Via Steve Melewski, Mike Mussina has been elected to the Orioles Hall of Fame. We all think of Moose as a Yankee, but the man did his best work while with Baltimore. During his nine full seasons with the Orioles, Mussina finished in the top five of Cy Young voting five times plus two other sixth place finishes. He’s among the franchise’s all-time leaders in bWAR (second), strikeouts (second), K/BB ratio (second), WPA (second), ERA+ (third), wins (third), starts (fifth), and innings (seventh). Congrats to Moose on a great career and well-deserved honor.
Who do you think of first when you think of the New York Yankees, #24?
Recency, a penchant for the dramatic, a great glove and a power bat would of course lead one to what might seem like the obvious choice: Robinson Cano. And it’s a pretty good answer, too, in my opinion. Robbie’s grown up into a core member of the team and is, quite frankly, a really good baseball player. He’s expected to hit third in the lineup this year, which means that there will be many men-on dingers and RBIs this year, plus lots of stellar plays he makes look easy and, of course, thousands of giant gum bubbles.
But Cano isn’t the only answer. Here’s some hints: he played first base for the Yankees from 1996-2001 (really knew how to pick his years, didn’t he?), hitting .279 with an OPS+ of 114 and 175 home runs. The answer, to anyone who was around during those years, should be obvious: the wonderful and amazing Tino Martinez. As a kid, I loved Tino only slightly less than I loved Paul O’Neill, and even four years after Tino left, I was still a little sore over this obnoxious second-baseman taking his number, which I believed should have been retired. I was a little insensible as a kid, but the point still stands. In sports and especially on the Yankees, where there are no names on the jerseys, the numbers become associated quite strongly with the player.
(While we’re on the subject of Paul O’Neill and #21, I seem to recall LaTroy Hawkins begin given a lot of crap for taking that number and then changing it, which filled me with more joy than you can ever imagine.)
As the Spring Training pictures roll in, the one thing that keeps throwing me off is Michael Pineda wearing #35. Like every other sensible Yankees fan, I loved Moose and felt it was really depressing that he never got a ring, and while I don’t think retiring his number is in the cards, it’s really strange to see someone else wearing it. Pineda’s a good choice to carry on his legacy of really good pitchers I wouldn’t want to meet in a back alley at night, but that doesn’t change that he isn’t Mike Mussina. Of course, people taking the numbers of old players is just another part of growing up with baseball. Pretty sure no one else is ever going to wear 2, though.
Let’s switch gears a little bit. I had this argument with a friend while I was in New York last year, so I’ll ask all of you: my friend had purchased a Hideki Matsui jersey some years ago while he was still a Yankee. Like a sensible person with disposable income, he had no name of the back. These days, Russell Martin, who is a pretty valuable piece of the team in his own right, now wears #55. Does your jersey magically become a Russell Martin jersey? Is it still a Matsui jersey in your brain, and that’s all that matters? Is the jersey meaningless without the player you bought it for? If no one ever wears #55 again, do you never wear the jersey? What if the number’s retired?
And because this is an article about Yankees jersey numbers: between 6, 46 and 20, which ones get retired?
Baseball is not your typical business. Employees, i.e. players, cannot expect a raise every year. They can for a certain period, but at some point their skills begin to decline. At that point teams are willing to pay them less and less, and for good reason. Understandably, players try to fend off this notion for as long as possible. Not only does it mean less money for them, but it’s an admission that they’re getting older and won’t be able to do the things they once did. No one wants to admit that to themselves.
Some players take this better than others. As we saw last year, Johnny Damon didn’t take it well at all. He turned down an offer from the Yankees because it constituted a pay cut. This winter we’re seeing Derek Jeter desiring to remain at his $20 million salary even though his production no longer justifies it. Yet I can remember one player who took a pay cut graciously. That happened in the winter after the 2006 season, and the player was Mike Mussina.
In the winter following the Yankees’ third straight World Series victory, the market was rife with free agents. Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, and Mike Mussina highlighted the class. The Yankees went with the pitcher, signing Mussina to a six-year, $88.5 million contract. In the deal’s final two seasons, plus the 2007 option season, Mussina earned $17 million. But by the end of the 2006, even though he had pitched very well during that season, he realized that he wasn’t going to make $17 million again. So he took a pay cut.
The deal went pretty smoothly from what I can remember. Mussina signed for two years and $23 million — a $1 million signing bonus and $11 million in each of the two seasons. That represented a nearly 55 percent pay cut from his 2006 salary, and a 34 percent pay cut from the average annual value of his previous contract. Yet he took it with grace. In fact, the only stipulation on it seemed reasonable: he demanded to make more than Carl Pavano. Done and done, said Cashman.
In some way, I can see a parallel for Derek Jeter. In one way, he’s in a unique situation and therefore can’t really compare himself to someone else. In another way, I can’t really blame him for wanting more than A.J. Burnett. That’s why a three-year, $50 million contract makes sense. That not only puts Jeter’s salary a tick above Burnett’s, but it also means their contracts expire at the same time. I can even see the Yanks being generous and offering an option year, so that Jeter might stay with the team longer — and so that he makes more from the Yankees in 2014 than Burnett does.
