Career Profile: Mike Mussina

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Mike Mussina (Getty Images)

Career Profile: Mike Mussina

One of my favorite pitchers of the last 20 years is Mike Mussina. He's been retired for three years now, and a couple of readers requested him as a Career Profile subject.

 

Mike Mussina was a starting pitcher at Stanford University. In 1990, he went 14-5, 3.50 with a 111/35 K/BB ratio in 149 innings for the Cardinal, allowing 158 hits. He was considered a very advanced pitcher with a lot of polish, above-average stuff (90-94 MPH fastball, knuckle-curve, slider, changeup)  and a high level of intelligence (he graduated with a degree in economics), which was enough to get him drafted in the first round, 20th-overall, by the Baltimore Orioles.

Pitchers with "higher ceilings" in the draft that year included Alex Fernandez (drafted fourth overall by the White Sox), California high school right-hander Kurt Miller (fifth overall by the Pirates),  Oklahoma high school lefty Ron Walden (ninth overall by the Dodgers), Texas prep Todd Ritchie (12th overall by the Twins), UNLV lefty Donovan Osborne (13th overall by the Cardinals), Creighton University southpaw Dan Smith (16th overall by the Rangers), and the infamous Todd Van Poppel, drafted 14th overall by Oakland but considered the best arm in the draft by virtually everyone. Fernandez and Osborne had some success in the majors, but Mussina outpitched them all.

It didn't take long. Mussina was sent to Double-A Hagerstown to begin his career right out of college, and he pitched extremely well, with a 1.49 ERA and a 40/7 K/BB in 42 innings, 34 hits allowed. He made two starts in Triple-A to finish the year, posting a 15/4 K/BB in 13 innings for Rochester. Scouting reports were as good as the numbers, pointing to Mussina's sharp command of four pitches. I would have given him a Grade A- at worst.

Mussina was sent to Triple-A to begin 1991 and had no problems at all, going 10-4, 2.87 in 19 starts, with a 107/31 K/BB in 122 innings, 108 hits allowed. Promoted to Baltimore for the second half, he didn't skip a beat, going 4-5 but with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts and a 52/21 K/BB in 88 innings, 77 hits allowed. He exceeded rookie eligibility of course and wouldn't have been on subsequent prospect lists, but he was clearly one of the best young pitchers in the game.

He won 18 games for the Orioles (2.54 ERA) in 1992, and the rest is history. Despite an aberrant ERA spike in 1996 (4.81, but that was still an above-average ERA for the year and he still won 19 games) Mussina was consistent, durable, and very effective for the next 17 seasons in Baltimore and New York. He had a few injury troubles late in his mid-30s, hardly unexpected of course, but avoided serious health problems.

Mussina was always one of my favorites. He seemed overlooked at times when great pitchers were discussed, even after his switch to the Yankees, but he was always there and always good. He went 270-153 (.638) in 3563 innings, with 2813 strikeouts and just 785 walks in his career. His career 3.68 ERA came out to a 123 ERA+, 3.57 FIP. He went out on a strong note: his 2008 season, his last year, was one of his best: he won 20 games for the first time, with a 3.37 ERA, 3.32 FIP, and a 132 ERA+. By this time his velocity had dipped into the 80s, but his incredible feel for pitching compensated. He finished with a career 85.6 WAR, with 2000 (6.4), 2003 (6.4), and 2001 (7.1) being his peak seasons.

Should Mussina make the Hall of Fame? Although his "Black Ink" total is just 15 (the average HOFer rates at 40), his Gray Ink rating of 250 is the 21st best of all time, and the average HOFer hits 185 in that metric. His Hall of Fame Monitor reading is 121, with 100 being average. His Hall of Fame Standards reading is 54, with 50 being average. These markers show him as a Hall-type pitcher.

Sim Scores comps are Andy Pettitte, Juan Marichal (Hall), David Wells, Curt Schilling, Jim Palmer (Hall), Carl Hubbell (Hall), Kevin Brown, Jack Morris, Clark Griffith (Hall), and Jim Bunning (Hall).

Although it isn't a 100 percent slam-dunk case, it isn't really a marginal one, either: he rates as a "mid-point" Hall of Famer in my view, and I would vote for him. From a prospect perspective, Mussina's development was very rapid and without any bumps in the road.

He has me thinking about Stanford pitchers, and I am planning a piece on "Post-Mussina-Stanford-Pitchers" for next week.

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