Mike Mussina Belongs in the Hall of Fame
Dec. 31 marks the last day for the 600 voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to cast their 2014 Hall of Fame ballots. Any new additions meeting the 75 percent majority requirement will be announced Jan. 8.
Following a year with no new inductees for the first time since 1996, the 2014 ballot is stacked, and Cooperstown will surely have at least one new plaque added, if not more.
Along with repeats like Roger Clemens and Jack Morris, the pitcher-heavy ballot includes 19 new names. Among them are former Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both of whom are thought to be near shoo-ins.
There is another pitching great among the new names this year. And even though they won’t, voters should put him in without hesitation.
Mike Mussina, a.k.a. “Moose,” is one of the greatest pitchers ever, although it might not look that way on the surface. Opponents will highlight Mussina’s failure to win 300 career games, a World Series or a Cy Young award over his 18-year career with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees.
Statistics can be cited that give weight to either side of the argument, but as is often the case with these things, it’s all about the context. Mussina pitched his entire career in the daunting AL East, facing the DH day in and day out, while Maddux and Glavine got the benefit of pitching against pitchers one every nine.
Moose was all about consistency. He was a workhorse. Although he never led the league in strikeouts or ERA, he finished in the top five in Ks six times and in ERA seven times. With miraculous and pinpoint control, he devastated hitters for years with a 93 mph fastball, a knuckle-curve and a tricky changeup, his best pitch. He averaged 226 innings per 162 games for his career along with a 3.68 career ERA and 1.192 WHIP.
Mussina’s greatness is seen more in individual statistics than team or team-influenced ones. The Orioles made the playoffs only twice in his nine full seasons in Baltimore. Conversely, the Braves won their division title eight times in those nine years. Mussina was acquired by the Yankees just after they had won three-straight championships (1998-2000), and he retired just before they won again in 2009.
When Mussina’s team was in the postseason he was superb. In 1997 with Baltimore, Moose threw 29 innings in four games and only gave up 11 hits, seven walks and four earned runs. For his postseason career, he holds a 3.42 ERA over 139.1 innings. He ranks fourth all-time in postseason strikeouts, and among pitchers with at least 100 postseason innings, Mussina’s 9.3 Ks per nine is second only to Randy Johnson. Despite these stats, Mussina’s teams only won 23 of his postseason starts and gave him just 3.1 runs per game.
Mussina’s failure to win 300 games had everything to do with his choice to retire at the top of his game and nothing to do with his perceived inability to do so. Mussina’s only 20-win season was his final one in 2008. After struggling with injuries from 2004-07, he decided his time was up with 270 total wins over 18 years. Glavine, on the other hand, won 305 games over 22 years, and notched 30 wins from ages 40-42.
It’s true that Moose never won a Cy Young, although take a look at these stats for the 2001 season:
|Pitcher 1||Pitcher 2|
Pitcher 1 is Mussina. Pitcher 2 is his Yankee teammate Clemens, that year’s Cy Young winner. Mussina came in 5th in the voting. Moose came in second once in 1999, but unfortunately that was the year Pedro Martinez went berserk, tossing 213.1 innings for a 2.07 ERA, 0.923 WHIP and 13.2 Ks per nine.
Compared with pitchers already in the Hall, Mussina clearly deserves to be there. He ranks 23rd all-time in WAR with 83.0 for his career, ahead of 39 out of 57 Hall of Fame starting pitchers.
Mussina’s was a quiet greatness which is often mistaken for goodness by those who did not closely follow his career. Take away gaudy, biased stats like wins and Cy Young awards, and you are left one very deserving Hall of Famer.