Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Help
Yankee Panky #22: The Bull and the Moose
2007-08-29 10:43
by Will Weiss
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

The consensus when the Yankees re-signed Mike Mussina in the winter was that at $23 million for two years, he was a bargain. He was coming off his best season since 2003, was healthy, and for all intents and purposes, would have his best chance at winning a World Series title in New York.

The same was said for re-signing Andy Pettitte. The media downplayed Mussina's re-signing more than it hyped Pettitte's return, but in both pitchers — at least, according to the numerous reports that surfaced at the time — the Yankees thought they were getting proven winners, people who had performed at the highest level of pressure in the greatest pressure-cooker environment Major League Baseball has to offer.

My thoughts at the time were thus: I disagreed with both acquisitions, but was more in favor of the Pettitte signing, because (a) I believed he had more left physically, and (b) he would approach this second go-round with even fervor and provide something to the rotation that's been lacking — leadership. I didn't come to that theory initially, however. Immediately after the signing was announced, it seemed to me that signing Pettitte was a means of assuaging guilt over what happened in the offseason between the 2003 and '04 seasons that led to the Carl Pavano/Jaret Wright/Javier Vazquez/Kevin Brown atrocities. I believe that part of why the Yankees allowed Pettitte to leave New York after the 2003 season, despite his 21-win season and victories in Game 2 of each of the team's three postseason series, was because they believed his left forearm and elbow were fragile. That he made only 15 starts for Houston in 2004 because of elbow problems corroborated the damaged goods theory. I said at the time of Pettitte's exodus that come 2007, when he's turning 35 years old and practically done, he'll be perfect for the Yankees again.

I didn't question his competitiveness, but I did wonder how he would handle returning to the American League. Pettitte has surprised me in many respects. As Al Leiter alluded on Tuesday's YES Postgame, Pettitte has a bigger, sharper curveball, and because his velocity isn't what it once was, he's mixing his pitches better, using both sides of the plate with more regularity and changing hitters' eye level. In other words, his patterns are less predictable. Pettitte has been far and away the Yankees best and most consistent starter, and if not for the rickety bullpen in April and May, would have three or four more victories to his credit.

Tuesday's series opener with the Red Sox was a perfect example of Pettitte's worth. He hung tough, going pitch for pitch with Dice-K, and gave the Yankees a chance to win. Johnny Damon's home run, which proved to be the game winner, allowed Pettitte to run his August record to 6-0. In his Yankee career, he is 69-33 in starts following a loss.

Then there's Mussina. In Baseball Prospectus 2007, Steven Goldman, who wrote the Yankees chapter, had this to say about Mussina in his player analysis for the team: "The Yankees took a good risk in turning Mussina's one-year option into a discounted two-year extension."

I thought Steve was being generous. Because Mussina was healthy, for the most part — he made 32 starts despite a short DL stint with a groin injury — and he added the splitter, last year was the only year in the last three years he had fewer hits than innings pitched, a WHIP of less than 1.20, at least 15 wins, and an ERA less than 4.00. I thought it was an anomaly. Including the improvements in 2006, his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) over the last three seasons was .310. That's not good for any pitcher, let alone one who's being relied upon as a potential 15-game winner. PECOTA projected a slip back to his '04 form was projected: 12-9, between 40 and 50 walks, 29 starts, an ERA in the 4.25 range, and a WHIP near 1.30.

I thought the declining velocity — NoMaas.org's assessment is stinging yet hilarious — would catch up with him. He's been more reliant on his off-speed stuff and the assortment of curveballs does not have the same bit as it did even four years ago. Based on three straight seasons of landing on the disabled list with assorted elbow and leg ailments, I didn't believe he was in good enough shape to handle a 32-start workload. I also thought his finicky nature would wear thin. It seemed like the Yankees signed him because no one else would.

Save for a few standout performances, Mussina's Yankee career has been good, but generally nondescript. Yes, he was one out away from a perfect game Labor Day weekend in Boston six years ago, and he kept the Yankees alive with a brilliant performance in Game 3 of the DS that same year, and his three innings of relief in Game 7 against Boston in the '03 ALCS laid the foundation for the comeback. But it appears the negatives outweigh all that. There's a faction of fans that believe he's gutless because he won't buzz opposing hitters to protect his own guys who've been hit (see July 7, 2003 vs. Boston), which projects an image that he's selfish and not a good teammate. If the home plate umpire isn't giving him the corners, he gives the steely stare as if to say, "Do you know what a strike is? I do." And he'll keep throwing pitches in the same location to get the ump to cave in a psychological game of cat-and-mouse.

