Mike Mussina is in his first year on baseball's Hall of Fame ballot. The righthander spent his entire 18-year career in the American League East, first with the Orioles and then with the Yankees. He pitched during one of the most prolific offensive eras in baseball history, yet his career numbers are generally regarded well by both old-school and new-school analysts. But is that enough to get him elected to the Hall?
THE CASE FOR THE HALL
The two big measuring sticks for a Hall of Fame case is how a player compared with players of his era and how he compares with those already enshrined in Cooperstown.
In Mussina's case, he passes both tests.
The average ERA in the AL East from 1991-2008, the years Mussina pitched, was 4.53 for all pitchers. Mussina was nearly a run better, posting a 3.68 career ERA along with his 270-153 record. His 3,562 2/3 innings pitched ranked fourth among contemporaries in that same span.
His 2,813 strikeouts from 1991-2008 was sixth in MLB , even ahead of likely Hall of Famers John Smoltz (2,636) and Tom Glavine (2,284). That total would rank him 12th among Hall of Fame pitchers, just behind Jim Bunning but ahead of Warren Spahn, Cy Young and Bob Feller. Mussina's career 7.10 strikeouts per nine innings would place him sixth, ahead of Tom Seaver, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, among Hall of Famers in the modern era (since 1901). His 1.98 walks per nine innings would rank 13th, ahead of Gibson, Feller and Sandy Koufax during that same period.
A "win" for a pitcher has been tossed aside by many in the sabermetric community, given that many factors for achieving a win (offense, performance of subsequent relievers) are out of a pitcher's control. But even for those who still find value in it, Mussina's record fares well. True, achieving 300 wins is typically viewed as a number for "automatic" election to the Hall of Fame. The only pitchers with 300 or more wins who haven't been elected to the Hall are either currently on the ballot, yet to be on the ballot or, in the case of Roger Clemens, tainted by allegations of performance-enhancing drug use. But 44 of the 70 players inducted as pitchers have less than 270 wins, including Jim Palmer (268), Feller (266), Gibson (251) and Ford (236). The average Hall of Fame pitcher has 251. Mussina's .638 win-loss percentage would be tied for 12th with Palmer among current Hall of Famers.
For those who focus on "clutch" and postseason stats, Mussina also fares well.
His 3.42 playoff ERA and 1.10 WHIP are better than his regular-season numbers.
For those who claim Mussina is a "compiler," the average Hall pitcher plays for 17 seasons. Mussina lasted 18.
THE CASE AGAINST THE HALL
Mussina was a good pitcher, who often pitched for excellent teams. But possessing above-average talent and the fortune to play with high-caliber teammates does not qualify a player as a Hall of Famer.
Mussina's career 3.68 ERA would be the third highest among Hall of Famers. His lone 20-win season came at age 39 for a non-playoff team.
And there's this: Mussina is a study in "almost."
He almost won a World Series in 2001, but didn't. He almost pitched a perfect game in 2001, but didn't. He almost won the Cy Young in 1999, but didn't.
He led the AL in a few categories in 1995, including wins (19), shutouts (4) and walks per nine innings (2.0). But the only time he led the league in any category after that was in games started in 1996 (36) and innings pitched in 2000 (237.2). Notice, his "dominant period" ends in 2000. But he hung on for eight more seasons, pitching for an explosive Yankees team that helped him pile up 123 wins in eight seasons.
His postseason record was 7-8. In three World Series games, when his team needed him the most, he was 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA.