HOF Debate - Mike Mussina
Piggy-backing off of the Schilling debate, today we will look at Mike Mussina and debate whether Moose is worthy of enshrinement.
Pro - OCP
Knee-jerk, Mike Mussina was a very good pitcher but Hall worthy? His name was the answer to a trivia question that made my head spin, which is why this debate came up here. It took a lot for me to convince myself that he belongs but there are some statistical anomales that exist which say that he does.
Consider this, if Moose does not make it into the Hall of Fame, he will be the first pitcher with 100 more wins than losses not enshrined. There are only six pitchers in the history of baseball with 17 or more seasons of 10 wins or more: Greg Maddux, Warren Spahn, Cy Young, Don Sutton, Steve Carlton and Mike Mussina. There are only five pitchers in the history of baseball with at least 270 wins and a winning percentage greater than .638 and four out of the five are already enshrined. The other is, of course, Mike Mussina.
Mussina has five all-star appearances (three starts) and only one 20 win season, which came in his final season at the age of 39. Neither of those things are particularly awe inspiring but he did finish top 10 in Cy voting nine times and has six Gold Gloves to his name. Baseball Reference has his Black Ink test (which measures the number of times that a player led his league in important categories, thus appearing in black ink on the back of his baseball card) at 15, which is low but his Grey Ink test (times he finished top 10 in his league) at 250 which is very high. His HOF monitor number is also 120, which signifies that he's right there in terms of statistics. Just shy of 3,000 strikeouts, just shy of 300 wins, 9 times top 10 in Cy Voting... Mussina definitely has a better argument than I would have initially thought. He lacks the big moments and wasn't particulary big in big games and that's why he will struggle to earn votes but I compare him to Don Sutton, without the wasted years in his late 30's, early 40's. Moose went out on a positive note - he rode off into the sunset, winning 20 games in his final year and I respect that. I think that he deserves strong consideration and I would vote him in. He might be the last man in and he might not make it on his first try but he's right there.
The debate over Mike Mussina is a difficult one as my colleague has brought to life many interesting points in Moose's favor. I don't really have a statistical argument to make about why Mussina shouldn't be in the HOF. We all make that snap decision upon being asked if someone belongs in the Hall of Fame. With most players, the feeling is usually pretty strong leaning one way or the other. My first reaction to Mussina was that he didn't belong. Only one 20 win season, no hardware in the way of rings, and no Cy Young awards. He wasn't even considered the best at any one time given the likes of Clemens, Martinez, Randy Johnson early and then later Halladay and Sabathia. When he did finally land on a great Yankee team, he fizzled, benefiting from great lineups while his ERA ballooned.
Next I thought about the comparisons with other pitchers that had high win totals without the dominance. I know Hersh agrees that Mussina is similar to Don Sutton, Jim Kaat, and Tommy John. Guys that had excellent careers, but never did quite enough to push themselves over the top for Hall contention. They were thought to have pitched forever, thus inflating their stats through longevity as opposed to dominance. Initially I agreed with those sentiments regarding Mussina too.
After diving a little deeper into the numbers, I can't look at Mussina as that black and white anymore. Although he only had the one 20 win season, he eclipsed at least 18 wins an additional 5 times. Certainly 20 wins is a more pretty number, but are we really going to quibble over 2 wins? On the comparisons to Sutton, Kaat, and John, I will bring to light that each of those pitchers hurled at least five more seasons than Mussina. There is no denying that Mussina was not the most dominant pitcher in the league at any time during his career. He also did not have stellar post season numbers, boasting a 7-8 record.
I guess my final assessment of Moose is closer to Blyleven than the other aforementioned pitchers. I think if he does get in, it will take a considerable amount of time. Perhaps in the end, his body of work will prove palatable to Hall voters. I realize this is a pretty tepid "con" argument against Mike Mussina. It shows that sometimes the gut reaction or the sniff test isn't as strong when you really break down the numbers.