This is the first time hardballchat.com has been open for business immediately following the Hall of Fame vote. As my bio underneath says, I wrote The Hall of Fame Index back in 2010 in an effort to bring more clarity to the Hall of Fame discussion. The work was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical advancement and got solid reviews from those within the statistical community.
The Hall of Fame is really a passion for me. The baseball beatwriters use it as a platform for their work, but I thought I would take the opportunity to look at the candidates that fell just short to see if they really do belong. We begin with the candidate that came the closest to getting the call yesterday: Jack Morris.
2011 Percentage: 53.5
2012 Percentage: 66.7
A basic review of history shows that players that get this close usually get in the following season. There are some mitigating circumstances here as the 2013 ballot is loaded with first time studs. Not all of those studs will get in because of PEDs, but enough will garner votes where it may take away from some of the borderline candidates from this year’s class.
Jack Morris is Ground Zero of the fight between traditional baseball writers and the new breed of statistically conscious fans and analysts. So, we will look at the traditional arguments that are often levied for him. Many of these were uttered as recently as last night on the MLB Network by such lumanaries like Richard Justice and Mensa candidate Mitch Williams.
“He won more games than any other pitcher in the 1980s.”
Yes indeed. Where do I begin with this one? First, let’s consider the luck that is involved with being a full-time pitcher at the beginning of the decade and at the end of the decade. Of the top ten pitchers in victories in the decade, exactly two pitched full-time in 1980 and 1989. One was Jack Morris and the other was Nolan Ryan. Miller Light currently has a campaign where they talk about winning the World competition in American Style Light lagers. Take a step back and ask yourself what that means exactly.
Not to be deterred, both Justice and Williams kept on the Morris front and made the logical leap from winningest pitcher to best pitcher. Of course, I’ll bust out the real numbers here, but let’s use the stink test as they like to. Jog your memory of the great pitchers from that decade and tell me where Morris ranks in your book. If you honestly tell me he’s the best then I’ll quit now. I’m guessing I can continue.
For those that did not read my book, NWins will be a new stat for you. That is an abbreviation for Lee Sinins neutral wins. The idea is that he assigned average run support to your decisions and redistributed them. The method has some limitations in that it does not consider no decisions, but you get a general idea of who was lucky and who wasn’t. For his career, Morris sported a 254-186 pitcher. That’s impressive. Lee Sinins has him with a neutral record of 232-208. That’s considerably less impressive.
The ERA+ numbers compare his ERAs with the league average. A lot has been made that his 3.90 ERA would be the highest in the Hall of Fame, but that has always been a very crude argument. Someone has to have the highest ERA of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame and it makes no statement to how that was earned. Some pitchers hang on too long and see their career numbers blitzed by two or three horrific seasons at the end. When we look at Morris’ so-called prime we see some average and some good, but we don’t see any great.
The irony of the chart above is that the same voters that didn’t give Morris much of a thought in the Cy Young voting are the same ones lauding him now. Yes, he has three top five finishes and five top tens, but that is hardly the kind of performance of someone that was “the best pitcher in the decade.”
“You wanted him on the mound in the most crucial games.”
It’s funny how memory distorts the truth. Jack Morris had one of the greatest performances in post-season history in game 7 of the 1991 World Series. He pitched ten shutout innings on the way to earning the Twins’ second title in five seasons. He was a part of the Tigers 1984 World Series team and a prominent part of one of the Toronto Blue Jays’ back to back World Series wins.
Obviously, someone that was around that much greatness must have had a profound impact on it. You could even argue that he was the best pitcher during the regular season for each of those teams. So, no one is suggesting that Morris was chopped liver, but let’s take a look at his whole postseason record.
- Games: 13
- Innings: 92.1
- ERA: 3.80
- SO: 64
- Walks: 32
- HRs: 9
This isn’t to demean Jack Morris. The playoffs are more difficult for everyone. All of the competition is better, the lineups are deeper, and the pressure is greater. So, when you see a playoff ERA slightly better than his career ERA that is saying something. He hurled a little more than seven innings a start, sported a two to one strikeout to walk ratio and gave up a little less than one home run per nine innings. Those are all good numbers.
So, no one is arguing that Morris was a bad or even average playoff performer, but he was hardly a legend. He had a legendary performance in 1991, but Don Larsen had one of those in 1956. No one is calling the Larsen family to invite them to Cooperstown for his Hall of Fame plaque. Morris obviously had a few great performances and some not so great performances sprinkled in there. We cannot trumpet the great without remembering the bad as well.
“He just knew how to win.”
I’ve already shown you the neutral records, so I don’t need to spend too much time on this little gem. Pitcher wins and losses were designed as an all encompassing stat to measure pitcher quality back in the 19th century. Back then nearly every pitcher finished the game. However, even then the statistic failed to meet its objective. The inventors of the game and its statistics couldn’t come up with a single number to measure pitcher effectiveness. Even ERA fails to do that.
There are too many factors outside of a pitcher’s control to honestly buy into the above argument. A pitcher cannot control the defense behind him or the performance of his own hitters at the plate. To say a pitcher that came on the business end of a 1-0 loss lost the game is repugnant. He no more lost the game than the shortstop that took the collar and made a key error in the 7th inning.
Teams win and lose games. Players can contribute to those wins and losses, but they should not be attributed those losses. Since those rules likely will not change, the least we can do is rid ourselves of antiquated notions like the one above. To their credit, the BBWAA have done a great job of doing that in recent Cy Young elections. They’ve voted for the best pitcher regardless of won-loss records. It’s high time we transport that wisdom to the Hall of Fame.
In addition to being the editor of hardballchat.com, Scott Barzilla is also the proud father of one and the author of four books. His books can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Barzilla's Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical advancement.