As for me, I don’t have a vote yet. But I will when he comes up for election in five years and I will vote for him.
I was on the borderline until a few months ago until a conversation with Johnny Damon convinced me. Johnny brought up the point that Mussina spent his entire career in the American League East and faced eight teams that won the World Series (Blue Jays 1992-93, Yankees ’96, 1998-2000, Red Sox 2004, ’07).
“It’s different for a pitcher pitching in this division,” Damon said. “The schedule isn’t balanced. A guy like Moose, he was facing a great offensive team every other time he pitched.”
I also looked at Baseball Reference.com, which has a good Hall of Fame gauge for every player based on some Bill James research.
The “Gray Ink” test gives a player points on based on where he finishes in the top 10 in his league in ERA, wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, win-loss percentage, saves, complete games, walks per nine innings and hits per nine innings.
Moose has 244 such points. The average Hall of Fame pitcher has 185. Based on his career statistics, Mussina compares favorably to guys like Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Curt Schilling and Carl Hubbell.
Mussina is 19th in history in strikeouts. He also did a superb job of controlling the things he could. Over 3,562.2 career innings, he threw only 71 wild pitches, hit only 60 batters, had one (one!) balk and walked only 785.
A “win” is not necessarily a telling stat in a particular game. A pitcher can get rocked and get a win. Just as a “loss” often doesn’t indicate much beyond the score of the game.
But over the course of time, I do believe that wins and losses matter. Going 270-153 is indicative of durability and success. A starting pitcher can’t be 117 games over .500 by accident. Over that many games, the undeserved wins and undeserved losses balance out.
Mussina is one of 25 pitchers to have won 270 games since 1900. Only five – Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander – have a higher winning percentage than Mussina’s .638. That’s not company you can ignore.
There are many old-school writers who say Mussina never won the Cy Young, never won the World Series and won 20 games only once. Or they will focus on his falling short of 300 wins. That is weak reasoning.
Let’s say Mussina kept pitching and over the next three seasons went 30-30 with a 5.12 ERA for the Yankees before being traded to the Phillies for the second half of the 2011 season. Would that make him a Hall of Famer because he had 300 wins? In my mind, it would weaken his case.
Winning 20 games in a season is contingent on too many factors outside of a starter’s control to matter much. Mussina should have won 20 games in 1996 but Armando Benitez blew a save after the Moose allowed one run over eight innings in his last start. Why should he be penalized for that?
The same is true of the Cy Young. Mussina never deserved to win the award. But I’ll happily take him for my team instead of Cliff Lee, Pat Hentgen, Jack McDowell, Bob Welch, Frank Viola, LaMarr Hoyt and Steve Stone. I hate to write this because I am a member of the organization. But the BBWAA has far too many nitwits for me to judge any player based on their voting.
This year alone, we had three people vote for a player who wasn’t a rookie in the NL Rookie of the Year race and somebody who included two Indians and A-Rod but not for Dustin Pedroia on his MVP ballot. I saw somebody else stump for Frankie Rodriguez for MVP. Never mind he wasn’t remotely the best closer in the league. When I consider Hall of Fame candidates, BBWAA voting is not something I will factor in.
It might take him an extra year or two to get in. But I think Mussina will get in to Cooperstown and should be there.