Mike Mussina, by any standard you’d like to use, is worthy of being in the Hall of Fame. I’ve made this clear before. He was a superior pitcher to both Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, who both were inducted without much more than a cursory glance. I can’t even imagine what Mussina would have done if his only job were to pitch one inning a few times per week (cough, Hoffman, cough…) And from the department of dead horses, if you told me about Jack Morris’ durability and post season performance, you might want to check Moose’s durability and “clutch” pitching.
I’m not sure why getting people to see how great Mussina was is like pulling teeth. He wasn’t Maddux, Pedro, Johnson or Clemens – four of the best 10 pitchers of all time who happened to pitch in the same era…? He kept his mouth shut and stayed out of the limelight and controversy…? He wasn’t in ridiculous commercials…? You’re guess is as good as mine.
Comparing him statistically to other pitchers is difficult. As mentioned, a few who are among the best ever were his peers so it’s unfair that he wasn’t the “best” of the era. Bert Blyleven faced similar underestimation: He was a great pitcher who just happened to pitch during the best two decade stretch for starting pitchers ever. Blyleven wasn’t as good as Seaver, Carlton, Palmer, Ryan, Perry, Jenkins and a few others of the era – but he was clearly great.
The other issue with comparing Moose’s stats to other pitchers of his era is that he was the only great of the era to pitch the entirety of his career in the American League. One out of every 9 batters he faced was put in specifically because he could rake, as opposed to being the automatic out that the NL pitchers dealt with. Clemens was mostly AL – Pedro, Schilling, Randy Johnson were in both leagues and Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were almost entirely NL pitchers.
That being said, his case is still an iron clad one. For your consideration: (See the post script for why I chose the statistics I chose…)
- Despite the greatness of his peers, he finished in the top six in American League Cy Young award voting nine times.
- Among starters with 3,500 IP between 1990 and 2012 his xFIP is third, behind only Clemens and Johnson.
- There are 23 pitchers in the Hall of Fame with 3,500 innings pitched. Mussina’s strikeout percentage minus walk percentage is better than all of them except Randy Johnson.
His winning percentage is better than all but three of them.
His ERA+ (ERA adjusted for parks and runs scoring environment of the era) would be 9th among the 23.
- He has more WAR than 10 starting pitchers in the Hall. Gibson, Palmer and Glavine are among the group whose value to their teams was less than Mussina’s.
In fact, there is only one pitcher in the Hall of Fame with the following criteria: 3,500 IP, better than 13% K-BB percentage, 120 ERA+, and over 80 WAR: Randy Johnson.
Mussina and Clemens are the only two other pitchers in baseball history who met that criteria.
I’ll pause and let you re-read that last sentence. There are a total of 62 pitchers in the Hall of Fame and Randy Johnson is the only one to have a better combination of durability and dominance than Mussina.
The outlook is pretty good for Moose’s chances however. He received 63% of the BBWAA votes this year, the 5th year in a row his percentage rose. With Mariano Rivera being the only lock next year and Jeter the only lock the year after, Mussina should get the attention and the votes he needs and deserves.
Trevor Hoffman and Jack Morris, here we come.
*There are many factors that go into the majority of stats that are traditionally used to measure pitcher performance. Most however, factor in events outside the pitcher’s control. I choose to use stats that measure the things that are completely within the pitcher’s control (strikeouts, walks) and things that are very close (adjusted ERA and expected Fielding Independent Pitching).