Mussina has always thought himself to be his own pitching coach. He's a "creature of habit," and is outspoken when certain elements of his routine are altered. He can be stubborn and abrasive, and is prone to shun accountability for his deficiencies. Last Wednesday night in Anaheim, following a sequence that led to Garret Anderson's RBI double in the disastrous second inning, YES cameras caught Mussina mouthing to Jose Molina, "That's not what I said. It wasn't my fault," referencing the pitch sequence.

Who threw the pitch?

To that point, I shot through the archives and stumbled upon a column from Ian O'Connor in USA Today recapping Game 4 of the '03 ALCS, in which he railed Mussina for not taking responsibility for the loss and minimizing his effect on the result of the series to that point.

"It seems like we do well when I don't pitch," Mussina said at the time. "We'll just let the other guys have at it, we'll win the series and move on."

Mussina's self-deprecating assessment can be applied to this current spate of distress that had Joe Torre and Ron Guidry visibly at odds in the dugout during Monday's third straight calamity.

Steve Lombardi, our friend at WasWatching, makes an apt comparison:

"At this stage, Mike Mussina has become to the 2007 New York Yankees what Luis Tiant was to the 1980 Yankees. Moose is an imported star who has reached the end of his effective days. If you told me, at this point, that Mussina would not win another 10 games in the major leagues, I wouldn't fight you, with tooth and nail, to make you say 'Take it back.'"

David Justice was more forthright on Monday's postgame.

"Mike Mussina has been so successful for so long doing it his way," he said. "How do you sell him on committing to something different? It's a tough sell. … In my opinion, he just doesn't have it anymore."

Mussina, in his current way, cannot help the Yankees. He is 0-7 this season after Yankees losses, and 2-6 against teams with winning records. In his last two starts, the Yankees have been outscored 34-9.

Monday night, he did not pitch like a man willing to fight for his spot in the rotation. When presented with a challenge, an affront to his position on the team, he did not pitch like someone determined to work through his struggles; he pitched like a complacent man who responded, "Who would they replace me with?" when asked about his tenuous position.

The answer came late Tuesday: Ian Kennedy. Torre announced that Kennedy would take Mussina's place in the rotation and make his major league debut Saturday versus the Devil Rays.

Reporters relayed Mike Mussina's message that he "didn't feel like anything good was going to happen" when he let go of the ball. Clearly, neither does the Yankees' brain trust.

[OOPS: Monday's NY Times notebook hinted that Kennedy was an unlikely call-up, even if Mussina had a bad outing. It was probably correct at the time.]

On Tuesday's postgame, when asked what Kennedy's promotion means for Mussina, Justice had this to offer:

"You're asking him to go into the bullpen. That means long man. Mop-up. It's not about Moose's feelings right now. It's about winning ball games and getting into the playoffs."

At least the Yankeees' hunch on one veteran pitcher was correct. And the assessment of the two pitchers, especially over the past month, has been fair.

Until next week …

Comments
2007-08-29 11:52:29
1.   Zack
Will, normally I agree with you, but you are being far too unfair to Moose as a Yankee. Moose in 2001 was probably the best pitcher in the league, and 2003 he was close. I wouldn't say that his negatives outweigh his positives by any means. So hes cranky and stubborn, that doesn't take away from his #s. Since 2001 he's been the Yankees mainstay and best pitcher overall, with 5 out of 7 years above league average, 4 of which solidly so...
2007-08-29 11:58:11
2.   Chyll Will
I don't remember, was Randy this complacent about his stuff last season or did he at least try to adjust? And did anyone catch what Joe and Gator actually said (i.e. which one was arguing for what?) I wonder if either one of them had completely made up their mind at that point and decided to either leave him in to eat innings or try out the unused portion of the pen that hadn't made a recent impression yet.

In a way, it's good that Henn got in so that they could finally see that Britton really deserved a look. I'm just curious about how soon those decisions came and who actually stood where on them.

