Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 22, 2006
BASEBALL: Less Than 20

Mike Mussina's revival this year could give a shot in the arm to his Hall of Fame candidacy. A fuller assessment of where Mussina stands should await another day (see here for some perspective on his path to 300 wins), but my older brother pointed out something that I should have considered before: Mussina's never won 20 games. As it turns out, there are no starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame who have never had a 20-win season, and none of the active guys who would come up with Mussina (Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, Pedro, Glavine, Schilling) have the same problem, nor do Tommy John (3 20-win seasons), Bert Blyleven (1), Jim Kaat (3), Jack Morris (3) or Luis Tiant (4). The lowest totals of 20-win seasons by starting pitchers in the Hall:

One: Jim Bunning, Don Sutton, and if you count him Dennis Eckersley. Sutton, of course, won 324 games, and Bunning was a bad selection.

Two: Chief Bender, Don Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Nolan Ryan. Ryan likewise won 324 games, Ford had amazing winning percentages, lost two years to military service and was held back by Casey Stengel's eccentric concept of a starting rotation, and Hoyt, Pennock and probably Drysdale and Bender were bad selections. Bender and Pennock at least were like Mussina in having very good winning percentages, but not in Ford's class. Babe Ruth also won 20 twice, but is, of course, not in as a pitcher.

Three: Jesse Haines, Sandy Koufax, Ted Lyons, Rube Marquard, Phil Niekro, Dazzy Vance. Again, a mix of bad picks, 300+ winners, and guys who had something else unusually impressive on their resume. John Ward also won twenty three times but is partly in as a shortstop and other things.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:28 AM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Crank-

Good post. I assume Dazzy Vance fits into the "guys who had something else unusually impressive on their resume."

I think Vance was a HOFer for sure. For thosw who don't know him, he was Mike Scott 60 years before Mike Scott, and he sustained it for a number of years.

By that I mean not that he sucked when he first came up with the Mets, scuffed baseballs, or pitched division-winning no-hitters, but that he went from nobody-to-dominant power pitcher after he turned 30.

The more I look at Vance's numbers and understand the context of what he did (1920's NL, post-30 years old), the more I smile in amazement:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/v/vanceda01.shtml

Man, he must have thrown an amazing ball.

Posted by: Mike at May 22, 2006 11:29 AM

Mike, I think of Vance as another Koufax. What he accomplished, when and how is as amazing as Sandy. Maybe more considering the context.

What people forget about Koufax is not his ERA titles (how many in a row can you win--well, let's not forget DOdger Stadium), but how his team always believed they were going to win on the mound, and did so. While his away ERA climbed (if you call a mid-two a climb), the Dodgers still found ways to win with him.

I'm not going to look at the numbers, but to me Mussina is like Blyleven and Morris, in that you knew you were probably going to be in for a bad day, but the numbers don't always show it. I do think that Jack Morris is one pitcher I want on my team for a game 7, and frankly, even among those in the Hall, there are few I would want more. BTW, that Ruth fella is one of them. And as for Barry Bonds, well Ruth pitched a complete game win sometime in the 1930's I think 33? Maybe 32. Don't recall, but it is in the new Ruth bio (still not as good as Creamer, but I'm prejudiced, I loved the Creamer book over even the BOys of Summer). So Barry. you now got to 714, go and start a game now.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at May 22, 2006 12:52 PM

There are apparently only two pitchers with more career wins than Mussina who have not won 20, Frank Tanana and Dennis Martinez. Martinez somehow managed to win 245 games without ever winning more than 16 in a season.

Posted by: Jerry at May 22, 2006 1:10 PM

Mussina certainly seems to fall into the "pretty good pitcher, pretty decent career" sort of category that you have to pile up a long career's worth of numbers to get into the Hall with. He's never won 20, never won a Cy Young, never really led the league in anything consistently (wins once, win %age once) and never really had (except maybe in the 5th or 6th year of his career) the "man, Mussina is on the mound, that's a game I want to see" sort of thing going on. At one point he was 105-49 which put him in the top-10 for winning percentage all-time. Since then he is a nice, but relatively pedestrian 119-78. If he could stick around into his early 40s, make a run at 300, win 18 or 19 a couple more times and maybe have a nice game or 2 in a World Series that would be the only way I would see it happening. If he continues to crank out 13-9 seasons, no way.

Posted by: jim at May 22, 2006 1:57 PM

Jim-

I agree. Most thinking fans understand why "shooting stars" (Koufax, Pedro, Vance, Smokey Joe Wood, Earl Averill, Arky Vaughn) deserve to get in, as well as the damn good for a damn long time, "career stat" guys (Warren Spahn & Al Kaline are two good examples).

But the Mussinas and the Baineses and the Palmieros and Suttons who pile up huge numbers simply by combining being good and being consistent are a dicey problem.

The value of being better-than-average and staying in the line-up is a very valuable combination. But is it HOF worthy? I really don't know the answer to that.

Posted by: Mike at May 22, 2006 2:39 PM

There is no real answer to what is HOF worthy, but pretty good for a reasonable length of time is not it for me.

We've already established that the Koufax/Dean line of success is a reasonable path to the Hall. Hack Wilson is another question. Bottomely got in basically on one game (the 12 rbi one).

