The year that Mike Mussina won the Cy Young…

In 2001, Pedro Martinez, at the greatest peak anyone has ever seen, was injured during half the season.  Opening up an opportunity for another “lesser’ pitcher to win the Cy Young award.  And I say “lesser” with much respect.  The two most deserving pitchers during that 2001 season were Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina.  Both Hall of Famers in my opinion.  Although Clemens was great at the time, Pedro was the best at the time.  And although Mussina was great, he really wasn’t quite what the other two were. 

Except for that one year…

Where Mike Mussina might have been the best pitcher in the AL.  Thanks to Pedro’s injury somewhat.  But also thanks to Mussina having what may have been the best season in the league, because of talent, which is that thing that great players tend to have.

I touched up on two of the reasons that Clemens received more support than Mussina:

Speaking of:  In 2001 Roger Clemens won the Cy Young award, now I
don’t know who deserved the award most, but Mussina had a lower ERA on
the same team, and had the same amount of strikeouts, but about 20
fewer walks.  Clemens finished 20-3.  Mussina 17-11.  But Mussina
received only 4.09 Runs/Game, while Clemens had 5.88 Runs/Game behind
him in his victories.  That is pretty close to two runs a game extra
that Clemens received.  Now I am not saying that Mussina deserved the
award, as there were other good pitchers that year too.  But voters
chose Clemens based on his record, and I am sure partially on his
reputation.  He WAS Roger Clemens after all. 
( I stole JoePo’s format of using italics when I digress)

The above quote was an excerpt from my “Glavine vs. Mussina” article.

The first, and probably most obvious reason for Clemens’ winning of the award was his “won/loss” record. 

Clemens, as mentioned, went 20-3.  That looks incredible.  And any pitcher that goes 20-3, probably pitched very well.  That “very well” is no exception in this case.  But that does not mean that he necessarily pitched better than everyone else.

Mike Mussina “only” went 17-11.  Which is good, but the 20-3 appears to much better.  I mean if someone only gave me those two records and said, “guess who was better?”  Then I would have to say the 20 game winner, because, well, the odds are with me. 

But it doesn’t mean that the 20 game winner would actually be of higher quality.

In this case, it is close.  Definitely.

But Mussina threw eight more innings.  Mussina recorded an ERA+ of 142, while Clemens’ was 128.  Mussina struck out one more batter (one batter is irrelevant).  Mussina, as I mentioned in the excerpt, walked fewer batters, and had a pretty good edge in WHIP.   

Mike Mussina was probably the better pitcher that year. 

The run support was the obvious reason that Clemens ended up with the better record.  Unless he has some weird “intangible” that makes the hitters better during his starts, which I highly doubt.

And Roger Clemens had the “reputation.”

At the time Clemens had 5 Cy’s on his mantle.  Mussina zero.

Mussina was “good,” but he wasn’t Clemens.

Mussina was actually “great,” but I said “good” because that is most likely the way that the voters thought him to be.  Even though I have to disagree now. 

And it’s funny, but back in 2001 I probably would have agreed, even though I have felt that my understanding of the “win/loss” record has been decent for a long time now.  I actually do my own research.  I let others voice their opinion, but then I do research, and either agree or disagree.  Back then, Sportscenter and newspapers basically made up a lot of my mind.  I was just out of high school, and the stats within USA Today were all I really had outside of my television.

Isn’t is likely that the voters voted for Clemens because he was Roger Clemens?

In addition to the 20 wins, he was also a legend.

Mike Mussina received zero first place votes that season.  Zero!  And actually finished fifth on the ballot behind; Clemens, Mulder, Freddy Garcia, and Jamie Moyer. 

So anyone who uses the “Mussina never won a Cy Young” argument when his time comes in five years.  Do some research.  Indulge yourself in the numbers.  Mussina was the better pitcher in 2001.  It may not have been by some incredible margin, but he was still better. 

Mussina’s numbers were the best in the league.  WARP1 had him at 2 wins better than Clemens.  And Mussina deserved that award. 






  1. PWHjort

    When it comes to the HOF, voters are starting to realize that having a “Cy Young type season” is more important than actually winning the award. Schilling never won the award but had a few seasons where he would have in an average year. Mussina will certainly have his 2001 season taken into account as a “Cy Young type season” when his Hall of Fame candidacy is reviewed by the BBWAA.

  2. isax

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I dont think there is any rule that says the Cy Young should be given to the best pitcher each season. It is just the “Cy Young” award. I think it is possible that voters do not look for the best pitcher, but for the pitcher whose season was most similar to the ones Cy Young, the pitcher, had when he played. He always won a ton of games, regardless of how effective he really was. I am not saying he wasnt good, Im just saying that his huge win total does not recflect how good he really was. So, this is why I think the Cy Young Award might also be for pitchers who have good seasons with many wins, not necessarily the best seasons. I agree with you comments about mussina being the best in 2001, but Im not sure to agree with your opinion about him deserving the Cy Young Award.

  3. Erin Kathleen

    Denying a pitcher entrance into the HOF just because he didn’t win a Cy Young award is like denying a pitcher entrance just because he doesn’t have 300 wins. Both are arbitrary measures of a pitchers’ greatness that lazy writers use instead of actual research in deciding who to vote for.

