“Who would they replace me with?”
That’s what an annoyed Mike Mussina asked a reporter on Friday in Detroit. Following a terrible outing against the Angels last Tuesday night, during which Moose allowed nine baserunners (seven hits) and seven runs over 1 2/3 innings, the notion that the veteran with 247 career wins could lose his spot in the Yankees rotation became credible.
Last night, it became probable.
Make no mistake, Mussina’s current 5.53 ERA and 1.49 WHIP is not unjustifiably inflated by his recent string of three straight bad outings. There has been a season-long question as to whether not Mussina can perform any longer. His 2007 ERA has never been south of 4.50 following any of his 23 starts. His strikeouts have plummeted to 5.53 over 9 innings which is very much a cause for concern for a pitcher like Mussina who has had at least 7.11 K/9 over the past 11 seasons. His batting average against has jumped from .241 in 2006 to .313, largely due to the fact that he’s allowing more line drives (also due to the fact that he was lucky on balls fielded in play in 2006), which is a sure sign that hitters have your number. His slugging percentage against (.481) is the worst in his entire career. Perhaps most troubling in his case that he’s not walking hitters any more than he usually does. This means that it’s probably not mechanics. More likely, he just can’t cut it anymore.
His fastball has dropped to 86 mph, and hitters no longer have to anticipate it coming to be able to turn on it. This gives them the opportunity to anticipate the off-speed pitch all the time without having to worry about not being able to catch up if the heater comes their way. Moose needs the fastball to be around 88-90 to be effective, and in a game when 0.05 seconds is the difference between crushing a pitch and being behind it, it makes all the difference in the world.
So now the Yankees are forced to answer that very question that Mussina had asked reporters on Friday. Who can they replace him with? The Yankees cannot mess with a young arm like Joba Chamberlain who was already transferred to the bullpen after a career of starting in the minors. Kei Igawa has not proven to be any better than Mussina on his worst days. Prospect Ian Kennedy has turned some heads this year in AAA but at 22 years of age, he’s been put on an innings limit for the year and he’s approaching that figure already. Steven White is the most suitable candidate if a switch does indeed happen. White is older than most prospects (26) and isn’t projected to be long for the Major Leagues. But he is unproven in the bigs, which in this case, may oddly be a positive. When Mussina and Igawa have “proven” to be unable to perform for the Yankees down the stretch, the unproven may be their best option.