Can Mike Mussina be league-average?

It's beginning to look a lot like Joba's going to the pen
Twins no longer demanding Kennedy

While the 2007 Yankees made the playoffs with a half-season contributions from plenty of key pieces, a lot of fans seem to doubt their 2008 prospects. True, they will be relying on a bunch of rookies, but they got them to the playoffs in 2007. There’s no reason why they can’t ride full-season contributions from these players to be an even better team.

But for now, that’s a topic for another day. We’ll get there as soon as we know the makeup of the 2008 Yankees. Instead, let’s take a brief foray into the world of Mike Mussina, one of the key cogs for the 2008 Yankees. Now, as avid readers know, I’m not a fan of Mike Mussina. Despite his early success in pinstripes, his last few seasons and generally demeanor — crossword puzzles aside — have not won me over.

As Mike noted in the comments to my piece on Joba, the Yankees need Mussina to be league-average at worst in 2008. Is that a reasonable expectation? Surprisingly, I think so.

In 2007, Mussina’s stats were not pretty. He went 11-10 but had a career-high 5.15 ERA. He allowed 36 more hits than innings pitched and struck out a career low 91. The decline in strike outs — from 7.85 per 9 IP in 2006 to 5.39 in 2007 — is alarming. Those numbers are well worse than league-average, and Mussina’s VORP declined from over 40 to 11, just a shade above replacement level. Those are alarming trends.

But when you break out Mussina’s defense-independent stats, things look a little better. His fielding-independent pitching line, a number that equates roughly to ERA, was 4.58 or roughly league average. His home run totals were down, and while his line drive percentage was up, a lot of those baserunners from line drives seem to be a result of poor fielding.

For 2008, the Yankees need Mussina to keep his strike out rate at around 6.0 to 6.5 per 9 innings. They need him to take those home run totals down, and they need him to figure out why his LOB percentage dropped to 66.1 percent. For whatever reason, Mussina is getting worse at keeping baserunners from scoring. Considering this outlook, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Mike Mussina could be a league-average starter for the Yankees in 2008. That would be a welcome development indeed.

It's beginning to look a lot like Joba's going to the pen
Twins no longer demanding Kennedy
  • sabernar

    If your #5 pitcher puts up a 5.15 ERA, you should be happy. What was the average ERA from #5 pitchers last year? 6+? 7+?

  • E-ROC

    It’s just scary to see Mike Mussina in the rotation. He could be league average, but for how long? I don’t think he has the stuff or deception to be league average. I think he would thrive in the NL though.

  • Mike

    Who’s to say he stays healthy all year? I think we’re entering an era where being 36 or 37 years old means what it used to.

  • steve (different one)

    i think Moose will be OK.

    Moose had a horrific 3 start stretch from 8/21-9/3. outside of those 3 starts he was basically league average in 2007.

    now, excluding starts is basically the worst kind of analysis, but it can be informative if we believe something was physically wrong with him during that time. he could have been nursing an injury.

    he pitched OK after that stretch and he wasn’t bad in the playoffs.

    apparently he re-dedicated himself this off-season to a new conditioning program and should come into ST in better shape. he’s a crafty old guy, so if he can get his fastball up a few ticks, he should be able to get hitters out with his off-speed stuff.

    i think he’ll be a pleasant surprise. not a CY candidate, but a solid back of the rotation starter.

  • Tripp

    Keep him at 26-28 stars for the season and he could be decent. He always pitched better last season after a few extra days off.

  • Cam

    MLBTR is reporting that the Twins dropped their demand for Santana, substituting Jeff Marquez (sp?) for IPK. So it would be Hughes, Melk-man, and Marquez. Heard anything else about this? Think this would make this deal happen? Apparently the Sox are not relenting on their current offer. Hope you guys had a good Christmas!

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    There are teams out there with aces probably not as good as a 2007 Mike Mussina. Think about that one for a second.

    I think a 2008 Mussina will resemble a 2007 Mussina. Shades of his old greatness in places, shades of a pitcher on a strong decline during others. Sounds like a #5 on a good team to me.

    • ceciguante

      “There are teams out there with aces probably not as good as a 2007 Mike Mussina.”

      i thought about that, and i don’t agree. without checking, i can’t think of any teams whose ace was 5.15 last year.

      but i do think mussina will adjust his pitching style to help accommodate what he’s lost in stuff and endurance. i’m guessing 4.5 – 4.7 for the year, with maybe 24-28 starts. girardi will reduce his workload some, and mussina will scrape the barrel for one more season. i agree that his atrocious 3 start slide that had him pulled from the rotation was more an aberration (exhaustion or maybe injury) than an indicator of how good he is.

  • barry

    moose has a decent work ethic hopefully hes trying to improve physically this offseason

  • Gary

    He shouldn’t even be starting anyways, Wang/Pettitte/Hughes/Joba/Kennedy should be fine.

    • steve (different one)

      they can’t do that the whole season though. there are 100+ innings that will need to be absorbed between the 3 kids and their innings caps.

      Moose will have to start some games.

  • Sean

    Though he is a lefty, you probably don’t want to pick between Mussina and Pettite until after ST. Mussina has many pitches and can contribute without velocity and without steroids. I’m not giving Pettite the benefit of the doubt on either account.

  • Gary

    The Moose is washed.