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Tag: Mike Mussina

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Yankees pitcher  Mussina pitches against Toronto in New York

Is Mike Mussina a Hall of Famer?

Jonah Keri writes:

He’s a rich man’s [Jack] Morris. When people argue for Morris, they cite his ability to take the ball every fifth day without fail, pitch deep into games, and give his team a chance to win. Mussina did that, too, but he did it better, allowing fewer runs in a significantly tougher era for pitchers. From 1995 through 2003, Mussina averaged 222 innings pitched per year, topping the 200 mark in every one of those seasons (including in ’95, a strike-shortened year). During that time — the peak of the PED era — Mussina struck out about four times as many batters as he walked, and posted a 3.64 ERA that was 28 percent better than league average. Granted, Mussina was just the sixth-best pitcher in the game during that span, but there’s not much you can do when you’re pitching alongside five future Hall of Famers, three of them arguably among the five best pitchers of all time and the fourth with arguably the best two-season peak of any pitcher ever. Mussina was no stiff the rest of the time, either, ending his career with an ERA 23 percent better than league average, putting him on par with Marichal and ahead of Hall of Famers Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins, and the next guy on this list.

Jay Jaffe thinks Mussina belongs but it’ll be a long time before he gets there:

Two hundred and seventy is not 300, but even so, Mussina ranks 33rd all-time in wins, with a total higher than Hall of Famers Jim Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266), Bob Gibson (251) and 29 other enshrined starting pitchers. Moving beyond that — seriously, I’m done with the wins talk now — his 2,813 strikeouts rank 19th all-time and his 7.1 strikeouts per nine ninth among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings. That’s in part a product of pitching in an era where strikeout rates were almost continually on the rise, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Even more impressive is that his 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is second only to Curt Schilling among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings since 1893, when the distance from the rubber to home plate was lengthened to 60-foot-6.

As for the postseason, Mussina may not have won a ring, but his 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 innings is no small feat given the high-scoring era; it’s 0.26 lower than his regular season ERA, which itself was 23 percent better than the park-adjusted league average. Aided by the three tiers of playoffs during the bulk of his career, his 145 postseason strikeouts rank fourth all-time, while his 9.3 strikeouts per nine is second among the 22 pitchers with at least 100 postseason innings (Johnson is first at 9.8). Sadly, Mussina’s teams only won nine of his 23 postseason starts, because they supported him with just 3.1 runs per game; only four times did they even give him more than four runs. He had a few dud starts (three of less than five innings) among them, but it’s tough to pin his failure to win a ring on him.

As for the advanced metrics, Mussina stands tall thanks to his combination of run prevention and strikeouts (for which he doesn’t have to share value with his fielders). His 83.0 career WAR ranks 23rd all-time, ahead of 39 of the 57 enshrined starting pitchers; it’s 14th among post-World War II pitchers. That total is 1.6 above fellow candidate Glavine, who has an almost identical career/peak/JAWS line, and 10.4 wins above the average for enshrined starters. Mussina’s peak WAR of 44.5 doesn’t stack up as well; while it’s still 65th all-time, it tops only 20 enshrined starters and is 5.7 wins below the average one. Even so, his 63.8 JAWS is 2.4 points above the Hall average, good for 28th all-time, one spot below Schilling (64.4) and two above Glavine (62.9). He’s 132 spots higher than Jack Morris (38.4). His score beats those of 36 enshrined starters. He’s good enough for Cooperstown.

Mussina’s JAWS score beats those of 36 enshrined starters, and it will still be above the standard once Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Martinez and Tom Glavine all get their due (the admission of those five would raise the respective bars to 75.1/50.7/62.9). He’s good enough for Cooperstown.

Still, the Moose won’t be loose in upstate New York anytime soon. On the contrary, Mussina probably has a long road before he gets a bronze plaque. In such heavy traffic, it’s probably asking too much even to hope that he approximates Schilling’s 38.8 percent debut last year. But like the aforementioned Bert Blyleven, a high-strikeout pitcher from an earlier era whose dominance over hitters and excellence in run prevention was initially overshadowed by his lack of Cy Young hardware, the numbers and the facts are on Mussina’s side. It’s just going to take some time for them to carry the day.

