Mike Mussina vs. Tom Glavine: Who had the better career?

Tom Glavine will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. He’ll walk into the hall having received more than 90% of the vote during his first year of eligibility. There’s really no doubt that Glavine’s career qualifies him as an all-time great. But if Glavine is a first ballot hall of famer, than the same should be true of his contemporary, Mike Mussina.

The Stats

Glavine Mussina
Seasons 22 (1989-2008) 18 (1992-2008)
W 305 270
Winning % 0.600 0.638
GS 682 537
CG 52 57
SO 25 23
IP 4413 3562
WHIP 1.31 1.19
H/9 8.8 8.7
HR/9 0.7 0.9
BB/9 3.1 2.0
K/9 5.3 7.1
ERA+ 118 122

With the exception of home runs per nine innings, Mussina’s ratios are better than Glavine’s at every turn. Keep in mind that Glavine pitched his entire career in the weaker hitting National League. I’ve often wondered what Mussina and Glavine’s careers would look like if we swapped them. In the N.L with the Braves, Mussina certainly rakes up more strikeouts because he gets to face the opposing pitcher two or three times per start. How does Glavine’s circle change play in Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium? How does he perform having to face a DH every game, instead of the opposing pitcher? Consider the following stats that Glavine and Mussina produced during their careers against the #9 hitter in the opposing lineup:

Glavine:   1776 PA, 239 hits, 52 walks, 525 strikeouts, .179/.200/379
Mussina: 1339 PA, 303 hits, 52 walks, 281 strikeouts, .244/.262/.340

For their careers Mussina struck out hitters are a higher rate and walked them at a lower rate than Tom Glavine. But when it comes to the #9 hitter in the lineup, Glavine exceeds Mussina’s performance (that’s a 10 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio for Glavine againsts #9 hitters or five times his career average). The reason is simple, those are mostly pitchers which Glavine faced. We can only imagine what Mussina’s career numbers–especially his strikeouts–would look like if he got to face pitchers as hitters a couple times per start.

What about wins above replacement? As we did in the Jack Morris vs. Mussina article, let’s rank each pitchers best season by WAR and compare them to each other.

Glavine Mussina
1991 8.5 8.2 1992
1998 6.1 7.1 2001
1996 5.8 6.6 2003
1997 5.5 6.1 1995
2000 4.9 5.6 2000
1995 4.8 5.5 1997
2005 4.1 5.4 1994
2002 4.1 5.2 2008
2004 4 5 2006
1992 3.8 5 1998
2001 3.6 4.5 2002
1993 3.3 4.4 1999
1999 2.8 3.6 1996
2006 2.8 3.4 2005
2003 2.4 2.4 2004
1990 2.2 2.2 1991
1994 2.1 1.5 1993
2007 2 1 2007
1989 1
1988 0.5
1987 -0.1
2008 -0.2

Mussina outranks Glavine in 13 of their 18 seasons, with three wins for Glavine and two ties. If you give Glavine the extra four seasons, despite having a negative WAR in two of them, Mussina wins 13-7-2. For their careers Glavine had a total WAR of 74 in 22 seasons and Mussina had a WAR of 82.7 in 18 seasons.

Awards

Tom Glavine won the NL Cy Young Award won in 1991 and 1998. While he certainly deserved the award in 1991, it’s interesting that Glavine’s 1998 season would only count as Mussina’s fifth best season. In other words,  Mussina had four seasons which were better, or as good as Glavine’s 1998 award-winning campaign. Mussina of course received no Cy Young awards in any of those seasons.

Postseason

Glavine 14-16, 3.30 ERA, 35 GS, 3 CG, 218 IP, 87 BB, 143 K, 1.27 WHIP
Mussina: 7-8, 3.42 ERA, 21 GS, 0 CG, 139 IP, 33 BB, 149 K, 1.10 WHIP

Despite his sub-.500 record, people have a lot of fond postseason memories of Tom Glavine. To be fair, his W/L record is misleading. He pitched better in the postseason then his numbers indicate. His eight World Series appearances are magnificent (4-3, 2.16 ERA, 58 IP, 0.91 WHIP). and most people know he won the 1995 World Series MVP Award.

We’ve extensively covered Mussina’s postseason track record.

Verdict

glavine

I think it’s a wash between Glavine and Mussina when it comes to the postseason. Glavine got to pitch in five different World Series, while Mussina only played in two. Glavine’s team won on their third trip to the series and he was a big part of that series victory. Their postseason ERA’s are nearly identical and Mussina’s counting numbers (fewer walks, more strikeouts) are better than Glavine’s despite 14 fewer starts.

The differences between Mussina and Glavine come down to two things. The first is that Glavine pitched four more seasons than Moose. Those four extra seasons–at age 21, 40, 41 and 42–allowed Glavine to win 32 games, representing almost all of the difference between Mussina and Glavine’s career win total. Those years pushed Glavine past the magical 300 win mark.

The second is that Glavine won two Cy Young Awards, and Mussina won none. But look at that WAR chart again. If we put each pitcher’s ten best seasons next to each other, Mussina beats Glavine in WAR in 9 out of 10 seasons. Mussina’s edge in those seasons averages 0.8 wins. Mussina was simply unlucky that there were more dominate pitchers in the AL when he had his best seasons (namely Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens).

Consider also:

  • Despite pitching 851 fewer innings than Glavine, Mussina’s career wins above replacement is 8.7 higher than Glavine’s.
  • Mussina struck out more hitters per inning, walked fewer hitters per inning, and allowed fewer hits per inning than Tom Glavine. In all of these categories except for hits, the difference is more than one.
  • If you put a lot of faith in fielder independent pitching (FIP) consider that Glavine’s career FIP is 3.95 (his career ERA is 3.54), which suggests he benefited from a significant amount of good fielding and luck during his career. Mussina’s career FIP is 3.57 (versus a career ERA of 3.68), which suggests he suffered from some bad fielding and poor luck during his pitching career.

Mussina had a better career than Glavine. I have no doubt that both players are Hall of Fame pitchers and two of the finest pitchers of their generation. It’s sad that Glavine will be celebrated this summer, while Mussina may have to wait many years for his chance to be inducted into Cooperstown

 

 

 

One thought on “Mike Mussina vs. Tom Glavine: Who had the better career?

  1. You might have specified somewhere else, but which WAR ranking are you using? I always hated the comparisons between pitching in the AL and the NL, btw.

    I would love to see the average stats between the two for those top 10 seasons instead of just relying on WAR as the ultimate benchmark, because it is still debated to this day.

    However, any way around it, Mussina sure looks like he belongs.

    Random question that has nothing at all to do with their elections… How were their numbers against each other?

Leave a Reply