Don’t look now, but after all the hyping of the Yankees trio of young arms, 39-year-old Mike Mussina has become the most consistent and reliable starting pitcher on the Bombers staff. After tonight’s victory over Toronto, Mussina is now 9-4 and on pace to win 21 games this season. He also has a very respectable 4.01 ERA.
Which got me wondering about last year, when we all had the perception that Mussina was getting hammered and that he was basically done for his career. While it’s true that Mussina had an unsightly 5.15 ERA last season – the highest of his career – when I went back and looked, most of his other peripherals were decent. His walk rate remained miniscule, and his home run rate of 0.83 HR/9 was actually the lowest over a full season out of his whole 18 year career.
Which of course immediately made me think of BABIP.
Sure enough, last year Mike Mussina was victimized by the highest BABIP of his entire career, at .340. And it wasn’t even particularly close. The next worst BABIP mark of his career was only .326, which he posted in 1996 and matched in 2005. This year, Mussina’s BABIP has predictably fallen back down to .304, which is very much in line with league averages and his career rate of .298, which explains much of the apparent difference between this year and last year.
So while it is certainly true that Mussina is old and his strikeout rate has been in gradual decline, it is safe to conclude that Mussina didn’t really fall off a cliff last year as we all thought. It was mostly BABIP. Especially since he wasn’t giving up bombs at all, we can conclude that balls were just falling in for singles here and there, in a case of bad luck.