Big Game Pitchers, Part X

January 29, 2014

                OK, we have come, at last, back to the can opener which opened this particular can of worms, which is the question:   Was Jack Morris, in fact, a Big Game Pitcher?

                He was not.

                He had the one brilliant post-season, of course, but other than that one three-week period he absolutely was not; it is not questionable, it is not debatable, it is not unclear.   It does not seem likely that the conclusion could be altered by studying the question in a different way.   Jack Morris did not have a great or even good record in Big Games, and the people who believe that he did believe that because they believe that, but not because there is any actual evidence for it.

                In the games that our system has designated as regular season Big Games, Jack Morris made 46 starts, won 18 games, lost 19, 3.79 ERA.   His teams were 24-22.

                If you use a higher standard for what is a "Big Game", his record gets worse; it goes down to 10-14, although his ERA improves to 3.51.    His teams won 14 of his Biggest Game Starts, lost 15.

                Let’s look at what those games were:

September 4, 1978.   Tigers are 74-61, 11 games behind but still on the fringes of the pennant race with 27 games to be played.   Morris, not yet established as a major league pitcher, drew the start against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, was knocked out in the fifth inning after surrendering four runs.    Tigers rallied to win the game, 5-4.   Morris went back to the bullpen, and the Tigers didn’t get back into a pennant race until 1982.

September 10, 1982   Tigers, still a building team, are in a similar position, 11 and a half out with 25 to play.   Morris started against Dennis Eckersley at Fenway Park and defeated the Red Sox, 6 to 4, keeping the Tigers on the fringes of the pennant race for another day or two.    Tigers lost four of the next five (including one loss by Morris), and were virtually eliminated within days.

August 28, 1983.   The Tigers are truly in a pennant race for the first time in Morris’ career.   The Tigers are two games out of first (72-55) with 35 to play, playing the Blue Jays in Toronto; Blue Jays are in third place, two games behind the Tigers.  Morris starts against Luis Leal.   Tigers trail 2-1 going into the ninth inning, get 3 in the 9th to win the game, 4-2.     Morris is 17-7, and 2-0 on this chart.

Morris wins his next start, which doesn’t count as a big game because it’s out-of-division against a weak team.   Next big start is September 5, 1983.   Tigers are now 4 and a half games back with 26 to play.   Morris starts against Cleveland.   He leads 2-0 going into the 7th, gives up a run in the 7th and 2 in the 8th, loses the game 3-2; Detroit misses a chance to gain ground.

September 9, 1983; Tigers now 5 and a half behind with 23 to play.   Morris starts in Milwaukee against Moose Haas; loses the game, 2-1.

September 13, 1983; Tigers still 5 games behind with 18 to play.   Tigers at home against Cleveland.   Morris starts against Rick Behenna, wins the game, 3-2, his 19th win of the season.   Baltimore beats Boston twice, pulls five and a half ahead despite the Tigers’ win.

September 17, 1983; Tigers now 6 games back with 15 to play, in danger of falling out of the race.    Morris starts against Dennis Eckersley in Fenway Park.    Tigers lead 2-0 going into the bottom of the 7th.   Morris gives up 2 in the 7th and loses the game on a Tony Armas homer in the bottom of the 8th.

September 21, 1983; Tigers now 6 and a half back with 12 to play, tottering on the brink.   Morris starts against the Orioles (Mike Boddicker) in Tiger Stadium.   Morris gives up homers to Ripken and Murray in the second inning, gives up six runs in six innings, loses the game.     Tigers also lose the second game of the double header, and are virtually eliminated.

On to 1984.

September 3, 1984; Tigers are running away with it, but the race is still sort of alive.    Tigers lead the division by 8 and a half with 25 to play.    Morris faces the Orioles (Storm Davis) in Tiger Stadium.    Morris gives up 6 runs in 7+ innings, loses the game.    The race lives another day.

September 8, 1984; Tigers now lead by 9 and a half with 21 to play; you can argue the race is over if you want to.     Morris leaves the game with an injury in the 5th inning, score tied 2-2.   Tigers win it late; race is over before Morris’ turn comes around again.

 

In 1985 and 1986 Morris did not pitch any Really Big Games.   In 1985 the Blue Jays won the division at 99-62, the Tigers finishing 15 behind; they were on the fringes of the pennant race in mid- to late-August, but they were playing bad teams and out of division at the time.   Morris pitched against the Blue Jays on June 30 and September 10, but June 30 is too early to be a Big Game, and by September 10 the Tigers had been virtually eliminated.   And he lost both of those games, but we don’t count them as Big Games.

1986, you can credit Morris with a couple of Big Wins if you want to.   Morris shut out the Red Sox at Tiger Stadium on August 11, 1986; that doesn’t score as a Big Game by my system, but you can certainly argue for it.    The return matchup, at Fenway Park on August 16, does score as a Big Game and Morris did "win" it, although he gave up 6 runs in 7 innings.

After that Morris pitched against the Angels, Oakland, Seattle and Oakland. . .not only the other division, but (excepting the Angels) the worst teams in the other division.   He was hit hard in all four of those games, giving up 21 runs 26.1 innings, but we don’t count them as Big Games.   By the time he pitched in the division again, September 11 against Milwaukee, the Tigers had been virtually eliminated.