  4. PWHjort

    Quoting Wikipedia: The Cy Young Award is an honor given annually in baseball to the best pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB), one each for the American and National leagues. The award was first introduced in 1956 by Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick in honor of Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young, who died in 1955. The award was originally given to the single best pitcher in the major leagues, but in 1967, after the retirement of Frick, the award was given to one pitcher in each league.[1][2]

    I thought that was true. Baseball Almanac backs up Wikipedia’s position. The Cy Young Award is supposed to be for the best pitcher, not the “most-Cy-Young-type” season.

  5. joefromnewhampshire

    isax, I was always under the impression that it was “best pitcher” rather than just “most wins.”

  6. roundrock15

    It didn’t keep Nolan Ryan out… but, then, he’s Nolan Ryan. Fairly or not, he was afforded the “greatness” title. Mussina, fairly or not, was never given that title.

    I have to admit: When I hear Mike Mussina and Hall of Fame, I recoil a bit. But the difference between me and a lot of people is that I then go to the numbers. Six times, Mussina was good enough to finish in the top 5 of Cy Young Award voting. Nine times, he was in the top ten. I am of the opinion, myself, that finishing in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting is as good as winning it. The actual award depends on the voters making the right choice, and that happens infrequently enough to make it little more than luck.

  7. PWHjort

    If you take a look at a very good season for a pitcher and say, in a normal year, he would certainly be in the conversation to win the Cy Young award, that is a Cy Young type season. Bill James tried to come up with a numeric value called “Season Score” but that project turned out pretty silly, sort of like a lot of his projects. In some years the person who deserved the award actually won it. Yet the season wasn’t that impressive because the body of pitchers’ work on the whole that season wasn’t that impressive. Other times, pitchers will have phenomenal seasons, say Schilling in 2001, 2002, 2004, and won’t win the award. However, Schilling did not deserve the Cy Young award any of those years. In a normal year, take any of Schilling’s 3 great early 2000’s seasons and that would win the Cy, but thanks to Randy Johnson in 2001 and 2002 and Johan Santana in 2004, his seasons fall short. The fact that Schilling had 3 “Cy Young-type seasons” in 2001, 2002, and 2004 means more to a lot of HoF voters than the fact that he didn’t ever ACTUALLY WIN the award. The “Cy Young-type season” is what’s important. And Mike Mussina certainly had one in 2001. This will NOT go unnoticed when the BBWAA votes on Mussina, who I suspect will get in. I know this, his chances of getting in the Hall first ballot are much greater if Glavine is able to pitch this season because writers might be unwilling to vote for Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux (who should get 100% of the vote and if anybody doesn’t vote for him they’re absolutely insane), Tom Glavine, AND Mike Mussina all in the same year. Maddux and Glavine are practically automatic first balloters.

  8. jboogie

    Mussina was definitely the better pitcher than Clemens in 2001. That’s not to say he was most deserving of the Cy award, but he was definitely more deserving than Clemens. As for him getting into the HOF, he should and he should go in 1st balloy in my opinion. He’ll probably end up missing on his 1st few ballots b/c the stupid writers won’t want to elect him with Maddux in year 1, or with Glavine and Smoltz in year 2 (assuming they retire). I don’t think a lot of writers do the necessary research and just go with their “gut.” Sadly, I don’t think a lot of them don’t see Moose as a HOFer. Hopefully enough do but you know a lot of them will just say, “He didn’t win a Cy. He didn’t win a ring. He didn’t win 300. So he’s not a HOFer.” Those are the lazy man’s argument. Do some research and you’ll see Moose should be in.


  9. joefromnewhampshire

    I understand the injury part of it, but obviously he is not overrated. I ranked him third among 3B’s, and a lot of that is due to him missing time. If he played 145+ games then he may be 2nd, but his percentages are great, period. I think the guy probably meant the last few years, but come one he is still great when he plays and he is past his prime years, so he is supposed to decline a little. But his “decline” hasn’t been production, his numbers are as good as ever, his “decline” has been games played.

  10. Cockroach

    Someone already mentioned Nolan Ryan, so I won’t use his example, but I think Mussina is a HOF lock anyway. And if he’s not, he should be. I always thought he was one of the most overlooked greats in the game.

  11. pinstripepride3

    Mussina was definitely a better pitcher than Clemens in 2001. If you dig in even deeper, you’ll see that Clemens gave up 4 or 5 runs in many of his starts. Mussina had two bad outings in which he got shelled that inflated his ERA (if you can call 3.15 inflated). He gave up 8 runs in 2 innings to the Marlins in July and 8 runs in 4 innings to the Rangers in early August. Take away those two starts and his ERA would have been 2.59. He also went 7-2 from the middle of August on. In those 7 wins he gave up a combined total of 1 earned run. Clemens “only” had four starts all season in which he did not give up an earned run. Mussina had 9, three of which were complete game shutouts including his near perfect game. As you said, Clemens had the name and 20 wins. I would have voted for Mussina.

  12. joefromnewhampshire

    I would have voted Mussina, too…now. Because I was merely in high school back then, and although ERA mattered more to me than wins, I still valued wins.

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