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March 7, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2006 - Mike Mussina
by SG

It's hard to believe it's been five seasons since Mike Mussina came to the Yankees. Five seasons without a world title, although that is hardly Moose's fault.

Moose's Yankee tenure has been solid, as he's gone 77-46 with a 3.86 ERA, which translates to 1003 innings with an ERA+ of 117.

Elbow problems last year have sapped some of the life from Moose's arm. The loss of velocity on his fastball has caused him to become more of a nibbler, and it's made him more and more inconsistent.

The biggest problem with Moose right now is you really have no idea how long he can go into a game. I broke down his 30 starts into quality starts vs. non quality starts in the pie chart below, since there are apparently people who feel this is one of the worst Yankee blogs, primarily due to a lack of pie charts. A quality start is defined as going six innings or more and allowing 3 runs or fewer.

In close to half of his starts, Mussina either fails to go six innings, or allows 4 runs or more. That is troubling, and can be taxing on the bullpen. Another big problem is that Moose can appear to be sailing along and all of a sudden just lose it, and by the time Joe Torre wakes up and notices, the Yankees are in a hole that they can't get out of.

The chart below maps Moose's ERA vs. his FIP over the course of 2005.

Moose's actual ERA and FIP track his erratic performance very nicely in this chart.

So how valuable was Moose in 2005 and how does he project in 2006?

Mussina's totals of 180 IP and 79 PRC made him worth 7 runs over an average starter. The projection systems all seem to see Moose doing what he did in 2004 and 2005 again in 2006, which would make him worth about the same as he was last year. The 176 inning average seems to be about right too. I'm sure he will miss a few starts for this year for various reasons.

I can't see Mussina ever getting back to his 2003 or earlier level. Not when his fastball is too often in the 86-88 mph range. However, I hold out the slim hope that since he is entering the final year of his contract, Moose may throw caution to the wind and do everything he can to earn one last payday somewhere. He's an iffy Hall of Fame candidate right now, so he needs a little more longevity in his playing career to help his case.

So far, the Yankees look to be about the same in the starting pitching department as last year, with about 390 innings accounted for by RJ and Moose, who are projected to perform similarly to 2005. Yankee starters pitched 965 innings last year, so there's still 570-600 innings to go for the rotation.

Camp Yankee update
Spring training continues, and the Yankees picked up a win over the Blue Jays. Chien-Ming Wang did not look so good, with a sinker that wasn't sinking. He gave up two homers, both on belt-high fastballs with little bite, but it's still early. I wouldn't worry about him, yet.

Robinson Cano drew a six pitch walk in his first AB, working the count to 3-0, taking two strikes, then taking ball 4. It was good to see, even if it doesn't really mean all that much. Cano definitely looks bigger this year, and it's more than the 10 lbs he claims. It certainly seemed to help him in his second AB, as he worked a full count then ripped a HR to RF on a low 91 mph fastball at around the knee level, which he golfed out with relative ease. I can't help but think Cano's going to be a good power hitter, and soon.

Andy Phillips continued to show a good bat, going 2 for 5 and driving in 3 runs. Both hits came on fastballs though. I'd like to see him hitting breaking pitches.

Kevin Thompson is making a case for himself to make the 25 man roster, now hitting .615. My friends at are pimping Thompson or Reese over Bubba Crosby, which makes all kinds of sense, but I don't see it happening yet. I guess it depends on the purpose of the 5th OF. If the Yankees need a defensive replacement who won't bat much, Crosby is probably the best choice. If they are looking for someone who can spot-start in the OF on a somewhat regular basis, Thompson or even Reese is probably a better option.

At least Thompson is getting his name known for when the inevitable injuries strike as the season progresses. I think he'll get a shot this year, if an OF gets hurt or if the Yankees can trim one of their middling arms from the roster.

J. Brent Cox closed the game out, and he looked better than the first time I saw him. He had better movement on his fastball and a tighter slider.

Kirby Puckett
Here are some tributes to Kirby Puckett from people far more eloquent than me.

Bat Girl
Tim Kurkjian
Steve Silver
Will Young
Armchair GM: The Blogosphere remembers Puckett