You probably don’t have a say in who makes the Hall of Fame and who doesn’t. Only a select handful of Baseball Writers Association of America members have a say in such matters. Simple math dictates that you, dear reader, are likely not a member of that inner baseball Illuminati. If anything, you are but a voice in the endless masses of those crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of conspiracy and vast sweeping campaigns against your favorite ballplayer. I am but an outsider in these proceedings as well. Yet I come before you to plead the case of a special pitcher.
Mike Mussina is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the third time this year. He received support from only 24.6 percent of the electorate in 2015, partially due to a particularly crowded ballot that yielded four inductees. The 2016 ballot is highlighted by first-timers Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman, as well as returning candidates Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez and Curt Schilling. The steroid-tinged contingent of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and friends also remains on the ballot.
There are many compelling candidates in this year’s cycle, but Mussina is a player that deserves to be on anyone and everyone’s ballot. The right-hander pitched for 18 years and amassed 79.8 WARP during that time. That figure stands as the 10th best career of all time by WARP, ahead of pitchers like Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Juan Marichal and Schilling.
Yet why have his vote totals been so low? Besides the crowded ballots he’s been on, Mussina never had outwardly sexy numbers. In an era in which Clemens and Pedro Martinez were churning out sub-3.00 ERA’s, Mussina’s career ERA of 3.68 doesn’t seem overly impressive. His ERA only dipped below 3.00 in one full season, his full-season debut in 1992. He only won 20 games once, in his final season. In between those two seasons he flirted with a 3.00 mark once and won 19 games twice. The traditional numbers don’t paint a picture of an overwhelming ace. Mussina never amassed the gaudy strikeout numbers of Clemens or Martinez or Schilling, and spent four seasons in the Rocket’s shadow in New York. The highest Mussina ever finished in the Cy Young balloting was second place in 1999, a year better remembered for Martinez’s Herculean 0.923 WHIP campaign. It might have been the single best season of pitching ever, contested only by its successor. Mussina could not dream of comparing.
When taken in context, however, the beauty of Mussina’s career emerges. The right-hander spent his entire career pitching in the lion’s den of the AL East during the steroid era. His first full season coincided with the opening of the hitter’s heaven known as Camden Yards, and then moved to the tiny confines of Yankee Stadium. For his whole career he did battle with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, with all the juiced-up sluggers of a division known for its small ballparks. That he allowed less than one home run per nine innings is remarkable.
Anecdotal usage of a few traditional statistics isn’t the only thing that presents a case for Mussina’s canonization. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, which looks at both career bWAR totals and seven-year bWAR peaks, considers Mussina to be better than the average Hall of Fame starting pitcher. The average Hall of Fame starter was worth 73.9 bWAR and has a JAWS score of 62.1. Mussina bests both marks. The Baseball-Reference formula for WAR credits Mussina with 83 wins above replacement and a JAWS score of 63.8. Mussina doesn’t just fall within the range of the Hall of Fame. He sits among the greats. JAWS fancies Mussina a more impressive pitcher than it does Bob Feller or Don Drysdale, more impressive than first-ballot inductee John Smoltz.
Context, anecdote and statistical formulas are united in their support of Mussina’s cause. Brilliant in his subtlety for 18 years, in the most hostile pitching environment possible, Mike Mussina is undoubtedly worthy of the Hall of Fame. At first glance he may not seem the type. Yet the full body of his work is entirely laudable, and deserving of Cooperstown. Can he fit onto the ballot? Absolutely. I don’t have a vote in the official election, but my theoretical ballot would be:
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Ken Griffey, Jr.
- Jeff Bagwell
- Mike Piazza
- Curt Schilling
- Edgar Martinez
- Tim Raines
- Alan Trammell
- Mike Mussina
Of the 20 ballots that Hall of Fame aficionado Ryan Thibs has collected thus far, Mussina has appeared on 60% of them. These 20 represent only a small portion of the full electorate, and does not clear the 75% hurdle necessary for enshrinement. Nonetheless it is a step in the right direction. This could be the year that Mussina is voted into the Hall. It would be an honor that is most well-deserved. Don’t take hime out of the game. Put him in the Hall.
(Photo: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)