This isn’t the first time—and it may not be the last, that we’ve compared Mussina’s career to that of a (relative) contemporary whose Hall of Fame support has been much higher, and seen Moose come out ahead. In the past, we’ve shown that Mussina’s was better than Jack Morris and Tom Glavine, and relatively equal to Curt Schilling.
So the natural question becomes: If we’re not crackpots, (We’re not. Ryan actually just got his PhD. He’s wicked smart) then why are all these pitchers who were not as good as Mussina getting elected ahead of him—or coming really close, in the case of Morris—while he sits at the bottom of the ballot?
It actually isn’t terribly complicated. The reality is, Glavine, Smoltz, and Schilling are all much more electable than Mike Mussina is. While this is unfortunate, it’s also a reality, and thus something to keep an eye on over the next eight years, because it could happen again.
Advanced stats are wonderful. They provide us additional ways to understand the game and the value that players generate. But they are not universally accepted. For a long time, ERA+, FIP, or WAR didn’t exist, and the methods we used to evaluate players were drastically different. For a large segment of voters, many of those old methods still hold varying degrees of value.
I believe, if you’re going to follow baseball Hall of Fame voting, it’s important to know, and accept the following truth: Not everyone is going to think like you, and that’s okay.
Wins and losses may be a largely useless method of determining how good a pitcher is, but some voters still use them. It’s not how I’d evaluate a pitcher’s success, and I wish people wouldn’t be so casually dismissive of advanced stats, but it’s simply the reality. Not everyone values pitchers the way I, or Ryan, or you do. Learn to accept it, or you’re going to spend a lot of time being angry.
It’s through this acceptance that we can clearly see why Tom Glavine got elected to the Hall of Fame and Mike Mussina didn’t. You may not have liked that result, but you shouldn’t have been surprised by it.
A common refrain about statistics is that you can make them say whatever you want. In that spirit, let’s look at how we can use stats to show that Mike Mussina was better than Tom Glavine, and vice versa (a more in-depth look is this article from last summer).
The “Vote For Mussina” Case
WAR 82.7 74.0
Win % .638 .600
ERA+ 123 118
Ks* 2,813 2,607
K/9 7.1 5.3
BB 785 1,500
BB/9 2.0 3.1
K/BB 3.58 1.74
FIP ERA 3.57 3.95
*Remember, Glavine got 447 of his strikeouts facing pitchers. Mussina got just 25.
See how this works? Mussina comes out looking like a champ. But what if I present the case this way:
The “Vote for Glavine” Case
Wins 270 305
ERA 3.68 3.54
20-win seasons 1 5
Cy Youngs 0 2
World Series 0 1
World Series MVPs 0 1
Now all of a sudden, it might seem pretty silly to vote for Mussina instead of Glavine. And we haven’t done anything other than choosing different things to highlight—they’re simply more traditional methods of measuring success that we see in Mussina’s case.
Again, you may not agree with the Glavine section, but it matters to voters. Every pitcher with 300 wins has made the Hall of Fame. Of the 13 eligible pitchers with more than one Cy Young, 10 have been elected. The only exceptions have been Bret Saberhagen and Denny McClain—both of whom had careers derailed by injury—and Roger Clemens—who is another issue altogether. And if you don’t think championships matter when discussing a legacy, well, you haven’t been paying attention to sports.
I could do something similar with Smoltz or Morris, though for brevity’s sake, I won’t.
We can (and have) spend a lot of time discussing how Mussina should have won the 2001 Cy Young, and that Tom Glavine didn’t deserve the 1998 award. We could point out that with even the bare minimum of run support, Mussina would have been the 1997 ALCS MVP, that blown saves and labor disputes cost him and 20-win seasons and World Series rings. We could point out that 300 wins is an arbitrary number, and that Mussina decided to retire after a 20-win season of 5.2 WAR, and missed a chance to pitch for a team that won 103 games and a World Series despite having to use a three-man postseason rotation.
But the fact of the matter is, voters don’t often want to get into that level of analysis. 300 wins is a magic number. Mussina’s trophy case is empty of Cys and rings. WAR doesn’t mean anything to a lot of people.
We don’t like that Mike Mussina’s not in the Hall of Fame and Glavine is (though Glavine clearly deserves it). But we hope this post helps you understand why this is.