Moose Hunting (cont.)
I just got an email from Tyler Kepner at The New York Times. I bring this up because I mentioned above that, based on his story, I seemed to be sort of an island with my feeling that Mussina is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. But Tyler says that he got 40 responses from writers, and 32 of them said they would vote for Mussina as a Hall of Famer. That's more than 75% -- which is enough to get him in. And it shows that, actually, lots of people see Mussina the way I see him.
This touches on a larger topic that I started writing in another blog post -- I think this has been a very good year for the Baseball Writers Association. Yes individually there have been some rather quirky and cranky ballots and opinions, but as a group the voters:
1. Chose Tim Lincecum over Brandon Webb for Cy Young even though Webb had more victories.
I see all of these as promising signs that the BBWAA as a whole is tilting toward more nuanced reasoning and thought. Lincecum had a measurably better year than Webb -- so did Johan Santana, who finished behind Webb, but that's down-ballot and not especially important.
Lee and a whole bunch of other people -- including a handful of relievers -- had better years than K-Rod.
And Pujols was about 200 times better than Howard this year. You know, Howard really had a very pedestrian .251/.339/.543 season, and even that was aided by his bandbox of a ballpark. I don't even think Howard was especially close to being the MVP of the Phillies, much less the National League, and I don't think he should have been anywhere near the second-place MVP. But the point remains: Howard didn't win. The right guy did. The voters got it right.
While we're here, I would like to make one more point about Mussina. Brilliant reader Thomas offers this thought-provoking comment:
"But my thought about Moose is always this: if you were the opposing team facing him during a pennant race, were you ever frightened that you wouldn't be able to get to him? He never had that invincible aura about him that the top pitchers of the day (Unit, Pedro, Clemens/Steroids, Schilling, Maddux) had. I know this is a rather weak argument against him, but it fits in there somewhere doesn't it?"
I think there's a real point here -- sports is fun because we do have emotional feelings about people. I can remember precisely how terrorized I used to get when John Elway got the ball with the Broncos down by four in the fourth quarter. And, being a Browns fan and later a writer who covered the Kansas City Chiefs, I was right to be concerned -- Elway didn't miss much. But what interests me here is how often our emotional feelings are just wrong, how often conventional thinking is just wrong.
For instance, when I read Thomas' comment I thought -- yeah, that sounds about right. Of course, when you compare anyone to Unit, Pedro, Clemens and Maddux -- four of the, say, 15 greatest pitchers who ever lived -- it's hard to come out looking good. But then I thought ... Wait a minute: Is that really true? Did those guys really pitch better in those pennant races? Really?
Unfortunately, I didn't have time to do some kind of involved sweeping study. But I figured as a test-case, I would take a quick look and see how each of those pitchers pitched in September during their careers.
And, I found precisely what I was looking for: Mussina pitched as well or better than any of those guys.
Mike Mussina in Sept/Oct.: 44-21, .676 winning percentage, 2.86 ERA, 517 Ks, 130 walks.
So Mussina has the best September ERA, the second best winning percentage and an outstanding strikeout to walk ratio.
Now, does this prove anything? Of course not. It's only a snapshot. Every September isn't a pennant race. Every pennant race game isn't in September. But I think that, often enough, our image of people is simply colored by, you know, our image of people. Mike Mussina was not celebrated as a dominant and scary pitcher -- Thomas is right, he never gave off that aura -- but maybe that is our failing. He was pretty damn good, even in September, even without that aura.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist at the Kansas City Star and the author of joeposnanski.com.