In 1987 the Tigers were back in the race, and that race would last to the wire.    Morris’ first Really Big Start in 1987 was September 7, 1987, against the Orioles.    The Tigers were in second place, one game out.   The Orioles were non-competitive (62-74), but. .. September, one game out of first place; it’s a Big Game.   Morris pitched against Jeff Ballard, and he won that game, 12-4.

Everything from now on, 1987, is a Big Game; the race is neck and neck.

September 12, 1987; Morris started against Bill Wegman of the Brewers.   He gave up 7 runs in five and a third, lost the game.

September 16, 1987, Morris started against Jeff Sellers of the Red Sox, pitched extremely well, and won the game, 4-1.

September 20, 1987; the Tigers now a game and a half in front.   Morris pitches against Juan Nieves of the Brewers in Tiger Stadium.   Morris is hit hard; Tigers lose the game 11 to 4.

September 24, 1987; the Tigers now a half-game behind the Blue Jays.  Morris pitches against the Blue Jays in Toronto, the biggest regular-season start of his career up to this point.  Morris is staked to an early 2-0 lead.   In the bottom of the third he walks two, throws a wild pitch, gives up a two-run double to Rance Mulliniks, and gives up four runs, loses the game 4-3.

September 28, 1987.   By now the Tigers are two and a half behind with 7 games to play.   Morris pitches against the Orioles (a bad team) and John Habyan (not a great pitcher) at Tiger Stadium.   He loses the game 3-0, not exactly his fault, but. . .he walked five, Big Game, and he lost.

In the tightest pennant race of his career, Morris has now lost three straight starts and four out of five.    In spite of Morris, though, the Tigers hold on, as Doyle Alexander and Walt Terrell are both winning every start.    On the day that Morris loses to Baltimore the Blue Jays also lose, so the Tigers stay two and a half behind, six to play.   The next day Frank Tanana beats Baltimore, and the Tigers pull to within a game and a half, five to play.     Both teams lose on September 30 (Wednesday); the race holds its position with four to play.   On Thursday Terrell beats the Orioles, the Blue Jays are idle, and the Tigers close the gap to one game.

The schedule makers have got it right this time; Toronto will play three games in Detroit to close the season.  Friday, October 1.   Doyle Alexander, obtained from Atlanta for a minor league pitching prospect, beats Jim Clancy, 4-3, and the race is tied.    Saturday, Morris starts against Mike Flanagan.   The game is tied, 2-2 through 9 innings.   Morris leaves at that point.   Flanagan pitches the 10th, the 11th; game still tied 2-2.   Alan Trammell wins the game with a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 12th.   MVP voters fail to notice.   Tigers are a game ahead with one to play.   Tanana pitches a shutout in the last game of the season, and the Tigers win the division.

They won the division, but it’s at least as much despite what Jack Morris did in Big Games as because of it.   For the Tigers in September/October, 1987:

Matt Nokes hit .308 with 7 homers,

Darrell Evans hit 9 homers and drove in 25 runs,

Alan Trammell hit .417 (53/127) with 7 homers and 20 RBI,

Doyle Alexander went 6-0 with a 1.09 ERA,

Walt Terrell also went 6-0, albeit with a 3.58 ERA,

while Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson and Tom Brookens also played well, and even Frank Tanana turned in three brilliant games at the end of the month.   Jack Morris was 3-4 with a 3.09 ERA.   

 

In 1988 the American League East had one of its greatest pennant races, with five teams in it all the way.   Morris struggled through the first half of the season, with a 5.33 ERA through July 19, then had a long string of starts against the other division.   He made eleven starts in July and August, 1988, nine of them against the American League West.   He did pitch very well in beating the Red Sox on August 5; we don’t mark that as a Big Game, but you can if you want to.  But if you mark that one as a Big Game, you certainly have to mark his next start against the division, which was against the Brewers on August 27, and he lost that one, or anyway the Tigers lost it.

Morris’ first game in 1988 that meets our standard of a Big Game was against the Blue Jays at Tiger Stadium, September 5.   The Tigers and Red Sox were now tied for first place, both teams at 75-61.    Morris faced off against Mike Flanagan of the Blue Jays.   He gave up 11 hits, 4 runs in eight innings; the Tigers lost in extra innings.

By the time he started again, September 10, the Tigers were two and a half behind; still a Big Game, obviously.   Morris started against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.    The Tigers staked him to  a 4-2 lead.    He gave up 11 hits and 7 runs in six and a third, lost the game 9-4.

September 16, Morris started against the Orioles at Tiger Stadium.  The Orioles are still a bad team; they’re on their way to 100 losses.   He was knocked out of the game in the third inning, after surrendering a three-run homer to Eddie Murray.    The Tigers, down 5-1 at the time Morris left the game, rallied to win.

He started against the Indians on September 20; the Indians are the other non-competitive team in the division.    By now the Tigers are six games behind with 12 to play; they are on the border of being eliminated.     He beats the Indians, 3-1.

His next start is against the Orioles on September 25.  The Tigers are five back with eight to play; they’re really out of it, but we err on the side of caution and pretend they are not.    Morris beats the Orioles 2-1, and we give him credit for a Big Win, because there is one week left in the season and the Tigers have not been officially eliminated.    The race is over before Morris starts again, so. . .that’s it for 1988.

