By the Decade: The rise, fall and rise of pitching

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.

[TABLE=56]

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…]

The Hall of Fame down to a science

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.

Retired, Mussina to stay that way

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.)

A weekend of celebrating the past

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.

Moose and the Hall of Fame

Over the last few days, Hall of Fame talk has inevitably followed Mike Mussina’s decision to retire.

Some writers favor his induction; others don’t. But the debate is more of the same old, same old. The people who will not vote for him can’t get over the fact that Mussina didn’t win 300 games. The people who will smartly vote for him will look at the teams he was on, the teams he pitched against and the general success he enjoyed both relative to the time in which he pitched and to other comparable players.

In my opinion, Mike Mussina is a Hall of Famer. But don’t take my word for it. Just listen to King Kaufman dismiss wins on Salon.com. Many argue, writes Kaufman, that “the Hall of Fame is getting too big. It’s meant to honor the great, not the very good.”

He continues:

Much as I hate to say nice things about a Stanford guy, I think Mussina’s a Hall of Famer, but I understand and respect those arguments. But the real argument against Mussina going to Cooperstown is going to be dumber than that. It’s going to be about how he didn’t win 300 games…

Mussina got his 270 wins in 536 starts, meaning he got a W in 50.4 percent of them. Sutton got 321 wins — he won three as a reliever — in 756 starts, which was 42.4 percent. Tom Seaver, who pitched on a lot of bad teams and a few good ones, got 310 wins in 647 starts, 47.9 percent. Perry won 44.2 percent of his starts.

If Mussina had won at the same rate in Seaver’s 647 starts, he’d have retired with 326 wins. That would have tied him with Eddie Plank for 13th all time, and not only would no one have suggested he didn’t belong in the Hall, no one would have dismissed the gaudy win total because he played on a lot of winners. With Sutton’s 756 starts — including the one during the Battle of Bunker Hill — Mussina would have won 381, more than anyone but Cy Young and Walter Johnson.

Of course, pitching every fourth day, he might have blown out his arm in 1992 and retired with 11 wins. We’re talking about silly stuff here.

But so is talking about 300 wins. Today’s starters only get the ball a little more than 80 percent as often as yesterday’s. Yeah, they have better medical care and aren’t asked to complete games anymore, but they also have to face real hitters from the top to the bottom of opposing lineups, which was not true in earlier eras.

If 300 wins used to be your magic Hall of Fame number, you need to lower it.

This is, of course, but one reason why Mussina deserves a spot in Cooperstown, but it’s a relevant one nonetheless. Maybe someday, the voters will understand that. I guess we’ll find out in five years.

Mike Mussina is a Hall of Famer

Or: Wins are a really stupid metric for evaluating anything

This post comes from RAB commenter tommiesmithjohncarlos.

I was thinking about this again this morning, so I did some quick research on Baseball-Reference.com. Enjoy the following narrative, brought to you by The Committee to Induct Michael Cole Mussina into the Hall of Fame.

#1: June 22, 1992

Mike pitches 8.0 innings, giving up 5 hits, 1 walk, and 2 runs, strikes out 7, and is replaced after the 8th with a 4-2 lead. In the top of the 9th, Orioles reliever Mike Flanagan gives up a single to Mel Hall and is then pulled for Orioles closer Gregg Olson, who gives up a game tying home run to the first batter he faces, Roberto Kelly. In the bottom of the 9th, the Yankees bullpen gives up a run and the Orioles win, 5-4. Moose gets the ND.

#2: August 15, 1992

Mike pitches 7.2 innings, giving up 9 hits, 3 walks, and 3 runs, strikes out 5, and is pulled during the 8th with a 4-3 lead. In the bottom of the 9th, Orioles closer Gregg Olson gives up a single, a walk, a bunt groundout, a single, and a sac fly and the Royals win 5-4. Moose gets the ND.

#3: August 17, 1995

Mike pitches 8.0 innings, giving up 6 hits, no walks, and 2 runs, both unearned (on a dropped flyball by Bobby Bonilla in the second inning that would have been out #3), strikes out 8, and is replaced after the 8th with the game tied at 2. In the top of the 10th, Orioles reliever Jesse Orosco gives up a leadoff homer to Gary Gaetti in his second inning of work and the Royals go on to win, 3-2. Moose gets the ND.

#4: September 28, 1996

Mike pitches 8.0 innings, giving up 4 hits, 2 walks, and 1 run, strikes out 9, and is replaced after the 8th with a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the 9th, Orioles closer Armando Benitez gives up a one-out home run to Ed Sprague to tie the ballgame. In the top of the 10th, Roberto Alomar hits a home run of his own to retake the lead and the Orioles go on to win, 3-2. Moose gets the ND.

