Hall of Fame ballots, hypothetical or otherwise, are subjective by nature. The list of ten players from this year’s ballot who I deemed, in my infinite wisdom, to be worthy of Hall support was subject to my own whims and shifting criteria.
As has been discussed ad nauseum, there is 15 pounds of Hall of Fame meat on this year’s 10 pound ballot. Multiple worthy candidates will find themselves off the ballots of many voters, who take the seemingly clear edict from the governing body and twist and contort it to their own agenda.
Or maybe different people just value the contributions of given baseball players differently. Using what I believe to be important indicators of pitching prowess, I arrived at a slightly controversial conclusion that Mike Mussina was a better pitcher than Tom Glavine. This aspect of my personal (fake) ballot attracted its fair share of attention.
Mike Mussina has become something of a cause célèbre among baseball writers of a certain vintage – and rightfully so. Mike Mussina is a Hall of Famer. Full stop. And here is why he looks better than a player sure to far more support from the voters at large.
It is wholly unfair to frame one player’s Hall worthiness only in reference to another, historically great player. Nobody in their right mind would say Tom Glavine wasn’t a great pitcher or anything short of a generational talent. The so-called “rule of ten” permits a finite number of names on any one writer’s ballot. The narrow structure under which the voters operate makes each vote that much more valuable, resulting in some tough choices.
The contention here is Mike Mussina is more deserving than Tom Glavine. As such, any votes earmarked for Glavine would be better used in service of Mussina’s Hall chances. (Sadly, Mussina might need some help staying on the ballot. 5% of votes is required and Buster Olney wonders ($) if the former Orioles and Yankees right-hander won’t get it.) That Mussina’s future eligibility is even in doubt is a shame because we’re talking about one of the best pitchers of his time.
The Case for Tom Glavine
There is a very real case to make for Tom Glavine. He was a very prominent member of one of the true powerhouse franchises in baseball, the perennial NL East champs from Atlanta. Glavine is one of the most durable pitchers in recent history. Only two other pitchers threw more innings since the 1981 work stoppage.
Glavine has the requisite hardware, winning two Cy Young awards and one World Series title after his Braves beat Cleveland in 1995, with Glavine taking home series MVP honors. He won more than 300 games in his career, made the 12th most career starts and his 2607 career strikeouts ranks him inside the top 25 all-time. Tom Glavine was very, very good for a very long time.
Mike Mussina did not win a Cy Young award. He did not earn a World Series ring in his career, though the Yankees curiously won the year before he arrived AND the year after he retired. He did not win 300 games in his career.
Many of the reasons for putting Glavine over Mussina relate back to subjective votes of a previous generation of baseball writers. The sins of the father need not be revisited on the head of the son, which is to say just because Glavine’s gaudy win totals won over past voters (as in his 1998 Cy Young award, when he was barely the second best pitcher on his own team) shouldn’t preclude him from analysis free from reference to past accolades.
Tom Glavine is a Hall of Fame pitcher, both by his body of work and by the nebulous idea of “Fame” that leaks into such conversations. Realistically, Glavine should serve as a good test case for the Hall worthiness of a pitcher like Andy Pettitte. The story of baseball cannot be told without mentioning the dominant Braves pitching staffs featuring Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux. But that doesn’t mean Glavine’s individual performance cannot be judged on its own merit.
Did Tom Glavine hang around just long enough to get to that 300 win mark? One could make such an argument. Glavine pitched quite well in his age-40 season, when he finally reached the 300 win benchmark. Could Mussina have kept pitching for another 2-3 years to get an extra 30 wins? Very likely.
I recall one New York columnist describing a scenario in which the scribe pleaded with Mussina to play a few more years with the Mets so the hurler could reach 300 wins and the writer would have a good quote waiting in the clubhouse at Citi Field. But Mussina walked away, falling short of the hallowed mark for his career. Luckily, the right-handed starters career stands on its own without the tyranny of round numbers.
The Case for Mike Mussina
But as Roger Maris can attest, the Hall of Fame is a marathon, not a sprint. The career body of work is to take precedence over moments of greatness and flashes of brilliance. And it is when we admire the career of Mike Mussina, and put it into proper context, that we see how deserving the Stanford alum really is.
While Glavine ranks 24th all-time for strikeouts, Mike Mussina sits 19th in the history of the game – pitching 900 fewer innings. His walk rate is better than Glavine’s, his ERA is nearly identical while pitching in the same era but different league. By adjusted ERA, Mussina grabs the edge. By WHIP, Mussina has the edge. Mussina also won seven Gold Gloves for his brilliant defensive play on the mound, helping his own cause as a capable infielder when the situation arose.
Mussina leads in Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement by a significant margin. Using Baseball Reference WAR, the advantage is much slighter. Perhaps using an ERA estimator or “predictive” stats isn’t your preference for a retrospective look at a player’s career. It is worth noting, as David Schoenfield did in an above-linked piece, the terrible quality of defenders Mussina often found behind him. Glavine, on the other hand, had Andruw Jones patrolling the outfield for a long time.
The numbers are very similar, though Mussina holds an edge in many categories even before we acknowledge the American League/National League aspect of their careers. Mussina played for the Orioles and Yankees for his entire career, fighting through the AL East during some of its most intense years. His final season in 2008, when he pitched 200 innings of 3.37 ERA/3.32 FIP ball and won 20 games, came while pitching in a division featuring the defending World Series champions, both teams to eventually contest the American League Championship series and four teams to win at least 86 games each (including his own Yankees).
Tom Glavine came up against some terrific competition in his day, no doubt. Battling the tough Phillies at the end of his career was no mean feat. But Glavine always had the fall back of facing the opposing pitcher. And Glavine, to his credit, dispensed with his opposite number with aplomb. But taking his numbers against non-pitchers into account sheds Glavine’s overall performance in a different light.
After putting the careers of these two players side by side, it certainly feels like Mike Mussina was a better pitcher. Unfortunately for Glavine, his Braves were never able to take advantage of their repeated trips to the playoffs, just winning the one World Series title (the year after the strike that nobody remembers).
Mussina had just as many strong starts in the playoffs, but his Yankees (and Orioles) were never able to get over the hump either. As noted in an ESPN piece, Mussina took the ball in relief in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS (the Aaron f@%king Boone game), pitching two shutout innings that also prevented him from making more than one World Series start against the Marlins.
The both made great starts in the postseason, as their top five playoff starts indicate.
Tom Glavine’s five best postseason starts (by Game Score)
Mike Mussina’s top five postseason starts (by Game Score)
Interesting that Mike Mussina’s two best postseason starts came in losses, even though Mussina allowed one run total. Additionally, two of the above starts came on three days rest – contrary to popular belief. (Glavine started Game One of the 1992 World Series on three days rest.)
In the end, it doesn’t need to be one or the other. Their peaks and JAWS scores both point to Hall of Fame-calibre pitchers. The ballot is so crowded with worthy candidates, it makes each vote that much more integral for both players to receive their due. Perhaps some might suggest leaving off suspected PED users like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to include two players assumed to have played clean.
For my money, there cannot be a Hall of Fame without two of the very best players of all time (Clemens and Bonds.) Just as there should not be a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include Mike Mussina. Three years ago, the voters made a serious error in failing to recognize the career of Kevin Brown as dominant and worthy of consideration.
Mike Mussina didn’t play beside Greg Maddux and didn’t appear in awesome Sportscenter ads but his career, stacked beside Tom Glavine’s, shines as one worthy of Hall entrance. Hopefully voters do the right thing and make space in Cooperstown for the master of the knuckle curve, his body of work demands it.