Sometime in the next three seasons Mike Mussina will probably wrap up his professional baseball career. At that time he’ll have anywhere from 270-290 wins. As of this writing he sits on 261 career victories. It’s unlikely Mussina will reach the magical, standard for first-ballot HOF’ers by reaching 300 victories. If he does pitch 2 1/2 more seaoson we’ll but his win total around 285. We can talk about estimating where Mussina will end up in another post. For the purposes of this post we’ll put him at 280 or 19 more career victories.
280 career wins does not a Hall of Famer make. Jim Kaat and Bert Blylven definitely know this. We’ll deal with each of them. Most critics of Mussina’s HOF candidacy are going to point to the non-election of both of these pitchers. That comparision does not hold up to examination.
Jim Kaat began his Major League career in 1959 and his career as a starter effectively ended in 1980 with only 14 starts. During his career he won 283 and lost 237. During his career Kaat only recieved Cy Young votes once in 1975. Clearly Kaat was never a dominat pitcher. He did win 20 games, three times and won 16 gold gloves. However it’s clear his case for the Hall is based solely on his career numbers. 898 games pitched (625 of them starts) yielded Kaat the following career pitching ranks:
- Wins (283) – 31
- Games (898 ) – 21
- Innings (4530.3) – 26
- Strikeouts (2461) – 33
- Games Started (625) – 16
Kaat’s ERA is only 7% better than the league average during his career. Mussina’s is 22% better. In fact, he NEVER ranked in the top 5 in ERA any season in his career. Mussina has done that EIGHT times in his career. Kaat also ranked in the top 5 in WHIP only once, something Mussina has done 10 times.
Longevity is Kaat’s arguement. Kaat won 10 or more games from 1962 to 1977. In fact when Kaat retired in 1983 his 25 year career was the longest of any pitcher in Major League history. But it’s also worth noting that Kaat finished his career as a reliever. As a starter, his victory total is 260, one below Mussina’s. As his years as a reliever were at best average and at worst, below-average, (In only two of his five seasons out of the bullpen did Kaat post an ERA below league average) he should not be looked at as a starting pitcher with 25 years and 283 wins. Kaat’s final five seasons saw him make a mere 33 starts and throw only 360 innings.
Kaat hung around on the Hall of Fame ballot for his full 15 years. However he never came close to the required 75%, hitting a high in 1993 of 29.6%. In fact between 1992 (26.5%) and his final year in 2003 (26.2%) he garned almost no new support. Obviously the voters looked over the evidence of Kaat and decided to pass. Comparing Mussina’s career to Kaat’s is not accurate. Although the counting stats may be there, the dominance never was.