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March 18, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Mike Mussina
by SG

Mike Mussina put up two of the worst seasons of his career in 2004 and 2005. Entering the final guaranteed year of his contract at age 37, a rebound seemed to be less likely than a continued descent. However, a spring training discovery by Jorge Posada that Mussina's grip was tipping his changeup was credited with Mussina rebounding last season. I think improved health was also a factor.

The table below shows the pitch results for all of major league baseball in 2006, as well as Mussina's 2004-2005 seasons, and 2006, expressed as a percentage of all pitches thrown.

The only real change between 2004-2005 and 2006 was that Mussina threw fewer pitches that were called for balls, and more called strikes. Hitters put the same percentage of balls in play, and swung and missed at the same percentage of pitches. If the changeup was more deceptive, it wasn't causing hitters to swing and miss any more often. This tells me Moose's health was probably the main factor in his 2006 resurgence.

Mussina's ERA went up as the season progressed. From the start of the season through May 31, Mussina had an ERA of 2.42. From June 1 on, it was 4.28. However, his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was fairly consistent throughout the season. FIP is a quick and east way to remove the factors that are at least partially outside of a pitcher's control when assessing their performance, by focusing on the components that they have direct control over, namely HRs, BB + HBP, and Ks. It's calculated using the following formula:

(13 x HR + 3 x (HBP + BB) - 2 x K ) / IP + 3.2

The final result is a # that should scale fairly closely to ERA. If a pitcher's ERA doesn't line up with their FIP, you should expect them to move closer together the more they pitch. This is illustrated very clearly if you look at Mussina's 2006.

So, he was probably a little bit fortunate in the first half of the season, and a little unfortunate in the second half, but he basically pitched fairly consistently well all season. In 2006 among ERA qualifiers, Mussina's FIP was fifth in the league, behind Santana, Bonderman, Sabathia, and Lackey. He was also able to go a little deeper into games this season compared to last year, but he's still not much more than a six inning pitcher most of the time. Here's how Mussina's performance in 2006 breaks down by inning.

Calculating ERA from the play by play data is a little tricky due to inherited runners and partial innings, so instead I'm using CERA here (component ERA). This is calculated using the formula 31 x OBP x SLG. As you can see, the sixth inning is by far Mussina's worst (with a significant sample size), yet for some reason Joe Torre is often asleep at the switch when the implosion comes. It would behoove the Yankees to have someone at least loosening in the pen when the sixth inning starts in a Mussina game. With a fifty man bullpen that shouldn't be an issue.

Mussina projects to be worse in 2007, which is understandable given his 2004 and 2005 seasons.

RSAA is runs saved above average.

Anyone who can't see the charts above should be able to view them via this link.

He's still projected to be around a win above average, or three wins above a replacement pitcher. If he is healthy, I'd expect him to better those projections, but health is a legitimate concern, and he hasn't looked particularly good in spring training so far, although he pitched pretty well today.

This season will be a pivotal one for Mussina's fading Hall of Fame chances. He lacks a lot of the baubles that a typical HOFer has, but if he can get a World Series title and/or a 20 win season, it'll help his chances a lot.