2007-08-29 12:03:52
3.   rbj
It's tough, a pitcher has to believe in himself, yet at the same time recognize that he has to change when things no longer work for him as age takes its toll. Moose could probably be very effective as a Greg Maddux type pitcher now and only use a few fastballs.

The problem is that right now the Yankees have very few games left and are fighting for the wildcard with a bunch of other teams. In other words, there isn't time right now for Mike to reinvent himself. Over the winter & spring training next year, yes; just not right now.

2007-08-29 12:36:34
4.   Will Weiss
1 Zack, I agree with you about 2001 and '03. But if you roll everything into one package, I didn't think it was worth giving him $23 million more off a good year in the final year of his contract.
2007-08-29 12:42:44
5.   williamnyy23
1 I kind of agree with you. In 3 of his 6 previous campaigns (including 2006), Mussina was a top-8 pitcher in terms of ERA+. His other three seasons were league average. Based on that track record, I don't think anyone could fairly have predicted a complete collapse (which wouldn't have even been the outcome 3 starts ago).

I don't doubt that you were against the deal, but I didn't read one person question the signing (especially in light of the market). As I was in favor of re-upping Moose at the time, I am not going to criticize it now.

Also of note, every AL contender except Boston has at least one pitcher who has been nearly as poor as Moose (in fact a few have several who have been worse). I don't disagree with the transition, but Moose's demotion was hardly a no-brainer. I think it took some courage by Cashman to initiate the move and open mindedness by Joe to accept it.

2007-08-29 12:49:03
6.   mayorkoch
While it does seem like money poorly spent, the other side is, what were the other alternatives at the time? Remember Cashman's plan called for some short-term stopgaps to tide him over to the minor league pitching bonanza (hopefully) kicked in. The only two (three if you count Clemens) FAs on the market that were OK with short term contracts and worth signing signed with the Yankees, Petite and Mussina. After last year it was reasonable to think Mussina could stave off father time for atleast another full year or so. Looks like we missed by 6-9 months. No big deal.
2007-08-29 12:51:03
7.   Max
Interesting how polar the opinions are on Moose's legacy: Feinsand, for example, says Mussina is one of the Yankees' best free agent signings ever, while Will considers his Yankee career "nondescript". I lean toward the point of view that feels Moose has been extremely good for the Yankees, and Will's assessment here feels a bit harsh.

But what I would find really interesting is a deeper analysis of Moose's relationship with the media and teammates. I've gathered from bits and pieces that he's always considered himself a lot smarter than the average jock or reporter, and that he has a certain way of currying favor with particular members of the press corps.

I wonder if some of this "sourpuss intellectual" demeanor (along with other personality tics that are a sharp contrast to the macho swagger of the typical pro ballplayer) contributes to the opinions circulating currently regarding his legacy and overall worth.

2007-08-29 12:51:28
8.   Zack
4 5 Yeah, the thing is, until three starts ago, Moose was on a trend of getting generally better. His era had been dropping, slowly, since June. He had a run from June 7-Aug 11 of only one truly bad start (vs TB), 9 QS...
2007-08-29 12:53:24
9.   Zack
In fact, looking over his game logs, it really seems like Moose might be going through a dead arm phase, which for him is more accentuated since his velocity is already low. Yes, Moose has hardly a top notch pitcher this season and the velocity is really really low, but its hard for me to buy that he just suddenly lost all ability pitch in one game
2007-08-29 13:01:32
10.   Sliced Bread
Here's my "thinking man's analysis"(TM) of Moose's Yankee career:

Loved him, til he started suckin'eggs.

2007-08-29 13:06:52
11.   rbj
7 Put me in the Moose has been good for the Yankees category. I was also in favor of resigning him as it was short term only and I wanted him to have a shot at a ring. And to further dig myself in a hole, I hope Andy comes back next year.
2007-08-29 13:18:13
12.   Cliff Corcoran
7 Good stuff, Max. I think his demeanor does contribute to those opinions. Myself, I love that he's a crank. I tend to like those sorts of cranky players (Rickey Henderson, Gary Sheffield, Ted Williams, and Mussina all leap to mind). He's also honest and blunt, which enables me to use his own words to describe his current situation as I did the other night.

