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Hold On a Minute, Boz...

Now, I love the Moose as much as the next guy. Covered him for a number of years in Baltimore. Still love sitting and talking ball with him. Fully appreciate what he has accomplished. Will be rooting hard for him to win No. 20 on Sunday, because I do believe it (unfortunately) will have some bearing on his HOF candidacy -- and I say "unfortunately" because we all know that number of wins is the most irrelevant statistic for evaluating a pitcher's performance.

I would be happy for Mike Mussina if he made it to Cooperstown. But I don't think he'll get my vote. (Or, I should say, he wouldn't get my vote if The Post allowed us to vote.) Perhaps, as Boz writes, I am out of my mind. Or perhaps I am an unabashed elitist who thinks the Hall has already been watered down by too many good-but-not-great electees.

Or perhaps I can make a case why Mussina doesn't belong in Cooperstown.

My primary criterion for evaluating a player's Hall-worthiness is whether he can be considered the dominant player at his position during his era (or one of the two or three most dominant). In the case of Mussina, he was, at best, the fourth-best right-handed starting pitcher of his era (behind Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens). At worst, he was also behind John Smoltz and Curt Schilling, with Roy Halladay (granted, perhaps he stretches the definition of Mussina's era) likely to surpass him by the time he's done.

Here are the career ERA+ figures -- a stat available at that adjusts for stadium and league effects, with 100 representing a league-average figure -- for selected RH starters of Mussina's era. In parantheses are each pitcher's number of Cy Young awards, an indication of how the pitcher was perceived during his era:

Pedro Martinez, 155 (3)
Roger Clemens, 143 (7)
Greg Maddux, 132 (4)
Roy Halladay, 131 (1)
John Smoltz, 127 (1)
Kevin Brown, 127 (0)
Curt Schilling, 127 (0)
Mike Mussina, 122 (0)
David Cone, 120 (1)

If you only consider each pitcher's five best full seasons, here is how they stack up:
Martinez: 291, 243, 219, 210, 202
Clemens: 226*, 221, 213, 193*, 177
Maddux: 271, 262, 189, 187, 171
Smoltz: 383 (as reliever), 157 (as reliever), 149, 143, 138
Schilling: 159, 157, 151, 150, 150
Halladay: 184, 158, 153, 146, 145
Brown: 216, 169, 169, 164, 150
Mussina: 163, 157, 145, 142, 137
Cone: 174, 170, 161, 159, 146

I'm not claiming that ERA+ is a perfect stat (though I am saying it's more meaningful than win-loss records), but it is worth noting that among the active pitchers with a higher career ERA+ than Mussina's 122 are Carlos Zambrano (128) and Tim Hudson (126), while Derek Lowe is tied with him at 122. Not quite Hall-of-Fame company.

My guess is Mussina will get in, based on his wins (269 and counting) and the fact he spent nearly half his career pitching for the Yankees (which automatically jacks up your "legacy" by several notches). But that doesn't mean he'll deserve it. Sorry, Boz.

By Dave Sheinin  |  September 25, 2008; 12:25 PM ET
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Whole heartedly agree with this.

Wins don't really tell the story of how good a pitcher is. With Mussina's era, how many wins would he have had with the Jays for instance? Or the Reds? Or even the Natspos?

Posted by: Ben | September 25, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Woah!! The ERA+ in the WASHINGTON POST?? Dude! Boz's head is going to explode.

Posted by: Steven on Capitol Hill | September 25, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

What do the asterisks next to Clemens number indicate?

Posted by: 756* | September 25, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Next we'll have a post about WARP3!

Posted by: KR | September 25, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

As long as we have a post on why WARP3 is a flawed statistic, i'm all for it.

The dominance argument doesn't quite work when you're comparing him to All-Time inner-circle dominant SP like Pedro at his peak or Roger Clemens. It's like saying that Jeff Bagwell doesn't deserve to get in because he wasn't as good as Lou Gehrig. Or to use a better time-line argument, that Jeter doesn't deserve to get in because he didn't hit as well as AROD or Nomar did.

Posted by: Chris | September 25, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Gee, Dave...the fact that Mussina has more innings than Zambrano and Hudson put together really ought to count for something when you're looking at career ERA+. Mussina is one of those guys who was a step below dominant for a very long time, and that's been a Hall of Famer in every era to date.

Posted by: jc | September 25, 2008 1:44 PM | Report abuse

To 756* -- I think, given your own handle, that you know what the asterisks next to two of Clemens's ERA+ figures mean, but to state the obvious, I put them there to signify those seasons came during his late-career resurgence that we now know was aided by performance-enhancing drugs.

Thanks to everyone for joining the debate. Love reading all these opinions about Mussina's Hall-worthiness.

Posted by: Dave Sheinin | September 25, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Very timely postings as I was just chatting over Mussina's credentials for the HOF yesterday with a co-worker.

Many folks are saying Mussina has hinted strongly at retiring after this season - 20 wins or not. They say that he feels two more seasons to get to 300 may not be feasible for him.

Dave, Boz, have you guys heard any of this? What's the chatter?

Seems to contradict the Moose I watched in Baltimore for nine seasons, but I've also never thought he'd have a problem walking away from the game when the time came.

So I guess the question is, will this offseason be that time?

Posted by: Ryan | September 25, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Good but not great does not equal Cecil Travis and he's not in.

Posted by: 6th and D | September 25, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Good but not great seemed to work out OK for Jim Bunning.

Posted by: Tom | September 25, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

And Don Sutton.

Posted by: Chris | September 25, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Gotta say, I'm with Dave on the argument, but I'm a little bit of a "big hall" guy, so I won't mind Mussina going in (which I think he will). I think there's room for the "very good for a very long time." To the contention that it's not the "Hall of the Very Good," I'd say that it's also not the "Hall of the All-Time Dominant." Until you get a movement together to start throwing people out, I can't get behind leaving out the Mussinas (or for that matter, the Blylevens).

And off the point, every now and then, I forget how dominant Pedro was, and then you see FIVE years with ERA+'s over 200! Wow.

Posted by: Highway 295 Revisited | September 25, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if he'll stick around for 300 or not, but I sure wouldn't mind watching him try down here. Just the kind of guy Larkin had in mind, I'm guessing.

Posted by: CE | September 25, 2008 7:24 PM | Report abuse

You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. Mussina's career already dwarfs several other pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame. If he never wins 20 games, he's a solid candidate. Look at the games in Baltimore that he left with a lead only to have the 'pen blow it. A lot of the local naysayers are still hacked off that he left the Orioles for the Yankees. You can only judge a player's Hall-worthniess based on the players already in. It's only fair.

Posted by: bosox1419 | September 26, 2008 12:15 AM | Report abuse

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