August 7, 2002
Mike Mussina gave up 14 hits in 7 innings last night to the Kansas City Royals. That in itself is bad enough, as any of you who read my "Yuck" and "Yuck continued" entries on the putrid Royals' lineup already know. But it gets worse for Moose. In the start before last night, July 31st, he gave up 11 hits and 7 runs to Texas.
Joe "a pitcher is paid to win, not prevent runs" Morgan would probably point out that Mussina is 13-6 and on pace to finish 19-9. But, as many of you already know, Joe Morgan can, occasionally, be a complete moron. Great ballplayer, probably the best 2B of all-time. Pretty good announcer, I like him more than a lot of people. But he has some not-so-great ideas that tend to come out during his ESPN.com chat sessions or in his ESPN.com columns.
Anyway, back to Mussina...
David Pinto thinks that maybe Mussina is tipping his pitches. David said that it seems as though the batters know what is coming. He also points out that Mussina's walk rate is still very good.
Mussina may or may not be tipping his pitches (I would lean towards the latter), and to be honest I don't watch him enough to know either way. However, I think there are several key factors that are causing him to struggle so badly.
#1) His strikeout rate
Last season Mussina struck out 214 batters in 228.2 innings pitched.
In 2000 he struck out 210 batters in 237.2 innings pitched.
So his Ks/9 in 2000 was about 7.9 and his Ks/9 last year was about 8.4.
What about this year? So far Mussina has 111 Ks in 145 innings pitched, about 6.9 strikeouts per 9 innings.
And in June/July/August (so far) Mussina has 46 in 72 innings pitched, about 5.7 Ks/9 innings.
What does all that mean? Well basically Mussina is allowing more balls to be put in play.
Statistical studies, such as Voros McCracken's Defense Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS), have shown that a pitcher generally has no effect on whether a ball that is put into play is a hit or an out.
Meaning, whether it is Randy Johnson or Todd Ritchie, a team's defense is almost entirely reponsible for hits and outs from at bats that do not result in a strikeout, walk or home run.
Because of this, pitchers with high strikeout rates, like Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, etc tend to have lower opponent batting averages because they allow less balls to be put into play.
So, Mussina is striking out less batters, allowing more balls to be put into play and thus relying on his defense to make outs (and prevent hits) more than he has in the past.
#2) The Yankees' defense
Striking out a batter is always the best option, because it doesn't allow for any chance of a hit. However, with some defenses, striking out fewer guys and allowing more balls to be put into play is not as big of a disadvantage as it is with others.
For example, a flyball pitcher that does not strikeout a lot of batters might do pretty well in Atlanta, mostly because of Andruw Jones. Tom Glavine in 2002 is a good example of this.
Glavine is only striking out 5.1 batters/9 innings, a pretty low number.
He also gives up one of the highest % of flyballs in the NL.
Thus, he is allowing a lot of balls, specifically flyballs, to be put into play.
Of course, with Andruw Jones behind him, a lot of the balls are being converted into outs.
If he had, for example, Jeremy Giambi (or Bernie Williams, Mussina's centerfielder), playing CF behind him, a lot more of those balls would suddenly turn into hits.
Which takes me to the Yankees' defense in 2002.
The Yankees currently rank 10th in the AL and 23rd in MLB in coverting balls put in play into outs.
The top AL teams in Defensive Efficiency are Anaheim and Boston and the top NL teams are Atlanta and LA.
The results are very obvious. Boston is #1 in the AL in hits allowed and Anaheim is #2. In the NL, Atlanta is #1 in hits allowed, LA is #2.
So, basically, the Yankees' defense is, as a whole, not very good at converting balls in play into outs. They can still manage to have decent pitching numbers, mainly because their staff strikes out a lot of guys, thus not relying on the defense as much as some other teams.
Which brings me back to Mussina.
Because he is striking out less men than usual, he is relying more on his defense to make outs. And because the defense is not very good at making outs, more balls are becoming hits.
#3) The Gopher Ball
I have already talked about something Mussina can control (Strikeouts), as well as something Mussina can not control (balls in play and whether or not they are made into outs).
Now I want to focus on another thing Mussina can control, something the defense has absolutely no effect on, Home Runs.
With a strikeout, their is no chance for the batter to get a hit. And with a home run, there is no chance for an out to be recorded (and a 100% chance of a hit and atleast 1 run).
This season Mike Mussina has allowed 21 homers in 145 innings pitched, on pace for 31 allowed in 212 innings.
That total would match his career high, which was, probably not so coincidently, in 1996 when he had the worst ERA (4.81) of his career (before this year, of course).
Last year Mussina allowed 20 homers in 228.2 innings or .78/9 innings. In 2000 he allowed 21 homers in 237.2 innings, for an almost identical rate of .79/9 innings.
As I said, this season Mussina has already allowed 21 homers (matching his 2000 total and 1 more than his 2001 total) in only 145 innings, which is about 1.3/9 innings.
So, to recap:
Mussina is striking out less batters and thus allowing more balls to be put into play.
The Yankees' defense is sub par at converting balls in play into outs, thus allowing more hits than an average defense would.
Mussina is allowing significantly more home runs than he has in the past.
My friends, all of that adds up to a 4.90 ERA and a higher opponent's batting average than he has had since, you guessed it, 1996.