Evaluating Mike Mussina’s Hall of Fame case

Mike Mussina: 270-game winner, five-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glover. Hall of Famer?

Over an 18-year career, Mussina was always one of the best pitchers in the league. He was never the best. Mussina never started the All-Star Game, and only had one 20-win season. The right-hander from rural Pennsylvania can list six top-five Cy Young finishes on his resume, but he never claimed the award. Mussina never pitched for a team that won the World Series. As a member of the New York Yankees, Mussina always fell behind bigger names like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, but he was often the glue that held those staffs together.

What does that all add up to?

Last year was Mussina’s second year on the Hall of Fame ballot. He of course fell short, registering only 24.6 percent of the vote. He garnered 20.3 percent his first year. Mussina is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and probably not a second either. That much was clear the moment he retired. Mussina did not check all of the big boxes in the same way that Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, or John Smoltz did, but is he Hall of Fame or Hall of Very Good?

Tom Glavine was elected to the Hall in 2014 on his first year on the ballot with 91.9 percent of the vote. A 305-game winner, Cy Young winner, and World Series champ, Glavine did check off all the boxes required to be a Hall of Famer. At times, Glavine may have been the best left-handed pitcher in the league. He had five 20-win seasons, won the Cy Young twice, and made 10 All-Star teams. Using all of the traditional metrics, Glavine was a shoo-in to make the Hall.

Mussina and Glavine are very similar pitchers. Given four more years of pitching, Mussina would have eclipsed the 300-win mark. Instead, Mussina went out on top, following his first 20-win season at the age of 39. He posted a 3.37 ERA that year. Glavine never reached 20 wins after the age of 35, and had only one season after 35 with an ERA better than Mussina’s. The 2002 season was really Glavine’s last great season, and by hanging around until the age of 42, he really did border on the fringes of “compiling.” Glavine wanted the 300 wins, and he earned every single one.

Glavine wrapped up his career with a 3.54 ERA, Mussina a 3.68. Glavine, however, spent his entire career in the National League. Mussina pitched entirely in baseball’s toughest division during his career, the AL East. Over 18 seasons, Mussina’s pitching was worth an ERA+ of 123. Over 22 seasons, Glavine’s was worth 118. Mussina allowed fewer walks, fewer hits, and struck out more batters. Those are just the basic, ordinary, Old-School numbers.

How do these two look when delving into the advanced metrics?

Mussina was worth 83.0 WAR for his 18 years, while Glavine checks in at 81.4 with four more seasons and 850.2 more innings. Mussina is ahead of Glavine in both metrics developed by Jay Jaffe to evaluate a Hall of Fame candidate — WAR7 and JAWS. WAR7 measures a player’s WAR during his seven-year peak, while JAWS is a combination of career WAR and WAR7. Mussina’s WAR7 of 44.5 is just ahead of Glavine’s 44.3. His JAWS is also just a hair better than Glavine’s, 63.8 to 62.9. Other notable Hall of Famers who fall below Mussina in WAR7 and JAWS include Nolan Ryan, Jim Palmer, Smoltz, and Carl Hubbell.

Mussina never did anything eye-popping in his career. His near-perfect game was thwarted by Carl Everett. Mussina never won a Cy Young or World Series. His 18-year career was the picture of strike-throwing, hit-preventing consistency. There is not a doubt in my mind that Mussina could have hung around an additional three seasons to claim the ever-important 300th win. He chose to go out on top rather than hold on to join one of the more exclusive clubs in baseball. As it is, Mussina could have fallen into the Glavine category when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Instead, he will be forced to go down the Bert Blyleven route, gradually building his vote total. It will take time, but eventually Mike Mussina will get his due in Cooperstown.

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