Hail to the Moose

Mussina is the 9th oldest player in the majors and has pitched 18 seasons, all in the offense-heavy AL East and throughout the height of the PED-era.  He has won at least 15 games in a season 11 times (including 6 times while he still played for the O’s), tying him for fourth all-time on the list of pitchers with the most 15+-win seasons.

And yet, at the age of 39, Moose is having arguably his best year ever, making it worth considering what his chances are to achieve two pitching milestones that have to-date eluded him: 1. Winning 20 games in a season (he has two 19-win seasons and three 18-win seasons); and 2. Winning the Cy Young Award (he has registered in the top 6 of Cy Young Award vote-getters 8 times, with a distant 2nd place finish to Pedro Martinez in 1999 being his best showing).

Well he can likely forget about the Cy, as the competition for it in 2008 is more than stiff, especially from Cliff Lee, who not only matches Mussina in wins so far, but is also in the top 3 of virtually every major pitching category including a few on which Mussina does not even break the top 10.   Lee ranks 2nd in ERA at 2.58, 1st in win %-age at .882,  3rd in WHIP at 1.080, and 10th in K/9 IP with 7.44.  Mussina is 9th in ERA at 3.27 and his win %-age of .625, his WHIP of 1.204, and his K/9 IP of 6.15 don’t land him on the top ten of any of those lists.  The only category in which Moose leads Lee (and, in fact, all pitchers) is BB/9 IP with 1.28, but Lee, though in second place, is essentially tied with him at 1.29.  Even if Lee falters dramatically and Mussina continues to pitch over the last 7 weeks of the season the way he has to-date, guys like Halladay and Saunders seem to be just as well placed – if not better placed – than Mussina to overtake Lee, who really has to be the favorite at this stage.

But winning 20 games appears much more plausible, especially with every strong outing he puts up.    He certainly has a better shot of it this year than he ever has had before.  In the seven seasons in which Mussina has logged at least 17 wins, the earliest that he ever won his 15th game was August 15 during what would ultimately be a 19-win season in 1996.  This year he got his 15th win on August 7 and will be going for number 16 next Tuesday (August 12) in Minnesota, facing one of the teams against which he has done best this year, compiling a 1.29 ERA over 14 IP in 2 games vs. the Twins.  If Mussina remains healthy, and if the Yankees try to keep him on his regular 4-day rest schedule, he will have 10 more starts beginning with the Minnesota game and ending with the final game of the regular season in Boston.  If that turns out to be his last shot at 20 wins, the drama will be thick.  And if that is the case, Moose will be very happy to not see Manny in the line-up, who this year batted .667 off Moose with a .750 OBP and 2.333 SLG (adding up to an absurd 3.083 OPS), though young Boston hitters like Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia have also had remarkable success against Mussina this year.

But beyond Mussina’s pursuit of personal history-making, if you have not watched him navigate a line-up this year, you are missing a strange and fascinating spectacle.  Mussina’s extaordinary variety of pitches combined with exceptional control and a smart approach to hitters all contribute to a kind of mastery over line-ups that is rare, even when compared to the top aces in the league and to those pitchers who are more likely to win the Cy Young Award than is Mussina this year.

Consider this: without exception, the more that a batter faces Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Scott Kazmir, AJ Burnett, Joe Saunders or (an NL ace of note) Johan Santana in a game, the better that batter tends to do.  For several of these stellar pitchers, the opponent’s BA goes up by close to or more than 100 points between their 1st plate appearance and their 3rd and, though I have not had the time to compile stats on other aces, I would suspect the same to be true for virtually (perhaps even literally) all of them.  By comparison, the more a batter faces Mussina in a line-up, the worse he does.  BA, OBP, and SLG off of Mussina in successive plate appearancs is as follows:

  • 1st PA = .310 / .349 / .443
  • 2nd PA = .269 / .294 / .416
  • 3rd PA (or more) = .232 / .263 / .387

If you haven’t had a chance to see this play out over the course of a game, you are really missing something special.  Here’s to hoping Moose can keep doing it to the tune of at least 5 more wins in 2008.