As for Moose's Yankee legacy, he's had a near-Hall of Fame career and has thus far spent seven of his 17 seasons with the Yankees. He also deserved the Cy Young in 2001 (he was nearly shut out of the voting finishing 5th behind Roger Clemens) and should have been toward the top of the voting in 2003, when he was shut out entirely. The again, those were the only two seasons in which he looked like a near Hall of Famer. Other than that he's only had flashes (September 2004, April and May 2006).

2007-08-29 13:20:39
13.   Cliff Corcoran
12 I should add that, lest we forget, Mussina helped pitch the Yankees to two World Series and aced two of his three World Series starts.
2007-08-29 13:21:48
14.   RZG
"That's not what I said. It wasn't my fault,"

You claim you were able to read his lips saying this? Are you that good at lip reading? Maybe he said it but it sounds far-fetched to me you can read that long of a conversation.

2007-08-29 13:26:59
15.   williamnyy23
14 I am not sure Will was claiming he read Moose's lips. Regardless, perhaps whomever read them can finally tell us once and for all, what exactly did Arod shout on that now infamous night in Toronto :)
2007-08-29 13:40:41
16.   Vandelay Industries
Back to business! King Felix against the Angels, top first.
2007-08-29 13:47:35
17.   Rob Middletown CT
Way harsh on Moose. He's been quite good for the Yankees. He looks even better if you look at the other pitching acquisitions made by the organization during his tenure.

It's not easy pitching in the AL East, but Moose has done it well more often than not. Is this his "Cone 2000" year? Maybe so. Or maybe he turns it around. I for one am not worrying that he's signed for next year.

The move - taking him out of the rotation and giving Kennedy a shot - was the right move, don't get me wrong. I'm fully in favor. I just think many people are unfair to Mussina.

I think it's amplified because Pettitte is pitching so well right now (staff savior, really) and Moose is often compared unfavorably to Pettitte (one's a winner, one is the guy who "almost" did all sorts of things, so the argument goes).

2007-08-29 13:48:48
18.   monkeypants
7 12 13 Mussina's legacy as a Yankee FA signing will be unfairly diminished by the team's 'failure' during his tenure--i.e., they never won a world series. This is all part of a larger trope that the team got away from their roots after 2000 and tried win with big splash FAs rather than homegrown kids. The thing is, when viewed objectively, two of the biggest signings did basically work out: certainly Mussina, and I would argue the Giambi signing on average was good value (is it worse value on the whole than, say, resigning Bernie?).

Actually, it would be interesting to compare Mussina to other big mney FA pitchers over the same period. He must have turned out overall to be one of the better signings in the league, no?

2007-08-29 13:51:50
19.   monkeypants
18 I forgot to add: it would all seem different for Mussina if the Yankees had won game seven in 2001. ven better, had the Yankees defeated the clearly outmanned Florida squad in 2003, the Mussina and Giambi signings would be vindicated, in recent enough memory to boot.
2007-08-29 14:01:11
20.   Vandelay Industries
19 I agree. I think Moose has been very good for the Yankees, all things considered. A couple great seasons, a few average seasons, but all the while staying healthy for the most part. How did Mulder work out for the Cards? Colon? Zito now? Moose isn't Cy Young, but he has done the job for us.

This without mentioning that we really needed Moose amongst all the flop FA signings and trades that were made. For all the talk about the Yankees trading away all their young talent, most notably pitching prospects, where are they? Is there a former Yankee prospect out there pitching lights out? I never once thought Cashman was trading away great pitching prospects, and the dearth of former prospects performing at the major league level illustrates that. Cashman hasn't made any adjustment, it is just that we finally have some pitching prospects worth holding on to.

2007-08-29 14:03:30
21.   Zack
20 Much of the argument is that by signing all those top level FAs, the Yanks were killed with draft picks, and along with a philosophy that didn't care much about those picks, they had little chance to produce a farm system...
2007-08-29 14:11:00
22.   Vandelay Industries
21 That's true. I guess I am more of a known quantity type of guy. Sure, we lost picks, but I still think you take the known over the unknown. That said, Melky and Joba, to a lesser degree are known quantities, Hughes thus far, and hopefully Kennedy will be as well. Becuase of this, I am firmly against letting any one or more of them go for Santana or Peavy.

