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.