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Mean Ol' Man Mike?
2004-03-02 14:06
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.


I wanted to take a moment here to thank Ben Jacobs, Steven Goldman, Rich Lederer, Cliff Corcoran, Jay Jaffe and Christopher DeRosa for their contributions to Bronx Banter Preview series I ran last week. I think I can speak for the majority of the readers when I say we are all better and more informed fans because of their efforts. In addition, I would also like to thank all of the writers who participated in the Roundtable Discussion. I deliberately selected a diverse group and I think the results were fun and stimulating. Hopefully, we’ll do it again next year.


On that note, the one part of the Roundtable chat that really struck me were the answers to the Mike Mussina question. Mostly because the writers all seemed to agree that Mike Mussina is a virtual lock to win 15 games, let alone 20. I know it’s hard to predict how many games a pitcher will win, and you usually won’t hear prognosticators say that an ace pitcher is going to win 12 games. But 15 games is nothing to sneeze at, and while we expect good pitchers to win at least that many games, how often do they actually do it?

I asked Rich Lederer to do a quick bit of research for me and he discovered that only three active pitchers have won 15 games in five consectutive seasons: Greg Maddux, 1988-2003; Roger Clemens, 1986-1992; and Randy Johnson, 1997-2002 (from 1995-1999, Charles Nagy won at least 15 games, but I don’t think he’s with a team any longer). From 1994-1997, Mussina won 15 straight, and in the three seasons since he’s been a Yankee, Mussina has recorded 17, 18 and 17 wins. As the writers in the Roundtable Discussion noted, Mussina is a good bet to win 15, but in spite of the Yankees’ terrific offense, nothing is a lock.

Furthermore, Lederer explains that:


Winning 15 games is a much more difficult proposition than generally believed. To illustrate, from 1999-2003, each season has produced fewer than 30 pitchers who have won 15 games. That works out to not even one pitcher per team. Winning a certain number of games is as dependent on the team's fortunes as it is the individual pitcher's statistics. In order to win 15 or more games in this day and age, a starting pitcher not only has to perform well but he generally needs to be on a reasonably good team, stay off the DL, and have luck on his side. Most pitchers would also need at least two good relievers--one to hold the lead in the eighth inning and one to close it in the ninth.
To the extent that there are 15-game winners, they tend to be bunched on teams. Last year, for example, the Yankees and Mariners both had three 15-game winners. The A's had three the year before.
Given the Yankees' offensive prowess, it wouldn't surprise me if Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, and Javier Vazquez all won 15 games this year. However, based on recent history, the odds of it happening are probably not all that great.

But as Joel Sherman points out in his column today, the Yankees need Mussina now more than ever. Sherman writes:


[Mussina] is the lone major leaguer to win at least 17 games in each of the last three years. As a Yankee, he has 52 wins, 659 innings and a .642 winning percentage. The only other major leaguer to even reach levels of 45/600/.600 in the same three-year span is Mussina's now ex-teammate, Clemens.

"One of these years I'm not going to throw 200 innings," said Mussina, 35, whose streak of nine straight 200-inning seasons is the majors' longest (see chart). "I hope it is not until I'm 42."

Considering the fact that Mussina has been tinged with odd luck throughout his career, it is easy to say, “This is the year that everything will go right, and he’ll win 20.” I have done it each year that he’s been in New York. Maybe Mussina will never win 20 and he'll be left muttering like Dennis Quad in "Breaking Away" about being mean ol' man Mike. As far as I'm concerned, I’ll be happy if he wins 15 again and I'll be elated if he finally gets his 20-win season.

Nice Guys Play Center

Recently, two Mets beat writers told me that Mike Cameron has a great clubhouse presence. Yesterday, the Times ran an informative article on Cameron’s approach to playing center field. In case you missed it, head on over and give it a gander.

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