Opinion

Why a Yankee-centric 2019 Hall of Fame class isn’t far-fetched

 

Although the Baseball Hall of Fame’s flawed voting process and system has been tirelessly debated for years now, there’s no disputing that Mariano Rivera will become a first-ballot inductee at this time next winter. 

The former Yankee closer’s list of accomplishments in the game is truly staggering. Not only will his Cooperstown plaque note his Major League record 652 saves and formidable 0.70 postseason ERA, but it will also acknowledge his 13 All-Star appearances, two postseason MVP awards, and five world championships in the span of an illustrious 19-year career with one team.

At a glance, it seems unfathomable for any writer to refrain from voting for Rivera, who is irrefutably the greatest closer in history. But the inner politics of baseball writers will inevitably keep Rivera from a unanimous vote, even if it takes just one naysayer. 

Nevertheless, Rivera will be a member of the 2019 Hall of Fame class. But could a few old teammates also join him?

Of the players who made the biggest surges on this year’s ballot, Mike Mussina’s name is near the top of the list. On Wednesday night, voting results from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) showed that the former Yankee starter received 63.5-percent of the vote — a big jump from his mark of 51.8-percent in 2017. The 270-game winner, who endured the steroid-riddled 1990s and 2000s in the American League East, fell 49 votes shy of induction this winter. So if Mussina garners the same amount of support in 2019 (his sixth year on the ballot), he could potentially eclipse the election threshold of 75-percent. 

In an era of dominant pitchers — Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz come to mind — Mussina’s résumé pales in comparison, especially when personal accolades and championships carry so much weight. But advanced analytics tell a different story, perhaps one that can’t be told with the simple eye test.

Any pitcher in history with an 80-plus WAR is in the Hall of Fame. Mike Mussina’s WAR is 83.

Any pitcher in history with more than 3,000 innings pitched, 2,500 strikouts, and a 120 ERA-plus is in the Hall of Fame. Mike Mussina tossed 3,562.2 innings, struck out 2,813, and owns a 123 ERA-plus.

In his first full Major League season (1992), Mussina won 18 games. In his final Major League season, he won a career-high 20 games.

Along with seven Gold Gloves and five All-Star appearances, Mussina’s numbers should stand out, and with those aforementioned aces now off the ballot, the Pennsylvania native no longer lives in the shadows of his peers. If he happens to fall short next year, he should certainly make the Hall in 2020 — the same year Derek Jeter will be inducted. Mussina was never the best in the game, but he consistently pitched a high level while offense was off the charts. 

To stick with this premise, another pitcher who could join Rivera and Mussina is southpaw Andy Pettitte — a member of the “Core Four” group of Yankees. In 2019, the 256-game winner will make his ballot debut, but his road to Cooperstown will consist of a considerable amount of detours, despite a commendable résumé. In 2007, Pettitte admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH) on two separate occasions while rehabbing an elbow injury in 2002. Although HGH wasn’t banned in baseball until January 2005, writers will surely grapple with Pettitte’s worthiness as a candidate, as it’s unclear how much that substance influenced his performance. 

Like Rivera, Pettitte also won five rings in New York, and his postseason numbers are noteworthy. No pitcher has tossed more innings (276) or won more games (19) in the playoffs than Pettitte, and over an 18-year span, he was the backbone to several championship-caliber rotations. He’s also quite similar to Mussina, as he never was the best pitcher in the game. Pettitte can only hope that writers look at his career from start to finish, although his link to performance enhancing drugs will make things hairy. 

So, will the 2019 Hall of Fame class include three former Yankee pitchers? The answer is probably no. But is it foolish to envision a Yankee-centric class in the foreseeable future? Not at all.

 

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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