5 Reasons Why Mike Mussina Is A Hall Of Famer

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A Flawed Election Process

Mussina
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

The selection process to the Baseball Hall of Fame is more flawed than Tim Tebow’s throwing motion.

How guys like Fred McGriff, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio have been left out of Cooperstown is completely beyond me. Using PEDs is certainly a crime against baseball and fair competition in general, but so is condemning those who are innocent and denying them the honor they deserve simply because they played during the same era.

Meanwhile, syringes were just as beneficial to the careers of Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa, yet these managers were just inducted with no questions asked. Is it the Hall of Fame or the Hall of Hypocrisy? I can’t tell.

I will also never understand the logic behind ballot hierarchy and the fact that a guy can definitely belong in the Hall of Fame – but not this year. Some players have to wait until their fifth or sixth or fourteenth time on the ballot (as was the case for Bert Blyleven).

Greg Maddux rightfully went in on the first ballot, but he wasn’t a unanimous selection. I truly wish to know who didn’t vote for him. I want to know the names of the men who are supposed to know this game better than anyone who kept one of the five best pitchers ever off their ballots just to make a point.

One player who I believe has earned a plaque in Cooperstown but was not inducted this year is Mike Mussina. Luckily, this was only his first time on the ballot. There’s still hope for Moose but only if the Baseball Writers’ Association of America gets its act together.

These are five reasons why Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame.

James O’Hare is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @JimboOHare, like him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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5. Seven Gold Gloves

Mussina
Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The pitcher’s job is to prevent runs, and Mussina did just that with his arm and his glove. He won seven Gold Glove awards, tied for fifth-most all time by a pitcher.

As soon as the pitcher releases the ball from his hand he becomes a fielder. Aside from Maddux, Mussina fielded his position better than anyone during his era and will go down in history as one of the best fielding pitchers of all time.

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4. Earned Run Average

Mussina
Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The greatest argument against Mussina going into the Hall of Fame is his 3.68 ERA, which would be third-highest of all inductees. This seems like a legitimate argument. However, to keep Mussina out of the Hall because of his ERA would be to overlook three crucial factors in his career.

First, he played his entire 18-year career in the American League which means he always faced a designated hitter (an extra three-hitter) rather than another pitcher (essentially an automatic out).

Two, he played his entire career in the loaded Eastern division. The average ERA for AL East pitchers during Mussina’s career was 4.53 – almost a full run higher than Moose.

Three, he played his entire career during the steroid era. The selection committee has made it clear they believe the offensive numbers of this era were wrongfully augmented. If that’s the case, then they have to accept higher ERAs from the pitchers of this era as their run prevention statistics were also wrongfully augmented (unless the pitcher was also using PEDs, but this situation doesn’t apply to Mussina).

By comparison, Tom Glavine has a career 3.54 ERA – the seventh-highest of all Hall of Famers – and he just went in on the first ballot. If the BBWAA wants to be consistent, they can’t hold an inflated ERA against Mussina as they clearly didn’t do so against Glavine.

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3. Wins/Win Percentage

Mussina
Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Mussina won 270 games. Only 26 Hall of Famers won more. True, 300 is typically the magic number for wins to get into the Hall, but it’s not automatic. Of the 71 pitchers in the Hall, only 22 reached the 300-win mark.

Furthermore, reaching 300 wins is somewhat overrated. Glavine, for instance, finished with 305 wins but he kept playing longer than he should have and achieved the hallowed benchmark in mediocrity (in his final two seasons he went 15-12 with a 4.72 ERA). Mussina, on the other hand, went 20-9 in his final season with a 3.37 ERA. But rather than sticking around to pad his statistics he retired at the top of his game. Had Mussina played four more years (22 seasons would equal Glavine) it’s extremely reasonable to assume he could have reached 300 wins.

More impressive is Mussina’s .638 win percentage. He’s tied with Jim Palmer in this statistic for 12th-best all time, ahead of greats like Tom Seaver, Carl Hubbell and Maddux.

Of the 27 Hall of Famers who have equal or greater wins than Mussina, only four have a better win percentage – and none pitched later than 1941 (Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, John Clarkson and Lefty Grove).