(If the Yankees wanted to get really generous they could go three years, $56.7 million, which would replicate the average annual value of Jeter’s previous contract.)
Yet it’s clear that Jeter is not being as honest with himself about his position as was Mussina. That’s his right, I suppose. Rare is the player in Mussina’s mold. Still, I can’t help but wish Jeter would see things in the same way as his former teammate. If that were the case, he’d already have a contract by this point.
With 2010 upon us, it’s nearly time to wrap up our Yankees By the Decade retrospective on the aught-aughts. I’ll publish a summary of the series, but first, we have to tackle the Yankees’ starting pitchers.
For the Yankees, the 2000s was a tough decade of pitching. For the first four seasons, the Yanks thrived on pitching, and then, it all fell apart. After losing Andy Pettitte, David Wells and Roger Clemens following the 2003 season, the team struggled through some sub-par pitching performances from 2004-2008. Only last season with the arrival of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett did the Yanks’ pitching again bring the team a World Series win.
As the decade’s dust settled, the final Yankee starting pitcher tally reached 62. Nine players made just one start for the Bombers, and another seven drew the ball for two starts only. We’ll get to them later. Below is the table of all Yankee starters who made 10 or more starts as well as their overall numbers. Due to the limitations of David Pinto’s Day-by-Day Database and the Baseball-Reference Play Index, I couldn’t break out these pitchers’ starters-only numbers in any reasonable amount of time.
The bottom of this chart is a scary sight indeed. Al Leiter, Randy Keisler, Kei Igawa, Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, Carl Pavano, Denny Neagle, Darrell Rasner and Jeff Weaver all made enough starts to give me nightmares today. The ninth and tenth slots — Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown — are illustrative of why the Yanks suffered through five years of postseason futility.
To find the true stars of the decade, we have to look at the top of the list. For a few years, Chien-Ming Wang was as good as it gets for the Yanks. Now he’s a non-tendered free agent trying to come back from shoulder surgery and a bad foot injury. El Duque and David Wells were both stand-out starters during their peak years, but the two made just 82 and 61 starts respectively this decade. Roger Clemens made 144 starts, and while his 117 ERA+ as a Yankee leads the list of those we’re considering, his total output doesn’t match that of those who lead the list.
And so we are left with two candidates for pitcher of the decade. Do we give the award to Andy Pettitte or to Mike Mussina? On the one hand, Pettitte won two World Series with the Yanks and gave us a 2009 to remember. Mike Mussina, through no fault of his own, captured zero World Series titles. On sentimentality and rings, Pettitte has the upper hand.
But numerically, can Andy take the cake? Outside of pick-offs — 36 for Pettitte against two for Moose — Mike’s numbers are seemingly better across the board. He has an ERA edge of 0.28 runs and leads in the ERA+ race 114-110. He struck out 7.41 per 9 IP while Andy K’d just 6.69 per 9 innings. His 4.02 K/BB ratio is better than Pettitte’s 2.51 figure by a significant amount. Mussina gave up nearly 0.25 more home runs per 9 innings than Andy, and Pettitte’s .638 winning percentage is slightly higher than Mussina’s .631 mark. Wins, though, aren’t exactly the best metric of pitching success.
So in the end, I’m left with a choice. Does Mike Mussina win on the strength of his 2001, 2003 and 2008 seasons as well as his relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? Does Andy Pettitte carry the decade on his World Series prowess and bulldog mentality? I might give the slight edge to Pettitte while recognizing that Mussina in his prime was a better pitcher, but it wouldn’t be wrong to do otherwise. As the new decade dawns, CC Sabathia and perhaps a young hurler named Joba or Phil could inherit this mantle. For now, the two old bulldogs can fight it out.
After the jump, a complete list of all who made nine starts or fewer for the Yankees this decade. [Read more…]
First these nerds invade baseball with their stupid stats like VORP and wOBA, ruining the purity of men playing against men. Now they’re gunning for the Hall of Fame. Obviously I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Tim Marchman, writing for The Wall Street Journal, notes that two professors have come up with a formula which predicts the probability that the BBWAA votes a player into the HOF. How accurate is this formula?
Of the 1,592 players considered by their study — anyone who retired between 1950 and 2002 and met several other criteria such as having played 10 years in the majors — the model was able to accurately identify whether they had been elected 98.7% of the time.
What biases do voters use to determine a player’s Hall worthiness? For hitters, it’s hit totals, home runs, and ::gasp:: OPS. On the pitching side it’s just as predictable: wins, saves, ERA, and win percentage. There’s also a factor for All-Star Game appearances.
Apparently, Rickey Henderson was tapped as having a 97.2 percent chance of election before the writers decided the obvious. Marchman did not note the odds on Jim Rice.