#5: July 7, 2001

Mike pitches 7.0 innings, giving up 6 hits, 1 walk, and no runs, strikes out 10, and is replaced after the 7th with the game still a scoreless tie. After two more scoreless innings from Jay Witasick, in the top of the 10th, Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera has one of his rare implosions and gives up a walk sandwiched around 4 line-drive singles, all with two outs, to score 3 runs and the Mets go on to win, 3-0. Moose gets the ND.

#6: July 17, 2001

Mike pitches 7.0 innings, giving up 8 hits, 3 walks, and 1 run, strikes out 3, and is lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the 8th with the game tied at 1. Much later, in the top of the 12th with the game still knotted at 1, Phillies reliever Wayne Gomes gives singles to Jeter and Tino and a homer to Jorge and the Yankees go on to win, 4-1. Moose gets the ND.

#7: August 12, 2001

Mike pitches 8.0 innings, giving up 2 hits, no walks, and 2 runs, strikes out 9, and is replaced after the 8th with the game tied at 2. In the bottom of the 9th, Yankees reliever Mike Stanton walks Johnny Damon and, one batter later, gives up a two-run homer to Jason Giambi. The A’s win, 4-2. Moose gets the ND.

#8: September 19, 2002

Mike pitches 7.0 innings, giving up 5 hits, 2 walks, and 1 unearned run (on a first inning error by centerfielder Raul Mondesi), strikes out 8, and is replaced after the 7th with a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the 8th, Yankees reliever Steve Karsay gives up a game-tying homer to the first batter he faces, Randy Winn. Two innings later, Yankees reliever Sterling Hitchcock gives up a single, a double, an intentional walk, and then a single and the Devil Rays win it, 3-2. Moose gets the ND.

Had Moose had a slightly better collection of relievers (or fewer defensively challenged outfielders) over the years, and had the 2001 Yankees not been utterly shut down by Mets “ace” Kevin Appier in that 7/7/01 game, etc., Moose could have won these 8 contests, since he pitched damn well in all of them. What’s the significance of these eight games, you ask? Well, if we use our magical time machine to alter these games and give Moose the victories instead of the no-decisions, not only would Mike’s career record now be 278-153, he’d now have SIX, COUNT ‘EM, SIX twenty-win seasons:

1992: 20-5

1995: 20-9

1996: 20-11

2001: 20-11

2002: 20-10

2008: 20-9

…which means none of us would be having this conversation about “Is Moose a Hall of Famer”? Bill Plaschke, Jon Heyman, Jay Mariotti, Wallace Matthews, George King III, Joel Sherman, and even Mike Lupica himself would be singing Moose’s praises from the mountaintops and viciously excoriating anyone who dared question the credentials of an absolute stud ace who won 20 games an unbelievable six times.

(And don’t forget that Moose went 16-5 during the strike-shortened 1994 season, where he was robbed of probably 10-12 potential starts. Do your own math on that one.)

So please, people. Seriously. We can’t allow media idiots to keep Mike Mussina out of the Hall of Fame because of a few bad games from Gregg Olson, Armando Benitez, Bobby Bonilla, Raul Mondesi, Steve Karsay, Mike Stanton and one good game from Kevin Appier. That’s insanity.

Open Thread: In Salute of Moose

He’s been in the game since 1991. He’s pitched to Bo Jackson and Dave Winfield, Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, and everyone in between. His first start came on Game 1,674 of Cal Ripken’s streak, less than two-thirds of the way through the Iron Man’s record.

And now, 3,562.2 innings and 270 wins later, he’s calling it a career. He spent his entire baseball lifetime pitching in the hell of the American League East, and at one point threw at least 200 innings in nine straight seasons. His streak of 10 or more wins in 17 straight seasons is an American League record.

He never won a Cy Young Award, never won a World Series, never led the league in ERA, and never led the league in strikeouts. The closest he’s been is second in each instance, seemingly defining Moose’s career as “almost.”

Mussina finishes his career with a record 100 games over .500 (117 games to be exact), something only 20 other men have accomplished. Of those twenty, 16 are in the Hall of Fame. The other four (Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, Pedro) will be some day. Moose should one day make it 21 for 21.

We’ve watched him thrive and we’ve watched him struggle, but most of all we’ve watched him be nothing but a class act. Talk about the Mooseman here, or whatever else is on your mind. Keep it classy, like Mike.