Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hall of Fame Pitchers

Which one of these pitchers isn’t in the Hall Of Fame?

A: 224 – 184 record, 3.27 ERA (14% below league average), 2.4 BB/9, 6.8 K/9,
1.18 WHIP, 6 time All-Star

B: 273 – 225 record, 3.80 ERA (9% below league average), 3.2 BB/9, 4.1 K/9,
1.34 WHIP, 6 time All-Star

C: 243 – 142 record, 2.89 ERA (23% below league average), 1.8 BB/9, 5.9 K/9,
1.10 WHIP, 9 time All-Star

D: 250 – 144 record, 3.70 ERA (22% below league average), 2.0 BB/9, 7.1 K/9,
1.18 WHIP, 5 time All-Star

E: 224 – 166 record, 3.26 ERA (4% below league average), 2.5 BB/9, 5.3 K/9,
1.13 WHIP, 8 time All-Star, 1 Cy Young

If you said B because of the high ERA, higher walk-rate and low strike-out rate, then you’re wrong. That is Hall of Famer Red Ruffing. E because his ERA is only slightly better than the league average for the time he played? Nope – that’s Jim “Catfish” Hunter. It’s actually D: Mike Mussina.
[A is Jim Bunning and C is Juan Marichal]

Mike Mussina is one of my all-time favorite players. Maybe it's because he started playing for the O's about the same time as I started to get interested in baseball, but I associate the Moose (not Cal, or Brady, or whoever) with Baltimore having a good team. I know he left the team to go to the Yankees (unthinkable!) but I don't really blame him for it (much) and I still think he deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown one day. One of my favorite things about Mussina is his repertoire. With the Orioles he relied mostly on his low-90s fastball (got up to 95 when he needed to), his change-up (rated among the best in baseball), and the thing he's most well known for (in addition to his unique motion to the set position) his knuckle-curve. In later years he threw cut-fastballs (in addition to the two and four-seamers), splitters and sliders as well. He could (and would) throw any pitch in any count to any hitter.

Mussina (born 12 -8-1968 in Williamsport, PA) was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round (#20) of the 1990 draft out of Stanford University (where he received a degree in economics. Mussina seems like a pretty smart guy: other than the econ. degree he is also a well-known fan of cross-word puzzles (and appeared in the documentary Wordplay) and reportedly was almost the valedictorian at his high school, but purposefully earned a lower mark so as to avoid having to give the commencement address.)

Having only spent a short time in the minors, Mussina was called up for a few starts in 1991; completing 2 out of 12 starts and sporting a 2.87 ERA. In his first full season ('92) Mussina won 18 games, had a 2.54 ERA, and pitched four shutouts. The 241 innings though, may be a primary cause in the shoulder injuries he experienced the following year. Mussina would go on to win at least 10 games for 16 consecutive years (that streak continues, and is an AL record) for the Orioles and Yankees. His ERA numbers have fluctuated from that career low of 2.54 to a high of 5.15 in 2007 (the previous high was 4.81 in 1996 when he still won 19 games). After the 2000 baseball season, citing a low-ball offer from O's owner Peter Angelos and a desire to be on a team that actually wants him and has a chance to win a World Series, Mussina signed a 6-year contract with the New York Yankees. The Yankees, though having won the WS in '98, '99, and '00, haven't won another one since.
Mussina is no longer the #1 starter he was back in the '90s, so people tend to forget just how good he was.

He is a 5-time all-star; a 6-time Gold Glove winner; and has been in the top 6 in CY Young voting 8 times. These awards don't necessarily mean that he was as good as they imply (the voting for each is flawed in different ways) but these are the same people who vote for the HOF, so it seems that they did have an appreciation of his talent.

He's been in the top six in ERA 9 times; the top six in WHIP 10 times; the top ten in fewest walks per nine innings 14 times (every year except '05 and '07); the top six in strike-outs per nine 8 times; the top ten in total Ks 10 times. He's also been in the top ten in adjusted ERA+ (adjusting his ERA to park/league/etc. and then comparing it to the league average) 10 times. He has almost never led the league in a category, but he was consistently among the best every year. He has 250 wins currently, with an outside shot at 300 (he'll have to hang on for at least 3 or 4 more years and get pretty lucky with run-support, which shouldn't be too much of an issue in NY). His 3.70 career ERA doesn't look that impressive, but the league average over his career has been 4.52. He has 52 complete games and 23 shutouts. He has never walked more than 69 batters in a year (and that was in 243 innings) and has struck out over 200 four times.

