It's time once again to play the numbers game:
That's pretty comparable, no? Pitcher A gave up fewer hits and walks, but pitcher B won more games at a higher clip and struck out more batters. They have the same ERA+.
If this is all you had to vote for the Hall of Fame, you would probably have a hard time deciding. Of course you wouldn't vote for the Hall of Fame based solely on those numbers ... you would want to dig a little deeper. So, OK, here are the Top 7 ERA+ seasons for each pitcher:
So, it looks like Pitcher A had a couple more top-end seasons, Pitcher B better lower-end seasons.
How about a few other statistics:
OK, so we are probably getting a clearer picture now. Pitcher A looks to be slightly more dominant at the top end, and Pitcher B looks to have had more good years. But, all in all, their similarities -- it seems to me anyway -- dwarf their differences. They are both good control pitchers who threw a lot of innings, struck out their share and won a lot.
So, now I'm going to tell you that Pitcher A is the guy
And Pitcher B is
Well, it shocked me anyway. On Monday I was among those asked by
But, even as I looked over the numbers, I had no idea how similar Mussina's career numbers are to Marichal's until I just compared them on the computer screen. Now, admittedly the numbers are only similar if you leave out one critical statistic -- that being ERA.
But I think that ERA difference is a bit of an illusion, which is why I left it out -- Marichal pitched in a very low run-scoring environment and Mussina pitched in a very high run-scoring environment. That's why it's easy to miss the similarities. Plus, Marichal pitched in a time when pitchers threw a lot of complete games (certainly Marichal threw a lot of complete games) and, as such, got a lot of decisions. Marichal won 25 or more games three times, he won 20 or more three other times. Mussina, of course, has only won 20 once, and that was this past year with the Yankees.
But compared to their eras, Mussina and Marichal were both big winners who threw a lot of innings and had low ERAs. I think if you strip away the quirks of the times, Mussina and Marichal were both right-handed pitchers, about the same size (Mussina is two inches taller at 6-foot-2, both weighed 185), both threw a bunch of different pitches, both had dandy control, both attacked hitters inside, both won about 63% of their games, both had an unconventional pitch that sort of marked them -- Marichal threw the screwball, Mussina a knuckle-curve.
Neither one won a Cy Young because they were overshadowed by world-class pitchers -- Marichal did not even get a single Cy Young vote the three years he won 25 games, because those years belonged to
They both have quite low "Index of Self Destruction" numbers -- this is another invention of
They are so alike, and yet Marichal has a much bigger reputation, maybe because of his remarkably low ERAs, his big-win seasons, his high leg-kick and some legendary moments. I'm not saying that Mussina is as great as Marichal was -- I haven't studied it that closely and anyway I think Marichal's peak is clearly higher than Mussina's. But I do think that this gave me something to think about. I do believe that Mussina, who's supposed to announce this week whether he's retiring or coming back, should be a Hall of Fame lock right now. And I'm wondering if he is simply the overlooked pitcher of our era, sort of the Blyleven of the time.
I just got an email from Tyler Kepner at
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
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
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
While we're here, I would like to make one more point about Mussina. Brilliant reader Thomas offers this thought-provoking comment:
I think there's a real point here -- sports is fun
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.
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.