Due to a busy weekend, blogging was light. So I have a post relating to Saturday’s game for you here. We’ll talk about yesterday’s win later.
Watching Mike Mussina go 4-0 over his last four starts, I was struck by how utterly the same Mussina seemed on the mound. All of a sudden, with the same stuff that had been getting hit hard earlier in the year, Mussina had hitters flailing at pitches. Over his last 25.1 innings, Mussina has an ERA of 2.84, but he hasn’t found miles on is fastball. I wondered what had changed.
A quick look at the numbers revealed some interesting trends. First, I thought, maybe it was an issue of hits. Was Mike Mussina doing a better job of getting outs? Over those 25.1 innings, Mussina has allowed 29 hits or 1.15 per inning. Over his previous 88.2 innings, Mussina had allowed 1.14 hits per inning. So the answer wasn’t to be found in hits.
Maybe home runs had been Mussina’s bugaboo this year. Moose has surrendered 2 longballs over his last 25.1 innings or 0.7 per 9 IP. Previously, Mussina had given up home runs at a rate of 1.12 per 9 IP. That’s a change but it hardly counts for a change in ERA from 4.97 over 88.1 IP to 2.84 over his last four starts. Something else must be at work here, I thought.
As the game unfolded on Saturday, I realized what has spurred on Mike Mussina’s success, and it is a lesson in pitching and Three True Outcomes. For the third start in a row on Saturday, Mike Mussina had not walked a batter. Recently, Mussina has issued 0.7 BB per 9 IP. Prior to that, he had issued 2.23 per 9 IP.
Meanwhile, on the strike out front, Mussina over his last 25.1 innings has 19 Ks or 6.75 per 9 IP. In the 88.2 IP prior, he had a K/9 IP of 5.48. Ah-ha! Here we have the keys to Mike Mussina’s success. He has allowed fewer home runs while cutting down on the number of baserunners per 9 IP by 1.5. He’s keeping balls out of play by striking out more hitters per game. Thus, he has pitched significantly better of late.
But I can’t help but fear a regression. Despite the increase in strike outs and the decrease in walks, Mussina isn’t throwing anymore strikes than he was before his resurgence. Around two-thirds of his pitches have been strikes during his last 25.1 innings and around two-thirds were strikes during the previous 88.2 IP. So what’s happened?
Well, the Yankees and Mike Mussina have had the distinct pleasure of facing the Royals, the White Sox, the Royals again and the Indians. Mussina is, in other words, beating bad and impatient teams with struggling offenses. He’s beating teams that strike out a lot, that haven’t, of late, been hitting a lot of home runs and are among the worst in the American League at getting on base.
Mussina’s next game will be the big test. He’s due to face Detroit on Thursday. In the Tigers, he’ll face another struggling team but this is one team that is adept at putting the ball in play and hits for power as well. If Mike Mussina can mow down the Tigers this week as he did the Indians on Saturday, then I’ll be a believer. For now, I’ll just enjoy the ride and optimistically hope for the best from a pitcher of which I am always skeptical.