If you've been reading this blog for even a short period of time, you have to realize by now that I'm not a big Mike Mussina fan. I figured, with a critical start coming from him tonight against the Angels, now would be a great time to explain why.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of my distaste for Moose, let me clear up a few misnomers.
- I don't hate him. I just think he's a bad pitcher, to say the least, at this point of his career. His damage to the Yankees needs to reach much greater proportions for me to use the word hate. And that damage will have to outweigh the good things he's done for the team. He isn't there yet.
- The fact that he's a robot, while probably not helping his cause, was not a deciding factor in my decision to no longer like the guy.
- I have not forgotten the productive years Mussina has given this team, nor the clutch performance in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against Boston. Without the Moose, the Yanks probably lose that game. I will be eternally grateful for that effort.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, let's get into why this current version of Moose is killing my beloved Yankees.
There is one very obvious reason for the dramatic drop-off in Mussina's effectiveness. He's lost velocity on his fastball. This is where most of his problems begin. His heater used to be in the low nineties. As recently as last year, he was topping 90 regularly on the radar gun. This year, he lives in the 86-88 MPH range, and only rarely touches 90. It may seem like a small difference, but it leads to all the problems I'm going to get into below.
In the past, Moose used the fastball on the corners to get cheap strikes early in the count, and keep the batters honest so he could put them away with his devastating knuckle-curve. The thought of a well-placed heater was always in the back of the hitter's mind, so they were more apt to chase the curve in the dirt. This is no longer the case. Mussina rarely sneaks that fastball by hitters now, in fact, if the pitch catches any part of the plate, it gets hit. This leads Mussina to go just a little further off the plate, and the disciplined hitters are just taking the pitch for a ball.
Without an effective put-away pitch, Mussina has become possible the worst "nibbler" in the league. He gets ahead of a lot of batters with called strikes, or foul tips, then has nowhere to go. They take the fastballs off the plate, foul off the curves and extend their at bats until the count gets deep, then he has to throw a strike. He still has enough control to throw quality strikes in those situations, most of the time, but this leads to my major problem with Moose at this point of his career. His stamina.
For a couple of years now, it was widely known that Mussina was useless once he reached the 100 pitch mark. I don't know if it was psychological, or physical, but at that magical point, he fell to pieces. Honestly, that's fine. 100 pitches seems to be the limit for a lot of guys these days, and a good pitcher should be able to get you 6 or 7 innings with 100 pitches. The problem is that this year, he hits the wall closer to 80 or 85 pitches. That's just not enough.
It might be enough if he was an economical pitcher, breezing through innings throwing 12-15 pitches per, but this brings us back to the nibbling. He runs so many counts deep when he doesn't need to, he NEVER has quick innings. Number nine hitters who he should be putting away early in the count are up there for six or seven pitch at bats, and those pitches come off the end of his outing.
Last year, we had to suffer through Jaret Wright's starts knowing he'd only give us 5 innings. That's what Moose has turned into. He's a five-inning guy at this point of his career. If you look at his stats, you'll see that he's averaging more than that per start, but that's Joe Torre's fault. He consistently leaves Moose in there a couple of batters too long. Mussina is a huge strain on this team, especially the bullpen, and I don't think that's going to change any time soon.
Just in case Mike is reading this post, I'm going to put it into a Mensa-level equation for him:
Moose sucking = no velocity on his fastball + (no stamina x nibbling) - emotion of any kind.
There you have it. The downfall of the Moose. Now, join me tonight for another live-blogging session during the game. We'll see if the Moose can buck the trend and pitch a decent game. I think this is the best case scenario:
- Mussina goes five innings, escapes with the lead (or at least keeps the team within striking distance)
- Edwar comes in for the sixth and seventh, the Yankee bats take/extend the lead.
- Joba for the eighth
- Mo for the ninth.