 

In 1989 the Tigers lost 103 games; Morris was 6-14.    Morris didn’t start another Big Game until September 12, 1990, against the Orioles, and that, again, is a game that we wince to describe as a Big One.   The Tigers were ten and a half out with 19 to play.    We err on the side of caution; we say that the Tigers are NOT virtually eliminated, although if they are not they are awfully close to it, but if they’re in the race in mid-September, it’s a Big Game.   In any case he lost, dropping his record on the season to 11-18, and the Tigers were certainly out of the race then.   Morris won his last four starts, against four teams that were also just playing out the string, and finished the season 15-18.

I was writing annual Baseball Books then, a few of you will remember, and I went out of my way that winter to defend Jack Morris against the many people who were saying that his career was finished.    "He’s not finished," I wrote, "He can still win 18 games if he lands with a competitive team."   Not sure the phrasing was exact; something very close to that.  He did in fact sign with a competitive team, after I wrote that, and then he did in fact win 18 games.    Blind pig; acorn.  

In 1991 Morris pitched for the Minnesota Twins, who won the American League West in a fairly easy contest, winning by nine games.    The Twins went on to win the World Series, Jack Morris being the World Series MVP after pitching a ten-inning shutout in the 7th Game of the World Series, perhaps the greatest Game 7 performance in World Series history.

It was that post-season, of course, that established Morris in the minds of sports writers as a Big Game pitcher—two wins in the playoffs, two more in the World Series, including the Game 7 masterpiece.

But as to the regular season contests. ..well, it is kind of the same stuff we have been seeing.   After making three straight starts against the worst teams in the other division (August 27, September 1 and September 7), Morris made his first Big Game start of 1991 against the Rangers on September 12.   The Rangers were over .500 and in the Twins’ division, although the race was not really close.  The 44-year-old Nolan Ryan started for the Rangers.   Morris gave up a three-run homer in the first inning, lost the game 4-3.

September 17, 1991  Morris started against the Royals (Bret Saberhagen).    Saberhagen beat him, 4-1.

September 22, 1991.   The Twins are ahead by seven games with 13 to play, but since we err on the side of caution, we’re going to say that the race is not over.   Morris beats the Rangers, 8 to 4.   We are crediting him with a Big Win.

That winter Morris was a Free Agent again.   After two poor years in Detroit, 1989-1990, Morris was just looking for whatever he could get.    He signed a one-year contract with the Twins, who had finished last in 1990, for a reported $3 million, which in baseball we refer to as a measly $3 million, because we have lost our marbles.    The Twins—and Morris—had caught lighting in a coffee pot.   Morris was good, and the Twins leaped from last to first to World Series champions, and Morris was a free agent again.    He signed a two-year-contract with Toronto for just short of $10 million. 

Toronto was the defending champion in the American League East.   They needed a Big Game pitcher to carry them all the way, and Morris was their Big Game pitcher.

Morris made his first big-game start for the Blue Jays on August 11, 1992, against the Orioles.   The Orioles were back in contention.   Camden Yards was open (although this game was played at the Skydome); the Orioles were back in business.    The Blue Jays were in first place, 66-46; the Orioles were in second, three games back.   Morris started for the Blue Jays against Alan Mills, gave up three runs in the fourth inning, and lost the game.

The Blue Jays played Cleveland next—a non-competitive team, and it’s August, so that isn’t a Big Game—then played a series against the Brewers, the other good team in their division; the three good teams in the AL East in 1992 were the Blue Jays, the Orioles and the Brewers.   Morris beat the Brewers with 7 strong innings (August 22, 1992), putting the Blue Jays three games ahead of the pack.

Then the Blue Jays played several series against the other division. . .the White Sox, the Twins, the Royals, the Rangers.    They got back inside the division in mid-September.   September 17, 1992, the Blue Jays were three games ahead with 15 to play.  Morris started against the Cleveland Indians.   The Blue Jays gave him 4 runs in the first inning.   Morris gradually squandered the lead.   After 9 innings it was 5-5.   Morris left the game.   The Blue Jays won it in the 10th.

September 23, 1992.   The Blue Jays are now four ahead of the Brewers, five and a half ahead of the Orioles.   Morris started against the Orioles at Camden Yard.    He gave up a bases-loaded double in the third inning, lost the game 4-1.

September 27, 1992; the Blue Jays are up two and a half with five games to play.   Morris started against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, and beat them 12 to 2.

October 2, 1992; the Blue Jays are two games ahead with three to play.   Morris started against the Tigers (75-84) in Toronto.    The Blue Jays score six runs in the first two innings to take a 6-0 lead.    Morris gives up 6 runs in 6 innings, turning the game into a nail-biter, but is credited with the victory in an 8-7 game that clinches the division.     Morris finishes the season 21-6.

Morris did not pitch well in the 1992 post-season, posting a 6.57 ERA in the playoffs, 8.44 in the World Series, and failing to win any of his four post-season starts.   The Blue Jays, however, win all four World Series games that Morris doesn’t start, and win the World Series.   Morris’ conspicuous failures in Big Games (in 1992) are overlooked and forgotten; he’s a World Series winner for the second straight season. 

 

Morris’ career collapsed in 1993 (7-12, 6.19) ERA, and he never started another Big Game, although two of his starts in August of 1993 are line calls for Big Game status (Morris was raked over the coals in both outings, if you insist on knowing.)

