Moose It Or Lose It

While he was still issuing non-denial denials last night, it certainly looks all but official that Mike Mussina is retiring. It’s a shame for the game, and a decision Mussina may regret later on. Mussina can afford to retire, of course – according to, he’s made $144 million in his career – but even if he hung on 2 or 3 more years, he’d still be 42 or 43 years old and never have to work again, with maybe 40+ years of retirement ahead of him. But you only get a limited number of years to play Major League caliber baseball.
Sure, Mussina’s very unlikely to have another year like 2008. After a a 4.59 ERA in 2004, a 4.41 ERA in 2005, a 5.15 ERA in 2007 and a 5.75 ERA in his first four starts in 2008, Mussina, who turns 40 in December, can be forgiven for thinking that the pendulum will swing back down sooner rather than later, and deciding to go out on top. But still: the man has won 270 games and is coming off a 20-win season when he struck out 150 batters and walked 31. Mussina almost certainly deserves to go to Cooperstown, as discussed below, but from here on in, even another 5 or 10 or 15 wins is going to make his case that much easier, and it’s hardly improbable for him to get to 300 wins; given the exclusivity of that club, it’s hard to imagine a competitive professional athlete never looking back and wondering if he could have done that. Plus, of course, Mussina’s on the Yankees; if he drops back to a 5.00 ERA next year, he’ll still win games. And who wants to retire having pitched 8 seasons with the Yankees and never won a championship?
Buster Olney argues that it’s about the age of his kids:

Mussina’s logic in retiring now is that he really felt like that if he was going to continue playing, it was going to be because he would pursue 300 victories — and with 270 wins, he felt that realistically, he probably would have to pitch three seasons to get those last 30 victories. And he did not want to pitch three more seasons, not at a time when his youngest children are beginning to play youth sports and he can coach them.

Well, OK…I get that if his family’s in Pennsylvania he doesn’t get the same kind of time at home as if they were in New York, and he’d still be 3-4 hours from home even if he signed with the Phillies. But this is a guy who is off for three full months of the offseason, the kids can come to NY for the summer…it’s still not a bad life.
Anyway, assuming Mussina calls it quits, will he make the Hall? I’d assume he will – especially now that the “he never won 20” knock is gone, and probably the writers, ever suckers for a human interest angle, will give him a break on falling short of 300 because he could have if he’d wanted to.
And he should. Let’s look at the career records of pitchers since 1893 with between 250 and 300 wins, ranked by ERA+ (park-adjusted league ERA divided by career ERA; 100 is a league-average pitcher, higher is better; G+ is games over .500). I’ve left off here 5 such pitchers who pitched mostly or entirely before the mound moved back in 1893 (Al Spalding, Bobby Mathews, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, and Jim McCormick), of whom only Spalding’s in the Hall, since there’s no point comparing Mussina to the standards by which those guys are judged:

Pitcher W G+ W% IP ERA+ HoF?
Randy Johnson 295 135 .648 4039.1 137 n/e
Carl Hubbell 253 99 .622 3590.1 130 IN
Bob Gibson 251 77 .591 3884.1 127 IN
Jim Palmer 266 116 .638 3948.0 126 IN
Mike Mussina 270 117 .638 3562.2 123 n/e
Bob Feller 266 104 .621 3827.0 122 IN
Red Faber 254 41 .544 4086.2 119 IN
Bert Blyleven 287 37 .534 4970.0 118 Out
Ted Lyons 260 30 .531 4161.0 118 IN
Fergie Jenkins 284 58 .557 4500.2 115 IN
Eppa Rixey 266 15 .515 4494.2 115 IN
Robin Roberts 286 41 .539 4688.2 113 IN
Tommy John 288 57 .555 4710.1 110 Out
Red Ruffing 273 48 .548 4344.0 109 IN
Jim Kaat 283 46 .544 4530.1 107 Out
Burleigh Grimes 270 58 .560 4180.0 107 IN
Jack Morris 254 68 .577 3824.0 105 Out

Now, there are two guys on this list who still don’t belong here – Randy Johnson will most likely cross the 300-win barrier next season if he’s healthy for even about a third of the season, and Bob Feller would probably have won 300 and had better career averages if he hadn’t missed more than 3 years of his prime to World War II. And of course, career totals aren’t the be-all and end-all (Roberts, in particular, is in the Hall for his dominant prime, not his career totals). That said, two things should jump out at you here: a lot more of these guys are in the Hall than out, and Mussina looks a lot more like the guys who are in with no questions asked than like the guys who are out (243-game winner Juan Marichal comes up as the most similar player to Mussina). He may be superficially similar to Jack Morris, but he’s really much more similar to Jim Palmer – all three had good offenses behind them (Mussina probably had less defensive support than Morris, and definitely less than Palmer), but Mussina’s record is pretty consistent with his ERAs. The worst you can say is that Mussina, in line with modern practice, has thrown a lot fewer innings, but recall as well that he’s thrown an extra 139.2 innings of postseason work. And he’s been fantastically consistent – 17 straight seasons winning in double figures with only one losing season, 9 straight 200-IP seasons, 12 straight with ERA+ better than 100. In today’s American League in particular, that’s more than enough for me.

