Mike Mussina retired after the 2008 season nearly at the top of his game. Despite a 20-win season, his first in the majors, a more-than-respectable 3.37 ERA, his seventh Gold Glove and a sixth-place finish in the American League Cy Young race, Mussina called it a career at the age of 39. The next step for a pitcher who has Mussina's résumé is typically a July speech in upstate New York. But in this case, he has struck out with Hall of Fame voters to the same degree that batters used to flail at his trademark knuckle-curve. And, unfortunately, the third time on the Hall ballot doesn't appear to be the charm.
The stunning thing about Mussina's case to make the Hall of Fame is how easy it is to support using either traditional statistics or modern analytics. Mussina is not Cy Young and he's not Greg Maddux, but the Hall of Fame hasn't been made up of players you can argue to be the best of all time at their position since the first couple of years.
Mussina finished his career with 270 wins, and while I personally go for the more analytical case, pitchers with 270 wins tend to end up in the Hall of Fame. Starting with the modern era's typical boundary of 1901 -- baseball's competition was inconsistent in early decades -- Mussina's 270 wins is the fourth-most of any non-Hall of Fame pitcher. One of those pitchers is Roger Clemens, who is outside of the Hall for reasons that have nothing to do with his career performance. The other two, Tommy John and Jim Kaat, were more accumulators than Mussina ever was: Kaat had 13 more wins in 89 more starts than Mussina; for John, those numbers are 18 and 164. That's not just due to team quality either -- Mussina's career ERA+ of 123 (a measure of park-neutral ERA relative to league, with 100 being average) is more impressive than Kaat's 108 or John's 111.
In other words, if you only go by traditional stats, wins and ERA, Mussina is the best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame who doesn't have any PED issues.