Last year, Mike Mussina was on the ballot for the first time and struggled to 20% of the vote while contemporaries Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine strolled in with over 90%. For voters last year, it seems clear that Mussina was good - but not good enough.
My clearest Mike Mussina memory is somehow fitting of how Hall of Fame voters viewed his career. On May 30, 1997, Mike Mussina opened a game against our Cleveland Indians by retiring 25 straight, leaving him on the cusp of a perfect game. Unfortunately, the next hitter he had to face was Sandy Alomar, and anyone who was in Cleveland for that 1997 season knows Alomar seemed to have the answer for every big moment. Sure enough, the Tribe backstop lined a single to left, leaving Mussina to strike out the next two batters, finishing with a complete game, 10 K, one-hit shut out of an elite offense. He was great...but not quite great enough.
The case for Mussina as a Hall of Famer
This isn't even a hard case to make. Mussina is 23rd among SP in WAR, with 83.0. The average Hall of Fame SP has 73.4. His career ERA is 3.68, which does not look elite, but considering where (the AL East) and when (the 90's) he pitched, he has a 123 ERA+, better than Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, Tom Glavine, and many other Hall of Famers.
He gets dinged for coming up short of the magical 300 win plateau, but among pitchers with more than 1500 IP (roughly 7 full seasons for a healthy pitcher), his winning percentage (admittedly not particularly important stat) is 26th - just below Jim Palmer and above Marichal, Feller, Greg Maddux, and Glavine, among many other Hall of Famers. Over the first 10 years of his career, he pitched for only four winning teams and only one that crossed 90 wins (the 1997 team that lost the ALCS to Cleveland). During that time, he won 15 games six times, and only twice lost more than 10. Even on relatively bad teams, Mussina got wins, because Mussina got outs.
Mussina came up in 1991 and was immediately a great SP, posing a 2.87 ERA and 3.46 FIP as a 22 year old. Mussina retired after the 2008 season and was still great - posting a 3.37 ERA and 3.32 FIP - and his first 20 win season.
From 1990-2010, a period that encompasses his entire career, among SP who threw more than 1500 IP in that power-driven era, Mussina's FIP ranks 11th. The list ahead of him is peppered with Hall of Famers, should be Hall of Famers and players who won't make it because of issues like longevity or PEDs.
He also pitched the 4th most games among that group, with only Maddux, Glavine and Randy Johnson surpassing him.
Over nearly two decades, Mussina threw more than 200 innings 11 times, including every year from 1995-2003. In the most aggressive offensive environment in MLB history, Mussina was reliably, consistently great, year after year. During that same time period, he posted 5 WAR every season except 2002 - when he posted 4.7.
The difference between him and Glavine is basically scoring environment and the fact that Glavine cracked 300 wins, thanks to a couple mediocre seasons at the end of his career. Had Mussina stuck around for two more years, particularly the way he was pitching at the end, he hits that milestone and is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Instead, he languished with 20% of the vote.
The case against Mussina as a Hall of Famer
He was more consistent than great. His peak WAR (his seven best seasons) was 44.5, which is below the Hall average (50.2), though it is above Glavine (44.3), Nolan Ryan (43.3), and others.
Beyond that, 300 wins looms large. That has always been a magic number, and while the voters have clearly backed off 500 HR as a ticket-stamper, there is not a 300 game winner in MLB history who is not in Cooperstown, other than Randy Johnson, who will likely get elected shortly, and Roger Clemens, who comes with caveats that do not apply to Mussina.
My Two Cents
If Glavine is a Hall of Famer, so is Mussina, period. He was a better pitcher, in the same era, with the primary difference being that Glavine played in better pitcher's parks against worse offenses, and stuck around long enough to crack 300 wins. Voting for Glavine and not Mussina is basically saying, "being consistently excellent for 18 years is worse than being slightly less excellent for 18 years, and then sticking around for four more mediocre years."
Longevity is certainly a part of the Hall equation, but if 18 years isn't enough, we might be setting unfair standards. Mussina gets my vote, though I doubt he will get many actual votes.