Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Slow Down
2006-04-20 10:04
by Alex Belth

Buster Olney has some sharp observations on Mike Mussina over at ESPN today:

The last couple of years, Mussina's success or failure was often predicated on how good his fastball was on a given day. If he threw 88-90 mph, he had a chance to have a pretty good day, throwing his fastball high in the strike zone, while most of his offspeed stuff was in the range of 77-78 mph. If Mussina's fastball was 85-86 mph, however, he would get wrecked, the hitters always looking like they were all over everything he threw.

The adjustment Mussina has made, it seems, is to slow down his slow stuff. He was bending curves and flopping changeups at 70-71 mph against the Jays, with spectacular location (on an afternoon when both he and Jays starter Ted Lilly took advantage of home plate umpire Paul Runge's generous and consistent strike zone). Every so often, Mussina -- like Schilling, like Pedro Martinez -- would look to finish off a hitter with a fastball and suddenly whiz a 91-93 mph four-seam fastball, and because the Jays were kept off-balance by the variance, they were overwhelmed. In one of Troy Glaus' three strikeouts, the third baseman looked like he started his swing when the ball was already buried in Jorge Posada's mitt. It was the first time in several years that hitters appeared downright uncomfortable hacking against Mussina, because they never got a firm read on his velocity, the trajectory or the selection of his pitches.

As Mussina changed arm angles and speeds (he reminded me a lot of Orlando Hernandez, in how El Duque pitches), he allowed a run in 7.1 innings and picked up the 226th victory of his career. The Yankees have pitching problems, undoubtedly, but based on how Mussina looked, I don't think he'll be a concern. He appears to have learned how to win with slop -- good ol' fashioned slow stuff.

Word, Buster. Got to love the slow stuff.

2006-04-20 10:22:06
1.   Sliced Bread
Numerous first pitch strikes set the stage for Moose's slow and dirty stuff. He didn't fall behind in a lot of counts which allowed him to tinker with velocity. Masterful performance.
2006-04-20 10:31:17
2.   Ben
Mussina's biggest problem is he's too fascinating to watch. When he's pitching like he did yesterday, I want the Yankee at-bats to be over with ASAP so I can watch him work more deliberate magic. Maybe the Yanks feel the same way and forget to mash.

There is also something wonderfully long-suffering about his game persona. I've said this before here and got killed for it, but he just seems like a guy destined to pitch 8 2/3 of a perfect game, get 19 wins again and again. He's excellent, but can't get that last break...

Also, I love the way he finished his wind-up, two feet down, ready to glove any bounce-backs. Ahsum.

2006-04-20 10:52:53
3.   Jeteupthemiddle
I remember a few years ago (I forget if Mussina was 34 or 35) SI had a statistic in the magazine. Mussina had more wins at that age than Clemens had at the same age. I fully believe that if Mussina had been with the Yankees his entire career, he would have won 20 games several times over, a couple of Cy Youngs, and would be closing in on his 300th victory very soon.

And I agree with you Ben 2, Mussina never catches a break.

2006-04-20 11:11:20
4.   Cliff Corcoran
Very interesting stuff on Moose.

The mind races: Sure, Moose is too smart and to much of a pitcher's pitcher not to be able to readjust to his declining skill set; did Guidry or Kerrigan contribute here where Stottlemyre didn't the last two years?; Will throwing softer help ease the strain on his elbow, injuries to which have kept him below 200 innings the last two years?; Is this a last ghasp of brilliance before the league figures out his new approach or his fastball slows down to the point that he can't make the slow stuff slow enough or is this the beginning of a late-career resurgence that will make Moose the second coming of Jamie Moyer and push him toward 300 wins?

I've been a fan of Mussina's since he was with Baltimore, was delighted when the Yanks signed him, attended two of his near-perfect games (including the one in Boston), and remain upset that he was robbed for the 2001 Cy Young for sure and likely others as well, so I can't see why Ben would have gotten slammed for his very truthful statement.

With Moose anchoring my fantasy staff this year, I couldn't be more pleased by his resurgence. I just hope it lasts.

2006-04-20 11:13:50
5.   bp1
Great stuff from Buster. When Moose is on, it's just a delight to watch. I can only imagine the feeling of making a major league hitter shake his head in wonder after another weak hack. It has to be incredibly satsifying.

Then again, you'd never know based on Moose's post game interviews. To say he's dry is to be polite.

He's a fascinating guy. I wonder if he will have a career in coaching after he hangs up his mitt. Could he be an Orel Hershiser in the making?


2006-04-20 11:24:29
6.   Sliced Bread
Cliff, I think Mussina's resurgence will continue if he keeps getting ahead in counts. His fastball will have to be legit enough to keep hitters off balance, but as long as he's ahead in the count he can use that fastball sparingly. Less of that straight 90 mph stuff is definitely more.

I hope Chacon was taking notes yeterday. That was a clinic in how to change speeds and move the ball around the zone. Chacon is capable of that. Get strike one ASAP, fellas.

2006-04-20 11:30:38
7.   its430
As good as all the press has been on Mussina's outing yesterday, in Olney's blog it looks like there is some bad news for the Yankees minor league operations:

Does anyone know what kind of impact this tragedy will have on scouting?

