On Sunday I ran a post praising CC Sabathia because, you know, he's awesome. The post required me to research Yankee pitching staffs of prior seasons. I was looking for the last season a Yankee pitcher was as dominant as CC was in 2009. I didn't have to go all that far back. In 2003, Mike Mussina pitched 214 innings of 3.40 ERA ball. Although not quite as dominant or durable as CC last season, that's an impressive performance. (1997 was the last time a Yankee pitcher was flat out better than CC. That pitcher? Andy Pettitte, and his 240 inning, 2.88 ERA season.)
Mussina's name kept on popping up during the research. In 2008, he posted an ERA of 3.37 and a WHIP of 1.223. In 2006, his ERA was 3.51 and his WHIP was an astonishing 1.110. In ... you get the idea.
I've never thought of Moose as an ace on the Yankee staff. It always seemed that he was a bit of a disappointment. One of the best pitchers in baseball in his Baltimore years, I just took it as a given that he lost a gear when he put on the pinstripes. Read all this as a confession that I hadn't done my homework on Mussina until researching a post on CC Sabathia.
The last few years of Moose's tenure in pinstripes dominates my memory of him. He was one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball, but he didn't perform that way. From 2004 through 2008 Mike posted ERA+'s below 100 three times, and was nearly sent down to the minors in 2007.
Those few poor seasons overshadow some true dominance. In eight years in pinstripes Moose put up ERA+'s above 100 five times, including 2008, his last professional season. He put up an ERA+ above 125 in four seasons as a Yankee, including a 142 mark in 2001 when his actual ERA was 3.15 and his WHIP was 1.067 in 228 innings of brilliance. By comparison, Andy Pettitte has only broken 125 in ERA+ four times in his entire career, never mind his Yankee years.
For some reason Mike Mussina doesn't crack the list of favorite, dominant Yankees, at least when I do a completely informal check, but that doesn't seem deserved. Although its true that he was better when he was an Oriole, he still had seven solid seasons as a Yankee, four of which were outstanding.
I once watched Moose's Yankeeography because I watch that stuff. In the piece Mussina explains that he was tempted to call a biography about himself "Almost" because he almost pitched a perfect game, almost won 300 games, and until his last season almost won 20 games. He was also the ace on two Yankee teams that almost won the World Series, first in 2001 and later in 2003.