29 comments… add one
  • “By comparison, the more a batter faces Mussina in a line-up, the worse he does”
    Maybe the feel-good stat of the year.

    tells (yf) August 8, 2008, 12:40 pm
  • Yay, it’s apparently Mussina day at YFSF. Couldn’t happen to a more fun joyless player. You hate Manny, IH, for some understandable reasons. I hate Mussina for other, far more irrational and visceral reasons. I hate watching guys who seem to derive no enjoyment out of the game. Though I am sure Mussina appreciates his great luck at making tons of money off a freakish ability, there is no player I enjoy seeing getting shellacked more than him. Unfortunately for me that has been too infrequent this season.

    SF August 8, 2008, 12:45 pm
  • Two Moose articles in the same day! Is this an early birthday present? ;P

    Lar August 8, 2008, 12:45 pm
  • Interesting about the PA breakdowns – at least earlier in the season, it seems like he was always getting into trouble at around the 20th batter point. Apparently it’s not as bad as I remembered!

    Lar August 8, 2008, 12:48 pm
  • seriously, Moose makes JD Drew look like a member of The Wiggles.

    SF August 8, 2008, 12:48 pm
  • oh, and IH, another great post by the way.

    SF August 8, 2008, 12:49 pm
  • I never got all the hate on Moose. So, he’s quiet, and not media-friendly. Is that it?
    Great Q&A to Moose (ht to A YF) – so he’s a bit of an ass at times – refusing to answer to stupid questions. I don’t know what that means, or why it matters..

    Lar August 8, 2008, 12:54 pm
  • Tx SF – and I get your disdain for Moose. I’ve never liked his pouty attitude on the field nor what I viewed as his holier-than-thou smirkiness in interviews off the field, but as his performance this year has shot through the roof, he has exhibited a lot less of both those characteristics, which has been nice to see. Regardless, the line-up navigation has been really fun for me to watch. Beyond the stats, as the game gets deeper, some of the best stars just look worse and worse off him – last night it was Hamilton and to a lesser extent Young. Hamilton looked just plain terrible against him.

    IronHorse (yf) August 8, 2008, 12:59 pm
  • SF – I really dont agree that he is a joyless player. I think moose is a real student of the game and is quite passionate about his craft. He just doesnt emote in an overly expressive manner. He also seems to enjoy the clubhouse and being with the team as you often read stories with tidbits of clues to this. Why do you think he is joyless?

    Sam-YF August 8, 2008, 1:00 pm
  • I don’t care how he treats the media, at all. I just find him utterly joyless. It’s not “quiet”, JD Drew is “quiet” to me. Whatever his artistry, I hate watching someone who seems pissed at their skills. It’s always looked to me like Moose would rather be doing something different then playing baseball. So I appreciate his abilities, I just hate watching him as a player. His demeanor puts me off. It’s not the uniform, either.

    SF August 8, 2008, 1:02 pm
  • The plate-appearance statistic is downright shocking. That shows that he and Molina (and/or his pitching coach) have done a great job preparing for games and scouting hitters.

    Atheose August 8, 2008, 1:41 pm
  • Looks like? What the? JD Drew is the best comparison, since these are same arguments his detractors been saying about him for years..

    Lar August 8, 2008, 1:41 pm
  • Whatever my issues with Moose’s attitude have been, he never did anything that I construed as playing the game the wrong way and he never showed up a player. More to the point, I am totoally enamored with what he is doing this year because you can almost see him outhinking and manipulating the minds of opposing batters over the course of a game. The number of hitters rolling their eyes and shaking their heads after pitches, sluggers getting jelly-legged, guys getting K’d with bats still on shoulders, terrible looking swings on pitches that clearly fooled the hitter, great fastball hitters swinging way late on 88-mph fastballs, etc, etc. is just entertaining as hell to watch.

    IronHorse (yf) August 8, 2008, 1:50 pm
  • Another career near-miss for Mussina? The 8-2/3 perfect innings he pitched against the Red Sox on September 2, 2001. (The date is etched in my memory because I watched it with all of my wife’s Yankee-fan family from New York, who were in town for my wedding that took place the day before.)
    It would have been the Yankees’ fourth perfect game.
    Ah, Carl Everett….I guess you were good for something.

