The consistently excellent Mike Mussina is gradually gaining Hall of Fame support
Mussina may not have ever been the best pitcher in his league, but he was consistently great for two decades
As of this writing Mussina has appeared on 73.6 percent of public ballots according to Ryan Thibodaux's excellent tracker, just below the 75 percent threshold needed for induction. Keep in mind, however, the hundreds of non-public ballots submitted each year tend to drag each player's voting percentage down. Mussina's final voting percentage figures to be quite a bit below his current 73.6 percent number.
Here are Mussina's voting percentages in his four previous years on the Hall of Fame ballot:
- 2014: 20.3 pecent
- 2015: 24.6 percent
- 2016: 43.0 percent
- 2017: 51.8 percent
Mussina's voting percentage is definitely trending upward -- he should finish north of 60 percent this year, even accounting for the inevitable non-public ballot drop -- and it stands to reason he will cross the 75 percent threshold at some point before reaching the maximum 10 years on the ballot.
Of course, Mussina should already be in the Hall of Fame, not on the outside looking in as his voting percentage slowly increases for what will soon be the better part of a decade. Just consider where Mussina ranks all-time in various categories (min. 2,000 innings for rate stats):
- Wins: 270 (33rd all-time)
- Winning percentage: .683 (16th)
- Innings: 3,562 2/3 (66th)
- ERA: 3.68 (163rd)
- ERA+: 123 (41st)
- WHIP: 1.19 (65th)
- Strikeouts: 2,813 (20th)
- K/9: 7.1 (41st)
- K/BB: 3.58 (9th)
- WAR: +82.7 (24th)
Furthermore, since the mound was lowered in 1969, Mussina is 11th in wins, ninth in WAR, and 17th in ERA+, which is adjusted for ballpark and the league's run scoring environment. Remember, Mussina spent his entire career (1991-2008) in two hitter-friendly home ballparks in the AL East at the height of the so-called Steroid Era. Hard to think of a less pitcher-friendly environment.
By most measures, Mussina is a top 50 starting pitcher in baseball history and a top 20 starter since the mound was lowered. So why, then, hasn't he been voted into the Hall of Fame? It seems to boil down to what Mussina did not accomplish.
No Cy Young
Mussina never did win a Cy Young award, though he did receive votes in nine of his 18 seasons. That includes one second-place finish (1999), two fourth-place finishes (1992, 1994), three fifth-place finishes (1995, 1996, 2001), and three sixth-place finishes (1997, 2000, 2008). He was also a five-time All-Star who received MVP votes in three seasons and won seven Gold Gloves, not to say that should make up for Mussina's lack of a Cy Young.
No World Series rings
Unlike, say, fellow Hall of Fame candidate Curt Schilling, Mussina lacks a sterling postseason resume. By no means was Mussina bad in October -- he owns a 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 postseason innings. He never did win a World Series -- Mussina went 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three career World Series starts -- and he doesn't really have a signature postseason moment.
If anything, Mussina's signature postseason moment was coming out of the bullpen to throw three scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, which helped pave the way for Aaron Boone's iconic home run.
To be fair to Mussina, some of his very best postseason performances didn't result in a win because his offense didn't provide any support. Check out his 1997 postseason with the O's, for example.
ALDS Game 1
BAL 9, SEA 3
ALDS Game 4
BAL 3, SEA 1
ALCS Game 3
CLE 2, BAL 1
ALCS Game 6
CLE 1, BAL 0
Four starts, a 1.25 ERA, a .112/.171/.235 opponent's batting line, and only two wins. Ouch. Overall, Mussina was merely very good in the postseason rather than overwhelmingly great, which is likely contributing to him not yet being voted into the Hall of Fame.
Not enough league-leading performances
Mussina played 18 years in the big leagues -- 17 full seasons not counting his partial rookie year in 1991 -- and only nine times did he league his lead in a statistical category:
- Wins: 19 in 1995
- Winning percentage: .783 in 1992
- Starts: 36 in 1996; 34 in 2008
- Shutouts: 4 in 1995
- Innings: 237 2/3 in 2000
- FIP: 2.92 in 2001
- BB/9: 2.0 in 1995
- WAR: +7.1 in 2001
No one cared about FIP or WAR back in the day, and Mussina never led the league in ERA (or ERA+) or strikeouts. He was a consistently excellent pitcher who never had a run as the best pitcher in his league. Mussina was always a notch below the best pitchers in the game throughout his career.
Just one 20-win season (and it came in his final year)
Back in the day -- and still to this day, to some extent -- a 20-win season is a hallmark of an ace. You have to be awfully good not just to leave most starts with a lead, but also have the trust of your manager to be allowed to pitch deep into games. We know wins are not the best way to evaluate a pitcher's performance, but a 20-win season still feels like something.
Mussina had just one 20-win season, and it was his last, in 2008. He went 20-9. Mussina also had two 19-win seasons (1995, 1996) plus a bunch of 17 and 18-win seasons (1992, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003), but just the one 20-win season at the end of his career. Not enough 20-win seasons, no Cy Youngs, no signature postseason moment, not enough league leading performances. All of that has conspired to keep Mussina out of Cooperstown.
As best I can tell, the single biggest knock again Mussina as a Hall of Fame is that he is not Pedro Martinez, or Randy Johnson, or Roger Clemens, the all-time greats he shared a league with but was never truly on par with. We can add career NL pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to that list since they pitched in the same era as Mussina. Those guys are all Hall of Famers -- well, Clemens isn't, but you know what I mean -- and Mussina was not quite at their level in the eyes of voters.
Not being Pedro or Clemens or Maddux is a pretty silly reason to keep Mussina out of the Hall of Fame, of course. He was excellent and durable, averaging 204 1/3 innings from 1993-2008, and one of the most reliable pitchers in the game throughout his career. Jay Jaffe's JAWS system rates Mussina as well above the established Hall of Fame standard for starting pitchers, and as mentioned earlier, he is one of the 20 best pitchers in the game since the mound was lowered in 1969.
Perhaps the recent induction of Jack Morris, Mussina's inferior in nearly every way, will pave the way for Mussina to receive a big sudden bump in the voting, though I wouldn't count on it. The Baseball Writers Association of America voting body did not vote Morris into the Hall of Fame. . Mussina's voting percentage is gradually increasing and that's good. His career-long excellence should already have him in the Hall of Fame though.
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