Even more interesting are the probabilities of some future candidates. Topping the list provided by WSJ, Vlad Guerrero is on top with an 88.8 percent chance. Vlad’s been good, even great throughout his career, but he’s not a guy who pops out as more likely to enter the HOF than Trevor Hoffman and Chipper Jones, both of whom will likely be early entrants. Of interest to Yankees fans is Mike Mussina, who is at 47.8 percent. Curt Schilling sits at 44 percent.
While the 2008 season ended with a disappointing third-place finish for the Yanks, Mike Mussina was a clear bright spot. He made a league-leading 34 starts, won 20 games for the first time in his career, topped 200 innings for the first time since 2003 and had his lowest ERA as a Yankee since 2001. Reinventing himself as a off-speed control artist, Mussina walked just 31 hitters, three fewer than starts made.
By all accounts, it was a season for the ages for Mussina, and when he announced his decision to hang it up after the 2008 campaign, we were both surprised and not surprised. Moose had always marched to his own drummer, and while he ended his career just 30 wins shy of that magical 300 plateau, he knew that age was catching up with him. He wanted to spend time with his family, and after 18 seasons in the bigs he had had enough.
Moose made his triumphant return to Yankee Stadium this weekend as part of the 2009 Old Timers’ Day celebration. While he didn’t pitch particularly well and was victimized by his fielders, it was still a treat to see old number 35 out there. During his trip to Yankee Stadium, Moose spoke to Dan Amore of The Hartford Courant to say that he is remaining retired:
“It’s a long way to the plate when you haven’t pitched in eight months,” said Mussina, who threw to a few batters.
There are any number of athletes who talk of going out on top but can’t resist the temptation to come back when they believe they still can. Mussina, who had a subpar season in 2007, decided before the ’08 season began that it would be his last, though he withheld his announcement until after the season. He finished with 270 wins.
“If I had another bad year, it would have been obvious,” Mussina said. “And if I had a good year, it would be the perfect way to go out. … If I came back now, it would ruin what I did last year.”
So anyone wondering about a possible Mussina comeback can dismiss that thought. “There’s less than half a season left,” he said, “and it would take me at least a month to get ready. At this point, I wouldn’t know what ‘ready’ is. It might be throwing 78 mph. I know I can throw from my knees through an L-Screen.”
Moose — who curmudgeonly dismissed new Yankee Stadium as a park too small for his tastes — could have been a useful piece for the Yankees this year. With Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain turning in inconsistent stretches and the fifth starter a giant question mark, Mussina would have been a nice back-of-the-rotation anchor for the Yanks this year.
But alas, his only appearance for the Yankees this year will be yesterday’s festivities. He is at home coaching Little League in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, and doesn’t see himself anywhere else. “I’m really OK with being retired,” he said to Amore, putting a final period on a great career.
(Hat tip to iYankees for the story.)
After attending Old Timers’ Day in 2007, last year’s All Star Game and the final game at Yankee Stadium, I was old-timered out. There are, after all, so many times I could sit through watching the Yanks trot out a bunch of retired baseball players. But as Old Timers’ Day 2009 rolls around, one day after the tenth anniversary of David Cone’s perfect game, this weekend is a good one for Bronx baseball history.
On the David Cone, the ex-Yankee and current YES broadcaster will throw out the first pitch of today’s game. It was July 18, 1999, a Sunday, that David Cone secured his place in baseball history. Facing a young Expos squad, Cone needed just 88 pitches to face 27 batters that day. Scott Brosius caught the last out of the game off the bat of Orlando Cabrera in foul territory, and Cone was mobbed by Joe Girardi and the rest of his teammates.
To me, what sticks out most about that game was the way it ended. I spent that Sunday afternoon with my mom and sister at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphonic Orchestra in Lenox, Massachusetts. When the 2:30 concert ended, I turned on my walkman and heard John Sterling say that David Cone was just three outs away from a perfect game. I blurted out the news, and the only people to react were my family members. A lawn full of people could have cared less.
After the perfect game, Cone would pitch in 73 more games but with little success. He went 16-29 with a 5.57 ERA, and it always seemed to me that he had sold his baseball soul for that perfect game. Now and then, he would flash his best stuff, but that was the apex of his Yankee career. Over at The Times’ Lens blog, sports photographer Barton Silverman remembers covering the perfect game.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Yankees will welcome back a bunch of old timers for the annual Old Timers’ Day festivities. The team announced some interesting additions yesterday. Mike Mussina, Don Zimmer and Mel Stottlemyre will all make their Old Timers’ Day debuts. You may remember Mike Mussina from such classic Yankee seasons as 2008, and unless Angel Berroa returns for the game, he will be the most recent former Yankee at the stadium on Sunday.
More intriguing are the Zimmer and Stottlemyre returns. Both coaches left on bad terms with the Steinbrenners. Zimmer and George got into some very public feuds following the 2003 season, and the Yanks haven’t really been the same since he left. Zimmer, if I recall correctly, swore never to return with George around. Stottlemyre resigned following the 2005 and was public about his disdain for George Steinbrenner. What the return of these two key members of the Yankee Dynasty coaching staff says about George Steinbrenner’s current state, I will leave for you to decide.