Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mike Mussina Keltner List

Jason has a breakdown of Moose's HoF chances, but because there's really nothing else to do this afternoon I thought I'd do a Keltner list:

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

Never, nor was he ever considered the best pitcher in baseball.

Was he the best player on his team?

Setting aside the argument that a position player has more overall value than a pitcher, I think we can certainly say that Mussina was the best Oriole for a couple of years. 1992 and 1994 spring to mind. There are arguments for other years if you discount Rafael Palmiero's suspected steroid use. He was very often the best pitcher on the Orioles.

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

Never. There is very little black ink on his resume. It's not his fault that he shared the league with Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez throughout his prime, but facts is facts.

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

He was involved in many after coming over to the Yankees, but I can't think of a single instance in which anyone spoke of Mussina as having a real "impact" on them. His overall postseason numbers aren't terribly far removed from his career norms, but Hall of Fame voters look for someone to step it up in October. He'll also be penalized -- unfairly, I think -- for never having won a World Series with the Yankees.

Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

This is where his timing is going to help him a lot. In reality, his prime probably ended in October 2003, after which he put up two below average seasons, followed by a bounceback year, an awful year, and then another bounceback year. On the whole, then, I'd say that the evidence shows that yes, he could be serviceable past his prime.

The story that will be told, however, was that he quit while still in his prime. This isn't true, but when you quit after winning 20 games, you're going to be compared to Koufax and stuff and have all manner of romantic tales told about how you walked away while still on top.

Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No

Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Five of his top ten comps are in the Hall: Marichal, Plamer, Hubbell, Griffith, and Bunning. The other five: Wells, Schilling, Morris, Pettitte, get a lot of talk about someday making it. Well, maybe not Wells. None of those ten are strikingly similar, however.

Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

As Jason noted, the standards and monitor tests at B-R.com say yes. There are many guys with fewer wins in the Hall of Fame.

Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

If there is, I haven't heard it. He's always been solid and was often excellent, and that's where his reputation lies. If anything, he was probably not given enough credit for many years due to the unfair fixation writers have on the magic number 20. A couple of random breaks and he easily has five 20-win seasons, and everyone's talking about him being Jim Palmer.

Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

Well, he's not eligible, which makes this exercise terribly premature. It's possible, however, that when he is eligible, he'll have Maddux, Clemens, Glavine, Martinez, Schilling, Smoltz, Pettitte, and Randy Johnson as competition within the span of a year or two. That, I think is going to be his biggest problem, and what will make him have to wait a while.

How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

No MVP awards and no close consideration. I don't think he ever had a plausible MVP argument.

How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in?

He was a five time All-Star, and I don't think anyone would have batted an eye if he were selected for a couple of others.

Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?

There are several pitchers with more, but the All-Star Game is so tainted by weirdness anymore that I think we should dispense with this as an important factor, especially for pitchers. There are a lot of guys selected who don't deserve it. There are a lot of guys not selected because they quietly signaled to the manager that they'd love three days off. Mussina could have pitched in more, he could have pitched in fewer, and I don't think his case turns on that.

If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Extremely doubtful. It certainly never happened.

What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Not in any way that I know. Maybe someday everyone will be bending all the way to their ankles when pitching from the stretch and we'll have Mussina to thank for it, but I kind of doubt it.

Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

There have always been stories of Mussina being something of a priggish snob, but I think that has more to do with the fact that he's an educated guy from a serious college, and in the relatively uneducated world of baseball, those sorts of stories are always circulate about guys like that. If there is any merit to those stories, it's nothing that will make a difference. Jim Palmer made the Hall of Fame for cryin' out loud.

As always, the Keltner list is more fun for conversational purposes than it is determinative of anything. My view is that Mussina will make the Hall of Fame, but that he'll have to wait in line a while like a Jim Rice or a Goose Gossage. If I had to vote today I'd say no simply because I have a hard time getting my mind around the concept of an era's seventh or eighth best starter being Hall-worthy. That said, I can't see myself leading any battles against his inclusion either.

Mike Mussina was very good for a very long time, and to have strong feelings against such a beast being inducted says more about your feelings towards the Hall of Fame in general than it does about Mussina himself.

11 comments:

rob said...