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2. Strikeouts

Mussina
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Mussina’s 2813 strikeouts would place him 13th among Hall of Famers, ahead of such fabled arms as Cy Young, Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax.

Mussina was very similar to Maddux in terms of how they approached hitters. They both had plus fastballs early in their careers, but when their velocity decreased as they got older they became craftier with pinpoint control. In his career, Maddux had a walk rate of 1.8 per nine innings. Mussina’s was 2.0 per nine. Maddux had a strikeout rate of 6.1 per nine innings. Mussina’s was 7.1 per nine (which would rank him sixth amongst current Hall of Famers).

By no means am I saying Mussina was as good as Maddux – Mad Dog is arguably one of the five all time best – but they both belong in Cooperstown.

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1. Wins Above Replacement

Mussina
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In this new era of statistical analysis, WAR is increasingly becoming the most accepted measuring tool to accurately gauge a player’s worth. You know a statistic is gaining influence when it’s the foremost measurement used in a widely supported campaign to give the MVP Award to someone other than the first Triple Crown winner since 1967.

Mussina has a career WAR of 83.0 which would put him 20th on the Hall of Fame list, ahead of legends like Bob Gibson, Don Sutton, Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale to name a few.

Mussina did everything. He could strike batters out, rarely allowed walks, fielded his position and pitched deep into games (his 57 complete games is one more than Glavine). WAR reflects all of this and places Mussina squarely in the ranks of the best pitchers of his era and of all time.

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Conclusion: The "Almost" Argument

Mussina
Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Many consider Mussina to be a player who’s close to Hall of Fame worthy but not quite there.

True, he only had one 20-win season, but he had eight seasons of 17 wins or more. He also never won a Cy Young Award, but he finished in the top six nine times and did have a Cy Young-worthy campaign in 1999. Unfortunately, that was the year Pedro Martinez had one of the best seasons for a pitcher in the history of the game. Mussina also out-pitched Roger Clemens in 2001 despite having three fewer wins.

Mussina never had a three-year stretch that he put up gaudy numbers and won every award imaginable, and for this reason many incorrectly believe he was not one of the dominant pitchers of his generation. Though he may not have been the best at any particular time, he was consistently in the upper echelon of pitchers during his entire 18-year career in the Major Leagues.

Compared to the 71 pitchers already in the Hall, Mussina isn’t first in any one particular category, but he’s in the top 15 in multiple statistics and the top 30 in just about everything. For this, he deserves a place in the upper echelon of baseball history: the Hall of Fame.

With the current election process, it’s impossible to predict who will be enshrined in Cooperstown. But if the BBWAA takes the time to actually examine Mussina’s career they’ll see he belongs. Then the only question will be how long they will make him wait.

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  • ironhacker

    Mussina was very good, for a very long time. But he NEVER won a Cy Young Award. During his prime, he wasn’t always the best pitcher on his own team, much less the league. Postseason record of 7-8, 3.42, spanning 9 of his 18 seasons and 138 innings of postseason activity. Not bad, but not dominant by any means.

    As I see it, Mussina was the most reliable #2 starter in baseball for most of his career. The durability/endurance stats (like 300 career wins) are almost there, but the 20-win seasons are just one, and Cy Young Awards are zero.

    Consider two composite stats from baseball-reference.com
    Black Ink Pitching – 15 (152), Average HOFer ≈ 40
    Gray Ink Pitching – 250 (21), Average HOFer ≈ 185

    Black ink is related to league-leading statistics, whereas gray ink is
    longevity and career milestones. Mussina has more than enough in the
    gray ink category, but less than half of the black ink score of a
    typical HOF inductee. This goes to my point that Mussina was very good,
    but seldom the best. He never led the league in ANY pitching stat more than once in his career, except for games started (twice).

    To me, it’s going to take more than Gold Glove awards to make up for the missing dominance that most HOF pitchers are known for. Even a platinum glove doesn’t change the fact that pitchers don’t get many fielding opportunities.

