When you look through the 1990s and 2000s pitching leaderboards, there are names that will stand out: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Roy Halladay, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and so on. To a baseball fan, a lot of these names just scream "Hall of Famer." Mike Mussina's name doesn't necessarily evoke the same reaction, but it should.
Mussina spent all of his career pitching in the AL East: 1991-2000 for the Orioles, then 2001-2008 for the Yankees. If you look at his basic statistics throughout his career, they might not seem like something that stands out. A 3.68 ERA, 1.192 WHIP, and 270-153 W-L record. That's not mediocre by any means, but he's no Clemens or Johnson. But who expects everyone to be on that level? (No one, really; that's rhetorical.)
What's not seen on the surface of his statistics is Mussina's consistency and well-above-average performance throughout the years. He put up 10 five-plus fWAR seasons and two four-plus fWAR seasons over 18 years, which is quite a feat in an offense-heavy division and an overlap with the steroid era.
Here are some more career numbers that can back that up:
The fact that his K/9 is high while BB/9 and HR/9 are low -- despite at least half of his career overlapping with the steroid era -- is telling of how good his control was, showing that he was able to challenge the most powerful hitters in the league. Mussina was still able to find success despite the dingers and RBIs of the time, a fact that's overlooked because he wasn't as prolific as, say, Johnson or Martinez. He may not have had the strikeouts or the no-hitters, but that didn't prevent him from performing better than many pitchers of his generation.
In nine seasons, Mussina finished in the top 10 for the AL Cy Young award. The closest he got was second place in 1999 -- right behind Martinez and his career year. Call it bad luck or bad timing, but being a step behind surefire HOFers doesn't diminish the fact that Mussina was a high-caliber pitcher in his prime. In fact, it goes to show that he was able to hold his own as a pitcher with the best of them.
When you look at the fWAR and RA9-WAR leaderboards from 1990-2009 -- the two decades Mussina pitched in --his value to both the Orioles and the Yankees was exceptional. In both categories, he placed in the top 10 (fifth in fWAR and sixth in RA9-WAR), placing behind pitchers such as Greg Maddux (104.7 fWAR, 114.2 RA9-WAR) and ahead of pitchers such as Curt Schilling (82.1 fWAR, 81 RA9-WAR). While Maddux has the Cy Youngs and Schilling has the World Series rings, Mussina did help the Orioles to two postseasons and the Yankees to seven. Nine AL Division Series, five AL Championship Series, and two World Series is nothing to ignore.
And then you can look at the line for an average pitching HOFer on Baseball Reference and compare it to Mussina's career numbers:
|Average Pitching HOFer||69||2.96||592||452||274||42||3788||3498||1582||1244||189||1044||32||2056||75||15632|
At the very least, Mussina stacks up against the averages, which is nothing short of excellence. It's easy to overlook him because he may not have the accolades or because he spent a better part of his career on middling Orioles teams ... or even because his basic statistics make him seem like any average pitcher. However, there's no reason he shouldn't be in the Hall if you look closely at the numbers. Considering the era he pitched in, this can actually show that his numbers are outstanding against powerful offenses.
Mussina was consistent throughout his career, averaging 34 games started every 162 games. Any rotation that has a pitcher who can average 30+ starts, post a five-plus fWAR season almost yearly, log a low walk rate and an even better strikeout rate, and can keep his team in the game all the while putting up Hall of Fame-quality numbers -- that is a rotation that's lucky to have this pitcher on their staff, even through mediocre seasons. Mike Mussina is that guy.
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Jen Mac Ramos is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on twitter at @_jenmac.