Bert Blyelven. … .well, Blyleven’s record in Big Games isn’t great, either.   It’s better than Morris’s, but it’s still not great.    Blyleven in Big Games was 20-18, 3.08 ERA.   He had the same problem in Big Games that he had in other games:   you need runs to win.    Blyleven is in the bottom 20% of pitchers in terms of run support average in Big Games.    He still managed to win more of them than he lost.

Jack Morris became famous as a Big Game pitcher based on

a)  four good starts in the 1991 post-season, and

b)  the fact that the people who wanted to put him in the Hall of Fame had to have something they could say, so they claimed that he was a Big Game pitcher.

But other than those four starts in the 1991 post-season, there is nothing there.    His record in Big Games, other than the 1991 post-season, isn’t good; it is actually very poor.     Yes, he did win some Big Game; every pitcher who has a real career does, even Frank Tanana.   Jon Lester has won far more Big Games in his career than Jack Morris did, in a career that isn’t yet half as long.  Doyle Alexander was 0-5 in the Post Season—but he still won more Big Games than Morris did.  

If you want to advocate for a pitcher being in the Hall of Fame based on his performance in Big Games, advocate for Ron Guidry, or Jim Kaat, or Mickey Lolich, or Mike Mussina.

 
 

COMMENTS (40 Comments, most recent shown first)

hankgillette
MarisFan62: I agree that your explanation is a reasonable alternative. In either case, we’re describing something that in all probability doesn’t exist.

It’s human nature to try to see patterns in data, even when it doesn’t exist. You can’t look at fluffy cumulus clouds for more than a view seconds without seeing a bunny, or a dragon, or some other pattern. Yet, we know that clouds are simply visible masses of water droplets.

The stock market goes up and down in a random fashion, often without any precipitating news to explain it. Yet people (business analysts, mutual fund managers) make a career of explaining the random movements or of trying to predict them.

In sports, we know that the participants are human beings that are trying their hardest to succeed. That makes it harder to accept that the events we see are essentially random (given that different players do have varying levels of ability). People (sportswriters) make careers out building narratives out of these semi-random events.

Jack Morris for his career was a slightly better than average. It’s not that surprising that if you select a subset of his career, label it Big Games, it grades out as slightly better than average.
1:07 PM Jan 31st
 
MarisFan61
(re the post below: When I said "like the opposing pitcher," I was thinking in terms of clutch hitters.)​
2:00 AM Jan 31st
 
MarisFan61
Hank: That's not right. It's not like the only explanation would be that they try harder in the clutch, which means they're trying less hard otherwise.
It could also mean that they respond to pressure better than the average player. Maybe the average player (like, say, the opposing pitcher) becomes worse under the pressure, and so these guys do relatively better; or maybe their adrenalin makes them be better in those situations but it's a state that the human condition can't sustain ongoingly.

In fact, those things are my best guess as to exactly what it means. (When it truly occurs, which I agree is probably less than popularly believed.)
1:58 AM Jan 31st
 
hankgillette
So, can we draw any conclusions from all this? I’d guess that being a “Big Game Pitcher” is like being a “clutch” hitter: something that can be identified after the fact but something that has no real predictive value.

I suspect that pitchers’ performance in “big games” is simply random variation around their inherent abilities. As many people have noted, if players have the ability to perform better in the clutch, then they are deliberately performing to less than their ability normally.​
1:03 AM Jan 31st
 
MarisFan61
Out of curiosity, I re-looked at all of these Morris games, with an eye toward which of these are truly the kinds of games that people mean when they talk about Morris (or anybody) being a "big game pitcher." I tried to be as objective as I could (which I don't figure anyone here would particularly trust I could succeed at) :ha: ....and I re-tabulated everything just for those games. I'm going to post the data and findings in a Reader's Post.

Cliff's Notes: It made no difference. :-)

Let me mention that in my previous posts, I said a couple of times that I didn't think tightening up the criteria would necessarily change the bottom-line result (and it didn't). My complaint was really primarily about how the criteria here didn't much match what the study was said to be designed to test. It's a wonderful study; I just thought it didn't test whether Morris was a big-game pitcher in the sense that people probably usually mean, but only on Bill's criteria which I think are quite different.

Heck if I know what to make of the fact that it comes out the same either way. :ha:

And let me also add, to BILL: I continue to appreciate how you put your material out here like this, and allow us all to throw whatever we want at it -- including those of us who aren't really qualified to confab at this level.
11:13 PM Jan 30th
 
jdw
David Todd's comment/question about Robin Roberts...

There probably is very little in 1949, if anything. They Phils were 54-57 through mid-Aug before a 27-16 finish made them look a respectable team. They were 15.5 back when 54-57, and finished 16 back at the close. They did sweep the Dodgers to start that good run of play, but Roberts didn't start any of those three. It's hard looking at this and finding any game in that stretch that would rate as Big:

www.baseball-reference.com/teams/PHI/1949-schedule-scores.shtml

Too far back when playing the Dodgers and Cards down the stretch.

They finished 22 games under .500 in 1948, so likely nothing there.

1950 no doubt has some big games. Slight problem:

www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=roberro01&t=p&year=1950

And:

www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/NL/1950.shtml

And here's the standings the morning of 9/1:

www.baseball-reference.com/games/standings.cgi?date=1950-08-30

Anyway...

