This is the second part of a post looking at several pitchers who some say are Hall of Fame worthy, and need to be in the Hall before a pitcher like Mike Mussina
Tommy John is a pitcher much like Jim Kaat; a pitcher who pitched for a long time, and had some phenomenal seasons, racked up some impressive stats. However, like Kaat, his career was often plauged by stretches of mediocrity that, when taken as a whole, undermine his Hall candidacy.
John’s 288 career wins rank 26th all time, his 4710 innings are 20th all-time and only seven players in the history of the game had more starts than he did. As we’ve said before, longevity counts for a lot in a starting pitcher, and so John earns very high marks from us in that regard.
But ultimately, John hung on a bit too long and, his final seven seasons were simply sub par and may have done more to hurt his candidacy than help it. While his win total rose closer to that magical 300 mark, other numbers were taking a hit.
In his final seven seasons, John went 51-60, and in five of those seven seasons, his ERA was higher than the league average. Those years undid some of the good his previous 19 had done. As we’ve also said, the good years must be taken with the bad years and, although the final seven years of his career don’t do justice to how good he was in his prime, they do represent a quarter of his career and therefore, cannot be ignored.
It’s true that John’s early years were unimpressive, not helped by the fact that he pitched for some terrible White Sox teams in the 60’s–For example, John went 10-5 in 1968 for the White Sox. Not much to look at, until you consider his ERA was 61% better than the league’s average, and the White Sox lost 95 games. Then it’s pretty amazing.
But, the opposite can be said for John’s peak years. He only won 15 games five times in his career, and they were all for very good teams:
1973- 16-7 for a 95-66 Dodger team
1977- 20-7 for a 98-64 Dodger team that won the pennant
1978- 17-10 for a 95-67 Dodger team that won the pennant
1979- 21-9 for an 89-71 Yankee team
1980- 22-9 for a 103-59 Yankee team
John’s only seasons winning 15 games or more came on teams that averaged 96 wins and never had fewer than 89. As the saying goes “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”. If John’s worst seasons are going to be discounted by the fact that he played on poor teams, his best seasons have to be scrutinized because they all came on great teams.
So now the question becomes, outside of wins and losses, how dominant was John as a pitcher? His ERA of 3.34 is 10% better than the league average during that same time. As we’ve said before, Mike Mussina’s ERA is 22% percent better than the league during his career. John made six appearances in the Top 5 in ERA in his career, something Mussina has done eight times. The first three times John made an appearance, there were only eight teams in the league. Mussina’s first appearance in the Top 5 came with 14 teams in the league, which makes it inherently more difficult. So John pales in comparison there.
John was never much of a strikeout man, never fanning more than 140 hitters in a season, something Mussina has done eleven times. In fact, John never appeared in the Top 10 in the league in punchouts, something Mussina has done 10 times.
Looking at the black ink and grey ink tests don’t do much to help John either.
Black ink test
Mussina: 16 (as of 7/21/08 )
Grey Ink Test
Mussina 241 (as of 7/21/08 )
While Mussina’s black ink scores may drop a bit and come closer to John’s, Moose has 100 more points on the grey ink scale, a gap that is too large to be ignored.
And while John does have the three 20-win seasons that Mussina lacks, his Cy Young finishes are not nearly as impressive. He does have two runner up finishes, although, much like Mussina’s 2nd place finish in 1999, John wasn’t really close in the voting. Other than that, John had one other Top 5 finish and one other Top 10. Mussina has had twice as many Top 5 finishes (6-3) and twice as many Top 10 finishes (8-4).
Some people may point to John’s significant lead in complete games and shutouts as a point where he tops Mussina. They would be correct in one case, but incorrect in another.
John has 46 shutouts, double the total of Mussina’s 23, and he led the league in them three times. John scores points on Mussina there
Likewise, John’s 162 complete games seem to dwarf Mussina’s 57. The problem here is that, in John’s era, bullpens–and especially closers, really weren’t important. As a result, many pitchers would throw a plethora of complete games. This is why John, despite the 162 complete games, only made four appearances in the Top 10 in the statistic in his career and only two in the Top 5. Mussina has made seven appearances in the Top 10 and three in the Top 5.
Ultimately, complete games are going the way of double-headers in modern baseball and really cannot be used when comparing modern pitchers to ones from previous generations. For example, in 2005, when Mussina’s two complete games managed to put him tied for 10th in the league, Roy Halladay led the junior circuit with five. In 1979, when John finished tied for 2nd in the league in complete games, the leader tossed 18, and everyone in the top 10 threw at least 13. Think about that. In 2005, five complete games were enough to lead the league. In 1979, they wouldn’t even get you halfway to the Top 10
So, much like Jim Kaat, Tommy John, despite having a higher win total than Mike Mussina, falls short in many other categories. John’s exclusion from the Hall, fair or not, should have little effect on Mussina’s chances