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August 20, 2005

The Return of Moose's fastball
by SG

A few entries ago, I made the following comment about Mike Mussina:

Mike Mussina's style has changed as he's lost some velocity to mimic that of El Duque.

Just like I hope to be wrong about the Yankees not making the playoffs, I was wrong about Moose's velocity. It's been particularly noticeable in his last two starts. He was consistently throwing 92-93 mph in both games, and deep into them. In addition, there are statistical indicators that he's slowly been gaining his stuff back after last year's elbow issues.

I consider the turning point in Mussina's season to have been the May 7 shutout against Oakland, in which he threw 131 pitches. At the time, I was hopeful that a long outing like that would help him build back his arm strength to the point where he could start pitching more with his fastball. I decided to compare his numbers before and after that game, just to see what they said.

Through May 7
0.12 0.07 0.02 1.26 4.24 4.29 3.52 4.5 2.7 .78 1.64

After May 7 through last night
0.22 0.05 0.03 1.14 3.89 3.78 3.95 8.1 1.9 1.27 4.15

Interestingly, Mussina's raw ERA was better in the 7 starts through May 7 at 3.52. However, if you look a little deeper at his peripherals, you'll see very positive trends in almost all of them.

His K rate has almost doubled. Where he was striking out only 12% of the batters he faced through May 7, he's now striking out 22%. At the same time, his BB rate has dropped slightly, from 7% of batters faced to 5%. There's been a bit of a slide in his G/F ratio, and that has had a corollary effect of an increase in his HR rate. However, to me this tells me that he's now challenging hitters more, and the results are pretty positive overall.

So Mussina went from being rather lucky in his first 7 starts, to slightly unlucky in his next 19. This is an excellent harbinger for the rest of the season, as he seems to have recovered his ability to the point of being a bonafide top starter.

The one thing I'd like to see more of is a little more efficiency early in the game. In last night's game, he racked up 24 pitches in the first inning, and ended up leaving after 7 at 115 pitches. Without looking at his past starts in detail, this seems to be rather common for him, and I think if he can fix that it will help him rest the weary 7th and 8th inning guys, who need it badly.

The Yankees took advantage of Mussina's strong performance and scratched out a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera closed out the game with a scoreless inning each, a sign that hopefully the annual WWWMW™ is over. If you're going to lose games to Tampa, then you better win games against good teams to make up for it. Interestingly, Tampa is 21-12 since the All Star Break, so they're not just giving the Yankees problems right now.

Joe Torre finally shuffled the lineup, although it's still sub-optimal. He moved Robinson Cano out of the 2 spot for Bernie Williams, and both players got two hits. I guess we'll be hearing from the Four Rings crowd again about what a genius Torre is. Of course, he could have done it a month ago, but we won't hear much about that.
Jason Giambi is scuffling a bit now, so they really can't use the excuse that he's doing well in the sixth spot to not move him up. With Ruben Sierra out, Tino Martinez has been taking most of the starts at first base. Giambi's OPS is 1.124 when he plays first, and .835 when he DHs. Unfortunately for the Yankees, if you play Giambi at first that likely opens a hole for Womack to return to the lineup, so while it's not ideal, it's probably the best way to do things for now.

Shawn Chacon will try to continue his run of impressive pitching when he takes the mound today against El Duque. He's been very good so far, and the Yankees may have gotten a steal. I wonder if Colorado has any other starters they'd like to give up?