Roberts was 3-6 in his last 11 starts, with the Phils 4-7. He was hard luck in a few games (shutout twice), shelled in a few. The Phils had lost in four straight of his losses before he won the final game of the year.

He was terrific in the Final Game, which no doubt was the biggest non-WS game of his career. He lost his one start in the WS to Allie Reynolds, 2-1 in extra innings. It's an interesting box score/PBP to look at to see the number of times the teams had decent/good scoring chances in a 2-1 game:

www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PHI/PHI195010050.shtml

That would have been a hell of a tence, exciting game to watch, feeling must-win for the Phils.

1950 doesn't jump off the page as consistent good big game performance. Some good, some not so good, some hard luck, and probably a good chunk of the starts falling below the 310 number.
10:13 PM Jan 30th
 
jdw
On the cherry picking of Morris' post season:

Good Morris: 6-0, 1.61 ERA, 7 GS, 56 IP
Mediocre Morris: 1-4, 7.18 ERA, 6 GS, 36.3 IP

It's not like he was even a consistently good/great Big Game Pitcher in the post season.

Also, those Mediocre/Bad games weren't all tossed in 1992. He was shelled in 1987, and he was shelled in his first start of 1991 before getting it together.
9:41 PM Jan 30th
 
jdw
OldBackstop
jdw...I'll respond by quoting you

"1984 & 1991: 7-0, 2.05 ERA, 8 GS, 61.1 IP, Team went 7-1

NOW, I'm a guy that hates pitcher's measured by W/L, but since this corner of the world seems to strongly embrace it right now, that is a carrying the team on your back stat line.


So cherry pick the one line of two posts that you like, and ignore the rest. That is fitting for a Jack Morris discussion.
4:02 PM Jan 30th
 
OldBackstop
...erm, I went back and reread the setup articles. Now, am I wrong in saying that the entire formula was designed to create an undifferentiated pool of Big Games? If so, wouldn't it be fairly easy to apply a weight to the Big Games and re-figure? I'm medicated today, so if this was done somewhere in the articles just post: "/whap OB/
2:08 PM Jan 30th
 
DavidTodd
A quick look at Robin Roberts reveals he was only in a few pennant races after 1952, his races big games would be 1952, and 1964 with the Orioles, he was traded in the summer of '65.
The series does not count anything before 1951, when Roberts would have been in at least a couple of pennant races.​
1:43 PM Jan 30th
 
rgregory1956

Probably more along the lines of what marisfan is thinking, I looked at games where the team the pitcher played for was no more than 5 games ahead or 5 games behind in September/October, and had not clinched or been eliminated. In five pennant races, Morris started 32 games and went 16-11 with a 3.00 ERA. While this is good, maybe even very good, it is not exceptional.

11:55 AM Jan 30th
 
SteveN
As an old Phillies fan I was surprised to see no mention of Robin Roberts in any of the articles.
10:53 AM Jan 30th
 
MarisFan61
To be clear: Even with the things I've said, the study DOES affect my view of Morris -- it makes me wonder big-time if my idea of him as a "big game" pitcher is valid, and I suspect he'd come out not to have been even if the criteria here were more how I think they should have been.

My main points really are more abstract: Being surprised that a study that was inspired by wanting to see the extent to which a popular idea is valid would use a definition which (IMO) is quite far removed from what that popular idea is, and being a bit annoyed over how in many different fields (no more in sabermetrics than in any other and most of all, I suppose, in philosophy), studies and articles get wrapped up in phraseologies to the point that what they're looking at has little to do with where they started, because the author used a different meaning of some important term. I think it happened here with "big games" (which I didn't realize until I saw the list of games in this last article), and I think it happened in the previous study I mentioned with "consistent."
10:49 AM Jan 30th
 
ventboys
I agree, the result was pretty much "no result". Marisfan, I think what you are thinking is similar to what I thought back at the beginning; that Morris' accomplishments are what counts, not his capabilities. He won the game seven, he won the two games in 1984, and so on and so forth. The negatives count too, but as they say(including Bill, during his Drysdale analysis in "Politics of Glory"), "a pennant is a pennant." They don't take it away if you finish last the next season.
Morris isn't a supposed "big game pitcher" based on metrics. He's a supposed "big game pitcher" because (1) he won a lot of games with a high era and (2) wins are magical to some people, so (3) he must have only tried when it was important. Brooks Robinson used to get the same treatment. Boys Life wrote about him, back in the early 1970s when his bat had gone south (I'm paraphrasing, it was a long time ago), that 'he wouldn't concentrate unless the game was close, so his batting average didn't matter. He was the best hitter in baseball when it counted'.
If you ask me this series of articles are tremendously important, and should be archived where sportswriters can access them (or maybe published on Grantland?). I don't think X was as important as the others, since the result was "null", but we know more than we knew last week. Thanks, Bill.
8:55 AM Jan 30th
 
thegue
Great work Bill, though based on the comments I'm beginning to believe (is there a sarcasm font on here?) that the pro-Morris faction will spin this information in his favor (lower ERA in "big games", is there a way to factor the "Bigness" of the game, thereby weighing Game 7 more than a game in early August - which it should), while the anti-Morris faction will simply wave this article atop a flagpole.

As great as this article is, I don't think it's going to convince a person from either party to change camps.
5:11 AM Jan 30th
 
brewer09
@CharlesSaeger | Kirk Gibson was not the World Series MVP. Alan Trammell was.

