Mussina Passes Every Hall of Fame Evaluation Method

Mussina

Mike Mussina’s candidacy for the Baseball Hall of Fame feels quite similar to that of Tim Raines. Like Raines, Mussina was overshadowed by baseball royalty during his 18 year career. Raines played second fiddle to Rickey Henderson for the majority of his career. Mussina dealt with the likes of Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and Roger Clemens.

Like Raines, Mussina’s case goes beyond the traditional measures. As much as baseball analysis has grown, the majority of the voters are still voting on the basics: wins, ERA, and the perception of “ace-ness”. Mussina’s case is much stronger when advanced metrics–that aren’t all that advanced anymore–are used. However, even the traditional statistics make for an intriguing case.

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In 18 seasons, Mussina finished his career with 270 wins and 153 losses. He started 536 games (with one relief appearance added in 2007). He threw 3,562.2 innings, gave up 3,460 hits, walked 785 batters, and struck out 2,813 batters. All of this came with a 3.68 career ERA and a 1.192 WHIP. Mussina finished his storied career with his first 20 win season in 2008. He retires without a Cy Young award and without a World Series ring even though everyone seems to forget his career 3.42 postseason ERA. The five time all-star and seven time Gold Glove Award winner retires 30 wins short of the 300 win plateau which supposedly is an automatic entrance to Cooperstown.

Ok, You Want to Use Wins?

Thankfully, most analysts have advanced enough to see that wins are largely a team accomplishment and quite often a product of offensive run support and a good backend of the bullpen. However, there are too many cases being made with the number 270 in them. Baseball lore has built up the 300 game winner to the point that if anyone falls short, he isn’t viewed as great. That number is the single reason why Tom Glavine is viewed as a no-brainer for the Hall, while Mussina may take some time.

But, even “just” 270 wins make for a compelling case.  For Mussina’s first 10 major league seasons, he was the ace of the Baltimore Orioles’ staff. During his time in Baltimore, the Orioles only had four seasons in which they posted a record over .500. A deeper look into Mussina’s win total reveals several key things. For one, he finished with 18 or more wins in six seasons, and 15 or more wins in 10 seasons. Besides his rookie year of 1991 when he made just 12 starts, he won at least 11 games in every season. So, while he didn’t win 20 until last season, he was the model of consistency for some bad Orioles teams and a solid pitcher for some good New York Yankees teams.

 Currently, there are 36 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who have less than 300 wins. Even more specifically, there are 32 members who have less wins than Mike Mussina. So, if 300 wins are the benchmark, the Hall would more definitely be less crowded.

Hall Famers like Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, Al Spaulding, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Mordecai Brown, Waite Hoyt, Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter, and Whitey Ford all have less wins than Mike Mussina. These legends of the game, some who played on better teams than Mussina did, won less games. Thankfully, these Hall of Famers–well, most of them anyway–were evaluated by other means. Mussina deserves the same treatment.

The Era and League

The Hall of Fame writers seem to be making adjustments for hitters, saying that they will not vote for a steroids user. Well, why is that adjustment not made for pitchers?”Mike Mussina pitched when offensive statistics were highly inflated and the homerun was in style. There is a valid argument here that no Hall of Fame pitcher pitched in a tougher era than the one Mussina and his contemporaries pitched.

Also, the fact that Mike Mussina pitched his entire career in the American League must be taken into account. Mussina, unlike his contemporaries Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, did not have the luxury of facing the pitcher two or three times in a game. His 3.68 ERA is quite comparable to the supposedly certain future Hall of Famers Glavine (3.54) and Maddux (3.16). Yes, the ERA is higher, but if an adjustment is made for the league, Mussina may have actually performed better.

Even more important, Mussina spent his entire career in the American League East. 11 of the 18 American League champions have been from the AL East. Mussina pitched for just two of those winners (the 2001 and 2003 Yankees). Mussina would face Boston, Toronto, and the Yankees (obviously, while he was in Baltimore) for the majority of his career. More often than not, he was facing one of the top offenses in Baseball. That 3.68 ERA has to be considered even more impressive. Additionally, consider that Mussina has a winning record against every American League team except the Yankees (who he, obviously, didn’t get many chances against the last eight years).

