Mike Mussina Deserved Better

After the Hall of Fame announcements, I’ve got some players on my mind. Marc would be surprised at this, but I am obsessing about Mike Mussina. I can’t say I was a huge Mike Mussina fan but I did appreciate him. I loved him in the 2003 playoffs against the Red Sox when he lost Games 1 and 4. I loved when he came into Game 7, after the Sox knocked out Clemens in the top of the fourth. I remember thinking “We’ve had Mussina’s number all series, now it’s time for the kill!” The Sox were up 4-0 and there was joy in Beantown. In fact, I think Marc and I spoke on the phone. Marc always called Mussina a particularly unflattering name. I’m not really sure where this venom came from. Maybe it was from our days of strat-o-matic or just his view of Mussina. He never thought Mussina was worth much in big games and Mussina’s 7-8 post season record sort of supported that line of thinking.* I laughed along with Marc. Sweet, bring on Mussina! The Sox are going to the World Series!

*But really, he pitched pretty well in the post season. In 139 post season innings he had a 3.42 ERA, a 1.103 WHIP, 145 SOs and a SO/BB ratio of 4.39. Glavine in his post season career tossed 218 innings with a 3.30 ERA, 1.273 WHIP, 143 SOs and a SO/BB ratio of 1.64.

Mussina came in with runners on first and third and no one out. I rubbed my hands together, ready for further damage and the undoing of the Yankees. Two batters later I had my head in my hands. Mussina struck out Varitek on three pitches and then got ahead of Damon 0-2 before inducing an inning ending double play; six pitches, six strikes. Damn. Mussina pitched two more scoreless innings and then, later, Grady Little did his eighth inning thing with Pedro. But for Mussina in the fourth, I lamented to Marc. Ugghh!

Because of 2003, I’ve had no great love for Mike Mussina. I’ve respected him, but never really thought much about his career. It’s greatness just snuck up on me.

But, before I get further into Mussina, a little aside.

———————————-

Why do I bother to respond to the baseball talk radio guys, like I did yesterday? I keep wondering that. To my benefit, at least I don’t call in because that just feeds, in my opinion, the sloppy thinking. Those “conversations” on talk radio aren’t really conversations and they certainly are not discussions or debates. The calls are nothing more then fodder to feed the beast that is chaos. Can you really take a rationale stand about a Hall of Fame candidate when you discount the statistics of the player because they were accrued during the steroid era? That is what Michael Felger said and did yesterday. Does he not understand the statistics that account for difference in eras? I guess not. But, more fundamentally, how do you come to a rational, justifiable position when your basis is – “I saw him play and never thought – there goes one of the best players of this era.” There is no way to justify that or refute that and that is the problem with our world today. Positions are taken without any rationale basis and every position is viewed as commendable. Yes, you are entitled to that opinion we say. Well, honestly, some opinions are not entitled to much of anything and allowing them to go unchecked is the problem. This post by Michael Baumann sets this out very well. I recommend reading it.

——————————–

Now, back to my Mike Mussina thoughts.

Let us start with an interesting tidbit – Mike Mussina is one of only three pitchers to finish his career with a 20 win season and have an ERA+ over 100.

  1. Sandy Koufax 1966 27-9  ERA+ 190
  2. Mike Mussina 2008 20-9  ERA+ 131
  3. Eddie Cicotte 1920 21-10 ERA+ 115

In the history of the game, only 13 pitchers have ended their careers with a 15 or higher win season and an ERA+ over 100.  Most guys seem to hang on until the bitter end. Mike Mussina did not hang around.

Mussina and the Hall –

Here is where I am coming from – if Tom Glavine can get 91.9% of the Hall of Fame vote, then it makes no sense that Mike Mussina, also in his first year of eligibility, only received 20.3% of the vote. There is not much difference between the two, in fact there is an argument that Mussina was better. Lets take a look at both Glavine’s and Mussina’s top WAR (Wins Above Replacement) seasons as calculated by baseball-reference (also seen abbreviated as rWAR or bWAR, see here for a comparison and explanation).

Mike Mussina Tom Glavine
WAR Year WAR Year
8.2 1992 8.5 1991
7.1 2001 6.1 1998
6.6 2003 5.8 1996
6.1 1995 5.5 1997
5.6 2000 4.9 2000
5.5 1997 4.8 1995
5.4 1994 4.1 2005
5.2 2008 4.1 2002
5.0 2006 4.0 2004
5.0 1998 3.8 1992
4.5 2002 3.6 2001

Career WAR? Glavine 81. Mussina 83.

