next season and winning 143 games in the next nine seasons. When his time in Baltimore was up, he signed a 6 year, $88.5MM deal with the Yankees. He immediately became their ace, helping them to the playoffs every single year he was there. At the end of that deal, he re-signed with the bombers, where he played out his final three major league seasons. As a Yankee, Mussina won 123 games in 8 seasons, including finally winning 20 games on the last day of his last season in the majors. He also almost made history in 2001, as he came within one out, and a Carl Everett bloop single, of a perfect game against the Red Sox.
*Overall, his numbers look pretty impressive. In 18 seasons, he started 536 games, won 270 of them and only lost 153. He ended his career with a 3.68 ERA, a 1.192 WHIP and 2,813 Ks, while only walking 785 guys (exactly 2 per nine innings). He made five All-Star teams and won 7 Gold Glove Awards for fun, which is very impressive. The most amazing thing about his final season in the bigs, which was in 2008, was how he bounced back. Like most pitchers, Mussina went through a period where he lost his velocity and had to figure out how to pitch without it. In 2007, he was abysmal, going 11-10, but putting up career worsts in ERA (5.15) and WHIP (1.467). He also only struck out 91 batters in 152 innings. Both of those were his lowest since becoming a regular member of a big league rotation. This counts the strike shortened 1994 season too.
Everyone thought Mussina was done, The problem was that he was trying to make all of the same pitches he used to make, but was throwing in the high 80s and not the mid 90s, and big league batters were smacking him around. Something happened that off-season, and Mussina came back a changed man. He harnessed the power (or movement, really) of the two-seam fastball, and that’s really all it took. He led the league in starts in 2008 with 34, pitched 200.1 innings, dropped his ERA to 3.37 and his WHIP to 1.223 and struck out 150 batters in his first ever 20 win season. It was crazy to me that one of the better pitchers over the last two decades had never won 20 games. He won 18 three times and 19 twice. I think the players’ strike kept him from the milestone. In 1994, he had 16 wins in early August when the strike happened, and he won 19 in 1995, which was also slightly shortened by the strike. C’est la vie, right? Anyway, Mussina was brilliant that year. His two-seamer would start its trajectory looking like it was heading for the lefty batter’s stomach, and suddenly it would dart over the inside corner. I have no statistical evidence to support this, but i felt like half of his Ks came on those pitches.
Anyway, those are his accomplishments, but Mussina also came up short in a number of ways as well. While I don’t think 300 wins is the only way to get into the Hall of Fame, it’s one of those numbers that usually gets you enshrined. Mussina chose to walk away at 39 with 270 wins, rather than hang around to try to get 300. Mussina also never won the Cy Young award. He had five top five finishes, and he closest he ever came was finishing second to David Cone in 1994. Maybe the strike robbed him of that too? He also never led the Yankees (or the Orioles) to any World Series championships, losing the Fall Classic in 2001 and 2003 with New York. He has a reputation for not coming up big in the playoffs too, but looking at his stats, they’re not so bad (7-8 3.42 ERA in 23 career games and 21 starts).
Maybe if he had gotten to 300 wins, pitched that perfect game, won 20 games those three times he could have, won a Cy Young and a World Series, this would be a no brainer. However, If he had won 20 games the years he came so close (counting 1994), he’d have 276 wins instead of 270, so I tend to discredit that statistic. Plus, he led the league in one of those 19 win campaigns, which is really all you can ask for. The lack of Cy Youngs hurts, but he had some pretty absurd years for some bad Orioles teams, and you can’t really control if other pitchers have better years than you, so you could discredit that (or make the argument that HOFers should always be the best). The World Series thing doesn’t bother me, because he was part of teams that didn’t win World Series. That’s not an individual accolade.
Basically, I just wrote this whole post in the hopes of figuring out the answer to this question, and I’ve gotten nowhere. My gut says that Mussina was just one of those great and reliable players, but never quite reached that upper eschelon of domination. I don’t think the writers will vote him in. If Jobu’s Rum had bought a HOF vote like Deadspin (brilliant work by them), I don’t think I’d give Mussina the nod this year, especially in such a strong class of pitchers. I’m going to leave Mussina to the Veterans Committee. Hopefully he won’t whine his way in like terrible Goose Gossage. I hate that guy.
Featured image courtesy of: Hauck Interactive, Inc.
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