On multiple occasions Mussina has almost pitched a perfect game, including twice getting into the ninth inning. Against Cleveland in 1997 he gave up a single to nemesis Sandy Alomar (he also broke Mussina's nose with a batted ball the following year) with one out, but recovered to strike out the last two batters. [I remember that game – I was so mad when Alomar got that hit; it might have been the first time I cursed at the TV]
In 2001 versus Boston he gave up a single to Carl Everett with two down, but retired the next batter.

Mussina has also almost won 20 games several years. In 1992 we won 18; in 1994 he won 16 games but made only 24 starts (he was on pace for 22 victories); in 1995 and 1996 he had back-to-back 19 win seasons (in '96 he had a lead in his last start, but Armando Benitez blew the save); in 1999 he won 18; and in 2002 he set his Yankee high with another 18 win season. The almost bench-marks will count against Mussina, as HOF voters like round numbers to look at (Bert Blyleven's ridiculous exclusion based on this will be looked at later).

Let’s compare Moose to the other current HOF pitchers, if we put him in now. He would be 33rd (out of 66) in wins, 13th in winning percentage, 34th in WHIP, 7th in strike-outs per nine, 12th in total strike-outs, 2nd in strike-out to walk ratio, 16th in walks per nine, and 30th in ERA+. Mike Mussina would actually raise the bar for Hall of Fame pitchers.

Now it's time for some JAWS calculations. Through 2007 his career WARP3 (Wins Above Replacement Player adjusted for park, league, era, etc.) is 127.7. His "peak" score is [10.5 + 10.3 + 10.1 + 9.9 + 9.7 + 9.1 + 8.5] 68.1 (the top year was actually his first with the Yankees). That means his JAWS score is 97.9 - above the average for HOF starters already. Assuming he doesn't have any more top years in him, Mussina's "peak" score will remain the same, but every point of WARP3 he accumulates until he retires will bump the JAWS score up half a point. He should easily clear the 100 mark within a year or two.

If Mussina had a 20 win season and a Cy Young award would there even be a discussion? Does his exclusion based on a Benitez blown save and not being better than Pedro Martinez (23 wins, 2.07 ERA for a ridiculous 243 ERA+, and a 313-37 strike-out to walk ratio) in 1999 really make sense? I would like to hear any argument that doesn’t mention these two things (or the stupid “he doesn’t sound like a Hall of Famer”).

Mike Mussina was one of the best players at his position for the time that he played. He wasn't the best (Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Pedro for a few years), but those guys are some of the best (of the best) off all time. Mussina should get in, and he should get in on the first ballot. Jim Palmer has a JAWS score of 87 (106.8 career, 67.2 "peak") and he got it on the first ballot (with 93% of the vote). Mussina has a career ERA+ of 122, while Palmer is at 126. An average (162 game adjusted) season for Moose is 16-9, 227 IP, 219 H, 24 HR, 51 BB, 180 SO – Palmer: 16-9, 248 IP, 211 H, 19 HR, 82 BB, 139 SO. I’m not saying Mussina was better (maybe he was) but I am saying that the difference isn’t huge. Palmer was a great pitcher (and is a very amusing broadcaster) but considering the times in which they pitched, Mussina has better control (about twice as good, actually) and is the better strike-out pitcher (about 30% better adjusted K-rate); he pitched longer, his peak was better (as it too lasted a bit longer), but he's missing the Cy Young awards, playoff success, and meaningless factoid (Palmer never gave up a grand slam - so? Mussina went from 1995 till 2007 without giving one up. It doesn't really mean much, but people like that kind of stuff). Mussina has used the name "Simon Phoenix" (from Demolition Man) as an alias when signing into hotels. Doesn't that count for something?

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