Jack Morris is the third most qualified Hall of Fame candidate on the 1984 Tigers, behind Trammell and Lou Whitaker. In Big Games, I would rather have Gibson than Morris.
1:34 AM Jan 30th
 
MarisFan61
Well, if it was hitters, following Bill's system it would have to be the 154 biggest games. (Or 162.)
Which sure feels too large.
And, in retrospect (although I have to admit I might not be looking at it this way if Morris had come out better) :-) ....maybe that means "35" was too large for pitchers.

I do think, in any event, as some are also suggesting, this has been a fascinating series and a good methodology but doesn't really address the original inspiration, because it winds up not being about the kinds of games people are thinking of when they talk about Morris. The bar was way too low, especially regarding where teams were in the standings.
1:07 AM Jan 30th
 
DavidTodd
I really enjoy this series, amazing what we can learn from a little research, if only more people would go to the trouble. Like me.
It has been said of Ted Williams that he was a bum in the 10 biggest games of his career, I'll bet his top 35, or 100, would be very impressive, was he really only in the 4 pennant races of 46-49?
1:01 AM Jan 30th
 
OldBackstop
jdw...I'll respond by quoting you

"1984 & 1991: 7-0, 2.05 ERA, 8 GS, 61.1 IP, Team went 7-1

NOW, I'm a guy that hates pitcher's measured by W/L, but since this corner of the world seems to strongly embrace it right now, that is a carrying the team on your back stat line.
10:26 PM Jan 29th
 
packbringley
Great, useful series. Following MarisFan, though, it would be enlightening to have Morris's starts and results sorted by bigness. As a system this system seems good. As a rebuttal to Morris supporters' claims, though, it's probably too rigid. These folks would naturally value a World Series victory higher than a late-August, 8-games-out victory, which they probably wouldn't count at all.

It seems more reasonable to use the system's cut-and-dried results to frame our understanding but, in the case of a particular player, make (or argue over) subjective corrections based on how X or Y start should be weighed. The system can STILL help us do this by showing us games in descending order of bigness. And then there's no right answer, but a debate that probably gets closer to what people mean.
9:52 PM Jan 29th
 
jdw
OldBackstop
Great post jdw. So, this poses the question if you flat out carry your team on your back in two postseasons and notsomuch in two others, should we think you are a Big Game pitcher? I think yes.


Did he flat out carry his team in two post seasons?

1984 ALCS

Game 1: Tigers 8-1. Morris goes 7 IP, gives up 1 ER. Hernandez with a two inning close. Trammell is 3/3 with an HR, 3B, 3 RBI, 2 BB... spectacular. Parrish and Herndon both go long, the offense pounds out 14 hits. Not exactly Jack carrying the team.

Game 2: Tigers 5-3 in 11 innings. Grubb with a 2 run double off Quiz in his third inning of relief. Petry was solid (7 IP with 2 ER), Henandez blew the same, but Lopez was terrific in three innnings of relief. Ginson went 2/4 with an HR and 2 RBI.

Game 3: Tigers 1-0. Exceptional Wilcox-Leibrandt duel. Tigers got a forceout run in the 2nd inning and it held up.

Morris didn't carry the team. All three starters pitched well (Morris and Petry) to terrific (Wilcox). The wasn't bad with the exception of Leibrandt largely having their number.

1984 World Series

Game 1: Tigers 3-2. The Tigers spotted Morris to a 1-0 in the top of the 1st, but Morris gave up a two-out rally in the bottom of the 1st (1B-1B and Kennedy 2B) to put his team in the hole 2-1. Morris scattered hits the rest of the way, and Herndon's two-run HR in the 5th wins it for the Tigers. He pitched well, but not really a carry job. Credit as well to Herndon.

Game 2: Pardres 5-3. Tigers score 3 in the first to spot the starter another lead, but again it's given away, this time by Petry. Unlike Game 1, they Tiger bats can't mount a comeback.

Game 3: Tigers 5-2. Tigers get four in the 2nd, the big hits a two run bomb by Castillo and a RBI double by Trammell. Wilcox gives up one run in six innings, and Hernandez puts in a 7-out save to close things out.

Game 4: Tigers 4-2. Trammell is 3/4 with a pair of two run HR in the 1st and 3rd, the second one coming after Morris gave up a Kennedy HR in the 2nd to cut the lead to 2-1. Morris scattered 4 hits after the dinger going the distance. It's a stretch to even say he carried the Tigers in that game given Trammell's heroics.

Game 5: Tigers 8-4. Petry left in the 3rd after giving up 3. By that point, the Tigers already put 3 on the board in the 1st, keyed by Gibson's 2-run HR. Gibson scored in the 5th to make it 4-3, Parrish homered in the 7th to make it 5-3. The legendary Kurt "F'n" Bevacqua went deep off Hernandez in the 8th to cut it to 5-4, but Gibson took Goose deep in the bottom of the 8th with a three-run bomb to make it 8-4. Scherrer and Lopez had done fine work in relief of Petry before turning it over to Hernandez.

The Tigers had somehow managed to go 4-1 in games Not Pitched By Morris, with Starters Not Named Morris going 3-1 with a 3.41 ERA. The three wins they were credited with were all strong performances: 3 ER in 21 IP, a 1.29 ERA. Petry didn't have it in the WS. Wilcox went 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA, even better than Morris'.