What this really points out is the irrationality of the Hall of Fame voting. Perception is more important then facts. Mussina consistently pitched better then Glavine. What does Glavine have that Mussina does not? Glavine pitched 800 more innings then Mussina and that is what helped push him past the magical 300 win line. What does Glavine have that Mussina does not? Mainly, award candy.

  • 300 Wins v. 270 Wins
  • 2 Cy Youngs v. No Cy Youngs
  • 10 All Star Appearances v. 5 All Star Appearances

300 Wins. If you know much about baseball analysis, you know wins don’t tell you much about a pitcher – particularly in the modern era. Glavine pitched four more years then Mussina. Longevity is important, but I think Mussina made a decision that he did not want to continue on as a mediocre pitcher just so he could chase 300 wins.  

Cy Young awards and All Star appearances are about voting, not necessarily about a sophisticated statistical analysis of performance. In my mind the number of awards you’ve won doesn’t indicate how great you were. I mention Derek Jeter and his gold gloves for a prime example of this. I’m not saying Jeter isn’t great, I’m saying he is an overrated fielder and there were others more worthy of many of those gold glove awards. Here is an interesting take on the whole Jeter Defense Debate. Was Glavine more worthy of the Cy Young award then say Dennis Martinez or Lee Smith in 1991? Was he more worthy then Kevin Brown, Trevor Hoffman or his own teammate Greg Maddux in 1998? Arguably it was the magic of 20 wins that got him those awards in those seasons. Using awards as a Hall of Fame marker/justification is just another flawed way of going about making a decision.

Mike Mussina should be in the Hall of Fame. Electing Glavine with 91% of the vote and only 20% of the BBWAA voting for Mussina is nonsense.

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2 thoughts on “Mike Mussina Deserved Better

  1. Marc Ducharme

    Chris,

    That’s a very compelling argument for “the moose” to be in the Hall of Fame. I hadn’t realized that his numbers matched up so squarely with Glavine. Not quite sure why Glavine gets so much more of the limelight. I too believe that Mussina was one the elite pitchers of his era and given that it’s the stroid era, even more so. As for my irrational criticism that he’s a choker in big games, well, he did finish with a sub .500 won/loss record for the post season. Whatever that means. Given that his post season ERA was just under his career mark, it probably means that his opponent and respective bullpen was probably better 6 times out of 10? He earns a reprieve there. I also recall that he absolutely was very un-Mussina like in a post season start for the O’s against the dreaded Yankees, maybe in ’95? I didn’t look it up. Immortals should not lose their powers in the ultimate olympic spectacle of the post season. Choker. Additionally, he then left Baltimore for the hated Yankees and a chance to win their World Series ring. I hate it when athletes do that. So…having imploded against the Yankees in a play off series for Baltimore and then having the selfish gumption to jump ship and join the pinstripes was too much for me and my closeted O’s fandom. Screw Mussina. So whenever the Sox kicked his ass in 03 I was overjoyed and yes, when he entered game seven in 03 I was sure the game was over. But no, the Sox buckled under his insipid “knuckle-curve”! Wanker. I hated him for that. And kept that animosity for the remainder of his career. Your blog helped me remember how much I enjoyed him earlier as an Oriole, having gone out of my way while in the DC area one spring evening years ago to watch him pitch, getting a seat right behind home plate. He was spectacular and sweetening the pot, helped me that season to win a Roto championship.

    Reply
    1. Chris Post author

      I think it was 1996 that you recall thinking Mussina coughed up a furball against the Yankees – 7 2/3, 8 HIts, 5 Earned Runs. But, it really was not as bad as it looks. He started game 3 and was up 2-1 heading into the 8th. He got the first two batters and then gave up a double to Jeter, a single to Bernie, a double to Tino and then a three run jack to, of all people, the Fat Boy – Cecil Fielder. I had forgotten Cecil was on the Yankees in 96. Mussina had only thrown 93 pitches going into the 8th.

      You know who the game 1 and 2 starters were? Scott Erickson and David Wells. Those names bring back memories.

      Reply

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