That said, does anyone have the research on what players were drafted as compensation picks (there is of course no guarantee that the Yankees would have taken those players), who are now on major league rosters?

2007-08-29 14:11:46
23.   Vandelay Industries
Angles up 2-0, top second. Beltre saved a couple more runs this inning.
2007-08-29 14:16:22
24.   Will Weiss
14 15 The replay was in slow motion, and that's what he said. There was a clear miscommunication between him and Molina, and the camera was only on Mussina.
2007-08-29 14:39:30
25.   Bob B
A lot of good banter here. Personally, I've been fine with Moose since day one and agree with all those who say he'd be viewed a lot differently had the Yankees won in 01 or 03. That being said, he's not getting the job done at the crucial time of the season and probably has a dead arm. But certainly his re-signing was better than landing Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, Javier Vasquez or the unmentionable Kevin Brown. Who knows, maybe with a little rest his arm will heal but he's ours until 2009 so tread on him lightly.
2007-08-29 14:45:33
26.   spufi2007
If I recall correctly, going into the 2001 season, the Yankees had the choice of signing Moose or Manny Ramirez. Of course, Moose got about 55% of the money Manny ended up getting.

But, if you had to do it over again, who would you rather have signed?

At the time, I thought Moose was the right call. And I still do, though his recent outings make my opinion weaker by the start.

2007-08-29 14:59:50
27.   Emma Span
Like Cliff 7 , I tend to like grouches -- or anyone, really, who says ANYthing other than the usual scripted sound bites. But Mussina rubs a lot of people the wrong way, especially reporters, and that USA Today article is a classic example:

"He's got to find some way, any way, to win these games. Whatever it is, they apparently don't teach it at Stanford."

Man, is that line full of resentment. Mussina does often act as though he thinks he's smarter than reporters, and it understandably pisses them off; I heard a lot of people complaining about him in my brief time covering the team (though not the regular writers so much, who seem mostly used to him).

But Mussina's not always wrong: the guy gets asked a lot of stupid questions. Some players are just better at accepting that as part of the job, which it is, and letting it slide.

2007-08-29 15:00:37
28.   joejoejoe
Moose's stretch with the Yankees is nothing like Tiant's time in pinstripes. Mussina has been a key player in a team that has made the playoffs every year and thrown about 1500 mostly good innings and Tiant threw 330 innings in two years and was gone.

Moose will figure out how to throw junk and return to being league average at least. He's too stubborn to change at times but stubborn has gotten him 257 wins in the majors a career 122 ERA+. He'll be back about as good as recent vintage Greg Maddux.

2007-08-29 15:16:39
29.   Vandelay Industries
27 Jeff Kent had similar problems in San Francisco, because he just told the truth most of the time. Although I don't recall any references to UC Berkely in the papers.

And with what little respect is due them, Mike Mussina is smarter than most every writer in there. I don't think that's too much of a stretch. A professional writer including "[h]e's got to find some way, any way, to win these games. Whatever it is, they apparently don't teach it at Stanford," is evidence enough of that.

2007-08-29 15:28:44
30.   Vandelay Industries
Macier Izturis is making Who Go Chavez proud today!
2007-08-29 15:34:10
31.   Emma Span
29 Well, I think you're being hard on the writers -- there ARE some very smart people in there. I just meant that when Mussina does get a dumb question, or even just a frequently asked one, he rarely hesitates to point it out ...
2007-08-29 16:19:05
32.   Will Weiss
27 29 From one grouch to another, good posts, Emma. ... Mussina has little patience for stupidity, which I can greatly respect. I found him difficult to read when I covered the team, because he covered so much of himself in sarcasm. To me, he gave the impression that he just didn't want to be bothered, which is fine. My comments above have nothing to do with his relationship to writers and reporters, it was simply based on my belief that the Yankees made a mistake in re-signing him, despite what he gave them in six years. I thought he was done last year, too.
2007-08-29 21:07:20
33.   Emma Span
32 Oh yeah, Will, I didn't mean you in particular - sorry if I didn't make that clear. Just that in general, I think his persona does sometimes seem influence his coverage, as in that USA Today article. But your points about his pitching skills are a separate issue, and it looks like you were right about this year at least.

I found him hard to read too, and he made me nervous.

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.