Ironically, if Mussina had spent the last seven years toiling away for the Pirates or Reds (while still putting up the same numbers) he'd be even less likely to make it to the Hall than he will be in reality.

Never underestimate the benefit of playing for a team in New York. (c.f. Blyleven, Bert)

christopher said...

The case for mussina boils down to this. He has less black ink but more gray ink than the average hall of famer. I'm a big tent guy, so i say let him in.

But the Keltner List seems a little inadequate for pitchers because it focuses so heavily on MVP-type stuff. Mussinas top comp from age 33-35 on B-R.com is Dwight Gooden. If you Keltnerize him, he's got a better case than Mussina - he was the best player in baseball for a while.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

I love the Keltner test, Craig. You always put a good spin on it, but I agree with Christopher (above) who believes the "test" is inadequate for a pitcher.

I've got some bias in me and I think he's borderline. I also agree that he will, at some point, get into the HOF. Just not in the first year or two.

lar said...

I posted this on another blog yesterday, but I think it mentions a lot of why I like Moose so much and why I think he's a HOFer... I should also note that in the 1997 ALCS vs. the Indians, Mike Mussina pitched in 2 games with 15 IP, 1 ER, 0.60 ERA, 4 hits, and 25 strikeouts, but the O's lost both games (sending the Indians to the Series). That's domination.

here's what I wrote on Joe Posnanski's blog:

There’s a lot to say about Moose, and I don’t think I have the time. I was a big Orioles fan growing up (I decided Cal was my favorite player in 1988, when I was 7 and stuck with that) and Moose was clearly my favorite player of the 90s (Cal was still my favorite player of all time, but age had definitely caught up to him).

Anyhow, all Mussina did for the O’s was win and win, and pitch brillaintly. People remember the Indians in 1997, but they only got to the Series because the O’s bullpen *cough*Armando Benitez*cough* blew two Mussina gems in extra innings (I may have the details wrong, but I think Mosse set the record for strikeouts in a LCS with 15 in 7 innings one game that series). Also, there are the multiple near-perfect games (he had the one for the Yanks that Carl Everett broke up on a 1-2 count with 2 outs in the 9th, but he also had one or two others for the O’s that lasted until the 8th or 9th inning).

Lastly, the 20-win thing… people seem to forget that he won 19 games in 1995, which as it happens, was a strike shortened year (he was also 4th in ERA, 2nd in WHIP and 1st in shutouts that year). But he was overshadowed by the monster years that Johnson had (in the AL) and Maddux had (in the NL). How he finished 5th in the Cy Young voting that year (behind 2nd place Jose Mesa and 3rd place Tim Wakefield[!]) is beyond me.

The only thing I can figure is that he got lost in the glare of New York. Of course, he didn’t have his best years with the Yanks - and, in fact, threw out some really bad years and some really bad big game performances - so that probably has a lot to do with people’s perceptions. Being on Baltimore when he was at his best probably hurts him too, because people don’t pay attention to the O’s like they did the Yanks or Red Sox.

Looking at Moose’s career in New York always made me wonder, though, what it is about the Yankees that causes pitchers to underperform? I can’t be the only one who noticed it… when big pitchers go to the Yanks (think Moose, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens), they tend to have worse years. Is it because the Yanks pluck them a year too late (probably not, because they usualy end up performing well after leaving the club)? or is it because the New York spotlight is too bright (possibly)? Or is it because Mel Stottlemyre was never much of a pitching coach (which was always my pet theory)? Thoughts?

Like I said, there’s probably a lot more I could say, but this is already too much…

mkd said...

I think when you do the test for pitchers you have to sub "Cy Young" for "MVP"

How many Cy Young-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win a Cy Young award? If not, how many times was he close?:

None, but he was a seven-time Cy Young Award nominee, placing in the top five six times, which is pretty darn good. Clearly contemporary sportswriters thought he was consistently one of the best pitchers in the league.

Also, the question "Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?" is also rough on pitchers. I may not be impressed by a guy who was consistently the 7th or 8th best 3rd baseman in the league, but I'd look twice at a guy who was consistently the 7th or 8th best position player in the league. You go from talking about a Kevin Kevin Kouzmanoff to a Chase Utley and that's a pretty vast talent gulf.

