Orioles beat writers Eduardo Encina and Jon Meoli talk about Mike Mussina's chances of making the Hall of Fame, whether it's this year or down the road a bit.
When the votes are tallied and the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame class is announced Wednesday evening, the Orioles' last homegrown ace — Mike Mussina — will be featured prominently in the conversation.
Even if he doesn't reach the 75 percent threshold required for enshrinement — according to public ballot tracking at bbhoftracker.com with 54.5 percent of the total votes known, he appeared on 70.1 percent of the ballots — Mussina's presence so high in the voting and the likely eventual induction that comes with it is the result of an effort to create an electorate that considers more than milestone stats and reputations to enshrine players.
MLB Network host Brian Kenny, who last year wrote a book on baseball's statistical renaissance titled "Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution," has been using his platforms to build awareness for what he believes is Mussina's slam-dunk Hall of Fame case, one that's bolstered when evaluating it through those lenses.
"I think he's a nuanced case," Kenny said. "I think his excellence is not obvious, and that's more difficult for a voter. When you start to do the comparative analysis and put Mussina's career in the proper context, he absolutely looks like a Hall of Famer. But not every voter does that. He's a nuanced case. You need to do the work, and once you line them up, and once you start ranking him alongside post-World War II pitchers, or pitchers in the history of baseball, you see that he belongs in that top 1 percent."
Based on some of the more traditional measurements for a Hall of Fame pitcher, Mussina's case lacks a few components. He never reached 300 wins and didn't win 20 games in a season until the 18th and final year of his career. However, thanks to at least 17 wins in eight seasons, he ranks 33rd in baseball history with 270 victories. He was a five-time All-Star and earned seven Gold Glove Awards, but never won a Cy Young Award, finishing second to unanimous winner Pedro Martínez in 1999. Mussina’s career ERA of 3.68 belies a solid career on the surface.
But by modern measures, Mussina's 10 seasons in Baltimore and then eight with the New York Yankees shine much brighter. By wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the 82.7 WAR he compiled over his career is 24th all time among pitchers — with the beleaguered Roger Clemens the only one above him not in the Hall of Fame. And by ERA+, which adjusts for the run-scoring conditions in the player's ballpark and the league's average scoring with an average of 100, his 123 is one of the best among starters in league history. According to a video package featuring Kenny earlier this month, only seven pitchers — including Orioles great Jim Palmer — have thrown over 3,500 career innings and fared better in that measurement.
"For me, it's a matter of context," Kenny said. "Not only do we have the tools now to properly rank pitchers, we have the tools to adjust for the run-scoring environment. I even put out in my essay this week, what we don't have yet is the ability to adjust for the strength of oppositions.
"Even before you get to the fact that Mussina pitched in the AL East through one of the worst run-scoring environments in the history of baseball for a pitcher, he's already a Hall of Famer. If you do a little mental math and make the adjustment that not only was he pitching in the AL East in the rocket-ball era, the steroid era, he also got a steady diet of both the Red Sox and the Yankees throughout the ’90s when he was pitching for Baltimore. Very few pitchers have been up against it the way Mussina was, but that's just extra credit. Even if you don't add that, he passes the bar for the Hall of Fame."
Whether that distinction comes Wednesday or in future years comes down to how quickly voters come around to that. He finished with 51.8 percent of the vote last year, his fourth on the ballot, up from 43 percent in year three and 20.3 percent in his first season of eligibility.
He's polled well through the ballots made public in 2018, but is likely due to see his vote percentage drop back a bit. Last year, he was at 59 percent before the total was announced, with many of the younger subset of voters who publicize their ballots favoring him but not those who kept it secret. He's gained 22 votes so far, but was 103 away from election last season.
With 54.5 percent of ballots public, first-year-eligible players Chipper Jones (98.3 percent) and Jim Thome (93.1), plus Vladimir Guerrero (94.8), Trevor Hoffman (78.4) and Edgar Martinez (77.1) were above the 75 percent threshold.
Mussina was the next highest, and if there's not a surprise spike in his vote Wednesday, Kenny doesn't believe it will be long before he gets his due.
"I think he's past that already," Kenny said. "Seeing that he's over 70 percent in the first half of the polling, to me, is a major revelation. I think he's going to have an easier time.
“The vote totals are so high for so many players in the tracking that it's kind of obscured that Mussina has  percent, and even if he gets knocked back to 65 or whatever it is, once you're at 65 percent this early in the voting, you're likely to get in. I think it's very heartening that he's doing this well right now on the ballot. I don't think he's going to linger there the way a Bert Blyleven did. I think that's a closer case than his. He looks very good for his case now."