Mussina Vs. Spahn: Who Ya Got?

During tonight’s Yankees-Blue Jays game, play-by-play man Michael Kay did what every broadcaster must do in a game Mike Mussina is pitching: discuss his chances for making the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, I did not hear Kay’s argument, because I was too busy plotting how to bait my dad into an impassioned debate. I asked my dad if he thought Mussina belonged in the Hall, to which he firmly replied “no.” While I found the immediacy of his response troubling, his final answer remained understandable even if the thinking behind it was, well, hurried.

As any good son would, I quickly devised a way to get my father riled up. This did not take long. I knew that my dad thinks the greatest pitcher of all-time is Warren Spahn. I also knew that I truly believe Mike Mussina is better than Warren Spahn. It was settled.

I rushed off to find some statistics with which to combat my dad, and returned with total confidence. We debated briefly but passionately. I mentioned that Mussina’s raw ERA was indeed higher than Spahn’s, but the former pitched in a more prolific offensive era than the latter. My dad countered with the longevity of Spahn’s career, as well as his prowess as a hitter (which I do not think should be included in an argument about pitching, but okay.) I was going to cite Mussina’s superior strikeout-to-walk ratio, but I’m pretty sure Derek Jeter then grounded feebly to second for the 5,604th time this season, setting me off on an expletive-laced tirade that prevented further reasoned debate.

This brings me to you fine people. My dad thinks Spahn is better. I think Mussina is better. I shall put forth some basic statistics before you, as well as encourage you to do your own research and form your own reasoned opinion:

Mike Mussina

  • 3423.7 IP, 3316 H, 368 HR, 764 BB, 2696 K
  • 8.7 H/9, 0.9 HR/9, 1.5 BB/9, 6.8 K/9
  • 3.71 ERA, 4.51 lgERA, 121 ERA+, 1.192 WHIP
  • 258 W (if you’re into that sort of thing)

Warren Spahn

  • 5243.7 IP, 4830 H, 434 HR, 1434 BB, 2583 K
  • 8.9 H/9, 1.0 HR/9, 2.2 BB/9, 5.4 K/9
  • 3.09 ERA, 3.65 lgERA, 118 ERA+, 1.195 WHIP
  • 363 W (if you’re into that sort of thing)

It’s an interesting debate, and probably quite close. Mussina allowed hits, homers and walks at a lower rate than Spahn, while striking out batters more frequently. This advantage, however, is generally slight. Spahn pitched considerably more innings (even though Mussina isn’t done yet), and “won” more games. This debate might just boil down to two simple questions:

  1. Which do you value more: extreme longevity and durability with inferior statistics, or a lighter workload with superior numbers?
  2. Are you above the age of 50?

I prefer Mussina. As Charles Barkley said, “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.” I’d still love to hear any arguments that you might have for or against either one. I’m sure there are several things out there that I haven’t even considered. As long as your argument isn’t “LOOK AT SPAHN’S WINS!!!!1!!!1” or “TEH MOOSE NEVER WON 20!”, I’m all ears. So, who ya got?


3 Responses to Mussina Vs. Spahn: Who Ya Got?

  1. Your Dad says:

    Hi Special K – this is your Dad here.

    I’m going to take a different tack. I can see that it is fruitless to talk about volume-driven statistics over a long career. This approach just makes above average pitchers with long careers like Mussina and Don Sutton look better than they are/were.

    So let’s talk about how Spahn and Mussina have been regarded by their peers. Who better to evaluate these pitchers than baseball men of their respective eras, the ones who saw these guys at work up close, and from a professional vantage point? What did they think?

    I would say they liked Spahn a lot:

    1) Spahn was an All Star 14 years, Mussina 4 (so far).
    2) Spahn finished in the Top 10 for MVP in six different years, and received votes in 15 years total. Mussina has gotten votes in two years, 20th place in 1994 and 21st in 1992. (Spahn was as low as 20th only once, so his 14th-worst showing was better than Mussina’s best.)
    3) “Black Ink” was developed by Bill James in “The Politics of Glory” to compare Hall of Famers. It is based strongly on performance against one’s peers. Baseball, a great website, tracks Black Ink points. Spahn amassed 101 points, versus 40 for the typical Hall of Famer. Mussina has 19 to date.
    4) Spahn won the Cy Young award in 1957, back before there was one award per league. So a bunch of knowledgeable baseball observers thought he was the best pitcher in all of baseball that year. In addition, he finished in the top 3 four other times, once again in the single award era. Mussina by contrast finished second in the AL once, and had six other appearances, all out of the top 3.
    5) But let’s dig into this Cy Young thing a bit more. Spahn also won the Sporting News NL Pitcher of the Year award in 1953, 1957, 1958 and 1961. So what, you say? Well in 1958 (Turley) and 1961 (Ford) the award went to an AL pitcher, so arguably Spahn, who finished 2nd overall, would have won the NL award if there were such a thing in those years. And what about 1953? Well, more of the same. The Cy Young award was not instituted until 1956 (when Spahn was 35), so you can make the case, based on The Sporting News award, that he would have won it in 1953 as well. In fact one can argue that, had there always been one Cy Young per league, extending back indefinitely, Spahn would have 4 NL Cy Youngs. Not a fact by any means, but far from totally illogical.
    6) Spahn finished in the top 10 in ERA 14 times, Mussina 10.

    I think it’s pretty clear that Spahn, measured against his pitchers of his era, by impartial and knowledgeable baseball experts of the time, was head and shoulders above Mussina.