So is the Kaline/Spahn route, but they combined many excellent seasons (as Mussina has) with some stellar ones. You really need both. That was one reason why Sutton getting in was so controversial.

The milestones must also be readjusted in our thinking. 500 home runs by itself is simply no longer a marker of excellence, but of strength (or do we let Kingman in too? He's close). 500 home runs is easier to get to, 3000 hits somewhat easier, 300 wins harder. So Sutton at least reached a milestone that was harder to do.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at May 22, 2006 3:25 PM

The definitive Mike Mussina fact is that between 1992 and 2001 he finished 4th, 5th or 6th in the Cy Young balloting 7 times in 10 years (the other 3 years he finished second once - 1999, a very distant second to Pedro - and out of the top 10 in 1993 and 1998).

My bottom line on Mussina is "definitely worthy of serious consideration but too early to call." If he makes 300, you gotta put him in; 300 wins remains a good proxy for greatness and or greatly sustained goodness.

Posted by: The Crank at May 22, 2006 3:27 PM

Daryl: In regard to Koufax, I believe that back in the '60s, Dodger Stadium was regarded as just average in pitcher friendliness. I need to dig up the stats.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at May 22, 2006 3:30 PM

Dave-

I acknowledge that Baseball-Reference.com has some idiosyncracies in their ballpark factoring. Nonethless, they show Dodger's Stadium as favoring pitchers by 6-9% throughout the sixties. That's a large gap, though not as large as what I thought.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/LAD/1962.shtml

Posted by: Mike at May 22, 2006 3:46 PM

The fact that Mussina has pitched his entire career in the AL East during the juiced era has to be taken into consideration.

Posted by: andrew at May 22, 2006 4:51 PM

Going into 2006 Mussina would need to go 51-57 to get to Tom Glavine's lifetime win-loss record. Clearly if he hung on for 4 years and posted that number and ended his career 275-184 few people would say he should get in while if Glavine had retired after 2005 many people would say there is no doubt he should get in (maybe not 1st ballot but in nonetheless). Glavine has the hardware, formally sported the WOW factor and won a World Series (while being the MVP). To me Mussina has to get to 300, has to pitch pretty damn well in the last 3-5 years of his career and he probably needs to do something for a team that goes to a World Series. While he has been better than pretty good most of his career he has never been scintillating.

As far as pitching in the AL East his whole career...some of that is with the Yankees so it is not like he pitched against them all the time and the first several years of his career the two best teams in the East were the Orioles (for whom he played) and the Blue Jays.

Posted by: jim at May 22, 2006 5:22 PM

To me Glavine and Mussina are not identical. Glavine won the Cy Young, Mussina never did, came close, but Glavine had the wow factor to contend with. He had to be constantly compared to Maddux, and that is not an enviable postion to be in. Yes his record reflects excellent teams, but the main reason for those teams was the pitching. So Glavine helped propel the Braves to some great years, he did win the series MVP, he got to the dance a lot.

I think Dodger Stadium was a brutal place to hit, but St. Louis and Candlestick both had pitchers who also benefited from Mt. Everest Mounds. But Dodger Stadium was probably the toughest of them all. Thinking about it, Oakland had those huge foul territories and the Stick was the place that cost Mays 700. Wonder why California was so pitcher friendly.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at May 22, 2006 5:57 PM

That is my point about Mussina. He is NOT the same as Glavine though with some losing records he could get to Glavine's W-L totals. Despite his better winning %age and possibility of winning around the same # of games he lacks the resume items that Glavine has that makes Tom a sure fire HOFer and Mussina likely looking in from the outside.

Posted by: jim at May 22, 2006 6:23 PM

Mussina is similar to Sutton, although not exactly the same. He won't get to the win total Sutton put up, but he probably doesn't have to get quite that far up. Having seen both of them extensively, I do think Mussina was the better pitcher at his peak. If he gets to about 280 without substantially lowering his winning percentage, I think he case will look pretty good.

Posted by: Jerry at May 22, 2006 9:15 PM

a WS ring would make a big difference for Moose

BTW, why is';t Kaat in the Hall? Pithced for too mnay weak teams perhaps?

Posted by: Ironman at May 23, 2006 7:35 AM

I've covered Kaat before. Basically, he doesn't stand up that well next to his mid-60s-mid-70s contemporaries. Whereas Mussina is much more impressive when you adjust for the high-scoring, low-workload era he has pitched in.

Posted by: The Crank at May 23, 2006 11:26 AM

Crank,

Your last comment about low workload is something the casual fan doesn't understand. While offensive numbers appear to be inflated over the last decade or so, it is a different situation for pitchers. Two factors have emerged which make it more difficult to reach 300 wins. First is of course the 5 man rotation. Second is the fact that managers use bullpens much differently than they did decades ago. Don Sutton is in the HoF because he won 324 games. He won 324 games because he started 774 games. Roger Clemens' accomplishments are much more impressive when you consider he was in a five man rotation his entire career. He has won 341 while starting 671 games.

Posted by: LargeBill at May 23, 2006 2:21 PM

Agree, Bill.

Pitcher workload is one of the most misunderstand elements of pitcher evaluation.

2.75 ERAs aren't close to equal when one guys throws 240 IP and the other throws 185.

Posted by: Mike at May 23, 2006 2:28 PM
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