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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.

9 Responses to “Reports of Mike Mussina’s Demise Were Very Premature”

  1. Lyndsay says:

    the only reason Mussina’s staying alive is because he and Pettite are ALL THEY HAVE RIGHT NOW – the rest of their starters are residing somewhere in the bowels of Yankee Stadium, chained to a radiator like Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan. I’d be curious to see how long Mussina lasts at this pace, or if he has a late-season injury that takes him out.

  2. Lyndsay says:

    they also have Wang, I forgot about him, still 3 starters, one of whom will likely shit the bed in the postseason, the other two playing on fumes, doesnt add up to much.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Nick, I noticed that in your post, you called Mussina’s 4.01 ERA “very respectable,” while in my post, I referred to Boston’s team ERA of 4.03 as “thoroughly mediocre.” Is this a discrepancy in need of elucidation?

  4. Paul Moro says:

    Wow, Nick, what are the odds? I was seriously thinking this morning that it was time for me to do a “my bad” post based on what I had written about Moose last year. You bastard.

  5. It’s generally harder to be a starter than a reliever. You get a little bit of leway with your performance for eating up innings.

    Mussina’s ERA is only slightly above average. An AL team ERA of 4.03 would also be above average. Ideally, though, your bullpet would lower the team’s ERA, not the other way around.

    A reliever ERA of about 1.25-1.75, to me, is just as valuable as an inning eating starter who pitches 3.00-3.50 ERA ball.

    Anyway, Mussina has gotten pretty decent support from the surrounding Yankees to attain those 9 wins. That won’t keep up. His current pace would put him at 24-11 in 35 starts or 23-10 in 33 starts. I’d guess his ERA will remain about the same, but he’ll get only about 16-20 wins and 9-12 losses.

  6. gerardo moreno says:

    what a bunch of morons we have here……i would say a 4.03 era is very respectable considering mussina is pitching in the Al and in the Al’s toughest division as well as MLB’s toughest division….I think he’ll keep up ths kind of work throughout the season, he has found a new way to pitch and is no longer the old mussina, up to this season he never pitched inside and always ptched outside with his fastball, no he has a full arsenal of pitches and including the different arm engles he uses, he has like 16 different pitches hahahaha…….don’t expect him to fall off that quick….it’s no fluke

  7. Greg C. says:

    Mussina can\’t catch a break from the critics. When his ERA was low and he was a victim of run support, well he didn\’t win enough. Now that he wins, well his ERA is too high. He was the best starter on the Yankees in 2001,2003,2006. He was almost always better than Pettite and at least equal to Clemens when they were all on the same staff. In 2001 Clemens won the Cy Young. Mussina actually had a better year ( lower WHIP, lower ERA,and even more Ks) but finished 5th in the voting. The voting that year was a joke as Mussina finished behind even Moyer. it\’s pretty funny to read the balloting and stat lines and see a guy finish behind people with half the strikeouts and much higher ERA.

    Wins are an overrated stat, but critics want to have it both ways. Mussina probably won\’t hit the magical 300 win mark and never won 20 – even though the latter was more a function of no run support ( not only the Orioles but also the Yankees, see 2001), blown saves, and a Strike than his performance. Now he\’s winning games, but his ERA is too high ( for some people) and he is \"only a 6 inning pitcher.\" Guess what, CLemens was only a 6 inning pitcher for his entire Yankee career ( look it up; Mussina had more complete games in 2001 than Clemens had in his last 8 years combined) and Pettite was never a complete game shutout type pitcher himself and always had high ERA.

    When Mussina went 15-7, 3.51 people were outraged when he signed an extension at $11 mil per. No one minded when they signed a guy coming off 14-13, 4.20 for $16 mil or that other 6 inning old guy for $1 million per start.

    I would like Mussina to win 20 and have an ERA like 5.00. Then see what the critics say. Will he now be HOF level for hitting a stupid stat milestone in his 18th best season?

  8. Nick Kapur says:

    Well said Greg. I also agree that Mussina is worthy of the Hall of Fame, even if he retired tomorrow.

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