16 thoughts on “Moose It Or Lose It”

  1. In the end, to me, the thing that I liked about Mussina best was his choice of agent. Arn Tellem never forgot that, while he represented a client, he didn’t want to hurt the goose either. I always figured if a player wanted Boras, he could keep him, and who wants that kind of player.
    I think Moose will make it because he put together some good (not great) numbers in the AL East during the steroid era, so the voters will take that into account. If he doesn’t make it on the first few ballots, he will have to wait longer, because that’s probably when Maddox will then come up, and Mussina will look worse (well, he was), so it all depends upon who comes up while memories are fresh. The longer you wait, the more then numbers count.

  2. It will hurt Mussina if his first time on the ballot is the same year as Maddux and Glavine (which it probably will be) and some of Schilling, Randy Johnson, Pedro, and Smoltz (most, but not all, of whom will probably pitch some more). But I think he’ll eventually get in once writers adjust to the pitching realities of the era we are in, in which even the really great pitchers aren’t going to win 20 more than two or three times.

  3. Moose is an interesting case in that he lacks the single dominating year or couple years where he was the game’s best pitcher or in the debate. Schilling is an interesting comp to Mussina; similar overall but with a different “feel” to his career that is more HOF friendly (several 2nd place cy finishes forming a greater peak + the postseason glories). I tend to think that both of them are a bit short in the innings pitched department compared to most of the names on your list, but clearly they were dominant pitchers in a hitter’s era. I lean towards giving them both the nod but its a close call.

  4. The guy can be a high-school or college coach anytime he wants in the future, or be some sort of pitching coach in the majors/minors or color/analyst after his kids leave the hive. Yeah, the window for playing MLB is small, but enjoying your kids is even shorter.
    As for HOF, I say adamantly “no”.
    An ERA of 4.40 is terrible and 5 of his 18 seasons had him over that mark. For the most part, his seasons with the Yankees were unremarkable and looked a lot like David Wells’ stats.
    He will, however, be my all-time best entry into the Chris Berman contest machine, with apologies to the Chi-lites (it’s best if said to the tune of the song): Mike “tell me have” Mussina?

  5. For Berman nicknames, I was always partial to Bert “Be Home” Blyleven.
    As for Moose, let ’em in. A relevant question in any hall of fame analysis should be “did he ever play for the Yankees for more than one season?” If the answer is “yes,” and it’s close call otherwise, he should go in!
    Why? Because the Yankees are where “players become legends.” 🙂

  6. Henry, I don’t know Moose, but he’s no Clemens. He’s a pretty bright guy, and probably knows how to be satisfied after baseball. Clemens probably never knew what to do the day the games stopped. So he kept playing. Ah, better living through chemistry.

  7. MVH, Blyleven is the all-time best, right above Rick “innocent” Lysander. But, the Mussina one is all mine, baby. When I unleashed it on my fantasy league back in 1995, they almost fell off their chairs.
    Daryl, actually I think that Clemens’ later seasons have – instead of illustrating some need to fulfill something that is missing – shown exactly how smart he is: he gets to skip spring training and those endless drills, the time away from family during the spring, gets to avoid the press for a few months, then sits back and gauges which team can offer him the most money while having a decent chance at the playoffs, thereby missing the notion of signing with a team that gets off to a horrendous start & thus wasting another full season.
    Basically, some of that is what Shaq has done for the last few years: dog it during the first of the season & then show up in crunch time. I remember the yearly “is Charles Haley going to come play for the Cowboys or 49ers?” game. The Dodgers have basically done that with Greg Maddux of late….it’s just that he’s played for another team prior to their getting him. Well, Clemens has bypassed the “I’ll play for a terrible team until the trading deadline” thing.
    If I were a 41 yr old hall of famer (I have half that requirement met, though!) and could do that….I most certainly would. It’s not like Clemens needs the extra few months’ worth of salary.

  8. Sorry, everyone, but the best Berman nickname is undoubtedly Oddibe (Young Again) McDowell.
    It doesn’t get any better than that.

  9. Comparing mussina to Marichal is a joke. Marichal was so very good and is so underappreciated today. Mussina is more like Tommy John or Jim Kaat.

  10. Comparing mussina to Marichal is a joke. Marichal was so very good and is so underappreciated today. Mussina is more like Tommy John or Jim Kaat.

  11. Comparing mussina to Marichal is a joke. Marichal was so very good and is so underappreciated today. Mussina is more like Tommy John or Jim Kaat.

  12. I am a huge Moose fan but considering the standards of today, I say “no”. I think he needed 300 wins to get in. I still want to see the idiot BBWA declare that they are going to boost pitchers from the roid era if they are going to discount hitters from the roid era. They won’t because they are fools.
    I’m also a no on Schilling.

  13. His winning percentage and his ERA against the steroid era in a tough division will likely get him enshrined some day. It is possible that retiring today is better than coming back and having a really crappy final season or two. Retiring with 270 right after a 20 win season leads the voters to speculate that he would have won 300. Coming back and going 5 – 16 with a 5.30 ERA would have removed that thought. As others have said he will be on the ballot with many automatic selections his first so many years on the ballot as well as many high quality hold overs. Because of the steroid backlash, we could see a logjam building as lots of players get over 5% but none reach the 75%. It is easier to get 75% when there are very few credible candidates. Based on that Mussina will likely spend over a decade waiting for the call.

  14. Looking over Mussina’s career record, I was reminded of Milt Pappas who pitched when I was a kid. Pappas was a competent pitcher that never won 20 games. I believe he was something like 17-7 in his second to the last season and then maybe 7-16 in his last year.

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