August 28, 2008

Is consistency good enough?

Recently, I asked visitors here who most deserves a plaque in Cooperstown…Mike Mussina, Gary Sheffield, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel or Billy Wagner and surprisingly, 64% of you picked Mike Mussina.

It was a landslide really and two guys who I’ve already tabbed as future Hall members (Thome and Vizquel) were easily bested. Thome ended up with 39% of the vote…Vizquel got 50%.

Eventually, they’ll both get in, but I’m not so sure about “Moose”.

It’s fitting that we're delving into Mussina's career with this historic week as the backdrop. And no, I don’t mean that because the recently completed Little League World Series originates from Mussina’s birthplace Williamsport, Pennsylvania…but rather, the Democratic National Convention is going on.

Huh?

Think about it…Mike Mussina is a little like Hillary Clinton, isn’t he? Yes…no? I mean, personality differences aside, they’ve got some things in common.

Regardless of how their careers eventually pan out, they’re both overshadowed.


Naturally, Hillary will never eclipse the success of her husband Bill, or most recently, Barack Obama. Thanks to her writers, she delivered a great speech Tuesday night, but by the time the DNC winds down…it’ll be an eventual footnote to history.

Mussina could be lights out (and he has a NUMBER of times) throughout an entire season, but given his teammates…no one will ever remember his Herculean efforts. In Baltimore, he was never the star…Cal Ripken was. Did you know that on the night that Ripken tied Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, Mussina was on the hill?

Of course you didn’t as THAT wasn’t the story that night. No body cares about a guy going for his sixteenth victory in early September when someone else is about to play in their 2131st consecutive game.

What about Moose’s career in New York? Has he ever been the marquee guy? Not a chance with teammates like Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter also donning the pinstripes.

And let’s be honest, regardless how long either one of them end up spending in the Big Apple…both Mussina and Clinton look uncomfortable in a Yankees cap.

Now, I could go on about pantsuits or take this in the opposite direction about how Clinton and Mussina are NOT alike…but I won’t. Frankly, and without naming any names, I absolutely can’t stand the one and the other is a rather boring, right handed hurler with six Gold Gloves.

The question at the heart of this debate is simple…is Moose a Hall of Famer? Again, 64% of you said “yes”…but why?

On paper, we’re looking at a guy who has 266 wins (a solid fourth on the active list), an absolutely sick 64% (coincidence?) winning percentage, close to 2800 Ks and a career ERA of 3.68. And, as mentioned, he has six Gold Gloves and is five times an All-Star.

Not too shabby.

Solid right? Grab your nearest dictionary and it is Mike’s face next to the word “consistency”. He’s been in double digits in wins for seventeen straight years. Matter of fact, there are only five pitchers who have had longer streaks. Four are in the Hall of Fame (Cy Young, Warren Spahn, Don Sutton and Steve Carlton) and the other (Greg Maddux) is about to have his twenty year streak snapped.

And remember when I mentioned Mussina’s winning percentage? It should also be noted that there are only six pitchers with as many victories as Moose and a better winning percentage. Four are in the Hall (Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Jim Palmer) and the other two (Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson) are pretty much all but set to be enshrined.

He has the credentials if you compare some of his stats with those already enshrined in Cooperstown, but…it’s that consistency that is also the biggest knock on Mussina’s otherwise spectacular career.

Never a twenty game winner…Mussina has finished with nineteen wins twice while with Baltimore and three other times he has finished with eighteen. Even better, outside of his rookie season, Mussina has only had one LOSING campaign. He was 11-15 in 2000…his last season before suiting up for the Yanks.

Let’s look at awards.

I mentioned the six Gold Gloves (sixth most among pitchers), but if Jim Kaat’s sixteen have taught us anything…who cares about Gold Gloves earned on the mound? And as long as Greg Maddux is still drawing air, Mussina won’t even be heralded as the best fielding pitcher of his time.

What about the Cy Young Award? Negative.

Mussina supporters will point to the EIGHT times (over a ten year span) that he finished in the top six for the honor. They’ll continue and tell you all about how he was the runner up to Pedro Martinez in 1999. But the problem with all that is simple. In 1999, Martinez was a unanimous choice…getting ALL 28 first place votes. His 23-4 record, 2.07 ERA and 313 Ks is one of the greatest seasons in the modern era. Mussina had a very Moose-like 18-7, 3.50 ERA and 172 strikeout year.

I should go on and point out that if you take away 1999, Mussina has only garnered 72 Cy Young points in those seven other years he was in the top six. To put that into perspective, that paltry amount of points (or votes if you will) wouldn’t EVER get you the Cy Young Award, much less allow you admittance to the Temperance Tavern Museum (look it up, gang) in Newcomerstown, Ohio.

Mussina has appeared in the post season seven times, twice advancing to (and losing) the World Series. Overall, he has a 7-9 record and a 3.42 ERA. Give him a post season resume like Curt Schilling or Jack Morris and we’re having a different discussion.

Even as a five time All-Star, Mussina’s greatest feat in the Mid Summer Classic was NOT playing in the 1993 contest.

Much like the Bert Blyleven debate, could Mussina be approaching 300 wins had he played for a winner? Maybe. But it isn’t like he was terrible when playing for the Orioles from 1991 and 2000. His career record while in the orange and black WASN’T for the birds (sorry) as he was 147 and 81 with, again, a 64% winning percentage.

