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.
Mike Mussina’s “Hall of Fame” candidacy has grown on me. A lot.
At first I was a little skeptical because Mussina was out-pitched by multiple pitchers during the same period of time.
Pedro, Randy, Roger, and Greg. All better, clearly.
But who were those pitchers? Four of the greatest ever.
So the next “tier” begins: Schilling, Smoltz, Glavine, and…Mussina.
Not the same kind of “prestige.”
So during the generation of baseball players that I have witnessed, witnessed coherently anyway, Mike Mussina is no worse than the 8th best pitcher over that time-frame (probably the 8th).
If I am missing someone that has legitimate beef to be considered greater than Mussina over the past 20 years, then please, feel free to chime in about it.
So over the course of two decades, there were between 130-150 available rotation spots. If Mussina was the 8th best out of either 130, 140, or 150 pitchers, isn’t that pretty great?
If that isn’t great, how about the number of pitchers to step on the mound over that same period of time.
Well-more than 150, and I am not even including relievers.
Many couldn’t keep their jobs due to poor performance. Many couldn’t stay healthy enough. Many were simply on the team because it added to the depth of the rotation.
Whatever the reason was, there were many, many pitchers in and out of the game over Mussina’s career.
And Mussina stuck around. Stuck around a long time. 18 years to be exact. Which is great because his career extended from 1991-2008. Roughly two decades. And each decade just about in their entirety.
I know that some analysts of the game frown upon people referring to Jack Morris as a Hall of Famer because he had the most wins in the 80’s. And I completely agree. But the logic is flawed to begin with, and quite ludicrous if you ask me.
- Wins are overrated. I don’t value them much. A lot of wins can represent longevity, but the quality around the “Win/Loss” record is much more important to me (although a pitcher must accumulate some counting numbers).
- Ten years isn’t 18 years. The longer the time period the better the sample, and the more difficult it is to stay great.
- Mike Mussina was clearly a much better pitcher than Jack Morris. Clearly.
So we take just about a 20 year period, we say that a pitcher was the 8th best. Can we agree that the pitcher in question was great?
Great players should be in the Hall of Fame. That is what it is for.
Mussina never “awed” anyone quite the same way that the top four pitchers of the decade did. But he still awed people. I would like to ask the Baltimore fans during his tenure just how great Mussina was while he was there. Because I am pretty sure that they will say that Mussina was incredible.
But then I would question that, because it is very possible for fans to overrate their “Hometown Hero.” So I would browse the numbers and see what conclusion I could come up with on my own.
And that conclusion would be that Mike Mussina was a great pitcher.
There are four significant names that have been drilled into everyone’s
head’s during the 1990’s and early part of this decade. Four sure-fire
Hall of Famers. Four of the greatest pitchers to ever step on a mound,
any mound, in any country, and in any world–any galaxy for that
matter. I could see any of the four being placed into the top ten
pitchers of all time, and they all played during roughly the same
These four clearly separated themselves from the rest of the crop of
pitchers during their careers. There was them…and everybody else.
This list will contain the top five pitchers however, because “top five” lists
sound much cooler than “top four.” Who cares about the four best?
People want 5! 🙂
But anyway, open for debate as always, here are the five best pitchers of the past 20 years…
Included is career ERA+ (ERA Adjusted for ballpark and league)
- Pedro Martinez: ERA+ 154: Mariano Rivera recently, within the
past year, moved to the top of the ERA+ leaderboard on
BaseballReference.com. And I have to admit that I am not happy about
it. But Pedro is still the leader in my opinion, because well, my
opinion has a strong “opinion” that starters impact the game in a greater
manner than relievers. No disrespect to Rivera, perhaps the greatest reliever
of all time. So Pedro has benefited from being injured during much of
the last three seasons, or perhaps not benefited. Martinez would
undoubtedly like to have been healthier the past few seasons, because I
would guess that he actually enjoys playing baseball, rather than
trying to rehabilitate himself over and over again. But it hasn’t
worked out for him. However, the fewer starts that he makes, the
higher his ERA+ should be. And that gives us a feeling that he never
really declined to begin with. But his ERA+ is greater than any
starter, ever. 6% better than Lefty Grove, who had it much easier in
terms of opposing players (theory, not fact)(6 percent in regards to
ERA+ is merely 6 numbers higher. For example: Pedro’s is 154, while
Grove’s was 148). So there is something to be said about having the
highest/best “Adjusted ERA” of all time for a starting pitcher. Seems pretty relevant to me.
His counting numbers are lacking when comparing him to the other
pitchers on this list (mainly the bext three), however his rate stats are clearly the best.
