Pair of Aces

On Sunday, Mike Mussina won the 200th game of his career. The very next game, fellow Yankee Kevin Brown won his 200th ballgame. Not only have teammates never won game #200 in back-to-back games, no two teammates have ever won game #200 in the same season.

While they’ve got identical career win totals, Mussina and Brown have had very different careers. First of all, their career lines:

            W      L    WIN%      IP    SO9    BB9     HR     ERA    ERA+    WS
Brown     200    131    .604    3072    6.7    2.5    189    3.15    131    232
Mussina   200    112    .641    2684    7.2    2.0    281    3.56    128    215

Brown has a lower ERA and more innings pitched, but their ERA+ are almost identical and Mussina has a higher winning percentage. Brown has allowed fewer home runs, but Mussina has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio. Brown has 17 more Win Shares, but Mussina is four years younger (38-34).

Through age 30, Brown and Mussina aren’t very comparable at all:

            W      L    WIN%      IP    SO9    BB9     HR     ERA    ERA+    WS
Brown      88     73    .547    1451    5.3    3.0     95    3.78    111     86
Mussina   136     66    .673    1772    6.7    2.1    182    3.50    131    143

A chart like that sort of obliges me to show you Kevin Brown’s stats after age 30, doesn’t it? Here they are:

            W      L    WIN%      IP    SO9    BB9     HR     ERA    ERA+    WS
Brown     112     58    .659    1621    7.9    2.1     94    2.58    159    146

It seems like Kevin Brown has been around forever. He debuted with the Rangers in 1986, on a team that won 87 games with a slew of promising young players. Three-fifths of the starting rotation was under 24 — Bobby Witt, Edwin Correa, and Jose Guzman. Two of the top bullpen arms, Jeff Russell and Mitch Williams, were also very young. The outfield of Ruben Sierra, Oddibe McDowell, and Pete Incaviglia had an average age of 22, and all three players slugged over .420. At third base, 24-year-old Steve Buechele hit 18 homers.

Of course, the Rangers didn’t exactly set the world on fire in the coming years. Brown didn’t enter the rotation until 1989, and he was a good-but-not-great pitcher for the next half-dozen seasons. His best year came in 1992, when the 27-year-old Brown went 21-11 with a 3.32 ERA for the Rangers.

Brown didn’t break out until his age-31 season, when he went 17-11 with a 1.89 ERA with the Marlins in 1996. From then until 2000, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He pitched at least 230 innings every year, and his worst ERA+ in that time was 148. Oddly, Brown hasn’t been able to crack the 20-win plateau since that 1992 season, topping out at 18. After two injury-riddled seasons, Brown had another magnificent year in 2003, with a 2.39 ERA in 211 innings.

Brown’s career path reminds me a little of Luis Tiant. Tiant was a decent pitcher in his twenties, and won 21 games at age 27. After falling off the face of the earth for a little while, he re-emerged with the Red Sox at 31, and put together a string of five fine seasons, winning 20 games three times. Brown is better than Tiant was, but the career paths are similar.

If Kevin Brown is a richer man’s Luis Tiant for the current generation, then Mike Mussina is Don Sutton. Or maybe Bert Blyleven. Both of those guys were consistently good year-in and year-out, winning their customary 15 games pretty much every season. Neither set the world on fire, and both won 20 games only once.

Mussina has been the same way. Two of his best seasons were 1994 and ’95 — the strike years. But for the strike, Moose would have cleared 20 wins both of those years. Brown has had five years with 20 or more Win Shares. Mussina has just two such seasons, but he clears the mark with ease on two more occasions if we adjust for the strike.

At 38, Brown’s chances of winning 300 games are slim. Only six pitchers have won as many as 90 games from age 38 onward, and two of those guys (Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough) were knuckleballers. Two more, Cy Young and Jack Quinn (a grandfathered spitballer) were long finished before World War II. That leaves only Warren Spahn and Nolan Ryan, two guys who were freakishly durable (so was Cy Young, of course). Brown, on the other hand, is the epitome of “fragile.”

Mike Mussina has a much better chance of winning 300 than Brown. In fact, I think Mussina’s got a better shot at 300 than any current pitcher this side of Greg Maddux. Mussina is 34, so if he pitches until he’s forty, that’s seven more years, over which time he’d need to average just over 14 wins per year. With the Yankees, run support shouldn’t be a problem, so if he can stay healthy and not suffer a total collapse, he should make it.

One hundered victories is a lot, though. Bartolo Colon entered this season with 100 wins (he’s got 102 now). Meaning, from this point forward, Mike Mussina has to essentially duplicate Bartolo Colon’s entire career. Or, look at it another way — since 1950, only 12 non-knuckleballers have won 100+ games from age-34 on.

As an aside, am I the only person who finds it weird that Mike Mussina is 34? He still looks reasonably young, and I’ve thought of him as being in his late-20s for what seems like forever. Not that 34 is really old… it’s just “baseball old.” Another weird thing is that Mussina’s best season was at least a decade ago — 1992 or ’94, depending on if you penalize him for the missed time in ’94. He’s still a top-shelf pitcher, but he peaked 10 years ago.

Winning #200 in back-to-back games has forever linked Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina. If they both retired today, neither would be a sure bet for the Hall of Fame (though neither would be a disgrace). My own seat-of-the-pants prediction? Brown tops out at 240 wins, but Mussina just clears 300. Brown doesn’t make the Cooperstown cut, but Mussina slides in on the first ballot.

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