Ain't No Sunshine When Yer Old

In November 2008, not long after Mike Mussina announced his retirement, I wrote a column about the concept of “dying at the right time.” In short, dying at the right time involves deciding to leave the game, or, “die” on your own terms. I commended Mussina for having the courage and self-awareness to know that after a 20-win season, ending his career was a better option than returning for another shot at a title, at age 40, with diminished stuff.

That column was written in the context of a well-thought, fully formulated decision that likely took weeks, maybe even months, to plan. Andy Pettitte weighed it several times and took a similar path after last season.

Longtime Banterer The Hawk had some great comments on the Mussina piece, including this one:

I appreciate tenacity, competitiveness and a never-say-die spirit in athletes far more than a sense of decorum or the good taste to retire without “embarrassing” themselves. I can’t say I believe this across the board but in general I love the guys who can’t let go, who’s desire to compete wins out over pride or legacy-building.

Do you love Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada now? Sure, their desire to compete — save for Saturday’s Posada drama — is unwavering, but do you want to continue watching them turn into Benjamin Button? We want to see the youthfulness and greatness demonstrated in the first 10-12 years of their careers, but the reality is that this season they are aging rapidly. We know it. They know it. They’re holding on. Barely.

Jeter gave us a glimmer of hope with his two-home-run effort in Texas. But watching him since then, even though he’s gotten hits and his march to 3,000 is going strong, he’s still hitting less than .260. His at-bats used to be filled with expectations of line drives to right field. Now the expectations are anemic groundballs to second base. Every out he makes is riddled with Tweets and jeers of “THREE MORE YEARS OF THIS!” We know. But who’s a better option? Eduardo Nuñez? We won’t touch the defensive range issue with Jeter.

Posada should have had the easiest route. He moved away from being the everyday catcher to designated hitter, but his pride, hubris, whatever, is preventing him from accepting the current role and producing. It’s not like Posada has forgotten how to hit; he still has a good eye and can draw a walk. He isn’t adjusting to seeing more sliders, and isn’t adjusting to channeling his entire focus into four or five individual at-bats.

Sometimes, the game lets you know when it’s your time. It did for Ken Griffey, Jr., last year. Jeter and Posada are on the brink.

Would you rather see them continue to try to recapture the magic of 3 or 5 years ago, at the risk of their efforts being a detriment to the team and their own legacies? Or would you rather see them accept their fates, recognize the end of their respective careers and act accordingly?

Going Out On Top?

Mike Mussina hasn’t told the Yankees yet if he wants to play next year. At least, no one’s telling if he has. Baseball puts a moratorium on such announcements during the World Series (even if Scott Boras doesn’t comply), but rumor has it he’s leaning toward retirement. I, for one, would love to have Mussina come back for a variety of reasons stretching from his actual performance, to his influence on the Yankees’ young starters, to the likely brevity of his contract, to my own selfish need to hear some legitimately introspective and wickedly sarcastic postgame comments every five days.

Unfortunately, rumor has Mussina leaning in the other direction. Indeed, at the conclusion of Living on the Black, John Feinstein’s plodding account of Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine’s 2007 seasons, Mussina, speaking at the conclusion of his rough 2007 season, sounds convinced that 2008 would be his last year:

“I’m not going to be one of these players who announces his retirement five different times. But right now, I don’t see myself pitching after this year. I’m not going to be close enough to three hundred [wins], even if I have a good year, that I’m going to want to come back for at least two more years and, realistically, three more years.

“In 2006, I pitched about as well as I could have hoped to pitch, and I won fifteen games. If I win fifteen games a year–stay healthy, pitch well, all of that–for the next three years, I would still be five wins short of three hundred, and I’d be forty-two years old. What’s more, my older son will be a teenager by then, and my younger one is only a few years behind. I don’t want to come home just when they’re saying, ‘See ya, Dad.’