Pedro is third ever in K/9. Third best in K/BB, higher than any of the
top four on this list. Pedro holds two of the nine best seasons ever
according to ERA+ (3 of the top 20)–and one of the other pitchers on
this list can say the same thing, as far as “two of the top
nine” I mean. Pedro has finished with an ERA+ of 200 or greater in an
incredible five seasons. He was absolutely incredible at his peak, and
has most likely been the best ever when at the top of his game ( I believe he has has been, but I didn’t want to say it as fact). This
matters. Counting stats matter too, and the next four pitchers were
great, both at their peaks, like Pedro. But also great when counting
up their career numbers. But Pedro was THE BEST at HIS BEST. So maybe
he will trail in career “Win Shares,” but he would also be the pitcher
that I would choose if I needed a starter to win the most important
game of a season. And if someone asked me who the best I ever saw was, then I would have to go with Pedro.
- Roger Clemens: ERA+ 143: Clemens definitely has a strong case
to be number one. And I am going to avoid the PED crap, since everyone
seems partially-guilty, and no one is in the clear. If I had to guess,
I would guess that the other four were clean, at least from using
steroids, but how do I really know? Anyway, enough negativity.
Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers this game has ever seen. And
if someone thinks he is better than Pedro, then I won’t put up too much
of a fight. Although I would disagree with taking Clemens over Pedro
in a Game 7. Clemens’ “Adjusted ERA” is tied for tenth all time with
none other than Brandon Webb. Obviously, Webb’s will come down over
time, because I am pretty sure that Webb isn’t the same caliber of
pitcher over the long haul, although great in his own way. Clemens has seven Cy Youngs and an MVP.
Pretty remarkable, especially a pitcher winning an MVP (times have changed). But Clemens
was probably worthy of it, although not too long ago someone was
arguing that statistically, Donnie Baseball deserved it more (I believe
that it was Joe Posnanski arguing this). But regardless, Clemens had
an awesome season. Clemens has three seasons of ERA+’s over 200. And
if no one understands, 200 is historically great. There are far lower
numbers that are considered great seasons for a pitcher, but 200 is
just above and beyond them all. Roger Clemens is perhaps the greatest
pitcher of all time. I might think Pedro, but Clemens has a heck of a case
- Randy Johnson: ERA+ 137: Randy Johnson’s career is probably
going to be remembered by many for his lack of success in New York. A
few problems with that: One being the fact that Johnson was 41 during
his first year in the “Big Apple.” How many pitchers are great at the
age of 41? It was unrealistic to think that he could continue to be
dominant at that age. Plus, he wasn’t terrible, but average during his
time there. The other problem is that it is simply unfair to remember
only two seasons in media-market hell (when you are playing below
expectations). Randy Johnson won five “Cy’s” in parts of 17 seasons up
until his “struggles” in New York. And the guy is still pitching well
at age 44, and maybe at age 45 (2009). But I mentioned that Pedro was
third ever in K/9. Well, guess who was first? “The Big Unit,” that’s
who. The best K/9, ever. EVER! Since K’s best resemble what we think
of as dominance, then Randy Johnson is just about as dominant as they
come. His postseason numbers are a little less appealing to the eye than his regular
season numbers, but that is in part due to his forgettable years in New York.
- Greg Maddux: ERA+ 132: Maddux was the other pitcher with two of
the top nine ERA+ seasons of all time, along with Pedro. Maddux was
more reliant on his defense, way more than the other pitchers. But he
did not beat himself, walking very, very few batters each season.
Maddux walked only 20 batters in 33 starts back in 1997, which is
almost unheard of. And although he relied on his defense more so than
the other pitchers listed, he may have had more control on balls in
play than any pitcher that has ever lived. If I needed one of these
pitchers to be my pitching coach, Maddux would definitely get the nod. At one point Maddux won four consecutive “Cy Youngs,” which is truly incredible if you think about it. Actually those
were the only four he won, but he was great in the surrounding years as
well. The durability that he displayed was amazing too, missing
just a few starts over his entire career. And that includes the part
of his career at the end there where he hovered around league average for the last three years or so.
- Curt Schilling/John Smoltz: ERA+ 127: I have tried to separate
the two of them, but it is just too difficult to do. They have the
exact same ERA+, they’ve pitched roughly the same number of innings,
roughly the same number of K’s. Schilling did walk fewer, and allow
fewer baserunners. But it is so close that I really can’t find much
distinction between the two of them. Both were really great in the
postseason, etc. I find it hard to believe to find two pitchers with
more closely related numbers than the two of these guys.
And let me tell you something, before I even reviewed the ERA+
leaderboard, I had already made up my mind on the order of this list.
It just happens that they are in order of their “Adjusted ERA.” But I
would totally understand if one values 2-4 more than they value Pedro.
Like I said, I place a lot of emphasis on Pedro being the most dominant
pitcher at his peak. That matters a lot to this man. But the other
pitchers careers extended much longer, and they had to sustain normal
declines (well, some did :), something that Pedro hasn’t experienced, and may never REALLY
experience. Although I very much cheer for him to put together a full
season again, to see how he can do with diminished stuff.