Trammell (.419/.500/.806/1.306) and Gibson (.367/.486/.700/1.186) were terrific in both series, and split the two MVP awards.

There were other heros, such as Lopez out of the pen (six scoreless innings), Herndon's big bomb, etc.

I could do the same for 1991 as well. I think we'd find something similar. Sans the level of starting pitching behind Morris that the Tigers got in 1984. But there were heros all over the place in the Twins 8 wins that post season.

* * * * *

Isn't it enough to say, as I did, that Morris pitched really well in 1984 & 1991 without trying to imply that he carried a scrappy 104 win team on his shoulders in 1984, or that he carried a 95 win team on his shoulders in 1991, one that had the 2nd best ERA in the AL that season despite playing in a hitters park? Morris was really good in the playoffs. So were his teams, one of which was a Great Team for that season.
9:31 PM Jan 29th
 
steve161
The conclusion I draw from Bill's research is that, unless you cherry-pick a half dozen carefully selected games, Jack Morris is not a Big Game Pitcher.

We might also conclude that there are pitchers (some of them not otherwise distinguished) who have especially good records in what are defined to be Big Games; and conversely that there are pitchers (some of them highly distinguished) whose records in such games are less good or fair or even poor.

What I'm still not ready to conclude is that this means anything in terms of there actually being such a thing as a Big Game Pitcher. Bill: are you ready to draw this conclusion?
9:30 PM Jan 29th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. I think we can be pretty sure Bill was just having a wry moment on the Doyle Alexander trade. :-)​
8:27 PM Jan 29th
 
MarisFan61
(Sorry, I made a mistake. ONE of those 9 games up there does qualify for what I think most people who talk about this would consider a big game.) :-)
8:24 PM Jan 29th
 
CharlesSaeger
BTW, "Doyle Alexander, obtained from Atlanta for a minor league pitching prospect," makes it sound like said prospect was unimportant.
8:17 PM Jan 29th
 
MarisFan61
The last 2 comments notwithstanding.... ;-)

When doing a study that attempts to address whether something that people say or think is right, it's important (I would say CRITICAL) to make sure that the criteria for defining the situation are such that you're looking at what they're talking about or thinking of. And, as per my prior comment, I am suggesting strongly that a game with the team 8 games out of first place is simply not what they mean. It's addressing this arbitrary definition of "big games," but it's not addressing what people (by and large) are thinking of when they say Jack Morris was a great big-game pitcher.

I felt much the same about Bill's study, a while back, on "consistency" of pitchers' games. It was more a comment on the non-literalness of people's use of the word "consistent" than it was about what they're talking about. What people mean when they say that such-and-such pitcher is inconsistent is that he has too many games that aren't good; looking at it from a statistical "consistency" standpoint doesn't much address that.

As per my prior post, I realize that the bottom-line conclusion here on Morris might not be affected (and I know that Bill talked about where he'd stand with a stricter definition of "big game"). What I'm saying is that it somewhat misses the boat to have the main data be based on a definition that includes games quite far from what people are talking about when they say the thing that this study was intended to evaluate.
8:14 PM Jan 29th
 
hankgillette
You can easily make Jack Morris a big-game pitcher by appropriately weighting the games. Multiply all post-season games by 2. Multiply 1991 post-season games by 100. QED.
7:50 PM Jan 29th
 
ventboys
You use this research as a hammer if you want to, or make excuses for him if you don't want to, but the reality is more banal: the finding re. Jack Morris big game pitcher = null result.
6:55 PM Jan 29th
 
MarisFan61
This doesn't affect the broad conclusion, but for what it's worth, I would offer that none of those first 9 games you ran through are in line with what MOST people probably regard as "big games" for a pitcher.
5:51 PM Jan 29th
 
CharlesSaeger
Two general comments:

1) I'd love to see this for hitters. I'm sure it's loads of work, even more than for pitchers.

2) I wonder what the standards for ERA and other stats are in these games. Morris's career ERA is 3.90, which qualifies as "a bit above average but hardly remarkable for his era," which we all knew. He went 254-186 overall, but in a group of games wherein he has a 3.79 ERA, he goes 18-19, which seems odd, though these happened more against good teams. My thinking is that, since these games are disproportionately played in September, teams score fewer runs a game in big games, giving us a lower context.
5:11 PM Jan 29th
 
CharlesSaeger
OldBackstop: Morris didn't carry the team in 1984; the Tigers were 2-1 when Morris didn't pitch in the World Series, and 2-0 when he didn't pitch in the ALCS. He pitched well, but nobody at the time thought Morris "carried the team," because he didn't.

1991 has a better case for that, I agree, but in 1984, Morris carried his team so much that the sportswriters named Kirk Gibson the World Series MVP.
5:06 PM Jan 29th
 
OldBackstop
Great post jdw. So, this poses the question if you flat out carry your team on your back in two postseasons and notsomuch in two others, should we think you are a Big Game pitcher? I think yes.
4:05 PM Jan 29th
 
KaiserD2
There are a lot of ways to get into the Hall of Fame. Some combination of the following elements has sometimes done the trick.

