From the Editor's Vault...: November 26, 2008
Answering a Moose Call
Yesterday, you were quoted in the Wall Street Journalas saying that you think Mike Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame. Do you really believe he\'s the same caliber pitcher as the greats of my day, Bob Gibson, Jim Bunning, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Steve Carlton and Jim Palmer? Or legends like Whitey Ford and Walter Johnson? It seems to me he doesn\'t belong in that company. DiehardCubbie5843
Jim Bunning? Don Sutton? If either pitcher had played with Mike Mussina when all three were in their primes, neither Mr. Sutton nor Mr. Bunning would wear the title "ace." Do I think Mussina deserves to be mentioned with the other pitchers you\'ve named? Consider this: Among pitchers with 3,000 or more innings pitched, Mussina\'s .638 career winning percentage is tied for 10th with Jim Palmer. The nine pitchers ahead of them are crème de la crème Hall of Famers and two pitchers who are almost certain Hall of Famers once they\'re eligible:
1 Whitey Ford, .690
2 Lefty Grove, .680
3 Randy Johnson,.669
4 Christy Mathewson,.665
5 Roger Clemens,.660
6 John Clarkson,.650
7 Three Finger Brown,.649
8 Grover C Alexander,.642
9 Greg Maddux, .639
That\'s standing in some high cotton.
Mussina compiled statistics that become even more impressive than they first appear when you view them in the context of the era in which he played, a period in which offense dominated the game. During the 18 seasons in which he played, Mussina\'s e.r.a. was 100 or more points below the league average. To give you an idea of the rarified level of performance those numbers represent, consider that Tom Seaver pitched for 20 seasons, and accomplished that feat in “only” 10 of them; Steve Carlton posted e.r.a.’s that low in only five seasons.
You mention Bob Gibson who, coincidentally, was my favorite player during the 1960s (along with Richie Allen; I always liked rebels). He provides an excellent point of comparison. Gibson, like Mussina, pitched for good teams most of his career (although Mussina\'s clubs won more often). Gibson\'s career winning percentage is .591, 47 points behind Mussina\'s. Gibson posted a 2.91 career earned run average, which, at first glance, appears markedly better than Mussina\'s 3.68 career mark.
But Gibson pitched in an era that favored pitchers while Mussina pitched almost his entire career through a period of unprecedented offensive dominance. Gibson\'s career e.r.a is 80 points below league average; Mussina\'s mark is 83 points below league average. Jim Bunning\'s career e.r.a is 46 points below league average, and Don Sutton, who was only a league average pitcher in most of the seasons he pitched, posted a career e.r.a. that is only 26 points below the norm.
Mussina has finished sixth or better in the balloting for the Cy Young Award in nine different seasons, as many as Seaver, one more than Palmer and three more than Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson and four more than Sutton. On Sunday I read a column by a New York baseball writer in which he put Mussina on a level with Jack Morris. It was an absurd comparison. Morris\'s career e.r.a. (3.90) was barely average (4.08) for the period in which he pitched. He was competent workhorse of a pitcher, a bit better than average but not by much, who happened to play for teams who backed him with superior run support.
Now go back and study the names I’ve mentioned. Many writers I\'ve read over the past few weeks seem to be placing Moose in that borderline Hall of Fame pack with Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton and pitchers who aren\'t in the Hall like Morris. But Mussina\'s record suggests he was more than a cut above all of them, and he belongs somewhere in that tier just a step below the most dominant pitchers in baseball history. Had he pitched in an era when managers weren’t as quick to go to their bullpens, he easily would have won 300 games, and we wouldn\'t be having this conversation. But 300 games or no, Moose compiled a more impressive record than half the pitchers already enshrined within the Hall. He belongs in there with them.