I like the test and think it's fun, but I'd tweak it a little for pitchers. I'd also like to know what their favorite curse word is and what job, other than the one they currently have, they'd most like to have.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

lar: With all due respect, Clemens was a beast in pinstripes. Didn't he start one year at 20-1? That playoff game against the Mariners with 15 or so K's? Yeah, he might have had "help" but Clemens tenure in NYY was hardly disappointing. It was the return 1/2 year stints that were....

Diesel said...

FWIW, I remember Moose's JAWS scores being well past the "borderline" threshold.

lar said...

Jason: well, when I wrote that, I hesitated over including Clemens name because I knew he won a Cy with them. But I thought I remembered him being closer to average the rest of his seasons. I was writing it quickly, though, so I didn't do the checking. I'm ready to admit that he had a solid Yankee career.

I just took a look on BR, though, and I don't feel that I was too far off. Yes, he did win the Cy in 2001 when he was 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA and 213 Ks. Besides that year, he was 14-10, 13-8, 13-6 and 17-9 the other seasons, with ERAs ranging from 3.70 to 4.60. Nothing too spectacular (though never bad). Someone pointed out yesterday that in Clemens' 2001 season, when he was 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA, Mussina was 17-11 (much worse record) with a 3.15 ERA (much better ERA) in about the same innings with about the same K's (Clemens 220IP, 213Ks; Moose 228 IP, 214Ks) on the *same* team. So, even though i know we're talking about Clemens here, it's still interesting to note that Clemens won Cy Young #7 even though his numbers weren't really any better than Moose's (and Moose finished 5th in voting that year... 5th? how? because the Yankees hit for Clemens but not for him?)

You're point is still taken, Jason. That question about big name pitchers and the Yanks was just something that's been in my gut for a while... i haven't actually studied it to see if I'm right...

Sara K said...

I haven't paid a great deal of attention to Mussina over the years, so I had no idea that he had the "overeducated" rep in baseball circles. I find it rather amusing though, since Mussina is one of the interviewees in the documentary Wordplay, and compared to the others, he comes off as...well, a bit dim. Aren't comparisons great?

TLA said...

A couple of comments/questions:

What, if any, impact did the fact that Mussina spent 4 yrs at Stamford have on his career stats? I wonder, of the top 15 pitchers of his era, which I think he fits in there (if not the HOF), what was the average age that they began pitching in the Show. Is there any basis to handicap Mussina's stats based on this.

Also, has anyone made the point that he did it in the AL East entirely and exclusively in the "steroid era"? A few other factors fit in this category. Namely, half his career was also in the "unbalanced schedule era" and, during his career (18 yrs), the AL East produced 8 World Series Champs (2 TOR; 4 NYY; 2 BOS). I don't think you can punish him for failing to win a WS without taking this last fact into account as well.

Finally, the notion that Mussina did not have an impact on a pennant race seems dubious and I think it has more to do with the fact that Mussina was pretty consistent, never fired heaters at people's heads (Clemens, Unit) and didn't engage in self-aggrandizement (eh hem, Schilling). When you look at Mussina's "Fall" numbers (pennant race?), he was pretty damn good compared to those guys who writers get all moist over.

Mike Mussina in Sept/Oct.:
44-21, .676 winning percentage, 2.86 ERA, 517 Ks, 130 walks.

Randy Johnson in Sept./Oct: 51-17, .750 WP, 2.95 ERA, 790 Ks, 230 walks.

Pedro Martinez in Sept./Oct: 28-27, .509 WP, 3.19 ERA, 496 Ks, 126 walks.

Roger Clemens in Sept./Oct: 53-35, .602 WP, 3.27 ERA, 745 Ks, 261 walks.

Greg Maddux in Sept/Oct: 62-49, .558 WP, 3.42 ERA, 565 Ks, 157 walks.

Curt Schilling in Sept./Oct: 34-25, .576 WP, 3.63 ERA, 494 Ks, 114 walks.

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious to see Mussina's 'big-game' and playoff and 'pennant race' performances broken down game-by-game the way Bill James did it for Drysdale. A 'September ERA' doesn't actually mean he pitched well in pennant races or in critical games. I'm inclined to think he helped his team more than hurt them, though- see the '97 playoffs and that '03 Game 7 relief appearance. But I haven't looked and with 3 kids may never get to.
-CL