    MJL in L.A. August 8, 2008, 1:57 pm
  • Moose has a sort of “baseball is beneath me” type of attitude. At least that’s what it seems like to me.
    I also can’t stand him blaming his teammates when he loses, like calling out ARod a few years ago for making an error during a game he pitched in. If you’re going to call out one of your teammates at least make it funny, David Wells style:

    Atheose August 8, 2008, 1:59 pm
  • Mussina had another perfect game ruined with two outs in the 8th some years back but I have to dig to find the exact date/team.
    I never got the impression that Mussina thought baseball was beneath him Ath, but I have often gotten the impression that he thinks sports reporters are beneath him – intellectually that is. Which of course is probably true for a guy who graduated Stanford early, but even so, you don’t have to convey such feelings with smirks and sarcasm.

    IronHorse (yf) August 8, 2008, 2:04 pm
  • Yo, Jayson…it’s a blocking move. (That is, he didn’t go to the Rays or Angels.)

    Devine August 8, 2008, 2:50 pm
  • Or, Giles knows that there is a good chance there is nothing wrong with Ortiz, and he’s not good enough to ever get any playing time over Boston’s already good OF.
    Just a thought, but you can stick to what you think too.

    Brad August 8, 2008, 3:25 pm
  • Also, not sure what Giles “knows better” about? He doesn’t like winning?

    Brad August 8, 2008, 3:27 pm
  • But, yeah, you should buy one of those Manny hats. You seem like just they type of person to do that.

    Brad August 8, 2008, 3:29 pm
  • Okay, man.
    You’re right.
    Stick around though, your insight is awesome.

    Brad August 8, 2008, 3:30 pm
  • LOL!
    OMG, u r rite!

    Brad August 8, 2008, 3:33 pm
  • operative word being…

    Brad August 8, 2008, 3:35 pm
  • I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: he seems a bit whiny, but Moose’s transformation into a freakily good control artist is fun to watch even as the enemy. I kinda hope he’ll get his 20-win season, though of course, still rooting for the Yankees to lose on any given day he pitches. Kinda like how I feel about A-Rod. I sort of wish he’d win a championship so he could silence the critics Garnett-like. But he plays for the Yankees.
    You know, I always wondered, these pitches who become such location specialists when they hit their late 30s (Schilling, Mussina). What if they had tried to become so very pinpoint when their “stuff” was still excellent? Is it a matter of being able to control it better *because* the velocity is down or what?

    Devine August 8, 2008, 3:46 pm
  • Devine, I sometimes wonder the same thing. And it seems like such a fine line – like when someone with stuff that is good enough to blow batters away starts to pitch Mussina-like they often run into trouble and have to be told to stop overthinking, to stop aiming the ball and nibbling so much, to be more aggressive, etc, etc. It feels like guys do the best with what they’ve got, but when you have a pitcher who – like Maddux or Mussina – has always been a finesse pitcher, maybe the transition to throwing 86-mph maximum is not as rough as it is for guys who were power pitchers and therefore they can extend their careers with larger pitching repertoires, multiple arm angles, and all other manner of junk. Though I guess that doesn’t describe Schilling. I have to admit to not knowing that Schilling had really become that great of a control guy – that’s not a knock on him and I’m not disputing that description – I just didn’t follow him close enough to see that this was what he had become. I just sort of saw him as a power pitcher from beginning to end.

    IronHorse (yf) August 8, 2008, 4:16 pm
  • Schilling last year was maybe able to bring it to 92 when he was really heaving it up there, and 89 was much more common. I don’t know if he was as good control-wise as Mussina has been recently (probably not), but it was definitely not about the fastball-splitter combo as much last year (though he had a very good splitter in his October start against the Angels).

    Devine August 8, 2008, 4:20 pm
  • By the way, there’s a little tidbit about Moose that I can’t find online right now – I read it in that new Moose/Glavine book, which I lent out. But supposedly, when he was younger and on the O’s, he tried a bit harder to pump the team up in the way young players do, but was told by Cal Ripken to “learn his place”. I’m not saying this alone explains everything – fine, he’s still unfriendly to the media (at least to stupid questions) but in the clubhouse he isn’t all that bad.
    Oh ya, that and all that “window” thing they got going on this year..

    Lar August 8, 2008, 5:16 pm
  • Also, the “other” near-perfect game Moose had was against the Indians in 97, broken up by Sandy Alomar Jr.

    Lar August 8, 2008, 5:18 pm
  • Reading this thread after all of the troll’s comments have been deleted was funny, but not as funny as SF’s line about the Wiggles. That made me laugh.

    stuck working August 8, 2008, 7:56 pm

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