Is Mike Mussina a Hall-of-Fame Pitcher?
One of the biggest traditions of baseball's offseason is debating who should have the honor of being selected to the Hall of Fame. While there are always a few guarantees to be selected every year, there are a large contingent of players who are on the bubble, with some vehement supporters and some equally passionate naysayers.
One player who has been gaining momentum -- and gaining votes -- is Mike Mussina. Do his career numbers support his Hall-of-Fame push?
Let's take a look.
A pinnacle of consistency, he had at least 24 starts and threw at least 154 innings in every season following his 1991 debut in which he appeared in 12 games -- starting all of them. He was a 20-game winner only once, in 2008, which ironically would prove to be his final season at the age of 39. However, he won 19 games twice (1995 and 1996), 18 games three times (1992, 1999, and 2002), and 17 games twice (2001 and 2003). All in all, he ended up winning 15 or more games in 11 of his 18 seasons.
Mussina ended his career with a 3.68 ERA, 3.57 FIP and 3.68 xFIP (xFIP only dates back to 2002, hence the usage of both FIP and xFIP). While those numbers do not look particularly impressive or Hall of Fame worthy, when one looks at the park and league adjusted versions, it is easy to see how impressive his career was.
His ERA+ is 123, his FIP- is 79, and his xFIP- is 84 (FIP- and xFIP- work similarly to ERA+, but the lower the better). His 79 FIP- is 31st best in MLB history, higher than two legendary Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Gibson and Cy Young. It is also higher than first-ballot Hall-of-Fame pitcher John Smoltz.
Mussina amassed an fWAR of 82.2 over his 18-year-career, which is 17th-highest among all starting pitchers in baseball history. He was consistent in this category, as well, earning an fWAR below 2.0 in just one season, which was his rookie year in 1991 in which he only appeared in 12 games and still managed to earn a 1.7 fWAR. He had 10 seasons of at least 5.0 fWAR, including four campaigns with at least 6.0 fWAR -- with a career high of 6.9 fWAR in 2003..
He had impeccable control throughout his career; his career-high walk rate was a meager 6.6% in 1996, and his career low was an incredible 3.6% in his final season. Overall, Mussina had a career walk rate of 5.4%. To further evidence his masterful control, Mussina only threw 71 wild pitches, hit only 60 batters and issued 785 walks in 3,562 2/3 career innings. He was a solid strikeout pitcher, as well, with a career strikeout rate of 19.3%, posting a career-high clip of 24.1% in 1997.
Mussina also performed well in the postseason. Despite his 7-8 record in the playoffs, he had a better ERA (3.42), FIP (3.54) and xFIP (3.26) in October than he did in the regular season. He had a higher significantly higher strikeout rate (25.4%) in the playoffs and a walk rate (5.8%) that was similar to his regular-season numbers.
Mussina was a highly decorated fielder, winning a Gold Glove on seven different occasions.
While he never won a Cy Young Award, his unparalleled consistency being seriously included in the award discussion shows how good of a pitcher he was for such a long stretch. Mussina finished top six in the Cy Young voting on nine separate occasions, and he was in the top five in voting five times. For him to be so consistently good is impressive, and he ended his career in style, placing sixth in the Cy Young after his incredible 20-9 season at the age of 39.
Mussina stacks up pretty well compared to some of the game's best pitchers, many of whom are already in the Hall of Fame.
3.58 K/BB pic.twitter.com/5jQnH895c9
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) December 18, 2016
Pitchers with a better ERA+ (123), more IP (3,562⅔), & more K (2,813) than Mike Mussina
W. Johnson pic.twitter.com/EtSaaY0r0d
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) December 17, 2016
As evidenced by these two tweets from Ryan Spaeder, Mussina does not only compare to Hall of Fame pitchers, but he ranks among some of the best the Hall of Fame has to offer.
Mussina was an incredible pitcher for a long, long time -- much longer than most -- and he undoubtedly had a Hall-of-Fame career based on the numbers.