Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Keltner List: Mike Mussina

Today I continue the Keltner List observations with the Moose, Mike Mussina.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, suggest that he was he best player in baseball?

To my limited knowledge, no one ever put forward Mike Mussina as the best player in the game.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

 Mussina was the best pitcher on his team in multiple seasons: 1992 in Baltimore (18-5, 4 Shutouts), 1995-97 Baltimore, 2001 and 2003 with the Yankees.  In 2001 with the Yankees, Clemens was probably the best on the team. In 2003, Mussina or Mariano Rivera were the best. So, certainly, for six seasons of his career Mussina was one of the best players on his team.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Mussina suffers because his career is a close parallel to Greg Maddux, one of the 10 best pitchers of all time. In 1992, Dennis Eckersley won the AL Cy Young Award over Mussina and Clemens. I am not sure that Mussina or Clemens were more deserving that year. Both won 18 games, both finished with a WHIP of close to 1.000. Jack McDowell won 20 games but his peripherals were not the equal of Clemens. After 1992, Mussina has several seasons where he was one of the best three or four pitchers in the American League, but was he ever considered to be one of the best pitchers in baseball? In the early 1990s, perhaps. In New York, it is arguable that he was not the best pitcher on his team thanks to the "reborn" Roger Clemens.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

In 1997, Mussina tossed 29 innings in the post season and struck out 41 hitters, giving up only 11 hits. That is the very definition of dominant. The problem was that the Orioles could not score runs. Mussina in the ALCS that year did not get a decision, both games went extra innings and were lost by the Baltimore bullpen.

In 1996, Mussina went 7-3 in August and September for an Orioles team that won the wild card by three games.
In 2001, Mussina went 4-0 down the stretch for a Yankee team that won their division by 14 games. In 2002, Mussina won 2 of his last 6 starts, but posted a 1.48 ERA and 46 Ks in 42 2/3 innings.

For the Yankees in the postseason, Mussina was 5-6 with a 3.88 ERA in 17 starts. He always upped his strikeout rate in the postseason with a robust 152 Ks in 139 2/3 postseason innings.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could contribute past his prime?

Mussina lost 10 games only once after the age of 34. After 2003, Mussina posted an ERA higher than the league twice (2004 and 2007). 2007 was a season where he had lost velocity, but in 2008 he bounced back to post his lowest ERA since 2001. Mussina was somewhat durable, making 30 starts or more 12 times in 18 seasons.

6. Is he the best player in baseball history not in the hall of fame?

No. He is not the best pitcher eligible who is in the hall of fame. That would be Greg Maddux.

7. Are most players with comparable statistics in the hall of fame?

Similar Pitchers  (from baseball-reference.com)
  1. Andy Pettitte (912)
  2. Juan Marichal (866) *
  3. David Wells (863)
  4. Curt Schilling (860)
  5. Jim Palmer (855) *
  6. Carl Hubbell (855) *
  7. Kevin Brown (844)
  8. Jack Morris (838)
  9. Clark Griffith (831) *
  10. CC Sabathia (826)
* - Signifies Hall of Famer
According to James' dictum, no one is unusually similar to Mussina. Pettite is "truly similar" (over 900) while Hubbell, Palmer, Schilling, Wells and Marichal are "essentially similar." Of the top six, three are hall of famers and three are not yet eligible.

From a pitching standpoint, only Palmer and Schilling are closely similar to Mussina, even though Palmer featured a high fastball and Mussina a four seamer with a knuckle curve.

8. Do the players numbers meet hall of fame standards?

With a score of 54, Mussina's numbers certainly meet hall of fame standards. The hall of fame monitor for Mussina is at 121, where 100 is a "likely" hall of famer. Either way, Mussina's numbers are worthy.

9. Is there evidence to suggest that the player was much better or worse than his statistics suggest?

Mussina won 15 or more games 11 times in his career but led the league in wins only once. Mussina was a consistent pitcher who put up WAR numbers in the All Star range 10 times in 18 seasons. I would consider Mussina better than he appears in the numbers because of consistency; he had a losing record twice in 18 years.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is not inducted?

No. That would be Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens. I would vote for Maddux because of the steroid clouds surrounding Clemens.

11.   How many MVP type seasons did the player have? Did he win an MVP? How many times did he come close?

Surprisingly, Mussina never won a Cy Young award. He did finish in the top five in the voting six times, and in the top six nine times. In 1999 Mussina finished second to the 23 game winner Pedro Martinez. But, for a pitcher to finish in the top six in cy young voting for half of the years he was active is quite an accomplishment.

12. How many All Star type season did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most of the other players elected to that many games go into the hall of fame?

Mussina made 5 all star teams and pitched in three games, starting none. He won 20 games in 2008 (his final season) and did not make the All Star team. In 1995 he led the AL in wins with 19 and did not make the All Star team. Phil Neikro and Gaylord Perry made five all star games as pitchers since the All Star game began back in the 1930s. Mussina compares well, but is not a 300 game winner like Niekro and Perry.

13. If this man was the best player on his team, would that team likely win the pennant?

With Mussina as an ace, any team would be a contender for a division title. For a pennant, however, that is not as clear.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?
Mussina brought back the "knuckle curve" and threw the kitchen sink by 2008. The Neyer/James Book of Pitchers quotes a Joe Morgan and Jon Miller ESPN broadcast that Mussina brought on a slider in 2003. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, most pitchers would use multiple pitches, not relying on two or three, but sprinkling in more than four. Mussina is a throwback, and will most likely be one of the last pitchers to successfully employ a knuckle curve.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of the hall of fame?

To my knowledge, Mussina did just that. He raised some hackles in 2006 when he said that he matched to several hall of famers, but it is no sin to be honest. Mussina won seven gold gloves as well, and electing him would not be a blight on the hall by any stretch. Maddux and Glavine and Smoltz should go in first, but Mussina would be a worthy selection.
 

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