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October 24, 2006

Why the Yankees should keep Mike Mussina
by SG

Over at Was Watching, Steve Lombardi made the argument about why the Yankees should let Mussina walk. I like Steve and think he runs a great blog, but I disagree with him in this instance.

The heart of Steve's argument is that Moose was disappointing in 2004 and 2005 and then rebounded in a contract season. The contract year surge has basically been debunked in research that I've seen, so I don't think that's a valid concern. I do think the fact that he had arm issues in two of the last three years and is going to be 38 are valid reasons to be concerned.

Mussina did also cool off after a strong start. Through May 31, he'd done the following:

IP: 81 2/3
H: 65
R: 25
ER: 22
HR: 9
BB: 13
K: 70
ERA: 2.42
FIP: 3.47

From June 1 through the end of the season...

IP: 115 2/3
H: 119
R: 63
ER: 55
HR: 13
BB: 22
K: 102
ERA: 4.28
FIP: 3.55

As you can see by his FIP, he was pitching pretty much the same in both stretches in the components that he had the most direct control over (BB, HR, and K). Moose's full-season FIP of 3.51 was the fifth best in the league amongst full-time starters (trailing Santana, Bonderman, Sabathia, and Lackey). A lot of Moose's resurgence was credited to a new grip on his changeup this season, but I think improved health was just as big of a factor.

Of course, you can't just ignore 2004 and 2005. A weighted average of the last three seasons predicts the following line for Moose in 2007.

IP: 183
H: 188
R: 90
ER: 82
HR: 22
BB: 40
K: 152
ERA: 4.08

Now, that's not worth $17 million (Moose's 2007 option), but it is worth something. I actually think the Yankees might be better off picking up the option to avoid a long-term committment to a guy who is an uncertain proposition going forward. That depends on how much he's willing to take in a pay cut. With a dearth of quality starting pitching options on the market this offseason, I'm not sure I'd chance it.

The other problem if you let Moose walk, who replaces him? While Darrell Rasner and Jeff Karstens showed glimpses of usefulness, any belief that either is ready or capable to assume a full-time rotation spot requires a level of risk-taking and uncertainty that makes no sense for a team like the Yankees. The Yankees are going to likely be in the market for a starter anyway, being in the market for two is going to make things that much harder.

So I say, keep Moose. Try to renegotiate a two year deal, or just pick up his option and negotiate an extension later.