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Mike Mussina's Hall of Fame vote total could surge in 2016

What are the indicators that Mike Mussina's Hall of Fame chances will continue to improve?

All four of the men elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday -- pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz and second baseman Craig Biggio -- are unquestionably deserving of the honor. I would have voted for them without a second thought.

(Full disclosure: Although I’m a qualified Baseball Writers' Association of America voter, The Baltimore Sun’s policy prohibits its reporters from voting for any awards, including the Hall of Fame, due to potential conflicts of interest.)

Besides the four who were elected Tuesday, there are probably a dozen more candidates who have legitimate Hall of Fame credentials that didn’t get in this year. The one whose case is most interesting to me -- and, likely, to you, too -- is former Orioles ace Mike Mussina.

Mussina, who pitched for the Orioles from 1991 to 2000 before spending the final eight seasons of his career with the rival New York Yankees, has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for two years now.

In 2014, his first year of eligibility, he was named on 116 of 571 ballots cast -- or 20.3 percent, far short of the 75 percent needed for induction. This year he received 135 votes from 549 ballots -- or 24.6 percent.

So Moose’s total votes went up 19 while the number of total voters dropped by 22. That’s an encouraging sign. And my sense is things will be even more encouraging for Mussina next year.

In this year’s voting, Mussina finished 14th -- with the top four coming off the ballot due to induction. Unlike this year, when there were three slam-dunk first-timers, the only newcomer guaranteed to make the Hall in 2016 will be Ken Griffey Jr. Trevor Hoffman will get some initial support, too, but closers, as a group, have their Hall of Fame detractors.

So the sense is that Mussina should see a major lift next year when the stacked ballot clears a little -- and especially if voters are allowed to select 12 candidates instead of 10, which is a possibility.

Every few years a candidate comes along who becomes the darling of the vocal minority and the insistent debate ends up creating converts. Tim Raines is the poster boy for that movement now. The speedy outfielder who played briefly with the Orioles in 2001 has seen his support spike from 22.6 percent in 2009 to 55 percent this year.

Mussina has a chance to be Raines 2.0 (or Blyleven 3.0).

This is unofficial math, but it seems like the number of stories and blog posts calling Mussina underrated and deserving of the Hall of Fame seemingly tripled from last year to this one. Mussina’s 18 seasons pitching in the brutal American League East during the Steroid Era is starting to overtake the hand-wringing about his 3.68 career ERA.

Of those eligible for induction in 2016, only Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Griffey have a higher career WAR (wins above replacement) than Mussina. His 83 WAR is slightly higher than another former Orioles pitcher, Curt Schilling, who has a 79.9 career WAR.

Besides Clemens -- who, like Bonds, is tarnished by his steroid connections -- only Schilling can make a solid case as a better pitcher than Mussina among all eligible qualified candidates.

Schilling jumped from 29.2 percent of the 2014 vote (in his second year of eligibility) to 39.2 percent in 2015.

Given the large class of inductees graduating from the ballot this year, the lack of top starting pitchers to select from next year and Mussina’s support from the sabermetrics crowd, I’d expect Moose to have a Schilling-like, 10 percentage point-hike or more in his third year.

And that should give Mussina enough momentum to keep climbing until he gets to Cooperstown.

Now, as for which hat will be on his plaque when he eventually gets there -- Orioles or Yankees -- that’s a debate for when he gets a little closer to induction.

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