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Just The Sports: 2008-06-15

Just The Sports

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Delicate Genius

Mike Mussina, especially during his tenure with the New York Yankees, has earned the classification of a delicate genius. The origins of the moniker no doubt arise from the fact that he is such a creature of habit and routine that any deviation from it decreases his effectiveness on the mound. One popular anecdote regarding how much Mussina hates any sort of change is how he handled the Yankees' trip to Japan to start the regular season in 2004. Instead of trying to experience a new culture, Mussina spent the duration of the trip in his hotel room. In addition, rain delays are his kryptonite because they ruin his precious schedule and throw him off his game and when Mussina's fielders commit an error behind him, he reacts as if they did it on purpose in order to aggravate him. Perhaps, though, Mussina's reputation as a delicate genius is undeserved.

A poorly kept secret in baseball is that the same pitchers who are good at preventing earned runs are equally as adept at preventing unearned runs. Following that logic, it would stand to reason that if Mussina really was affected by everything not going as he had so carefully planned it, he would be a considerably worse pitcher when his defense allowed a baserunner to reach base on an error.

Before Mussina became a Yankee, he pitched ten seasons for the Baltimore Orioles. In those ten seasons, no baserunner reached base on an error in 228 of his starts while there was an error committed while he was pitching in sixty starts. During the starts with an error, Mussina's fielding independent ERA (3.99 to 3.71), gross product average allowed (.238 GPA to .227 GPA), and home runs allowed per nine innings (1.12 to .89) increased slightly, but none of the increases were statistically significant. Actually, Mussina had a statistically significantly better walk rate when there was an error committed; in those games his walks per nine innings was 1.85 and when there was no error, Mussina's walk rate was 2.16.

As a Yankee pitcher, the story is similar to his tenure with the Orioles. There were 167 error-free starts for Mussina and forty-seven starts where there was at least one error. Again, Mussina's fielding independent ERA (3.83 to 3.62) and home runs allowed per nine innings (1.05 to 0.98) increased, but not to any level that was statistically significant. Overall, Mussina is the same pitcher whether or not there is an error committed behind him.

Whether it be Mussina's anal retentiveness or the fact he can't throw a fastball in the upper 90s, he has become one of the more popular baseball players to degrade and demean. The only problem is that his inability to cope with change does not make the fact he has been a very good pitcher for a very long time, and as a result of his success in professional baseball, he deserves a little more respect.