The Numbers Argument

Mussina ranks 66th all-time in innings pitched, but he ranks 19th all-time in strikeouts. Obviously, he was a better strikeout pitcher than given credit for as he had a 7.11 strikeouts per nine innings average for his career. He is 15th all-time with a 3.58 strikeout to walk ratio, a sign of an elite control pitcher.  Even more impressively, Mussina is 117 games over .500 for his career . All pitchers who are that many games over .500 are in the Hall of Fame.

The Legends Argument

Much of Hall of Fame voting is based on reputation. Mussina, for whatever reason, does not have the reputation of an elite pitcher even though he succeeded during the toughest era in baseball history. His statistics hold up well when compared to the pitchers already enshrined in Cooperstown.

When compared to these Hall of Famers, Mussina absolutely belongs. But, the popular opinion will be that Mussina is a debatable candidate. Would anyone consider Juan Marichal or Don Drysdale a borderline Hall of Famer?

The Moments Argument

We fall victim to this quite a bit. A player will have one of those special moments that puts his career in a better light than it should really be in. Jack Morris pitched that 10 inning game seven. It was one of the best games ever pitched. Yet, for all of the hoopla about being clutch in the playoffs, Morris’ career postseason ERA was 3.80. He had a couple of very good postseason starts, but he also posted ERA’s over 6.00 in three separate playoff series.

While Mussina doesn’t have a World Series ring, he has pitched quite well in the postseason. His 3.42 ERA in 23 appearances was comparable to Maddux’s and Glavine’s. During his 23 appearances, Mussina had notable moments, even if his presence was forgotten. The Derek Jeter “Flip” was made possible because of Mussina’s 7 shutout innings. Without Mussina’s effort, the Yankees lose that game in Oakland. The Yankees’ 2003 World Series appearance or Aaron Boone’s home run don’t happen if Mussina doesn’t pitch three scoreless innings on short rest.

Going back to his Orioles’ days, he did everything possible in 1997 for the Orioles to get to the World Series. In his four postseason starts, he pitched 29 innings and allowed just 11 hits and 4 runs.

Mussina was every bit the fabled big game pitcher that other postseason legends are considered. The only difference is that Mussina’s teams couldn’t quite finish the job.

The Metrics Argument

While Mussina passes the sniff test in terms of traditional statistics, other statistics give an even better picture. ERA+, which adjusts a pitcher’s ERA according to ballpark effects and to the league average ERA is better indication of a pitcher’s performance rather than ERA. In short, it levels the playing field to get a better picture.

Mussina’s career ERA+ of 123 is better than Tom Glavine’s 118. It is a bit below Maddux’s 132. Mussina’s ERA+ is better than Hall of Famers Steve Carlton, Warren Spahn, Bert Blyleven, Dennis Eckersley, and Robin Roberts (among others).

Mussina’s career WAR value of 83 is fourth highest on this year’s ballot, trailing only Clemens, Bonds, and Maddux. Amongst pitchers, Mussina’s 83 WAR value is 24th all-time. That’s not about being a compiler or having a long career. It is about being very good, very productive, and consistent for 18 years.

Closing Thoughts

Mike Mussina said during his retirement press conference, “it makes for a good debate” when it came to his Hall of Fame candidacy. Mussina was wrong. There really isn’t a debate. He passes every single test, from old school evaluation to current evaluation methods. There is no logical reason why Mussina should be omitted from a voter’s ballot. His career is worthy of the Hall of Fame in every possible way.

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About the author


Gary Armida  

Orioles Analyst

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated FullCountpitch.com, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site, garyarmida.com, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.


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One Response to Mussina Passes Every Hall of Fame Evaluation Method

  1. Pingback: BSL: Mussina Passes All Hall of Fame Tests | Gary Armida.com

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