General consensus is that Tom Glavine in a sure-thing Hall of Famer, while Mike Mussina falls a bit short. Apparently Mussina is seen as good-but-not-great. This is absurd, likely due to a combination of the following: he pitched during the highest scoring era ever, in the American League, in hitters parks, and failed to attain that oh-so-important 20 win season until his final year of his career. (That final year, by the way, is the best final year of any pitcher’s career since 1902 besides Sandy Koufax, using bWAR.)
In order to defend Mussina’s honor, let’s do a little comparison exercise by running through Tom Glavine’s best seasons. He won two Cy Youngs. The first was in 1991 with a 153 ERA+ in 247 innings. That’s pretty similar to Mussina’s 1992, when he had a 157 ERA+ in 241 innings. Those seasons cancel out. Glavine’s second Cy Young came in 1998 with a 168 ERA+ over 229 innings. Mussina had a 164 ERA+ in 1994, but can’t match the innings (only 176 — yay, strike), so put that in the Glavine-only column.
Tom Glavine finished second in the Cy Young twice, in 1992 and 2000, and third twice, in 1993 and 1995. Mussina can match those seasons individually (1997, 2001, 2000, 1999) and in aggregate (averaging 223 IP and a 134 ERA+ to Glavine’s 226 IP and 133 ERA+).
Now, Tom Glavine had three seasons better than any of those second and third-place Cy Young seasons, in 1996, 1997, and 2002, where he averaged 233 innings and a 143 ERA+. Mussina has a similar set of seasons in 1994, 1995, and 2003, although his innings average a bit less: 204 IP with a 144 ERA+.
So what’s left? Glavine has 1240 more IP with an ERA+ above 100, averaging a 115 ERA+, while Mussina has 1231 averaging a 117 ERA+. Again, very similar.
As for the below-average seasons, Glavine has 907 innings averaging a 90 ERA+, while Mussina has 496 averaging a 94 ERA+.
Stepping back, these two pitchers had very similar careers. Tom Glavine has one additional excellent season, 90 more innings of very good pitching, and 400 more innings of below-average performance. Everyone draws their line somewhere different, but there’s not much gray area in between these two guys where that line can fall, and if Tom Glavine is such a sure thing, that line probably falls well below Mike Mussina.
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If you’re more of a visual person, try this graph of each pitcher’s seasons, sorted from best to worst. I used bWAR here, which is a handy shortcut for combining IP and ERA+ (plus some other minor adjustments.) Glavine has the single best season, but the rest of Mussina’s top seasons outpace Glavine’s. For what it’s worth, Mussina has more career bWAR, 83 to 74.
[Click here to view full size image.]
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* Yes, I averaged the ERA+’s the right way.