IS MIKE MUSSINA A HALL OF FAMER? YOU BETCHA

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 

You’ve heard the arguments as to why Mike Mussina, who announced his retirement this week, is not a Hall of Famer:  He never won a World Series (getting to the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series with a one-run lead doesn’t count), he never won a Cy Young, he didn’t win 300 games and, of course, until this season, he never won 20.  The following will point out the reasons why he is a Hall of Famer.

 

100 WINS OVER .500

 

Pitchers with over 200 wins who are also 100 wins over .500 are Hall of Fame pitchers.  And while Roger Clemens (354-184) may not make the Hall of Fame, that will be for different reasons.  Mussina, at 270-153, is a staggering 117 games over .500.  A stunning statistic.

 

JIM PALMER

 

Nobody would confuse Mike Mussina with Jim Palmer.  Although they have virtually identical won-loss numbers (Mussina 270-153, Palmer 268-152), Palmer’s three Cy Youngs and three World Series rings put him on another level.  In fact, the only person who might confuse Mike Mussina with Jim Palmer is … Jim Palmer.

    

Interestingly, Palmer was interviewed by Suzyn Waldman before a Yankees-Orioles game a few years ago (before Mussina won 20).  When asked about Mussina, Palmer said he was a Hall of Fame pitcher.  In fact, Palmer said that “you really had to see Mike pitch week-in and week-out for the Orioles [as Palmer did] to understand his greatness.”

    

Palmer has been quoted elsewhere as saying if Mike Mussina had stayed an Oriole, “he would have been the greatest Oriole pitcher ever.”  While none of us who saw Palmer (and Mussina) pitch will agree, the point is an interesting one because it comes from the greatest Oriole pitcher ever.

 

SEVEN GOLD GLOVES

 

With all the emphasis on hitting in the last 20 years, and the number of starting pitchers doubling (tripling?) over the last few decades due to expansion, five-man (v. four- man) rotations and injuries, seven Gold Gloves is a stunning number for this position.

 

10 SEASONS WITH AN ERA OF 3.50 OR LESS

 

It’s hard to equate ERA today with ERA in the past, especially with the common knowledge about the existence (but not the depth) of the steroids era.  The rule of thumb on National League ERA v. American League ERA is about a half-a-run (due to the pitcher hitting, the number eight hitter, the existence of the AL designated hitter, etc.).  Back in the “glory” days of baseball (before they lowered the mound in the late ‘60s), under a 3.00 ERA was considered very good.  Today, that’s virtually unheard of.  For Mussina to have 10 seasons at 3.50 or less (and one season of 3.51) is an amazing stat.

 

THE MYTH OF 20 WINS IN A SEASON AND 300 WINS IN TODAY’S GAME

 

This is old news, but people have trouble grasping the concept.  I was fortunate to interview Jim Kaat in 2001, as he was, at the time, doing Yankee games on MSG.  Kaat said that, because the Mets, in the late 1960s, to protect their young arms (Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, etc.), changed their rotation from a four-man to a five-man, they also changed the dynamic of the number of wins starting pitchers could have over the course of a season and a career.

    

Kaat said that all great pitchers strive to win half of their starts to win 20 games.  In a four-man rotation, the starters get 40-41 starts a year.  Thus, a top pitcher could win 20 games by winning half of his starts.  In a five-man rotation, that same starter would get only 33-34 starts a year.  Thus, without even discussing the fact that starters don’t complete games and the rise of the relief pitcher as a virtually every-game appearance, simple math shows you that, since the starters before (we’ll say the 1980s) started 15% more games than today’s starters (40 v. 34), by simple math the equivalent of 20 wins then is 17 wins now.

    

Where are the “stat experts” on this simple example?

    

I wrote about this at length when Mike Mussina won his 255th game on May 8, 2008 (see Kallas Remarks, 5/14/08).  In fact, based on Jim Kaat’s statements in 2001, I wrote that Mike Mussina winning 255 in the five-man rotation era is just like winning 300 in the four-man rotation era (300 less 15% equals 255).  And nobody knew.  You don’t have to be a brain surgeon, a mathematician or even a knowledgeable baseball person to figure this out.

    

If you ask, today (and a stunning number of people do), how many times did he win 20?, you lack the basic knowledge of what happened to baseball over the last 25 years or so.  And, again, that’s before there is any discussion of six-inning pitchers and multiple relievers.

    

If you’re going the 20-win question route, understand that the question should be “How many times did Mike Mussina win 17 or more?”  The answer is eight (17 twice, 18 three times, 19 twice and 20 in 2008).  Imagine if Mussina pitched in a four-man rotation era and won 20 eight times?  Nobody would deny that he’s a sure Hall of Famer.

 

WON OVER 50% OF HIS STARTS

 

Back to the Jim Kaat example of what great pitchers set out to do every season (win half of their starts (20 wins before the 1980s, 17 wins nowadays)).  Mike Mussina started 536 games in his career.  He won 270.  That’s greater than 50% and a staggering stat.

 

THE CONCLUSION   

  

We’ll go back to Jim Palmer, who might have seen Mike Mussina pitch more than anyone over the course of Mussina’s career.  Palmer recently told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times that Mussina was “one of the most gifted guys I ever saw.”  That should help a deserving Mike Mussina get into the Hall of Fame.

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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2 responses to “IS MIKE MUSSINA A HALL OF FAMER? YOU BETCHA

  1. Steve,

    Good work – but there is a great stat to compare ERA’s of today to ERA’s of the past. It’s called ERA+, and it tells us what % above or below league average ERA a pitcher’s ERA was in a given season. An ERA+ of 100 is always league average. An ERA+ of 120 is 20% better than league average. An ERA+ of 80 is 20% worse than league average.

    For his career, Mussina’s ERA+ was an impressive 123. For comparison, Tom Glavine’s career ERA+ is 118, Greg Maddux’s is 132, and Roger Clemens’ is 143.

    This is a very simple and reliable stat for comparing ERA across different eras/seasons. Go here for more on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adjusted_ERA%2B

  2. James K beat me to it with ERA+.

    Also, wins are incredibly stupid.

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