What Went Right: Moose lands the big 2-0

ALCS Game 2: BoSox @ Rays
Sublett keeps up the hot hitting

Heading into the season, I did not have high expectations for Mike Mussina. The right hander, 39 years old on Opening Day, was coming off his worst season and had been replaced in the starting rotation in September. That the Yanks were counting on Moose this year was, seven months ago, more than a little alarming.

Of course, as baseball fate would have it, Mussina threw one helluva season. After a 1-3 start that saw Moose lose twice to the Red Sox before the middle of April, we were ringing the death knell. But over his last 30 starts, Mussina went 19-6 with a 3.10 ERA.

On the season, he threw 200 innings for the first time since 2003 and racked up 20 wins for the first time ever. He allowed 214 hits and walked fewer than one batter per start. His season ERA was 3.37, and Mussina will garner some Cy Young votes this year.

So what changed? A quick glance at some of Moose’s stats reveal that he wasn’t that was able to change the way batters hit him. While he allowed line drives 21.9 percent of the time as he did in 2007, his ground-ball rate skyrocketed. Batters hit ground balls off of him 48.5 percent of the time this year as opposed to just 41.9 percent of the time last year.

In fact, Moose’s numbers should actually be better than they were. According to Baseball Prospectus, Moose’s BABIP, a measure of opponents’ average on balls in play, was .327, a remarkably high number. So while hitters were markedly worse against Mike Mussina in 2008, he should have been even better this year.

Mussina enjoyed this new-found success simply because he changed his approach to pitching. No longer in possession of a mid-90s fastball, Mussina had to adjust to a breaking ball-based, control approach to pitching. In the words of Hank Steinbrenner, Mussina had to become Jamie Moyer, and while the idea seems a bit preposterous, that’s exactly what Moose did this year. He became the AL version of the NL’s crafty veteran.

Going forward, nothing suggests that Mussina cannot continue to thrive this way. His command has always been stellar, and he’s a smart pitcher. But he also knows that he could go out on top if he retired today, and no one yet knows what the future holds for Mike Mussina. The Yankees need him to provide that solid presence in the rotation. While Mussina needs baseball anymore is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for sure; Mike Mussina’s 2008 was a very unexpected and very welcome surprise.

ALCS Game 2: BoSox @ Rays
Sublett keeps up the hot hitting
  • Old Ranger

    Moose had his command/control, what he always needed was…adapt & improvise. Once he learned he wasn’t what he once was, the rest was easy and history. Just think, if he had done this 2 years ago, he might have only needed next year to hit 300 wins. IPK/Phil could take a page out of his book. 27/09.

  • Currambayankees

    I hope he decides to play again but that the Yankees only offer arbi. Let the guy walk and bring back Pettite, if you are bringing back one of them and take the picks.

    • Old Ranger

      Mike 3.37/20-9
      Andy 4.54/14-14
      Even though Mike out did Andy, I would offer arbitration to both and let them go.
      After reading the article Steve found, the only one to come back is Moose. I think he could be affective as a #4-5 starter.
      Andy has yet to learn what Moose finally figured out…loose your fast ball, change your style of pitching. Andys’ fast ball was slower and his cutter wasn’t sharp, as it once was. I would say time for change, except…! 27/09

  • Steve

    “Going forward, nothing suggests that Mussina cannot continue to thrive this way.”

    Nothing, except this THT article showing just how incredibly rare what he did was, and how even the few guys who did it did little to nothing afterwards.


    Looks like the smart move for the Yanks is to take the money and run.

    • Reggie C.

      Just read it. That’s a great find Steve. Thanks for putting up the link.

      • Steve

        Thanks. Its pretty much him and Bert Blyleven since WW2. If I’m the Yanks I’d rather sign Pettitte and take the 2 draft picks for Moose, assuming he plays elsewhere.

        Even if that article holds true, switching leagues could add a year or two to his career and give him a shot at 300. The Phillies could use him, and as a Pennsylvania native it could be a perfect fit. With that lineup, he could win 15 the next 2 years.

    • Accent Shallow

      But isn’t it fair to say that since what he did was so rare, it’s tough to draw conclusions about his future from the other players who had similar resurgences?

      I’d like Mussina back next year because I think he’s unlikely to be as bad as ’07, and the rotation needs innings.

      That said, his 21.9 line drive percentage is a little worrying, as it’s 2 percentage points higher than the eminently hittable Andy Pettitte. Eek.

      • Steve

        “But isn’t it fair to say that since what he did was so rare, it’s tough to draw conclusions about his future from the other players who had similar resurgences?”

        Absolutely. But since its so rare, the overwhelmingly safer bet is to let him go, assuming what he did is unsustainable. No evidence is evidence of nothing, you cant make a smart bet based on little to no data.

  • JRVJ

    I’m a huge Moose fan, and am hoping that he returns for 2009 (in fact, I had a nice little exchange to this effect with his brother Mark on Mark’s blog).

    In any case, I figure that every day that goes by without Moose saying he’s retired is a day he’s closer to coming back.

    On the Yankee side, I figure the Yankees have to figure out what they want to do in their organizational meetings, but if I were them, I’d make a big push for bringing back BOTH Moose and Andy.

    There’s three reasons for this, which I’m going to frame this in a Forrest Gump manner by saying you never know what you’re going to get, i.e.:

    (a) There’s no way of knowing ultimately if both Moose AND Andy will want to be back and/or if the Yanks can work out deals with both of them (I prefer Moose to Andy, BTW).

    (b) The Yanks clearly want to add FA pitching (almost certainly C.C.), but there’s no way of knowing if they will accomplish that. And to the extent that they might, it’s better to have to only fill one rotation spot (again, hopefully C.C.) than 2 or 3 (i.e., hopefully no Burnett, Sheets or Lowe);

    (c) IMO, the best position for the Yankees starting 2009 would be for Phil Hughes/Al Aceces/IPK to be battling to be the first starter to be called up from AAA.

