Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"Mussina A Must for Hall of Fame" by Dad


     So my younger son (byline: CBoh) and I had a fairly long car ride this past weekend, during which we unsurprisingly talked a fair bit of sports. And, as in many long rides taken by sports fans, the conversation drifted to that timeless game, “Hall of Fame or Not?” This game, of course, seeks to ask and answer these pressing, timeless questions:
     What current players are on a path to the Hall?
     What former players aren’t in and should be, or are in and shouldn’t be?
     Some of this is easy and obvious. In and shouldn’t be: Rizzuto and Mazeroski.
Asked and answered.
     Some is a little tougher. After Jeter, Pujols, and Cabrera, the list of active, obvious future Hall of Famers gets more problematic. The similarly named Beltre and Beltran? Maybe.  And beyond them, there’s a raft of great players who are simply too early in their careers.  We’re looking at a golden age of 20-somethings right now, for whom time will have to tell.
     So now, that third category: who isn’t in and should be?
     I offered up Mike Mussina, with a comparison to Tom Glavine as my rationale, and several days after that car ride, I still think I’m right.
     Let’s start with the given that Glavine is deservedly going into the Hall this summer.  I think that’s unarguable. So let the comparisons begin.
     Career wins? With 305 career wins, Glavine crossed that mythical 300 that seems to separate the men from the boys. Mussina finished with 270.
     Let’s make a couple of points here.
     First, we’re going to see Pedro Martinez inducted as a first ballot Hall of Famer with just 219 career wins.  But he also unarguably was the dominant pitcher in the game for a run of five or so years.
     This argument leads to the Blyleven Dilemma: Do we just honor longevity, winning 300 games because a guy pitched a lot of years? If that’s the case, I think it’s telling that Glavine reached his total by averaging 13.9 wins a year during a 22-year career.  Mussina pitched 18 years, averaging an even 15 wins a year.
     Now, how about peripheral stats?
     Mussina’s career ERA was 3.68, just barely higher than Glavine’s 3.54. But importantly, Mussina’s ERA was compiled while pitching in the American League with its designated hitter, meaning he lacked the huge advantage of pitching to a pitcher multiple times a game, as Glavine did.  More on this “where they pitched” issue later.
     Next, WHIP? Even given the NL/AL relative advantage for Glavine, Mussina’s WHIP was more than slightly lower: 1.19 versus 1.31.
     Complete games? Mussina squeaks out a win here, too: 57 to 56.
     The only clear career differentiator that elevates Glavine over Mussina is Cy Youngs. The score? Glavine 2, Mussina 0. But I would argue here that Glavine simply pitched for better teams and, more years than not, the Cy Young and MYPs tend to go to excellent players, yes, but on dominant teams.
     Which leads me to the final, but maybe most important reason that Mussina is no less deserving than Glavine. Mussina pitched his whole career as the ace of his staff, more than half the time that team being Baltimore, which means he generally faced the other team’s one or two guy. And he did this in the AL East in an era when the Yankees were dominant, and the division really good.  Then, when he finally got to the Yankees… same good AL East, but now the Red Sox ascendant.
     Glavine, on the other hand, spent the bulk of his career pitching from the three spot behind Maddux and Smoltz, in a division that his Braves won nearly every year. This means, of course, that his career totals were helped by facing the back end of rotations of teams generally not as good as his own.  It’s not a surefire recipe for 300 wins – a lot of guys have done a lot less given similar sets of circumstances.  But it surely accounts for a lot of his 35 win advantage over Mussina. All of which means to me that if Glavine is Hall-worthy, as he surely is, then so is the maligned Mussina.