Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mussina A Hall Of Famer With Or Without A 20-Win Season

  • Yankees 7-Rays 2:
There's a movement afoot to declare Mike Mussina's candidacy for the Hall of Fame as
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assured if and only if he reaches 20 wins this season; but what if he wins 19? Is his candidacy then going to be somehow compromised if he doesn't have that gaudy stat of a 20-win season on his resume?
The argument against Mussina as a Hall of Famer was always weak to begin with. A pitcher who, as of right now, has 267 wins and is a staggering 116 games over .500; has 23 career shutouts in an era where such a stat is a rarity; a career ERA of 3.69 during the steroids era and pitching the first ten years of his career in the bandbox of Camden Yards; will have 3000 strikeouts before he retires; has been durable; and after this season will have been voted in the top six of the Cy Young Award balloting nine times, what does a 20th win have to do with anything?
The same context that Goose Gossage accurately and astutely uses to compare what it
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was he and his closing brethren did in the 70s and 80s and what guys like Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera have done applies to starting pitchers as well. Gossage says there's no way to accurately compare the closers like himself, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter to what the one-inning closers like Eckersley and Rivera because the job and the edicts were totally different. Back then closers were brought into the game as early as the sixth inning; there was no "one-inning and out" stuff. Today there's an uproar if Rivera has to record five outs; how would he have functioned in 1978? This isn't to diminish the greatness of Rivera, but the game is totally different from what it was back then for relievers and it's the same for starters.
In the 70s and 80s, 36 or 37 starts for a top pitcher were the norm; how many more wins would those four or five extra opportunities have given Mussina? The bullpens were used much differently back then as well. With most teams carrying thirteen pitchers nowadays, it's easy to forget the days where there were nine or ten pitchers on a staff and the starters had to pitch into the seventh inning no matter the situation. The specialists for the sixth, seventh and eighth innings that are prevalent nowadays didn't exist back then. It's logical to say that a pitcher who starts 32 games and wins 17-19 would likely have won at least 21-23 if he were given five more starts and allowed to stay in the game until the eighth inning. By that logic, Mussina, having won at least 17 games eight times would be a no-doubt Hall of Famer.
The argument that Mussina is a "stat-compiler" who was more of a workhorse than a great
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pitcher is disputed by the numbers, but it's also disputed by observation of the pitchers themselves. If the Hall of Fame is a haven for pure greatness on the field and in by the numbers; if a pitcher's hardware----Cy Young Awards, MVPs, World Series championships, etc.----is the mitigating factor, then a lot of pitchers would have to be ejected from the place. Don Sutton was, by the accounts of hitters like Keith Hernandez, a great pitcher whose determination, competitiveness and creativity made him one of the toughest assignments in baseball in the 70s and 80s; is Sutton, who won 20 games once, but 17 or more six times and was a top-five Cy Young finisher in a league with Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton as his contemporaries, a great pitcher? If not, then there's an argument for Mussina to be excluded; but if Sutton's in then Mussina belongs as well with or without a 20-win season on his stat sheet. If put into context, Mussina is every bit the pitcher that Sutton or Don Drysdale were and because of that, there shouldn't even be a debate. Mike Mussina is a Hall of Famer.
  • Atlanta 16-Miami 14:
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Morten Andersen kicked a 37-yard field goal to win the game for the Falcons. (I never get tired of this lame joke when there's a baseball game with a football score.)
  • Mets 6-Brewers 5:
For those that are scoffing at the idea that the Mets are going to move forward with Luis Ayala as their closer for the rest of the season (or as long as he's effective and Billy Wagner is out, whichever comes first), they should look at the record of the aforementioned Eckersley, who was faced with the prospect of becoming a closer (which he did reluctantly); trying to continue as a mediocre starter somewhere other than with the Athletics; or having to retire. Ayala has
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two attributes to close that have nothing to do with his stuff (even though his stuff is quite good): he throws strikes and he's not bothered mentally by the prospect of closing.
The job description seems so simple; just pitch the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or less and get three outs; but the failures of the other pitchers the Mets have tried to use in the absence of Wagner have proven that there's something different about getting those three outs without self-immolating. Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez, Pedro Feliciano and Scott Schoeneweis have all fallen somewhere between shaky and terrible at doing the job while Ayala showed up from the netherworld of the Washington Nationals and has compiled four saves in five chances; most have been relatively clean as well. As for the process of throwing strikes, I'd rather have Ayala go out there, throw the ball over the plate and get hit
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around to blow the game than to see Heilman do what he did on Saturday and give up the winning run without allowing a hit by walking everyone.
Yes, it's a mental thing; and yes, a major league pitcher should be able to throw strikes, but the ninth inning is a different animal in every aspect of the game and, for right now, Ayala is doing the job. Teams have gotten by with closers whose guts and mentality was better than their stuff and there's no reason that the Mets can't do the same thing; and Ayala's stuff, as said before, is actually quite good.
  • Astros 9-Cubs 7; the Cubs are in big trouble without Carlos Zambrano:
Carlos Zambrano left the game after five innings with arm pain----ESPN Story----and if he's out for any substantial amount of time or is compromised in any way if he does come back this year, the Cubs are in big trouble. Add in that the expected problems with the injury-prone
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Rich Harden are possibly occurring since he's having his start skipped for "precautionary reasons" (whatever that means), and the Cubs have to be very concerned for the playoffs.
If the season ended today, the Cubs would be playing the Diamondbacks in the first round and, even though they're both struggling lately, I'd rather have Brandon Webb and Dan Haren starting for me than Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. With Zambrano heading to the doctor and Harden always on the precipice of a long stint on the disabled list, the Cubs have to be worried heading into the final month with or without their big lead; big bats; and deep, hard-throwing bullpen.
While I'm on the subject of this game, credit has to go to the Astros for fighting back the way they have since the end of July when everyone (and I mean everyone) was calling Drayton McLane a fool for trading for veterans rather than cleaning house. They're still unlikely to climb back into playoff position, but the numbers that said they were completely out of
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contention and it was stupid to even bother trying to fight back are being proven to be what they are----an aspect of running an organization to be taken into account with other circumstances.
While the numbers say that a good mid-season acquisition only accounts for a win or three in the grand scheme of the season, no one takes into account what it does for the existing players in a clubhouse. If the season looks lost, players may inadvertently or not take their foot off the gas pedal and coast to the end of the season; if the ownership still believes in the club and is making trades to try and get better, that can serve as a wake-up call to the existing players to give that extra effort and not give up. That and the sudden health of Roy Oswalt have contributed to the Astros comeback more than any of the veteran journeymen----Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins----have.

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