    On the other side, Jack Morris is also a borderline candidate. He has almost enough votes to make the HOF. Mussina’s overall career compares well on that basis.

    • James

      First of all, that was a well thought out, highly articulate comment with legitimate statistics to back up your argument. It’s always a pleasure to have these types of conversations with knowledgeable baseball fans so thank you for that.

      As for Mussina and the Hall…Don Sutton never won a Cy Young Award (He also only had one 20-win season). Neither did Phil Niekro. Neither did Jim Bunning. Neither did Bert Blyleven. Yet all of these guys are in the Hall.

      True, Mussina has a 3.68 career ERA, one 20-win season, zero Cy Young Awards, and no World Series rings. But he has 270 wins (33rd all time), 2813 strikeouts (19th all time) a .638 winning percentage (12th on Hall of Fame list), an 83.0 WAR (20th on Hall of Fame list) and seven Gold Gloves. That’s quite a resume in my opinion.

      I think the Grey Ink stats that you discussed should have greater value to a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy than the Black Ink. I touched on this idea on the last slide. Mussina didn’t lead the league in many statistics on a year to year basis yet his totals are Hall of Fame worthy. This means one of two things. One: he was just an ok pitcher and he compiled those career numbers. Mussina pitched for 18 years and would be 12th among Hall of Famer pitchers in win percentage and sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (7.1), so there’s no way this is true.

      The other possibility is that though he wasn’t the best in the league at any one time, he was among the best for basically his entire career. Like you said, he was often the number two starter on his team. But he was number two for almost two decades. To me, that kind of longevity (without compiling) makes Mussina Hall of Fame worthy.

      • ironhacker

        Although I might not vote for him myself, I won’t be too surprised if Mussina gets in. It will be interesting to see what happens to the pitchers with more dominant stats for slightly shorter periods of time.

        Thanks to pitch count limits and middle relief, 20-game winners are rare these days. A typical pitcher will miss a season every now and then for TJ surgery. As soon as the writers discover that there won’t be any more 300-game winners, 200 will become the new magic number and Mussina will easily meet the [relaxed] standard.

        Why 200 wins instead of 250? Pedro Martinez. He was absolutely dominant in his prime, with 3 Cy Young awards, 8 All-Star games, 5 time league leader in ERA, 3 time league leader in strikeouts, 10.0 K/9 ratio over his career. But Pedro had only 219 wins, despite an 18-year career. Even so, he surpasses HOF thresholds for black ink AND gray ink.

        Once Martinez gets in, Mussina’s 270 wins will be viewed quite favorably. It’s only a matter of time before the 300-win wall is lowered, allowing Mussina to leap over it.

        • James

          Very good point. They kind of already did that once with Sandy Koufax. He only has 165 wins and was mediocre for the first half of his career. But he had a six year stretch of absolute freakin dominance that’s been unmatched since — it would have been impossible to keep him out.

          Roy Halladay is in the same boat as Pedro: 203 wins but was clearly the best pitcher in baseball for a four or five year stretch. Halladay’s an 8 time All-Star, 7 time leader in complete games, 4 time leader in shut outs, 4 time leader in innings pitched, 2 time Cy Young Winner. Pedro does have 3154 strikeouts though, compared to 2117 for Halladay. Still, I think their HOF candidacy is almost identical.

          • ironhacker

            Indeed, Koufax got into the HOF based on a period of dominance, not career milestones. Mussina is the opposite, achieving most of the milestones, quietly effective, never the best but always near the top.

            Halladay meets the standard for black ink. He is slightly short on gray ink, but very close to the typical HOF pitcher. Martinez exceeds both with room to spare, thanks in part to a 2.93 career ERA and extraordinary strikeout numbers.

            I could imagine all 3 getting in: Mussina, Martinez, and Halladay. All 3 would benefit from the inevitable change in standards: “200 wins is the new 300″. After all, it’s tough to expect a pitcher to win games when modern management decides to cap the pitch count at 100 and innings 7-9 belong to the bullpen. If Hallday and Martinez get in with just barely over 200 wins, then it’s impossible to turn away Mussina at 270 — dominant pitching or not.

          • James

            Agreed.