    A rotation of C.C./Wang/Moose/Joba/Andy ensures that, and when the injuries hit (unfortunately, they inevitably will), the Yanks will not have to call-up Rassners and Igawa’s or sign-up released Ponson’s.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DK799W6AhBk&feature=related Joey H.

    How about a rotation of CC WANG JOBA MUSSINA AND PAVANO? Give the Idle a year at the minimum or a 1 mil dollar deal if hes willing. With Moose’s production last year, hes probably good for at least 15 wins and if thats what you get out of your 4 man, I’ll take it and run. this rotation is of course assuming that Moose doesn’t retire (I’m one who believes he won’t) and Pavano takes a discount(Which i believe he will) I know where is Hughes in this rotation, Obviously will be a 4 or 5 man if one of the back enders doesn’t work out.

    • Steve

      Were you asleep for the past 4 years? Why would you give Carl Pavano cab fare at this point?


      • Old Ranger

        Putting the little bit of criticism (we all have) of povano aside for the moment, please!
        Where are you going to find a pitcher of his ability at that price? Hell, make him wait another year for his big contract. The guy can pitch, that’s all I care about. This years games were not an indication of how well he can pitch…coming back from TJ, ahead of time with not much are strength. He done done good! We can sure use him next year. 27/09.

        • Accent Shallow

          The problem with this is that Pavano would be filling the same role we’re also considering Mussina and Pettitte for: a mid-rotation innings eater.

          While I’m unsure how many of his injury issues the past few years could be traced to his elbow (apparently the TJ surgery was long overdue), can we really count on him to be healthy enough to play a significant role on the team?

          I’d have no problem bringing him to spring training on a non-roster invite, but I’m sure someone will give him a major league contract in the offseason, and I wouldn’t like that team to be the Yankees, barring them failing to sign any of the free agent pitchers, Moose and Pettitte included.

      • Joey H.

        The padres gave mark prior a 1 year deal with incentives. Why not do it for carl. I’m not saying make him our number 3 but make him our 4/5. If the man has any conscience I can see him trying to right himself and take a discounted deal.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=15305165&ref=profile Doug

          What if he gets hurt again? We were saying things of a similar nature after his 2006 Opening Day start.

          Of course he still is a proven talent. But I still don’t see how he’s not an injury risk anymore — watch us sign him to that 1 year deal and see him get hurt after his 4th start or something. Now I understand why re-signing him and having him around for ’08-’09 makes sense, but… it’s still Carl Pavano.

          • Joey H.

            No, Hes not an injury risk but this time around, God Willing, he’ll have a spring training to refine his mechanics/breaking ball/ and possibly some velocity. Prior got a 1 mill 1 year deal from the padres and he got hurt, He also didn’t pitch the year before, Pavano got about what, 8 or so starts toward the end of the year? so that’s something positive. and don’t get me wrong i am no Pavano fan but its cost effective and well worth the gamble if he wants to right his name as much as he could.

            • Joey H.

              I mean he is an injury risk. I don’t know why I said that, maybe its an omen….. :)

        • Accent Shallow

          The operative difference here being that Mark Prior, if/when healthy, is one of the best pitchers in the game. Pop on over to Baseball Reference and check out his strikeout rates — they’re insane. So while Prior has had extensive health issues, both of the freak accident nature (baserunning collisions, line drives off his body) and related to his arm, he also has off the charts upside.

          While I’m sure someone out there will give Pavano a similar deal, I’d rather it not be the Yankees, since he’s been neither healthy nor especially effective during his time here. I’d classify him as the free agent of last resort. (Scratch that, I’d probably prefer him to Lowe at 4/60)

          • Joey H.

            So you are saying being a strikeout pitcher indicates your success? that’s not fair to say at all pal. You see, alot, that strikeout pitchers sometimes have control problems.and yes he has these line drives and base running injuries but others were surgeries, muscle pulls and strains ect. we have only seen a small sample of prior, if he were to die today nobody would really remember him as anything special.

            • http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2617 Accent Shallow

              Actually, being a strikeout pitcher is indicative of success. (And if you want to quibble about Prior, he was above average to excellent every year in the majors with the exception of his last one in all pitching categories, not just strikeouts.)

              I’ve linked one Baseball Prospectus article about the correlation between a pitcher’s Ks and his ERA, and I’m sure you can find more. In fact, this link has been known for awhile. When I googled “strikeouts correlation”, one of the first articles was from 1987 by Murray Chass (!) about how pitchers who strike out more batters tend to give up less hits.

              And while the guy with the better strikeout rate isn’t always going to be the better pitcher (which is certainly not what I’m saying), strikeout rate is a good indication of future success.

              • Joey H.

                What im saying is just cuase you get alot of strike out doesnt instantly mean that you are a good pitcher. you do not need to strike batters out to be a good pitcher. pavano is a ground ball pitcher in that reguard. wang is the perfect example of a good nonstrike out pitcher. and dude, prior never made 32 starts, he only made 30 and that was once and reached 200 innings once as well. that being the same year.

  • http://hankenstein godfather

    Hankenstein is a George wannabe, nothing more. Unless you lived through the Boss Regime, you have no clue. He had no echoes around him. What he said was decree, not empty ravings. I would have wanted him snuffed in a heartbeat at one point, around the sickening humiliation of his embracing of Nixon. If Hal is the thoughtful brother he is projected to be, it could help. With George, it was the mellowing of age that intervened. The theatrics are reminiscent of “The Lion in Winter” in which the klng must suffer his dumbass sons.