To bowl me over and consider enshrining you, you’ve got to DO something, BE a somebody. Mussina is simply not that guy. Do a Google search and the most interesting thing you’ll find ISN’T a bloody sock or five World Series rings…it’s crossword puzzles and hopefully, after today, some lame comparisons to Hillary Clinton.


As the poll indicated, I'm in the minority here. Chime in...let me know what you think.

BallHype: hype it up!

August 10, 2008

"I'm intercontinental when I eat French Toast"

So here we are. We’re deep into the second half of the baseball season, in the midst of the 2008 Olympics and I’ve got next to nothing write about.

Or do I?!?

I mean, I don’t care about what Michael Phelps is going to do (or not do) in Beijing, I can’t name any of our gymnasts and unless Bird, Magic and Michael come back to take on the world…the “Redeem Team” isn’t really getting me excited.

However, all the hype about Summer Games has me thinking “international” and waxing nostalgic about conversations I’ve had, things I’ve seen and most importantly…other blogs I’ve read.

A number of weeks back…my man Nick Underhill wrote on HIS
SITE that Ichiro Suzuki wasn't worth the all hype.

I disagreed with him as I’ve had this conversation a number of times. Yes, what you’re thinking is correct and I’m exactly how you picture me…I’m one of those dorks who, when out with the “gang”, is talking baseball past rather than that particular night’s highlights.

I love the numbers…I love the stats. But unfortunately, Nick may have been right to an extent.

And I hate it.

The other night when Ichiro got career base knock number 1722 (he’s now at 1743)…very few media outlets made a big deal out of it. And why would they? At 1722…he was right between Cy Seymour and Cupid Childs on the all-time list.

Who?

Exactly.

Then why all the fuss? Why the Hall of Fame talk for a guy who TECHNICALLY isn’t even eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame?

Well, beside the fact that his numbers are sick (and yes, we’ll get to those later)...hit 1722 was number 3000 for his career. That’s right…add his career numbers with the Orix Blue Wave and the Seattle Mariners and you’ve got a guy who was SECOND fastest to three grand.

Ty Cobb did it in 2135…Ichiro got his in 2175. By comparison, it took Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Wade Boggs close to 300 more games to get their 3000.

Ichiro’s career already reads like that of a Hall of Famer and he’s two years shy of being eligible.

In 2001 (Ichiro’s first year in the majors), he became the first player in more than fifty years to lead the league in both batting average and stolen bases. His 242 hits is a rookie record and helped pace him to become only the second rookie to win both the MVP award and Rookie of the Year honors.

In 2004, he broke George Sisler’s 84 year old record of 257 in a season. Ichiro ended up with 262.

Ichiro set the American League record of 45 straight stolen bases without being caught in 2007. For his career, Ichiro is sitting at 307 stolen bases…506 if you count his games with Orix.

Ichiro has won the Gold Glove award in each of his seven years in the majors. He has also been selected to play in all eight All-Star games he’s been eligible for…starting all but one.

If Ichiro gets 200 hits this year, he’ll tie Wee Willie Keeler’s record of eight straight seasons with 200 or more hits in a season. When he accomplishes this…he’ll be the only player to ever do it in his first eight seasons. In his first seven seasons, he's led the league four times and finished second the other three. In two of those second place finishes, he was a combined four hits behind the league leader.

And speaking of streaks, he is also poised to have scored 100 runs for the eighth straight season.

The knock on Ichiro (if there is one) is that he is a singles hitter…and nothing more. He's led the league in singles each of his seven years in the majors and 81% of his hits have been just that...singles.
By comparison, 79% or Rod Carew's hits were singles...Pete Rose and Tony Gwynn hit singles 76% of the time.

So what’s the problem with hitting singles? Unlike the other three, it’s been said that Ichiro COULD be a power hitter if he chose to.

After that, a lot of people point at his 117 OPS+ as being unsatisfactory even though it bests Hall of Famers Robin Yount (115), Cal Ripken (112) and Ryne Sandberg (114). Rose, arguably of one of the best hitters of all-time, has a career OPS+ of 118. Future Hall members Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio are at 116 and 111 respectively.

See what I am getting at?

But let’s say that Ichiro hangs it up after this season…he wouldn’t have the mandatory ten years at the Major League level. Should that be reason enough to keep him out?

I don’t think so.

Ichiro is primed to be the guy who opens the Hall doors to our neighbors from across the Pacific. He was the first Japanese player to become an every day player at the Major League level…the previous imports were all pitchers.

Combined, Ichiro carries a career .340 batting average. He is currently at .331 in the Majors (two league batting titles and two other top four finishes), and had a career .353 average overseas.

Similar to the recent Negro League players that have made their way to Cooperstown, it is time for the museum to recognize more players that never had the chance of playing in the Majors. This thing is, after all, the NATIONAL Baseball Hall of Fame…not the MAJOR LEAGUE Baseball Hall of Fame.

And while I realize that the word “national” would, by definition, NOT include international players, can’t we all agree that regardless of whether or not he hits any of the mythic Major League milestones…Ichiro belongs?


BallHype: hype it up!