    A few other items of note:

    1) Spahn lost three full seasons to the war, and accomplished all he did essentially beginning his career as a 25-year-old rookie. Mussina won 36 games, and pitched very well while he was 22,23 and 24. All Spahn got during those three years were a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star while participating in the Battle of the Bulge. Imagine how many more “Black Ink” points he might have amassed.
    2) Spahn threw two no-hitters, the last when he was 40! Massena’s next one will be his first.
    3) Spahn had 7 shutouts at age 42! In fact he threw 63 altogether. Mussina had 23, the most recent in 2006. (I realize this is era-influenced, but I find it remarkable nonetheless.)
    4) Spahn hit 42 home runs, and is 3rd on the all-time list for pitchers. You can dismiss this if you want, but it serves as a testament to his tremendous athleticism.

  2. Nick says:

    i can refute most of dad’s claims:

    1. Mussina has actually been an All Star 5 times, and the fact that he wasn’t chosen for more was simply a matter of poor luck, a trend which is prominent in the Moose’s career. Take 1995 when he wasn’t selected to the AL All Star team despite leading the league in wins and shutouts. How about 2006 when Ozzie Guillen, in a fine example of how nepotism lives on, picked Mark Buehrle with a 9-6, 4.02 line over the Moose who was 10-3 with a 3.24 ERA at the break? 2001 when Mussina finished second in the league in Ks, ERA, WHIP? Clearly, he could have made more than 5 All Star teams.
    2. You fail to recognize the differences in eras. No one can deny that offensive statistics have become the most prominent factor in determining MVP voting, particularly in the past 20 or so years. From 1960-1995, Mays, Mantle, Maris, and Geroge Foster were the only men to hit 50+ HRs. From 1996-2001, 7 players cracked 50, including Luis Gonzalez and Brady Anderson. Mussina was 28-32 in those years. Might that be considered a pitcher’s prime? Might it be difficult to simply win 15+ games a year and keep an ERA under 4.00, as Mussina did, nevermind be considered for MVP of the league? Recently, the writer’s infatuation with offensive stats has made it virtually impossible for a pitcher to be considered for MVP. Last time I remember was Pedro when he had that ridiculous 1.74 ERA.
    3. Gray Ink Test, another of Bill James’ creations: “Essentially the same as the Black-Ink above, but it counts appearances in the top ten of the league. For each appearance the values are below. As with the Black Ink, THIS METHOD PENALIZES MORE RECENT PLAYERS as they have 14-16 teams per league, while the older players had just 8. To get a point you must be in the top 10 in the league in that category.” Average HOFer has 185 points. Mussina has 237. Granted, Spahn was well over 300, but you clearly knew about these tests and deliberately pointed out only the black in a blatant attempt to disparage Mussina.
    4. Mussina had to contend with a steroid-infuelled Roger Clemens, an other-worldly Pedro Martinez, and a 6 ft. 10 in. behemoth in the form of Randy Johnson in his attempts to capture a Cy. If the baseball writers weren’t so obsessed with pitching victories, Mussina would have won the 2001 Cy Young Award. This post is already far too long but if you cared to look, you would find that discounting victories, Mussina’s statistical body of work in the 2001 season qualified him as the best pitcher in the league. I say you can discount victories because Josh Beckett won 16 in 2006 with a 5.00 ERA. What does that say about wins as a vital stat? And if anyone needed any proof as to how there’s no justice in the world, Clemens in his juiced glory received 5.74 runs of support per game in 2001. That same year, Mike Mussina, running on pure and natural testosterone received 4.21 runs per game. Clemens wins 20, Mussina wins 17. Clemens ERA: 3.51, Mussina’s ERA: 3.15.
    5. If Pedro Martinez didn’t exist, Mussina would probably have won 6 Cy Young Awards. If Carl Everett swung a half a second later, Mike Mussina would be credited with a perfect game. If Mariano Rivera gets 3 more outs, Mike Mussina has a World Series Ring. ?! You can’t just say “if”, then assume, then expect the conclusions of such assumptions to be verifiable.
    6. Mussina finished in the top 10 in K/9 IP 10 times. Spahn finished in the top 10 in that category 5 times. Mussina’s K:BB ratio is 3.53:1, Spahn’s 1.80:1.

    A few of my own items of note:

    1. Mussina lost 3 bids for 20 games, each year from 1994-1996. In 1994 he had 16 wins when the players went on strike in early August. In 1995, with the abbreviated schedule of only 144 games, Mussina won 19 games. In 1996 he was in line to win his 20th game on the last day of the season when that vandal Armando Benetiz blew the lead.
    2. Mussina took 2 PERFECT GAMES into the 9th inning. Most painful was that infamous Sunday night at Fenway.
    3. Mussina actually didn’t have a shutout in 2006, he had one complete game with no unearned runs, but an Alex Rodriguez error in the 9th inning let in an unearned run.
    4. Mussina has won 6 Gold Gloves and according to his 1999 Topps Baseball Card, booted a 60 yard field goal at a Penn State Football Tryout. That’s ridiculous. Talk about an athlete?
    5. I like Warren Spahn and truly appreciate his contributions to both baseball and the American way of life. I don’t dispute that he is an immortal player and perhaps the greatest lefthander of all time. But Mike Mussina is my favorite player and I have to support him. At any rate, I don’t think it’s so absurb to compare them and honestly feel Mussina should get into the Hall.

  3. ChrisV82 says:

    A 118 ERA+ and 1.195 WHIP over 5,000+ innings is pretty impressive. If Moose even sniffs 4,000 innings, his ERA+ and WHIP will certainly get worse, possibly the point of matching Spahn’s (I could be wrong, I’m not doing the math). I like Moose and think he is a strong HOF contender, but longevity PLUS quality has to be acknowledged. Spahn was very good.

    There’s more analysis to go into than just that, but I’ll leave it at the basics.

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