2006-04-20 11:32:54
8.   Jeteupthemiddle
5 I love Mussina Interviews. I think because I have the same sense of humor has him. He is just dry and sarcastic, and I just don't think the reporters get it. He'll make a joke, and the reporters are so uncomfortable because they aren't sure if its ok to laugh. I love it. :P
2006-04-20 11:36:35
9.   tommyl
Something I've noticed about Moose, and also Cone a long time ago is that both pitchers seem able to adjust mid-game. You'll often see them have a bad inning or couple of batters and they will change their arm angle, mechanics and selection almost on the fly. It doesn't always work, but it shows they are thinking.

In contrast, when RJ is off, he's just off. I have yet to see him (in my admittedly poor and selective memory) adjust during a bad outing. When he comes out bad, he's just bad till he gets yanked. He definitely has much better pure stuff than Moose or Cone, especially at this point, but his gameplan seems to have little flexibility. Maybe his changes are more subtle and I'm missing them, but I don't really see them.

Anyone else agree? disagree?

2006-04-20 11:53:56
10.   bp1
9 The thing w/ Unit is that you usually know what you've got in the first inning. If he's on, he's usually on for the entire outing. If the other team is hitting him hard at first, it's going to be rough.

Moose, on the other hand, has had these mysterious meltdowns mid-game where you just look around and say "where did that come from?". Fine for three innings, then BAM! Five runs and he's in sitting in the dugout. It's gotten to the point where even when he's pitching well, I feel a little bit of anxiety wondering when it's all going to fall apart. Not that I truly enjoy watching him make hitters look foolish, but it's never quite as comfortable as it should be.

When Unit is on - you can usually kick back and relax and just enjoy the show. Sort of like Mo. I wish we could get 9 innings of Mo sometimes. Man oh man, would that be fun to watch.


2006-04-20 11:58:38
11.   Rob Gee
10 Unit's said so before, but anyone who's ever tried to stay consistent with a sequence of actions (golf swing, tennis stroke, hitting, pitching) knows how hard it can be. With a 6'10" frame one small change can throw a bunch of things out-of-whack - a bit of a butterfly effect - and that's hard to identify and fix mid-stream.

6 Agree completely - Obi Wan Chacon could learn a ton from Moose.

2006-04-20 12:03:51
12.   Sam DC
Hey Alex -- not big news or anything, but this guy has posted plans to review your book.
2006-04-20 12:24:03
13.   Yankee Fan in Chicago
I could be wrong about this, b/c it's just off the top of my head, but I don't remember the problem with Moose in 04 and 05 being failure to get ahead in the count.

Iirc, he'd often jump ahead on a hitter and then not be able to put the guy away once he got two strikes.

Even mediocre hitters were fouling off or laying off 2 strike pitches waiting for Moose to throw them something to hit. It not only drove up Moose's pitch count, but often enought they did eventually get something to hit.

This season, Moose is able to put guys away it seems.

2006-04-20 13:06:24
14.   Sliced Bread
13 I suppose at times Moose has struggled with both in recent years: getting ahead of batters, and finishing them off.

Olney makes a very good point about the ump yesterday. Moose benefited from good calls. The generous zone helped him stay in his groove.

2006-04-20 13:22:47
15.   Count Zero
4 Right on Cliff.

I gotta admit I was skeptical after a small two-game sample -- it looked to me like it was the same Moose, with the same degraded fastball, who was tough while perfect, but getting tatered on his mistakes. He's proving me wrong right now though...maybe Buster's analysis is the word. I would love for it to be true, since I've always liked the Stanford guy myself. :-)

2006-04-20 14:29:52
16.   BklynBomber
Birds-Cleveland on the air now, booth is discussing the upcoming series... Palmer reports that in 159 previous starts where The Unit had at least a 4 run lead, he was 145-0.

9 tommyl — agreed. If memory serves correct over the past two seasons whenever Moose imploded (sometimes for 5 or 7 runs in one inning) Torre would leave him in if it was early enough, and more often than not he'd straighten himself out. That seems a lot rarer with RJ. When's he loses the plot, it's lost.

2006-04-20 18:29:26
17.   Zack
Our old pal Johnny Gomes is off to a great start this season and has two HRs against the Sox 9, 4-1 Rays...doesn't seem like a safe lead in Fenway
2006-04-20 18:59:41
18.   singledd
FYI - If you care.
55 abs. Nick Johnson:
AVG .400 | HR 5 | RBI 10 | OBP .529 | SLG .745
2006-04-20 20:29:38
19.   rsmith51
I miss [sigh].
2006-04-20 20:38:24
20.   joejoejoe
Moose is becoming one of my favorite players. I'll never forget his interview after the almost no-hitter in Fenway. It was like Carl Everett shot his dog. Mussina has great stuff, fields like a cat (6 Gold Gloves) and as much as it pains you as a fan when he gives up a big inning you KNOW it pains him more. I hope he's with the Yankees for his 300th win and at least one championship. I root for Mike Mussina.

OT: Jeff Angus at "Management by Baseball" has a great piece using Alex's Curt Flood biography as a prime source. It's well worth reading. -

2006-04-21 04:35:48
21.   mikeplugh
Moose looks a lot like he did prior to the 2004 season, when he regularly threw 200 innings with 185+ strikeouts and a 3.50ish ERA, while holding batters to a .235 average. The last two seasons he's seen his ERA balloon about a run, his BAA head northward toward .280 and his success waver.

Good to have him back.

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