I have a confession to make. During his eight-year tenure with the New York Yankees, for no apparent reason I never really warmed up to Mike Mussina. It’s not that I outwardly disliked Moose, but at no point in my Yankee fandom do I ever recall absolutely and unabashedly loving Moose like I do, say, CC Sabathia, or Phil Hughes.
I think part of that was due to his ornery personality. It seemed like every time my buddies and I watched a Moose start it’d be rife with him shooting multiple looks into the home plate umpire when a close call didn’t go his way, followed by pouting, followed by giving up a mammoth home run. OK, so this clearly wasn’t the sequence that followed each and every time Moose got upset with the umpire, but it happened frequently enough that it’s one of most indelible memories of Mussina as a Yankee. Fortunately the primary positive memory I have of the Moose — relieving Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS with two on, no one out and the Yankees trailing 4-0 and subsequently spinning three innings of two-hit, no-run ball, keeping a game that was on the verge of getting out-of-hand manageable and ultimately helping set up one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history — counters many of the negatives.
Even though I was well on my way to becoming a stat freak near the end of Moose’s career, I wasn’t even close to becoming the statistical analysis fiend I’ve since grown into three years later, and in light of the fact that I’ve been taking a closer look at the career numbers of many lesser pitchers this offseason, it seemed like it was high time for me to take a closer look at Moose’s career than I ever had before, and finally give the man his due.
Though this chart shows the requisite ups-and-downs even great pitchers experience in their rate stats from season-to-season, this is probably the prettiest-looking of these graphs that I’ve compiled thus far this offseason. The fWAR and K/9 are the two most erratic lines, and the former isn’t surprising given the various adjustments that need to be made to WAR on an annual basis to account for the offensive and defensive environments unique to every season. Interestingly, Moose’s fWAR (5.5) was actually higher than his K/9 (4.85) in 1992 — something that probably doesn’t occur all that frequently. I would surmise that Moose’s GB% was correspondingly high, although we don’t have that data. What we do have, however, is his strand rate, which was an apparently extraordinarily luck-fueled 80.1% that season — the highest of his career by far, not to mention way out of whack with his career rate of 72.7%.
Even more interestingly, if you peruse the list of the top 25 single-season fWARs of the last decade, you’ll find three Cy Young award winners who pulled off the same trick: Roy Halladay actually did it twice, in his Cy Young-winning 2003 (8.0 fWAR, 6.9 K/9) and 2002 (7.8 fWAR; 6.32 K/9); Cliff Lee in his Cy Young-winning 2008 (7.2 fWAR; 6.85 K/9); and Brandon Webb in his 2006 (7.0 fWAR; 6.82 K/9) campaign. Halladay (58.4%) and Webb (66.3%!) of course posted top-five GB%s in their Cy Young years, though Lee posted a strong but not overwhelmingly so 45.9%. Curiously, in his Cy Young season Lee also had worse luck on balls in play than either Halladay or Webb did, along with a significantly higher FB%. His BB/9 was of course minuscule (1.37), but Halladay’s was even tinier in 2003 (1.08!). So wait, how did these three put up eerily similar outstanding relatively low K/9 seasons if Lee’s GB% was so far below Doc’s and Webb’s? Because the few runners that did reach base against Lee almost never scored. Lee’s LOB% in 2008 was a Mssina-esque 78.3% (9th-best out of our set of 25), while Halladay’s (71.0%) and Webb’s (72.1%) were right around league average.
Anyway, getting back to the Moose, here is his Batted Ball profile:
Moose was never a groundballing monster — his career high (for data we have available) came in his final season (48.5%). Considering he was a solid yet unspectacular strikeout pitcher, his overall success is that much more more impressive.
Moose had the third-best fastball in all of baseball in 2003, at 29.7 runs above average, but the only time he’d reach even 10 runs above average with any of his other pitches in subsequent seasons was in 2006, with a wFB of 10.9 runs above average.
As it turns out, I unfortunately never got to fully appreciate Mussina’s greatness while he was with the Yankees. Had I been as statistically-savvy as I am today, I would’ve been positively drooling over the fact that Mussina’s FIP only exceeded 4.00 four times in his 18-year career, not to mention the fact that his career FIP was a mighty-impressive 3.57; would’ve absolutely reveled in a BB/9 that never exceeded 2.35 in his eight years with the Yankees; and certainly would’ve dropped my jaw in amazement at his stunning 2001 season, a year in which he had a 3.15 ERA, career-low 2.92 FIP, sparkling 1.65 BB/9, and was worth a career-high 7.1 fWAR.
I also would’ve been delighted to acknowledge that Moose never turned in a season worse than 2.9 fWAR (his rocky 2007 campaign), was worth 38.2 fWAR during his Yankee career, and provided the Yankees with $106.4 million of value from 2002-2008, a time period in which they paid him $99.1 million. Ultimately, I’m proud to have uncovered a newfound appreciation of Mike Mussina, although I’m somewhat disappointed I didn’t get to arrive at that conclusion until two years after he retired.
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