1. Have a long career.

2. Be a better-than-average player (although in many cases, only marginally so, most of the time.)

3. Have the right teammates, who are genuinely great.

4. Do something dramatic while the whole country is watching.

As I mentioned, I would like to see everyone who votes for the Hall, or everyone who's voice is influential (two groups to which I most definitely do not belong), as themselves, do I want to elect more people whose qualifications include, let's say, three of the above? It's true that everyone wants to elect a favorite candidate, and since that candidate usually has only a marginal case to make (or they would already have been elected), it's nice to have weaker candidates already in. But I would like to see people commit to at least raising the general standard and not replicating the worst selections of the past.
3:42 PM Jan 29th
 
jdw
Folks might want to go back and balance out the [/i]"sure he lost but he pitched well"[/i] with the games Bill walked through that were [i]"sure he won but he pitched poorly"[/i].

It's a small sample size, so it doesn't perfectly balance out. But Bill:

* provided the W-L
* provided the ERA
* walked through all of the games

Collectively, nothing in any of the three screamed out as Epic Big Game Pitcher. Beyond the 1984 & 1991, that is.

Funny thing in remember his 1984 post season is that we also need to remember his 1987 post season shelling. Morris had a bit of a Every Other Post Season thing going, similar to a certain pitcher having the famous odd/even year thing. Anyway, you can split Jack's post season like this:

1984 & 1991: 7-0, 2.05 ERA, 8 GS, 61.1 IP, Team went 7-1
1987 & 1992: 0-4, 7.26 ERA, 5 GS, 31.0 IP, Team went 1-4

Morris was really quite good in 1984 & 1991. He was awful in 1987 & 1992.

Others have pointed out that Hershiser in the same era was an even better post season pitcher that most have forgotten.
1:15 PM Jan 29th
 
Brian
Sept 25, 1981. Morris gave up a 3-run homerun with 2 outs in the topof the 9th to lose to the Brewers in a tied pennant race 8-6. So all 8 runs are charged to him. After that game and a few other cherry-picked games, I was of the opinion that Morris wasn't so much a bulldog-9-inning pitcher as a guy whose manager often left him in too long. Reading today, it appears that were a few of those-type games on the list, but it also looks like in several of his losses his opponents got him early.

I think that there are usually extra HOF votes for guys like Larson and Maris. It would be consistent for Morris to get a similar benefit for his game 7 performance.

I also agree that having a lower ERA in big games than his overall ERA is a small plus, despie hisW-L record in those games.

I also think he fell off a cliff from the end of 1992 on. I think this did unusual damage to his career stats. If he was a Hall of Famer before that, he shouldn't lose that status because of a horrible career ending.

But he wasn't a Hall of Famer. The arguments above, even if accepted totally, don't get him there. I'm a Tiger fan & he was an outstanding pitcher for several years for my team. I'm sure Twins fans appreciate him.
I will argue forever for Trammell and Whitaker, but not Morris
10:49 AM Jan 29th
 
chuck
I can see how using pure wins and losses turns the pro-Morris' camp's argument back on itself, as often all they cite is "winningest pitcher of the 80's". But ventboys has a point; that despite losing he wasn't bad in many of these games.
The game scores for the Big Games noted, where his teams lost:
56, 61, 59, 51, 39, 23, 40, 53, 59, 43, 29, 68, 60, 52, 57, and 55.
That's an average of 50.3, and 11 of the 16 were tough losses by the definition of 50+ being tough.
In 10 of those losses, his teams scored 0 to 2 runs (0 runs three times, 1 run four times, 2 runs three times). If losing a game 2-1 or 3-2 means a guy is not a Big Game pitcher, so be it. But it's still a tough loss by the game score.

I understand that game score averages are a bit different from era to era, and affected by park. But I still think looking at them in the context of Big Games might show a different story in some of these won-loss records.
10:41 AM Jan 29th
 
pmc765
OK, you have convinced me.

His rep, however undeserved, also derives from his dominance in the 1984 post season. He had two complete game wins in the 1984 WS, neither game a blowout. He also pitched well in his start in Game 1 of the 3 game sweep of KC in the ALCS. That dominant Tiger team only had three decent starters (Petry and Wilcox were the others). He was the clear #1.

But I agree with you, and thank you for excavating all the regular season disappointments. As he is the first to admit, he was never nearly as dominant as Justin Verlander is now. We remember post season starts. All these regular season performances explain his pedestrian career ERA.
10:13 AM Jan 29th
 
sweaver64
The split season of 1981 fouls that up a bit, but it doesn't help Jack's case much since he lost that one 2-1.

The Big Game data is mostly a wash for Morris, but since much of his HOF argument is based on being a Big Game Pitcher, that's an indictment all in itself. He doesn't really hurt the Hall if he goes in, as he likely will eventually. He's just not the best pitcher NOT in by any stretch. Probably not even in the top 10 not in.
9:52 AM Jan 29th
 
ventboys
Aren't you focusing more on the won/lost record than how well he pitched? His era wasn't stellar, but it wasn't awful either. Some of the pitchers on the "good" list had inferior peripheral stats. This evidence, to me, shows that he was a bit better in big games than in other games, since his career era was higher than 3.79. A bit better, mind you - not nearly enough to call him a "big game pitcher." My opinion is that this evidence neither helps him or hurts him.

8:49 AM Jan 29th
 
those
Why wouldn't Morris' start against the Brewers on October 3, 1981 count as a big game? Did you exclude 1981 from the data?
8:26 AM Jan 29th
 
 
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