“I’ve had a good career. I’m lucky to be in a position that whenever I retire, I don’t have to do anything. I can pick and choose what I want to do or what I don’t want to do. If I have a great year, that might make it harder to walk away. But my plan right now is to walk away, and when the calls come the next spring from teams desperate for pitching, my answer–even if I’m tempted–will be no.”


Hey Nineteen

With one out in the bottom of the third inning of last night’s game against the Blue Jays, Toronto’s rookie left fielder Travis Snider hit a comebacker that ricocheted off Mike Mussina’s pitching elbow and shot into foul territory, allowing Snider to reach base with an infield single. The ball hit Mussina flush on the head of his radius, and when trainer Gene Monahan and manager Joe Girardi ran out to attend to their veteran ace, the conclusion to Mussina’s terrific comeback season was clearly hanging in the balance. The Yankees had a 1-0 lead at the time, but Mussina needed to finish the third and pitch two more innings without giving it up in order to qualify for his nineteenth win and keep his hopes for his first twenty-win season alive.

UntitledMussina asked the assembled group to let him throw a few pitches, and after tossing a fastball and a sharp curveball, he declared himself fit to pitch. He was right. Despite a large red welt on the outside of his elbow the size of a golf ball, Mussina allowed just one more hit before being pulled after going the minimum five innings required for the win. By then his lead had doubled to 2-0 thanks to Jason Giambi’s 32nd home run of the season.

The Yankees added a third run in the seventh when Robinson Cano doubled off Blue Jays starter Jesse Litsch, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a passed ball. Never mind that Cano was actually out at home as the ball bounced right back to catcher Gregg Zaun, who tossed to Litsch, who made a great play sliding across the opposite side of the plate and tagging the sole of Cano’s foot as it came down to touch home. Home plate ump Larry Vanover blew the call and spent the rest of the game calling strikes in a manner that found the middle ground between a sea lion and the Swedish Chef (strike one: “BORK!” strike two: “BORK!” strike three: “ARF! ARF!”).

The Jays got that run back in the bottom of the seventh when lefties Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay singled and walked against Damaso Marte and Scott Rolen greeted Joba Chamberlain with a single that scored Lind. With two out and none on in the eighth, the Jays loaded the bases against Chamberlain thanks to some sloppy defense by Cody Ransom, who replaced Derek Jeter and his sore left hand at shortstop just before game time (Jeter said after the game that he couldn’t swing), and an intentional walk, but Chamberlain won a seven-pitch battle with Lyle Overbay on a slider breaking down and away for a called strike three (ARF! ARF!). Otherwise Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, and Mariano Rivera were perfect in relief, nailing down the 3-1 win and giving Mussina his nineteenth win.

Hard Times Befallen The Soul Survivors


Unfortunately, the Red Sox also won, putting up a five-spot against likely Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee at Fenway to squeek out a 5-4 win behind Tim Wakefield and a quintet of relievers. The decisive run was scored by Dustin Pedroia on a two-out single by Jason Bay in the fifth (“sweet things from Boston, so young and willing”). With that, the Yankees have been eliminated from the postseason for the first time since 1993, the last year before the Wild Card was introduced.

That year it was Toronto that won the AL East, though the Yankees avoided being eliminated head-to-head by beating Todd Stottlemyre and the Jays behind Jim Abbott in their final game at SkyDome that season. The Yankees won again the next day, beating Rick Sutcliffe and the Orioles 9-1 behind Scott Kamieniecki (playing right field in place of an injured Paul O’Neill, Jim Leyritz homered in both games), but the Jays clinched anyway by beating the Brewers 2-0 behind Pat Hentgen and a trio of relievers that included Mike Timlin. The Jays would go on to win their second consecutive World Championship that October with Joe Carter delivering the Series-ending home run off Phillies closer Mitch Williams.

Please take me along when you slide on down.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver