Jack Be Durable

December 12, 2017
  
The stats of two players, no other contexts given:
 
Name
W-L
Win%
IP
ERA
Player A
142-84
.628
1979
3.41
Player B
139-78
.641
2025
3.20
 
Okay, we’re looking at some junky metrics. A pitcher’s win-loss record and winning percentage is strongly influenced by the teams they played for. Earned Run Average is difficult to interpret without contexts: an ERA of 3.20 would be pretty terrible in 1909, while an ERA of 3.40 might get you some down-ballot votes for the Cy Young Award in 2017.  Innings pitched? We have no way of knowing if these guys were dead-ballers who threw 400 innings a year, or modern pitchers who averaged 180-220 innings a year.
 
Alone, these metrics don’t tell us much. But in combination they start to tell us something. Both pitchers managed to win a high percentage of their decisions with those ERA’s: that’s useful. Bill Dineen had a better career ERA than both of our mystery men (3.01), but he stumbled to a career record of 170-177. These guys were winners. They won with those ERA’s.
 
We can give more context, though I am sure that at least seventy percent of you have guessed who these two pitchers are:
 
Name
W-L
IP
ERA
ERA+
IP
CG
K
BB
Player A
142-84
1979
3.41
119
1979
111
1347
688
Player B
139-78
2025
3.20
136
2025
15
1988
567
 
We get a little more context: adjusted for offensive contexts, Player B’s ERA shows as much better than Player A: our second guy is 36% better than his league, as opposed to 19% better. Player B struck out more hitters and walked fewer.
 
On the other hand, Player A threw more complete games. That’s something. I mean, that’s not nothing. 
 
Okay…enough with the mystery. Player A is newly-elected Hall-of-Famer Jack Morris. Or it’s part of Jack Morris…the numbers above are his tallies for 1979, and 1981 thru 1987. We’re leaving off some dud years of Morris, but we’re also leaving off his 21-6 season in 1992, and his 18-12 season in 1991, as well as a 16-win 1980 season. We’re cherry picking a teeny bit.
 
Player B is Johan Santana’s entire career.
 
*             *             *
 
That was a junk exercise: I don’t mean for you to take anything too seriously from it. You could probably take the best years of Jim Perry or Joe Niekro or Ramon Martinez and, with a little cleverness, make them all look like their Hall-of-Fame brothers.
 
But the exercise isn’t entirely useless. I suspect that a fair percentage of you think of Johan Santana as a not-so-crazy candidate for the Hall of Fame. I make that assumption because I think of Santana as a not-so-crazy candidate for the Hall-of-Fame. I’d consider tossing Johan a vote, if the current BBWAA ballot didn’t have about seventy-eight players worth thinking about.
 
Jack Morris, at his peak best, wasn’t anywhere near the pitcher that Johan Santana was. I’m not going to make that case, and no one else is going to make that case either. If you looked at their three best seasons, or their five best seasons, Santana would blow Morris out of the water.
 
But something strange happens if you go further out: Jack Morris starts to draw closer.
 
Let’s rate each pitcher’s best seasons by Baseball-Reference’s WAR metric. I know WAR has come under fire recently, and we’re not really using it to evaluate our pitchers. We’re just using it to give us an objective list of each pitcher’s best seasons, in order.
 
Santana laps Morris, in their first-, second-, third-, and fourth-best seasons. This shouldn’t surprise anyone.
 
Santana’s fifth-best season, according to BB-Ref’s WAR, was 2007, when he went 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA over 219 innings. Morris’s fifth-best season, according to our metric, was probably in 1991: 18-12 with a 3.43 ERA over 246.2 innings.
 
Who are you going to take?
 
I’d lean towards Morris. I like innings, and Morris’ team won the World Series. Santana’s 2007 Twins won 79 games. It’s a close call, but I’d lean to Morris.
 
Sixth-best season? Santana’s sixth-best season was his 2010 season with the Mets, his last full year in the majors. Santana went 11-9 with a 2.98 ERA over 199.1 innings. The Mets won 79 games.
 
Jack Morris’ sixth-best season shows up as 1983 in Detroit: he went 20-13. Morris led the league in innings pitched with 292.3.He threw twenty complete games and had a 3.34 ERA. He finished third in a Cy Young contest that picked the immortal LaMarr Hoyt as the best pitcher in the AL. His team won 92 games. 
 
Who ya gonna to take?
 
Baseball-Reference’s WAR suggests that you take Santana (4.6) over Morris (4.0). I don’t know about you, but I’m taking the guy with the twenty complete games, and 100 extra innings pitched. Is that silly? That's probably silly.  
 
Santana’s 7th-best season…I’ll stop after this, I promise…was his breakout season in 2003, when he went 12-3 with a 3.07 ERA over 158.1 innings. The voters applauded that effort, giving him some down-ballot votes for the Cy Young Award. One voter slotted Santana at the bottom of his Cy Young ballot. That was a pretty decent year.
 
Jack Morris’s 7th-best season was strike-shortened 1981. He went 14-7 with a 3.05 ERA over 197.2 innings, pacing the AL in wins. He made 25 starts and completed 15 of them. He finished third in the AL Cy Young vote, behind Rollie Fingers and Steve McCatty.
 
Again, who would you take?
 
After that things tilts heavily towards Morris….in Johan Santana’s 9th-best year, he threw 100 innings as a young pitcher for the Twins, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. In Jack Morris’s 9th-best year, he went 21-6 for the World Champion Blue Jays. In Johan Santana’s 10th-best year, he pitched a whopping 52 innings. In Jack Morris’s 10th-best year, he went 19-11 for the 1984 Detroit Tigers. They’re not really comparable as pitchers: one guy is the ace of two World Series champions; the other guy is just trying to break into the league.
 
Usually, when I compare players like this, I am doing it because the comparison makes sense. In this case, it doesn’t make any sense. Jack Morris, as a pitcher, was nothing at all like Johan Santana. Trying to compare them is like trying to compare a refreshing swim in the ocean with the sensation of eating a really good BLT. It’s two nearly separate things.
 
But the comparison tells us something. Jack Morris never came close to reaching the brilliant peaks of Johan Santana. He didn’t come close. He didn’t reach the peaks his contemporaries: he wasn’t ever better than the best years of Gooden or Saberhagen or Stieb or Mike Scott or Hershiser. He wasn’t close to the heights they reached.
 
But he had many, many more productive seasons than those guys. If he couldn’t match any of them in their best years, he could at least hold his own: he was never a Cy Young winner, but he was the guy that voters thought about after they cast votes for Fingers or Hoyt or Willie Hernandez. And when you get down to the seventh- or ninth-best years, Morris was still putting up typical Jack Morris seasons (lots of innings, lots of decisions) while the other guys have all disappeared down a well.
 
*             *             *
 
I was happy to hear that Alan Trammell was elected to the Hall-of-Fame: he is a deserving player, and I hope Cooperstown doesn’t drag its feet too long in getting Whittaker in net to him.
 
I was happy for Trammell…but I was much more excited about Jack Morris finally getting the nod.    
 
Why?
 
Because he earned it. I know it’s not particularly sabermetric to say that, but Morris belongs in the Hall. He earned his spot.
 
Stepping outside of the conversation for a moment: one of the things I intensely dislike about the current BBWAA vote is that voters have gotten in the habit of measuring the ethics of candidates on standards that are applied in retrospect, and in a way that is inconsistent with the institution’s past votes. Baseball had a problem with performance-enhancing drugs in the 50’s, and the 60’s, and the 70’s, yet we honor the legacies of the players of those eras. Baseball had a performance-enhancing drug problem in the 80’s and 90’s: we have honored many of the players from that era. Then, for some reasons, we drew a line and decided that player who use performance-enhancing drugs shouldn’t be honored. We compounded that error by deciding to lump players into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ camps, sometimes based on evidence (Bonds), and sometimes based on the dubious narratives of swarthy hangers-on (Clemens), and sometimes based on our own judgements, facts be damned. It’s ugly, and it’s stupid. We have a Hall of Fame that honors Bob Lemon or Hal Newhouser, but leaves out Roger Clemens, a man whose pitching career eclipses their combined efforts. We have a Hall of Fame that honors George Kell and Joe Tinker, but can’t find room for Barry Bonds, a man who was awarded his league’s Most Valuable Player Award seven times. The brick building in Cooperstown isn’t a Hall of Fame; it is a Hall of Moral Relativism.
 
Jack Morris is the other side of the same coin. We mock Jack Morris as a candidate for the Hall of Fame because Jack Morris doesn’t look like an ace in our modern context. We expect an ace to pitch like Lincecum or Santana or Halladay or Kershaw or Felix or Scherzer. We expect absolute brilliance, and we don’t give a damn about long careers, or complete games. Those are anachronisms now, and so we diminish the importance of them in their own time. We expect lots of strikeouts, and impressive tallies in WAR. We don’t know what to make of an 20-18 Win-Loss record: we give hardware to the 15-7 records.
 
And that’s all great. I have no problem with the progress we’ve made as analysts. We have made terrific strides in our knowledge of baseball, and I am not trying to denigrate those strides.
 
But when Jack Morris complains that his record has been tarnished by our community, he is saying something that is absolutely true. Jack Morris spent his career being called ‘ace’: he was an ace during his years as the workhorse for the great Tigers teams of the late 1970’s and 1980’s, and he was the anchor for the Twins and Blue Jays staffs during consecutive World Series runs in 1991 and 1992. If you came up with a ‘decade’ team for the 1980’s, you could list a bunch of guys who pitched four or five or six years, or you could list Jack Morris.
 
It is my opinion that the Hall-of-Fame should reflect the history of game, and not whatever attitudes and opinions happens to rule the present. We might not want Jack Morris as the pitcher who reflects the current era of baseball, but there is no question that Morris was one of the most important pitchers of the eighties and early nineties.
 
And he was a great pitcher: certainly, he didn’t match the pitch-by-pitch genius of Kershaw or Santana, but that wasn't what a starting pitcher was in the 1980's. In the 1980's, a starting pitcher threw a lot of innings, and that's what Morris did, year after year. In an era when bullpen strategies were just rising to a place of prominence, Jack Morris was the last pitcher who expected to finish what he started. There is a genius to that, too: it is as much of an accomplishment in the context of its time as the strikeout feats of the Klubers and Sales are in today's game.
 
Jack Morris won more games than anyone else during the decade of the 80’s. The importance of that statement isn’t the mere fact of it, but the truth that no one who followed baseball during that time would have been particularly surprised. Of course Jack Morris was the winningest pitcher of that decade…who the hell else would it be? This is echoed in all of the literature from the era: if you pick up any guide from the 1980’s, or look at old baseball cards with text, all of them will invariably describe Morris with words like ‘ace’ or ‘star’ or ‘workhorse’ or ‘champion.’ That’s not some grand hallucination on the part of baseball fans of the era: Jack Morris really was an ace.
 
He followed the 1980’s with consecutive seasons anchoring the rotations of two World Series champs. He pitched brilliantly in the 1984 and 1991 World Series, winning four out of five starts and posting a not-too-shabby 1.53 ERA across 41 innings. He faltered in 1992, but the Blue Jays won anyway: he started Game One in three different World Series, for three different teams, and his team won all three contests.
 
Jack Morris is a deserving Hall-of-Famer, and Cooperstown took one good step towards correcting the mistakes of a difficult decade in finally electing him.
 
 
David Fleming is a writer living in western Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
 
 
 
 

COMMENTS (62 Comments, most recent shown first)

BryanBM
The problem is being last in ERA, I tried to see if his team let him down in those 8+ inning outings. Frank Tanana is kind of record I was looking for, 1.81 ERA and .665 win%. At which point you can theorize about how Tanana "deserves" 11 more wins and 11 fewer losses.

Instead Jack has the highest ERA and one of the weaker W-L records so most likely wins about as often as he "should" and gets full credit in his Won-Loss record for pitching 8+ IP in nearly half his starts. And then 7-7.2: bbref.com/pi/shareit/HJXzo

3rd worst ERA and 3rd best win%. I was poking at this part trying to find some kind of "pitching to the score" argument just to avoid suggesting a penalty to his W-L record and I couldn't come up with anything so just posted the 8+.

Jack is easily better than most of the 50, they are simply a control group. When Shane Rawley has an excellent outing and/or was facing a truly terrible September lineup he creates one data point of 1.84 ERA and 48-8 and it seems he's one of the luckier pitchers.

Jack Morris won more games than Bob Welch, ERA+ suggests similar regular season pitching just less of it for Bob and then you have post season, Cy Young or whatever other considerations. It's important not to double count the volume difference "has more wins" AND "pitched deeper into games" when along with retiring younger and a little more time in the bullpen it's "has more wins because he pitched deeper into games".
3:08 PM Dec 21st
 
DaveFleming
It's a little like the argument that 'Hitter X is over-rated because his team has a better winning percentage when he doesn't play.' That is true for a lot of great hitters (and ALL great catchers)...but it's a trick of the numbers. A good hitter, on a rest day, is more likely to pinch hit when the team is losing than if the team is winnning. Those 'games' skew the winning percentages a bit for everyday players, and a lot for catchers.
2:32 PM Dec 21st
 
DaveFleming
Okay...doesn't the table you linked to actually counter the argument you're making?

Jack Morris has a low winning percentage in games in which he pitched 8+ innings. Fine.

Who else has a low winning percentage in those games? From your list, eight pitchers have low winning percentages (under .700). Those eight are Morris, Blyleven, Tanana, Langston, Dave Stewart, Floyd Bannister, Danny Darwin, and Mike Moore.

Who has a high winning percentage? From your list, 16 pitchers have a winning percentage of .800+. They are : Fernando, Bob Welch, Hurst, Knepper, McGregor, Gullickson, Leibrandt, Mike Scott, Candelaria, Krukow, Montedusco, Ojeda, Zane Smith, Shane Rawley, Bud Black, Ed Whinson.

Who is the better group? Who has better pitchers?

Maybe I'm missing something, but I THInK the guys with the crappy winning percentages are the better pitchers.

Why?

Because they were the guys the managers trusted to get out of their messes. If Bud Black is pitching into the eighth, he's there because the team is almost certainly going to win. If it's close, he's coming out.

If Bert Blyleven is in the 8th...it's a different story. blyleven is going to be allowed to pitch into the eighth in much more demanding circumstances than Bud Black.
10:02 AM Dec 21st
 
BryanBM
Corrected 2nd link: bbref.com/pi/shareit/Nztiz
9:02 AM Dec 21st
 
BryanBM
50 pitchers are born 1950-1960, 20+ career pitching WAR and at least 100 (or 200) career starts: bbref.com/pi/shareit/2h6Fh

Only in games they pitch at least 8 innings, Doyle Alexander with 3 non-starts, several pitchers with 1: https://bbref.com/pi/shareit/Nztiz

Jack Morris has the 2nd most games, highest ERA and 5th lowest win%. Provided your team doesn't care about allowing runs or winning games, Jack is your man.
9:01 AM Dec 21st
 
FrankD
As to remembering the story of baseball: how many HRs have been hit in the bottom of the ninth to win the game? How many are remembered like Bobby Thompson's? How many flyballs are dropped but how many are remembered like Snodgrass's? Fame is a huge part of the HOF and should be. Now, just being famous should not get you in the HOF but does deserve a mention (Eddie Goeddel(?) midget with the St Louis Browns had great stats, is famous but ....). The author has help to convince me that my ilk has to get off their high horse, admit steroids were part of the game and admit that the Bonds, Clemens, etc. where among the greatest of their times and therefore should be in HOF . But, as to comparing the druggies with their earlier compadres, then we have to consider artificial enhancement and judge accordingly.....
9:46 PM Dec 20th
 
DaveFleming
It took me a little while to find their percentages of decisions-to-starts, so I'm glad it was worth the effort, Astros34.

And I would've thought someone with your particular user-name would be inclined to support the candidacies of high-inning right-handers from the 70's/80's who have Adjusted ERA's at the lower end of the Hall of Fame.
3:42 PM Dec 18th
 
astros34
Thanks for responding to all of these posts, in particular, the following gem:

"Dave Stieb got the decision in 75.7% of his starts. Orel Hershiser got the decision in 74.4% of his starts. Jack Morris got the decision in 82.2% of his starts. That tells us SOMETHING about the usage pattern of Morris, I think. He was left in his starts longer than Stieb or Hershiser. Is that part of the reason his ERA was inflated, because his managers just had more faith in him?"

Point to Fleming! You haven't quite convinced me that he belongs in the Hall but you've convinced me that he's not one who DOESN'T belong (does that make sense? Double negatives and all that. . .)
2:48 PM Dec 18th
 
Marc Schneider
I don't have a problem with Morris being in the Hall. I think we tend to take the Hall of Fame too seriously anyway. It's really just a way to market baseball (or any sport). There is no objective way to determine who should be in the Hall. Well, I guess there is, but I don't think anyone would really want the Hall to be only about sabermetrics. If Frankie Frisch and his cronies are in the Hall of Fame, so be it.

I do think there is a lot of value in eating innings and, as suggested, it probably does hurt a pitcher's ERA. For example, a quality start is 3 runs in 6 innings. But what about 4 runs in 8 innings? It's the same ERA but there should be some value attached to pitching another two innings, especially in a game where the team is way ahead. What difference does it make if the team wins 7-3 or 7-4? Not only is there value, but, IMO, I just like a game better when the starter goes all the way or at least most of the way.

Similarly, I do think, despite the Keith Laws and so forth that want to be censors and ban wins from the game, that there is some value in pitcher wins, especially if you look at pitchers from the day when they threw more innings. I'm not sure there is a lot of value in the stat when you have a guy pitching 6 innings and giving up 3 runs. There obviously are guys that win a lot of games because their team scores a lot of runs and, of course, the converse and that is why wins should not be the central point of evaluating current pitchers.
2:24 PM Dec 18th
 
DaveFleming
Thanks Dan, Chris, Maris, and Frank....it's nice to see the discussion tilt a little bit towards Morris.

I keep coming back to the notion that the Hall is a place that is meant to tell the story of baseball. One of the reasons I am strongly against the blanket ban on steroid cheats is because that is a part of baseball's story: absenting Bonds from the Hall of Fame is akin to pretending that the era didn't happen. It did happen, and I think there is an imperative to have that moment represented. If we keep out everyone rumored to fail a test....if we keep out Barry and Papi and Manny and Rocket and Big Mac...we're missing a chapter in the story.

I don't think Jack Morris is a better pitcher than Mike Mussina...I'd rate Mussina ahead of a few 300-game winners (Sutton, Glavine) in my personal rankings...but you could probably tell the 'story' of Mussina's era without mentioning Mike Mussina.

That doesn't hold for Morris. For better or worse, he is all over the history of his era...he was the ace for Sparky's Tigers, and then he showed up and carried a fluke Twins team past the Braves. Then helped the Blue Jays finally get a title. He was all over the place.

That measure probably has it's limits. Jose Canseco was a gigantic figure in baseball from 1987 to 1992: he won an MVP, was about as famous as a baseball player could be, and he played a crucial role on the best team of his era. He was also a central figure in the steroid stuff, and in the uncovering of the depth of the problem.

You could not tell the story of baseball without Jose Canseco, but I doubt any of us would advocate for his candidacy to the Hall. Partially, that is because some of his 'fame' is negative, and some of it has nothing to do with baseball (remember when he was dating Madonna?). And part of it was brief span of his big accomplishments on the field.

I think that if Jack Morris didn't have the 1991 and 1992 seasons, he would be another candidate in the crowd of Stieb and Hershiser and Kevin Brown: a fine pitcher, but not someone who seemed absolutely central to the story of the game. The consecutive years carrying teams to the WS, and in particular his masterful performance in Game 7 of 1991, cemented his legacy: he is famous to Tigers fans, and he is famous to fans of the Twins and Jays. His base of support widened with those last years.

I don't have any grand conclusion, so I'll leave it there. Just some more thoughts.
7:39 AM Dec 18th
 
chrisbodig
This is a great piece, Dave. I agree wholeheartedly that Morris belongs in the Hall. I clapped when the announcement was made, even though I was sitting by myself at home. You are so right that, in today's game, complete games barely exist and wins don't matter as much. But when Jack pitched, they mattered. His wins matter. His CG's matter. It matters that no pitcher in the history of the game faced more batters without once getting the break of pitching to an opposing pitcher.

If you look at all of the numbers, Dave Stieb was the best pitcher in the 1980's. But while Stieb tossed 59.2 innings in 1991 and 96.1 in 1992, Morris was earning rings.

It's the history of baseball and Jack Morris was a critical part of it.
9:59 PM Dec 17th
 
DMBBHF
Hi Maris,

Yep. My feeling is, if people want to see an objective list of the "best" players in the game, they could reference something like The Hall of Stats, which (from their web site) "visualizes what a “default Hall” would look like if it were populated simply by the numbers."

I think things like the Hall of Stats are fine to look at. So is looking at the various WAR figures. So is JAWS. These are all fine things to consider when making a decision. But, they are not the only considerations, and they are not the ultimate tools. I feel the charge of each voter is to consider evidence, whether it's quantitative or otherwise, form an opinion, and then make a decision.

The real Hall of Fame does not need to be reduced solely to a statistical exercise.

Thanks,
Dan
9:26 AM Dec 17th
 
FrankD
Jack Morris belongs in the HOF. Renowned pitcher of his era. 1991 WS Game 7, 10 inning shutout won: that's Fame. I'm a Twinkies fan and I love Kaat. But Kitty did not lead his teams to the promised land (although I think Kaat should be in HOF). People can argue ad infinitum but I think you have to honor pennants, WS wins. I like stats as well as the next analyst, but wins and winning pennants/WS are the goal! As the author pointed out - you can ride your ace pitcher to more team wins at the expense of the ace pitchers stats ............
2:24 AM Dec 17th
 
MarisFan61
DMB: I think it's worth highlighting that this thing you said (with which I agree totally) isn't widely accepted in parts like these and in fact I suspect most here would reject it:

"The Hall of Fame is not a vehicle to determine the objectively best players in the game. It's a different beast."

Judging from the way most of the articles and posts and studies on this site go about evaluating Hall-of-Fame-ness, it seems that it's pretty much assumed that those things are synonymous.
12:12 AM Dec 17th
 
DMBBHF
Hi Dave,

I thought this was well put:

I think the 'basis' of Bill's work is to think critically; to not accept consensus belief but to think widely, and wildly. Metrics or statistics were the tool that allowed him to do that, but it is not the only tool in his (or our) toolbox.

Well said. And, I think it's important to distinguish between trying trying to understand the game as objectively as possible vs. trying to determine who should be enshrined and honored in a Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is not a vehicle to determine the objectively best players in the game. It's a different beast.

If I were playing a Strat-o-Matic or other similar simulation game, I'd probably select Dave Stieb or Orel Hershiser or any of a number of other pitchers who have been mentioned here over Jack Morris. But, the real question is, who should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame? That requires a different approach.

The Hall of Fame is not based just on what we can demonstrate via spreadsheets or list pulling or trying to micro-analyze which player is better. The record and playing ability, of course are part of it....but also accomplishments, impact on the game, contributions to winning. It's a real, breathing thing, not just something that can boil down to a calculation. It requires a more nuanced approach, to consider the whole picture.

By the standards of the Hall of Fame, Jack Morris has a really good case, and it appealed to enough people to be elected. Candidates for the Hall of Fame are like candidates for a job. What's on your resume? What are your bullet points? What do you bring to the table? What are we going to put on your plaque? What makes you memorable?

I like something Posnanski wrote recently (in his Aparicio vs. Vizquel article):

Why do we have a Hall of Fame? To remember. And what is worth remembering? That’s the most important question, really.

Morris has a quality case. Being a key starting pitcher on 3 different championship teams counts for something (in fact, it counts for a lot. Going 3-0 in one postseason and going 4-0 in another postseason on the way to a couple of championships count for a lot. Being a workhorse starter counts for something. Achieving more than 250 pitcher wins, flawed though it may be, counts for something. Nothing by itself gets you into the Hall. It's looking at the whole picture. And Morris meets that criteria for enough people.

Again, Dave....nice article.

Thanks,
Dan
8:44 AM Dec 16th
 
DaveFleming
Well, I'm a huge fan of Mussina's candidacy, and I think Schilling belongs. Both pitchers rate well ahead of Morris for me.

In regards to Stieb and Hershiser...I absolutely agree that the peak of both pitchers far exceeds the peak of Morris. Man, I'd love a HOF that honored Dave Stieb....if you have a petition I can sign, I'd sign it.

What I struggle with is the quick rejection of 'wins' as a useful metric. I realize....please believe me when I say that I understand the limitations of the 'wins' statistic...I realize that the 'win' is a very flawed, very arbitrary stat. But I also think that wins (and losses) can sometimes tell us things that other metrics can't tell us. They're a useful 'check' in the same way that a team's overall success is a useful 'check' against individual performance. It ain't perfect, but it ain't nuthin'.

Dave Stieb got the decision in 75.7% of his starts. Orel Hershiser got the decision in 74.4% of his starts. Jack Morris got the decision in 82.2% of his starts. That tells us SOMETHING about the usage pattern of Morris, I think. He was left in his starts longer than Stieb or Hershiser. Is that part of the reason his ERA was inflated, because his managers just had more faith in him?

We're trained to discount W-L record entirely. I think that's mostly a good thing. But I think we go too far in saying that it can't tell us anything, and in the case of Morris, I think the percentage of his starts that went to decisions tells us a LOT about what kind of pitcher he was. And it helps ameliorate...at least a bit...my concerns about all the runs he allowed.

I want to note, too, that the notion that Morris wasn't a workhorse on account of his scant Black Ink is a little tree/forest to me. He led the league in Complete Games once...and he also finished 2nd (three times), 3rd (three times), 4th, 6th, and 8th. He led in innings pitched once...and he also finished 2nd (twice), 3rd (three times), 5th, 6th, and 10th. He was reliably among the league leaders in complete games and innings pitched for the bulk of his career. He was a horse.

Thanks for the note, jeffsol, and I hope we can keep the conversation going!
3:11 PM Dec 15th
 
jeffsol
Dave,

I see and respect the position, but to me there are two problems.

Problem 1 is Dave Stieb and Orel Hershiser. You would agree, I think, that both were better than Morris at peak. The thing is, they both, if you look at top 10 seasons, were significantly better than Morris unless you focus on Wins. Both led the league 3 times in IP, Morris only once, so the workhorse argument doesn’t really do much. And neither is getting a sniff of the Hall. So basically you’re saying that the higher wins total and then the larger number of mediocre bulk seasons lift Morris above their level. I don’t see it. During Morris period as “ace” there are multiple years when he had a below average ERA, in his last couple of years with Detroit, WELL below average.

The second problem is Mussina and Schilling , who were both much better at peak, and good for significantly longer than Morris. Hard to understand how Schilling is stalling below 50% in BBWAA but Morris belongs. Only justification would be that Schilling is an ass (which he is but so what) and WINS. Morris won.

I’m generally a big hall guy so ultimately I’m fine. I wouldn’t have voted for Morris but he was certainly a significant historical figure. In my opinion, though, the line between Morris and Stieb/Hershiser doesn’t really make sense, and the one between Morris and Mussina/ Schilling does, but on the other side.
10:44 AM Dec 15th
 
astros34
Dave,

You displayed the data in a way that supports your position, using the splits from B-R. You also appear to be using career records. I used hands-on analysis of the 1992 game logs only. The fact remains that Morris won three games in which he allowed six (Key only had one such game and lost it) and won seven while allowing three or more. Key only won one where he allowed three or more.



10:39 AM Dec 15th
 
DaveFleming
Okay...a few folks have cited run support as a big factor for Morris.

Percentage of starts by run support:

MORRIS
0-2 Runs - 26.2%
3-5 Runs - 38.5%
6+ Runs - 35.3%

KEY
0-2 Runs - 21.1%
3-5 Runs - 44.0%
6+ Runs - 35.0%

Both pitcher had the same percentage of outings where they got a lot of support (6+ runs). But Jimmy Key actually had a greater percentage of starts with medium support, 44% to 38%.

Mostly that's an effect of league differences....Key's career didn't overlap with Morris. But it's a little difficult to swallow that Morris had tons more games to win that Jimmy Key, because his offense was scoring a tons of runs every start.

Dave Stieb is a better comparable:

STIEB
0-2 Runs - 28.2%
3-5 Runs - 38.8%
6+ Runs - 33.0%

Stieb is a little unlucky compared to Morris (Morris has a 2% advantage in big-support starts), but not drastically so.
9:05 AM Dec 15th
 
Jpenglish
I'll take Jack Morris against anyone any day of the week. The guy was made up of pure old school moxy and they just don't make them like him anymore.
8:46 AM Dec 15th
 
astros34
Examples of how W-L can be BS:

Morris in wins 1992: 3.07 ERA, in losses: 6.69
Key in wins 1992: 1.48 ERA, in losses 5.09

Interestingly, Morris worst start of the year was 4.1 IP, 7 ER allowed (ND) in a Toronto win, 8-7.

In five starts that year he allowed 6 or 7 runs. He was 3-1 in those games. (He was 2-4 when allowing 4 or 5 runs). Key lost both of the games in which he allowed 6 runs (he never allowed 7). When Key allowed THREE or more runs, he got the win just once (1-10). Morris was 7-6! Key lost three games when allowing less than three runs. Morris lost zero!

How does any of that make Morris a better pitcher? Not saying he was bad, just that going 7-6 when allowing three plus runs vs 1-10 is simply run support, not any indication of skill.

Next thing you know we'll be hearing how Morris "pitched to the score."
8:45 AM Dec 15th
 
astros34
"I think the correlation between why a team wins and who is responsible for those wins is a gigantic question, and we're still far away from any kind of answer that I trust entirely."

Here are the facts regarding pitching wins:

1. The pitcher must pitch well enough to allow fewer runs than his team scores.
2. The pitchers' team must have a lead when the pitcher becomes the "pitcher of record," i.e., the pitchers' team must score at least one run.
3. The bullpen must not give up the lead in the game, not ever.
4. The defense must play well enough to not give up extra runs
5. The pitcher must pitch at least five innings.

Only one of the above is completely under the control of the pitcher, and even that (#1) could be difficult if an opposing team is "hot." Thus, there is little (or at least less than the mainstream thinks) correlation between pitching skill and won-loss record. As demonstrated below by BryanBM, Jimmy Key pitched better than Morris in 1992 but the team scored more runs for Morris so Morris was 21-6 and Key was 13-13.
8:23 AM Dec 15th
 
BryanBM
1977-1994 or Morris' entire career, performance of starting pitcher and team result, Morris' team results and W-L with league average win%:

9+ IP, 5+ R: 132-171, .436, Morris 4-2, 2.6-3.4
9+ IP, 4 R: 377-271, .582, Morris 7-7, 8.1-5.9
9+ IP, 3 R: 929-362, .720, Morris 15-6 and a Tie, 15.1-5.9
9+ IP, 2 R: 1881-378, .833, Morris 28-8, 30-6
9+ IP, 1 R: 2621-216, .924, Morris 37-2, 36-3
9+ IP, 0 R: 2766-57, .980, Morris 28-0, 27.4-0.6
In 9 IP Games Morris: 119-25, expected 119.2-24.8

8-8.2, 5+: 248-599, .293, Morris 11-16, 7.9-19.1
8-8.2, 4: 442-697, .388, Morris 7-19, 10.1-15.9
8-8.2, 3: 852-965, .469, Morris 9-12, 9.8-11.2
8-8.2, 2: 1369-932, .595, Morris 8-10, 10.7-7.3
8-8.2, 1: 1415-487, .744, Morris 8-3, 8.2-2.8
8-8.2, 0: 583-72, .890, Morris never came out
In 8-8.2 IP Games Morris: 43-60, expected 46.7-56.3

7-7.2, 5+: 425-1178, .265, Morris 10-16, 6.9-19.1
7-7.2, 4: 813-1213, .401, Morris 9-3, 4.8-7.2
7-7.2, 3: 1599-1566, .505, Morris 15-9, 12.1-11.9
7-7.2, 2: 2282-1351, .628, Morris 25-6, 19.5-11.5
7-7.2, 1: 2227-693, .763, Morris 14-1, 11.4-3.6
7-7.2, 0: 949-136, .875, Morris 3-1, 3.5-0.5
In 7-7.2 IP Games Morris: 76-36, expected 58.2-53.8

The Morris Magic in 112 games of 7-7.2 IP:
Jack: 349 Runs, 797.1 IP, 3.94 RA
Relievers: 66 Runs, 203.1 IP, 2.92 RA

Runs Allowed: 0x1, 1x13, 2x23, 3x20, 4x21, 5x13, 6x10, 7x5, 8x3, 9x2, 10x1
IP - 54x 9 IP Home, 33x 9 IP Road Win, 20x 9 IP Road Loss incl 3x 1 out Walk Off and 5x Extra Innings 13, 11.2, 11, 11 and 10 IP

Maybe Willie Hernandez can finish the rest of Jack Morris' HoF speech.

6-6.2, 5+: 651-2228, .226, Morris 8-23, 7-24
6-6.2, 4: 1010-1766, .364, Morris 4-4, 2.9-5.1
6-6.2, 3: 1627-1815, .473, Morris 6-1, 3.3-3.7
6-6.2, 2: 1806-1100, .621, Morris 8-0, 5-3
6-6.2, 1: 1288-485, .726, Morris 3-1, 2.9-1.1
6-6.2, 0: 582-91, .865, Morris 7-0, 6.1-0.9
In 6-6.2 IP Games Morris: 36-29, expected 27.2-37.8

26 games he's pulled allowing 3 or fewer runs:
Leaves after 6 leading by 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 10, 10, 12
Leaves after 6 tied once
Starts 7th tied 1-1, leaves 1-3, Runners 23, 2 out
Starts 7th ahead 5-1, leaves 5-3, Runners 13, 1 out
Starts 7th ahead 4-1, leaves 4-1, Runners 2, 2 out
Starts 7th ahead 6-2, leaves 6-2, Runners 3, 1 out
Starts 7th ahead 2-0, leaves 2-1, Runners 1, 1 out
Starts 7th trailing 0-2, leaves 0-2, Runners 123, 1 out
Starts 7th ahead 2-1, leaves 2-1, Runners 12, 2 out
Starts 7th ahead 6-2, leaves 6-2, Runners 12, 1 out
Starts 7th ahead 5-0, leaves 5-2, Runners 12, 1 out

Pitching to the Win stat, he leaves 2 of those games with the potential to take a loss. Presumably those trailing games often turn into 8+ IP games where his team results are basically exactly what you would expect for his entire career.

Coming out after 6-6.2 IP and 0-3 Runs for some contemporaries: Rick Reuschel 13.4%, Bob Welch 13%, Dave Stieb 10.4%, Dennis Martinez 9.6%, Dennis Eckersley 9.4%, Frank Tanana 9.4%, Frank Viola 8.6%, Ron Guidry 8.4%, Steve Rogers 8.4%, Jack Morris 4.9%

There is definitely a positive to going deeper into games but it's another way his Win-Loss record is biased.

5-5.2, 5+: 654-3262, .200, Morris 3-17, 4-16
5-5.2, 4: 772-1488, .342, Morris 3-2, 1.7-3.3
5-5.2, 3: 1162-1058, .477, Morris 2-0, 1-1
5-5.2, 2: 1058-598, .639, Morris 2-0, 1.3-0.7
5-5.2, 1: 668-219, .753, Morris never came out
5-5.2, 0: 332-74, .818, Morris 0-1, 0.8-0.2
In 5-5.2 IP Games Morris: 10-20, expected 8.8-21.2

On Oct 3rd, 1991 with the Twins entering the game with a 10 game lead with 5 games to play and a double header against the 2nd place White Sox, Morris comes out after 5 shutout innings leading 1-0 and the Twins lose 3-2 in 10 and then 13-12 in 12.

Jack leaves after pitching 5 innings with 3-2, 4-3 and 6-3 leads and starts the 6th ahead 4-0, leaves 4-2, Runners 1, 0 out. Never in a position to take a loss.

Coming out after 5-5.2 IP and 0-3 Runs for some contemporaries: Bob Welch 8.2%, Ron Guidry 5.3%, Dennis Martinez 5.2%, Dennis Eckersley 3.6%, Rick Reuschel 3.6%, Steve Rogers 3.1%, Frank Viola 2.9%, Frank Tanana 2.8%, Dave Stieb 2.4%, Jack Morris 0.9%

Not completing 5 innings for some contemporaries: Frank Tanana 15.6%, Dennis Martinez 15.1%, Dave Stieb 14.3%, Rick Reuschel 14.2%, Dennis Eckersley 13.9%, Jack Morris 13.7%, Bob Welch 13.2%, Frank Viola 12.9%, Steve Rogers 9.7%, Ron Guidry 8%

Information provided by baseball-reference.com Play Index.
6:20 PM Dec 14th
 
DaveFleming
What strikes me about Morris is that his records always seemed to exceed what you'd expect based on runs allowed. Partially, that's attributable to the quality of his teams, but he did it just about every year. He has the highest ERA/relative ERA of any HOF'er, but his winning percentage is comfortably in the HOF range.

I guess my challenge is this: at what point do we stop saying his W-L record reflects the quality of his teammates, and start giving him some of the credit for all the wins. If he did that for two or three years, on one franchise, I'd buy that it's mostly the quality of his teammates. If observers and teammates and managers didn't really believe in his ability, I'd buy it. But Morris' whole career is W-L records that exceed runs allowed, and the conviction of coaches, teammates, fans, and writers that he was a helluva pitcher. That's what I can't get my head around: 1992 wasn't an outlier...it was his whole career.
1:37 PM Dec 14th
 
DaveFleming
That's correct, BryanBM: I should have written 'runs' instead of ERA. I was trying to start with the traditional pitching line and then go down and see where the gap was, and I was a tad rushed in my response. Thanks for drawing out the math for us.
12:59 PM Dec 14th
 
BryanBM
Nope, ERA is not given any consideration in WAR.

Jack Morris has 4.26 RA9 and his opponents have a 4.37 RA9 on the season.
Jimmy Key has 3.66 RA9 and his opponents have a 4.24 RA9 on the season.

Both play with the same defense which is 0.21 RA9 above average so a penalty to the pitcher and are both starters in 1992 and get a 0.15 RA9 bonus relative to relievers. Jack has a 103.8 Park Factor so that's a bonus, Key has a slightly larger bonus with 104.6 Park Factor.

Then those things are combined: Park Factor/100*(Opponent RA9 - Defense + Role) and an average pitcher facing Jack's opponents is expected to allow 4.48 RA9 and 4.37 RA9 against Key's opponents.

Jack: IP*(4.48 - 4.26)/9 which is 5.9 and then adjusted to 0 out the league.
Key: IP*(4.37 - 3.66)/9 which is 17.1 and then adjusted to 0 out the league.

1992 AL is 9802 Runs and 20329 IP so 0.1607 Runs per Out which is then multiplied by (21.033-1.8) because the 1992 AL is a slightly stronger than average league and divided by 100 for 0.0309 Runs per Out for a Replacement Pitcher.

Jack: 5.9 Runs above average adjusted to run scoring + (0.0309 * 722 Outs) = 30 Runs Above Replacement modified by leverage which largely benefits relievers becomes 2.9 WAR.

Key: 17.1 Runs above average adjusted to run scoring + (0.0309 * 650 Outs) = 39 Runs Above Replacement which becomes 3.9 WAR.

I may not have it exactly right but that's the basic principles and the Runs Above Replacement are the actual values they are awarded.

The much shorter version is:

240.2 IP and 114 Runs for Jack
216.2 IP and 88 Runs for Key
24 IP and 26 Runs is 9.75 RA9 which is below replacement level.

Sequencing is definitely a factor, rather than looking at individual rate stats Key allows 248/298/391, 89 OPS+ and Morris allows 246/312/358, 85 OPS+. If you want to remove sequencing the simplest thing to do is use FIP based WAR available at fangraphs and then it's Jack 3.7 and Key 2.7. If you want to give Jack credit for winning games but don't want to give Key credit for cluster luck allowing those hits you lack a defensible position.

Wins - favors Jack over most non-HoF pitchers, he has an outstanding 9 year peak of 164 Wins and 86 losses, that's basically his regular season HoF case.

Runs - this would be the middle ground of evaluating results vs quality of pitching and of course completely removes run support.

FIP/OPS+ - these would be metrics that suggest Jack has no viable HoF case, he just never pitches all that well relative to anything that could be considered a HoF standard.

You're going to want to go with what did happen if you're going to support Jack Morris, he did win 164 games and lose 86 in his 9 best seasons, an outstanding result. Key allowed 88 Runs in 216.2 IP, a great result relative to the quality of his pitching in 1992 but it did happen, if you want to argue that more runs "should have" scored you're simply using the same arguments as someone saying Jack "shouldn't have" won that many games.
12:05 PM Dec 14th
 
jwilt
Key's advantage over Morris in 1992 completely evaporates, and actually goes the other way to favor Morris, if you use the FIP-based version of WAR that you can find at Fangraphs. Using that metric it's 3.7 to 2.7 in favor of Morris, because of the K/BB/HR/IP that you mentioned.

But using that throughout Morris' career he has a total of 55 WAR, and only one season (1983) over five wins. He looks better there than with RA-based WAR, but I still don't think he has a strong case unless you're also willing to entertain the candidacies of at least several dozen other similarly-valued pitchers who aren't currently in the Hall. Or maybe if you place a very high weight to postseason play.
10:38 AM Dec 14th
 
DaveFleming
Jwilt: I think the 'basis' of Bill's work is to think critically; to not accept consensus belief but to think widely, and wildly. Metrics or statistics were the tool that allowed him to do that, but it is not the only tool in his (or our) toolbox.

What I am trying to encourage is that we think a little critically about the current status quo. We've won the argument: in baseball circles, those of us versed in sabermetrics are the ones calling the shots. If we don't find a way to look at ourselves critically...if we don't look for the errors and gaps in our thinking....it is my opinion that we are failing Bill's legacy.

The current consensus is that Jack Morris wasn't THAT good of a good pitcher. The dominant metric of the day - WAR - tells us that Jack Morris wasn't very good.

What I am asking is whether or not that notion holds up under serious critical examination.

Let's just look at Morris in 1992, with the Blue Jays.

WAR credits Jack Morris with a WAR of 2.9. He went 21-6 over 240.2 IP. He had 4.04 ERA. His teammate Jimmy Key went 13-13 over 216.2 IP, with a 3.53 ERA.

WAR claims that Jimmy Key was the more valuable pitcher. Not more valuable...MUCH more valuable. Jimmy Key is credited with a WAR of 3.9 to Morris' 2.9. Per 200 IP, the gap widens a bit: WAR rates Key at 3.6 WAR/200 IP, Morris at 2.4 WAR/200 IP.

What is the basis of that? The two pitchers had identical strikeout rates (4.9). Jimmy Key gave up a few fewer walks (2.9 to 3.5), but he allowed more home runs (1.0 to 0.7). They allowed the same number of hits, 8.5 to 8.3.

The basis is ERA: Jack Morris had a league-average ERA, and Jimmy Key had a better-than-league average ERA.

Well...what is that? That's mostly sequencing, right? And a part of it is the extra innings pitched by Morris. Both pitchers had the same number of starts (34 to 33), but Morris was allowed to go a little deeper in his games.

Now take a step back. Who do you think had more influence on the Blue Jays success in 1992: Jack Morris or Jimmy Key? Who was the better pitcher? Do you really think that Jimmy Key, with identical rate stats, 24 fewer innings pitched and a record of 13-13, was a much better pitcher than Jack Morris and his 21-6 record?

Maybe you do. But I don't. I don't believe that Jimmy Key did a helluva lot more to help Toronto win games than Jack Morris.

I think...I hope...that is in line with Bill's work.
8:57 AM Dec 14th
 
jwilt
"It seems just a tad egotistical NOT to count that, on the basis of a few metrics telling us that Jack Morris wasn't really anything special."

Doesn't that fly in the face of all of Bill James' work? Isn't the basis for his entire career trying to use the best available evidence (often "a few metrics") to figure out if the stuff baseball front offices say has any truth to it at all? Isn't the reason there is a Bill James Online because he very often uncovered that the stuff they'd say and the rationale they'd use wasn't in any way connect to the truth?
6:36 AM Dec 14th
 
Brock Hanke
don coffin - OK. That's fair. I misunderstood what you meant by mainstream. What I demonstrated is that he's below the average of the 9 HoFers. That's not the same thing as saying that he is worse than every individual one of them.
2:26 AM Dec 14th
 
hotstatrat
Dave Fleming & Don Coffin -

OK, thanks. Those are good arguments. They may well explain why Trammell and Morris are considered Hall of Famers, but Stieb and Whitaker are not yet.

However, it is also a good argument that they are weak arguments, if the Hall is purely about what help their teams win.

Morris played the role of ace well - until he couldn't. Those teams may have been right about more things than other teams, but they weren't necessarily right about how they used Morris. Is there evidence that he pitched proportionally better in clutch situations than other pitchers? Or did until the end of the 1992 season?

Is there evidence that having your 5 best non-consecutive seasons be outstanding compared to another player's more valuable when comparing two players with equal contributions over their careers?

I concede the significance that by far the best of these seasons was Trammell's MVP DeSeRVing 1987 in which Detroit did win their Division with baseball's best record.

Looking at their 16 year primes 1978-1993 for both players, Trammell had 71.2 brWAR and Whitaker 71.0. It just seems wrong not to put these two who played side by side in the Hall together.

Unlike Trammell, Lou actually had two more decent years. However, at their best 12 consecutive years, Trammell's brWAR wins 62.5 to 57. At their five year peak, again it's Trammell 32.0 to 25.3.

Trammell's peak was significantly a little better, but the concept of having a great peak being of added value is specious. And the difference isn't enough to break their historical links. Tinker and Evers were lesser players, but they were inducted together.

Detroit now has a Hall of Famer at every position:
RF Crawford, Heilmann, & Kaline
CF Cobb
LF Manush & Goslin
3B Kell
SS Trammell
2B Gehringer
1B Greenberg
C Cochrane
P Newhauser, Bunning, & Morris
Managers: Hughie Jennings, Bucky Harris, & Sparky Anderson

(OK, both leftfielders spent more time in Washington, but at least had some very significant years with Detoit. The same can be said of Cochrane and the Athletics. If you reject the left-fielders, we could count one of the right-fielders as one of two necessary corner outfielders to fill our all Hall of Fame team. However, I don't think I can wait for Bill Freehan to be inducted as a true Tigers catcher.)

10:18 PM Dec 13th
 
doncoffin
hotstatrat--Trammell had a much higher peak, more than anything else, I think, which distinguished him in the eyes of the voters. Trammell's 5 best years (by WAR), and Whitaker's
Trammell... ...Whitaker
1987: 8.2.......1983: 6.7
1990: 6.7.......1991: 6.7
1984: 6.7.......1982: 5.4
1986: 6.3........1989: 5.2
1986: 6.0........1965: 4.5
1983: 6.0........1986: 4.4
TOT: 45.9..............32.9.

8:04 PM Dec 13th
 
arnewcs
I'm thinking of Bill James's line about dividing Rickey Henderson's career into two halves, and both of them being at a Hall of Fame level (do I have that right?). Here's what you get if you divide Morris's career into two halves, and the first is 1977 through 1986, the second is 1987 through 1994.

1st half: a 144-94 record, a 3.57 ERA, ERA+ of 113, FIP of 3.87. Two 20-win seasons, and 1 of 19 wins.

2nd half: a 110-92 record, a 4.31 ERA, ERA+ of 96, FIP of 4.03. 21 wins in 92 and 18 in 87 and 91.
5:06 PM Dec 13th
 
Manushfan
Well, I have to say this article is a nice surprise. I agree with what you are saying about Black Jack. You thought of him as a HoF in the 80's, not a slam dunk-that was supposed to be either Gooden or Fernando, say, or Orel-but he was right there. And if you use the Fangraphs WAR score, he is 55.8, right with Tiant, Red Faber, Burleigh Grimes, David Cone, Early Wynn, Whitey Ford, etc. Some are in, some are not, he's by no means a slam dunk, but seems to me-Morris fits in nicely.

Using him as a whipping boy for a decade plus to prop up a case for Blyleven...who in the real world does that kinda thing? And memo to the Posnanskis of the world-you come off a lot better if you put more energy into trying to be For someone or something-Dale Murphy-instead of against-Morris, now Vizquel. Just sayin'.
4:51 PM Dec 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I've been called a lot worse than "a tad egotistical," Dave, and that's just since Monday.

My point is that players (and organizations) will believe any baseless, illogical, foolish nonsense as long as it works out for them and they don't have any other choice, as well they should. Dudn't hurt to keep a positive mind frame, however ill-founded it may be. But when sabermetricians are reduced to citing players' beliefs as their basis, I not only don't find it very persuasive, but I find it counter-persuasive. "Is THAT really your basis for convincing me? You must have nothing then" is my response.
4:46 PM Dec 13th
 
DaveFleming
It wasn't the belief of 'players' that convinces me....it is the faith of entire organizations, over a long stretch of time. Year-after-year, for more than a decade, Jack Morris' organizations believe that he was THE pitcher who gave their team the best chance to win.

We are not talking about dumb organizations...we're talking about some of the most successful teams of Morris' era. The Sparky-led Tigers gave Jack Morris the ball in their big games. The Twins did the same thing. The Blue Jays did the same thing. These teams weren't run by fools, and they weren't losers: they were smart organizations who won a lot of games. And they picked Jack Morris as their guy, over and over again.

It seems just a tad egotistical NOT to count that, on the basis of a few metrics telling us that Jack Morris wasn't really anything special.
3:26 PM Dec 13th
 
hotstatrat
grumble - the Whitaker and Trammel stats lined up before I posted them.
3:21 PM Dec 13th
 
hotstatrat
Morris's performance in the final game of the 1991 Series deserves some Hall of FAME merit as well.

The Tigers are "my team", so I am delighted to see two of my guys elected. Sorry to be a complainer, though, on such a happy occasion, but I felt it is the wrong two guys. I always felt it would only be right if Trammell and Lou Whitaker went in the Hall together.

As a Tigers fan who moved from the U.S. to Toronto in 1983 - i.e. someone with a sabermetric head and a foot in both camps, I still feel Dave Steib deserved to step through the famous Cooperstown entrance before his more in-the-spotlight 1980s rival. But, I guess this is about FAME not demonstrated ability.

But, how Trammell became more famous than Whitaker - needs some explaining:
Whitaker: 2369 H, 244 HR, 3651 TB, 1197 BB, .789 OPS, 2 GG. Trammell: 2365 H, 185 HR, 3442 TB, 850 BB, .767 OPS, 4 GG.
3:19 PM Dec 13th
 
ventboys
It seems to me that the Hall of Fame voters, if anything, treated Morris kindly. They treated him like Jim Bunning, a pitcher whose comps were mostly elected by the BBWAA. The treated him better than Jim Kaat and Tommy John, a couple of aces who lasted forever, too. I agree with you, Dave, that he was deserving. I don't know that he lost anything to the SABR movement, though. He got in about when he should have, as far as I can tell.

I didn't think the BBWAA would elect him, and the Vets have had one hell of a hard time electing anyone lately, because of a flawed system, so his quick VC election is a good sign, for Morris as well as for the VC itself. Maybe they can start chipping at the backlog now, and guys like Kaat and John can get their due while they are still here to give a speech.

I've found, over time, that most of the angst, misuse and abuse of the so-called SABRmetric virtues can be traced back to weak sources. The guys who work in the field are largely intelligent and dedicated. The few exceptions are loud enough to make us worry about them, but not numerous enough to make a tangible difference in the Hall of Fame voting, at least so far. Logic is still the rule, more than the exception, and the trolls are still living under rent-controlled bridges. Nice article, as always, and beautifully written. Thanks, Dave.

2:57 PM Dec 13th
 
shthar
and now let's get Ken Keltner in the Hall of Fame!
2:10 PM Dec 13th
 
metsfan17
Thank you Dave. I as everyone on this website read a lot of modern baseball analysis and enjoy it. I know sabermetrics questions whether Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer. It gets me confused sometimes. I have to admit. When I was watching baseball in the 80's, and watched Jack Morris, I thought I was watching a great pitcher, a Hall of Fame pitcher. Thank you for clearing it up for me a bit.
1:42 PM Dec 13th
 
doncoffin
Astros34--Rick Reuschel would be another potential comp (217-191, 3548 IP, 114 OPS+, but without the post-season goodies). And people have made a case for him as worth of consideration. 2 of his 10 best (similarity score) comps are in the Hall (Bunning, Hunter).
1:36 PM Dec 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
You begin to lose me when you cite players' "beliefs" to justify your numbers not checking out. ("the high ERA is a reflection of the team's over-reliance on him; their belief that he was the best guy to get them to a win")

1:14 PM Dec 13th
 
doncoffin
Brock--I didn't say "middle of the pack," I said "mainstream." That is, it looks to me like he's not a bad fit. He has more wins than 4 of them, fewer losses than 2 of them (and essentially the same number of losses as another 2--182 and 184--Bunning & Hoyt, who both have fewer wins). He has a higher winning percentage than 4 of them, and a lower WHIP than 3. He's at the bottom in ERA and ERA+. I'm comfortable with saying "mainstream"--someone has to be at the bottom of every metric. He's not at the top anywhere, and fits in nicely on everything but ERA/ERA+.
11:06 AM Dec 13th
 
DaveFleming
Responding to Astro34: you're correct to note that Morris' ERA, adjusted to the league, is average. Does that make him a 'basically league average' pitcher that year?

Morris was league-average in one specific category. But he wasn't league average in innings pitched: he threw 240 innings. He wasn't league average in terms of wins and losses: he led the league in wins with 21, against six loses.

Some people...a great many people....think that the the ERA is the telling metric, and the others are illusions. Jack Morris was an average pitcher; he just lucked into playing on a great team.

I understand that position....I have probably argued that position many times in my life...but I am starting to see things differently now. My view is that there is a relationship between those numbers. Yes, Morris had a high ERA. But it seems possible that the high ERA is a reflection of the team's over-reliance on him; their belief that he was the best guy to get them to a win. I think it's possible that his ERA reflects THAT reality more than it reflects his pure talent.

If it helps, you can think about it on a smaller scale. Take Grady Little's decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS. We could use his ERA from that game (6.43) and state that Pedro Martinez wasn't very good. A 6.43 ERA isn't good in any era. But anyone who watched that game knew that Pedro pitched terrifically for the first seven innings.

The decision to leave Pedro in for the 8th...the decision that changed Pedro's ERA from 'very good' to 'very lousy', does not reflect Pedro's awfulness as a pitcher: it reflects his greatness. Pedro was the ace, and his manager decided that the team had a better chance with Pedro at 100 pitches than anyone in the bullpen.

The same thing holds for Jack Morris in 1992, and Jack Morris for his entire career. Yeah, he had a league-average ERA in 1992. But the Blue Jays knew that they had a thumper offense: maybe they were happy to have Morris allow the league average in runs. Maybe they thought, collectively, that it was more valuable to have Morris throw seven or eight innings a start and win an 8-4 game, than have him pitch five innings in a no-decision.

I think the correlation between why a team wins and who is responsible for those wins is a gigantic question, and we're still far away from any kind of answer that I trust entirely. WAR thinks that Jack Morris was about a one-win pitcher in 1991 or 1992...I just do not buy that. It just does not pass the smell test for me, just like it wouldn't pass the smell test for me if you told me that Pedro was lousy in Game 7 of the 2013 ALCS.
10:51 AM Dec 13th
 
Brock Hanke
Doncoffin - I'm not sure I get one of your comments - the one about Morris being in the middle of a pack of HoFers. Here's your own chart, with only the Morris column and the "nine Hofers" column (Group 4)

....................Morris.Group 4
Wins..............254....257
Losses............186....177
WPCT...........0.577....0.592
IP................3824......3883
ERA..............3.90.......3.19
ERA+.............105.......124
K9..................5.8........4.8
W9.................3.3........2.9
WHIP...........1.296.......1.258

As you can see, the HoFers have more wins, fewer losses, consequently a higher winning percentage, more IP, a MUCH lower ERA, and a significantly higher ERA+. Morris shows well in the last three stats, but they are descriptive, not evaluative stats. In short, my interpretation is that Morris was significantly WORSE than the HoFers, not in the group with them.
10:45 AM Dec 13th
 
MarisFan61
3rd doesn't equal 1st, last I checked... :-)

(among other things)
10:44 AM Dec 13th
 
mrbryan
One more thing - Jamie Moyer had the third most wins during the first decade of this century.
10:09 AM Dec 13th
 
mrbryan
I'm fine with this article. Jack Morris is a deserving Hall of Famer. Using this argument, of course, you must be a supporter of Jamie Moyer for the Hall of Fame as well. We're discounting the value of era, so we can ignore that, which would otherwise seem to be disqualifying. The ERA+ of the two of them is virtually the same - 105 for Morris and 103 for Moyer. We're not comparing the best seasons of each player, just conceding them to Morris, like they were conceded to Santana. Moyer's 13th through 18th best seasons, though, were worth 4.7 WAR, while Morris' 13th through 18th best seasons were worth only 1.4 WAR. Now add to that that Moyer pitched in 7 more seasons while Morris was washed up and through. It's clear that since Morris is a mainstream Hall of Famer, Moyer is an upper echelon choice.
10:05 AM Dec 13th
 
rwarn17588
Dave makes a pretty compelling argument.

Even less than 15 years ago, I remember when the Cardinals landed a a cheap starting pitcher (i.e., Jeff Suppan) who wasn't all that notable except he was known as an "innings eater" that could give most of the bullpen a break once in a while. I suppose a few teams still occasionally look for such a pitcher, but it appears to have gone by the wayside. (It ended up Suppan didn't log a single complete game during his three-year tenure with the Cards; Tony La Russa made sure of that with his embrace of the bullpen-by-committee.)

I will note, however, Morris led the league in complete games only one time in his entire career. He did finish in the top 10 in complete games 10 times, but you probably can't even consider him an elite in that category. Durable for a long period? Yes. And there certainly is value in that.

Dave's essay brings to mind 37-year-old Steve Carlton's Cy Young-winning season of 1982, in which he went 23-11 but with a decidedly non-Cy Young ERA of 3.10. I remember reading Bill James' Abstract after that season, and he dismissed Carlton's somewhat inflated ERA, noting Lefty was pitching deeper into games (he led the league with 19 complete games) and allowed a few more runs during games he had in the bag. In the end, Bill thought the award still was deserved.
9:48 AM Dec 13th
 
astros34
Interesting piece, but you lost me when you started citing Morris' W-L record in 1992, when he was basically league-average (101 ERA+). Durability counts, but you don't see anyone shilling Mickey Lolich for the Hall, and he had over 300 IP four straight years, 104 ERA+ (basically the same as Morris' 105) and a 3-1, 1.57 record in the postseason. (First example I could think of, there's probably better ones).

BTW, Morris' top comps for his career are Dennis Martinez and Bartolo Colon, neither Hall-worthy. Not saying Morris doesn't belong, but he doesn't raise the bar; he probably lowers it.
8:21 AM Dec 13th
 
MarisFan61
typo -- not 'at leat') :-)
2:07 AM Dec 13th
 
MarisFan61
A couple of stray things. Actually at least three.

-- Bonds and Clemens will make the Hall of Fame -- not now, but they will.
They're not good examples of players that the voters refused to put in the Hall of Fame, because there's still some ball left to play.

-- Some of us might say "Beg your pardon" about it being stupid to hold some of those opinions about PED use in the more modern era, but it's fine -- I know you were just giving your opinion, not stating a fact. At leat I think you were. :-)

=============

Back to Morris:
This excerpt from your article, even minus any comparison to Johan Santana (who I agree has a rational Hall of Fame case), might be the strongest argument against any notion that Morris is a baloney Hall of Famer:

"In Jack Morris’s 9th-best year, he went 21-6 for the World Champion Blue Jays. In Jack Morris’s 10th-best year, he went 19-11 for the 1984 [also world champion] Detroit Tigers."
2:06 AM Dec 13th
 
doncoffin
(The 9th HoF member is Hoyt...Typing is not my strength)
10:44 PM Dec 12th
 
doncoffin
I looked at 14 players, all who played no earlier than the 1930s, who had either win totals very close to Morris (Pettite, Martinez, Lyons, Faber, Gibson, Hubbell) or whose inning pitchers were very close (Hubbell, Bunning, Feller, Koosman, Grove, Palmer, Hoyt, Hough, Newsom). (Hubbell fit into both groups.)

Here are the group averages, and Morris. For the group averages, the first column consists of the players close to Morris in Wins; the second column is the players close in IP, and the third column is all 14. The final column is the 9 HoF members (excluding Morris).

....................Morris.....Group 1......Group 2......Group 3......Group 4
Wins..............254.........253...........248.............250...........257
Losses............186........186............175.............182...........177
WPCT...........0.577......0.576.........0.586...........0.579........0.592
IP................3824.......3838...........3808............3833........ 3883
ERA..............3.90........3.38...........3.27.............3.38..........3.19
ERA+.............105.........119............121.............118............124
K9..................5.8..........4.7.............5.2.............5.1.............4.8
W9.................3.3..........2.8..............3.1.............3.0............2.9
WHIP...........1.296.......1.276...........1.252.........1.283.........1.258

9 of the 14 players are in the HoF:
Lyons
Faber
Gibson
Hubbell
Bunning
Feller
Grove
Palmer

5 are not
Pettite
Martinez
Koosman
Hough
Newsom

Just looking at these numbers, Morris looks a lot like a group of players who are in the HoF; the only large variance between him and them is ERA (and ERA+).

When I started this exercise, I expected it to confirm my sense that Morris is a marginal HoF selection. What It did was make me change my mind. He's a mainstream HoF member...

10:32 PM Dec 12th
 
BryanBM
"Player A: our second guy is 36% better than his league, as opposed to 19% better."

Nope, it means Player A's league would have 4.06 ERA and Player B's league would have a 4.35 ERA with factors specific to the pitcher. Player A has an ERA 16% lower than league average and Player B is 26% lower than league average. While it's not as noticeable at the low end it becomes vastly more apparent with for instance 2017 Corey Kluber 202 ERA+.
10:30 PM Dec 12th
 
DaveFleming
Thanks, ksclacktc! Nice to be back to 'ritten about baseball.
9:24 PM Dec 12th
 
ksclacktc
Very nice job. I have always thought about what you said in regard to Jack Morris and you articulated it for me. Welcome back!
8:41 PM Dec 12th
 
DMBBHF
Hi Dave.

Nice job on the article. I would say that it's a refreshing perspective on an old subject. I've taken a position where I don't think Morris was a "great" pitcher in the normal sense that we tend to use the phrase, but I do believe that his case for the Hall of Fame has been a solid one, and I find myself very comfortable with the fact that he is now in.

Again, nice job.

Thanks,

Dan
7:43 PM Dec 12th
 
DaveFleming
Thanks, guys...glad to be back. I should be posting a lot more in the coming months. My schedule got momentarily crazy, but I'm back to the important work of writing about baseball.
7:21 PM Dec 12th
 
steve161
Dave, it's good to see your byline here again. I'm still on the fence about Morris, but you've almost convinced me.
7:10 PM Dec 12th
 
MarisFan61
No surprise to the folks who've been on Reader Posts: Let me be the first to say "nice job." :-)
7:07 PM Dec 12th
 
 
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