Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blyleven vs. Mo(rris)

By Bill

It's that time of year, when most people just think about Christmas and stuff, but baseball freaks like us spend way too much of their time thinking about Hall of Fame voting.  And for the last few years, it's been that time of year when everybody talks about Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris.  Jon Heyman and Buster Olney, among what I'm sure are at least a few others, have already publicly admitted to voting no on the former and yea on the latter.

So that's what I was thinking about, and I started thinking about this fun little exercise:

It's the winter of 1994. Just a couple months ago, for the first time in ninety years, October passed without a World Series.

Jack Morris has spent the summer toiling away for Cleveland, the players' strike mercifully saving him from the end of a dreadful season.  But now, rather than failing to land a job and winding up with the St. Paul Saints and then out of baseball, he trains really hard, tries out for a bunch of teams during the abbreviated 1995 spring training, proves to be in The Best Shape of His Life, and lands another job. They give him some starts, but he struggles again, and does better out of the bullpen.  Then late in the year, he starts fooling around with a knuckleball and looks a lot better.  Still not done at 41, he perfects the knuckler in the offseason, to where it's one of the best pitches anybody's ever seen.  Becomes a dominant setup man and then closer, and then the best closer anyone's ever seen.  Knuckleballers can throw forever, as we know -- Phil Niekro went until 48 -- and with the closer's light workload and his competitive bulldog mentality, Blackjack makes Niekro look like a wuss, going strong until he's fifty-five years old, at which point he decides it's best to go out on top and spend some time with his grandkids or whatever.

Unbelievable?  Yeah, totally.  But if all that happened, Jack Morris' career stats might look something like this:

Year     Age   W    L  ERA     G  GS  SV     IP   BB   SO SO/BB
1977      22   1    1  3.74    7   6   0   45.2   23   28  1.22
1978      23   3    5  4.33   28   7   0  106.0   49   48  0.98
1979      24  17    7  3.28   27  27   0  197.2   59  113  1.92
1980      25  16   15  4.18   36  36   0  250.0   87  112  1.29
1981      26  14    7  3.05   25  25   0  198.0   78   97  1.24
1982      27  17   16  4.06   37  37   0  266.1   96  135  1.41
1983      28  20   13  3.34   37  37   0  293.2   83  232  2.80
1984      29  19   11  3.60   35  35   0  240.1   87  148  1.70
1985      30  16   11  3.33   35  35   0  257.0  110  191  1.74
1986      31  21    8  3.27   35  35   0  267.0   82  223  2.72
1987      32  18   11  3.38   34  34   0  266.0   93  208  2.24
1988      33  15   13  3.94   34  34   0  235.0   83  168  2.02
1989      34   6   14  4.86   24  24   0  170.1   59  115  1.95
1990      35  15   18  4.51   36  36   0  249.2   97  162  1.67
1991      36  18   12  3.43   35  35   0  246.2   92  163  1.77
1992      37  21    6  4.04   34  34   0  240.2   80  132  1.65
1993      38   7   12  6.19   27  27   0  152.2   65  103  1.58
1994      39  10    6  5.60   23  23   0  141.1   67  100  1.49
1995      40   5    3  5.51   19  10   0   67.0   30   51  1.70
1996      41   8    3  2.09   61   0   5  107.2   34  130  3.82
1997      42   6    4  1.88   66   0  43   71.2   20   68  3.40
1998      43   3    0  1.91   54   0  36   61.1   17   36  2.12
1999      44   4    3  1.83   66   0  45   69.0   18   52  2.89
2000      45   7    4  2.85   66   0  36   75.2   25   58  2.32
2001      46   4    6  2.34   71   0  50   80.2   12   83  6.92
2002      47   1    4  2.74   45   0  28   46.0   11   41  3.73
2003      48   5    2  1.66   64   0  40   70.2   10   63  6.30
2004      49   4    2  1.94   74   0  53   78.2   20   66  3.30
2005      50   7    4  1.38   71   0  43   78.1   18   80  4.44
2006      51   5    5  1.80   63   0  34   75.0   11   55  5.00
2007      52   3    4  3.15   67   0  30   71.1   12   74  6.17
2008      53   6    5  1.40   64   0  39   70.2   6    77 12.83
2009      54   3    3  1.76   66   0  44   66.1   12   72  6.00
2010      55   3    3  1.80   61   0  33   60.0   11   45  4.09
34 Seasons   328  241  3.51 1527 537 559 4974.0 1657 3529  2.13
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2010.

Is this a really long-winded way to make another silly Blyleven-Morris comparison?  Yeah, totally.  But it's a pretty fun little story (and table), right?

You can probably tell, from the stats or the lead-in or this post's title, that the table shows Morris' career numbers plus the entire career to date of no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, which happen to line up exactly, Morris leaving the game just as Mo entered.  Fun, huh?

So our hypothetical Morris-prime is obviously a Hall of Famer; if for no other reason, he's had the most bizarre and fascinating career in big league history.  But how does this Morris compare to Blyleven?  Let's look:

NameIPERABBSOSO/BB
Morris'49743.51165735292.13
Blyleven49703.31132237012.80

Freaky? Or freakiest thing ever?  Blyleven pitched almost exactly as many innings as Morris plus the greatest closer in history combined.  And even when you add 1150 innings of the all-time leader in adjusted ERA+ (and the modern leader in ERA, and in the all-time top 5 in K/BB), Blyleven ends up slightly ahead in ERA, BB, strikeouts and K/BB.  You might argue that Morris-prime is Blyleven's equal or better -- Morris-prime's relief innings came during the home run derby era, so that ERA might be just as impressive as Blyleven's when you adjust for that sort of thing -- but the fact is that they're really freaking close.  Morris plus the entire career of a Hall of Famer and one of the most celebrated pitchers of all time equals Blyleven, more or less.

For the real-life Morris to equal Blyleven's innings pitched and ERA, Morris would have to had to throw another 1146 innings (for a starting pitcher, five more full years at 229 innings a year) and have a 1.35 ERA in those innings.  He didn't do that.

Blyleven was a Hall of Famer.  Morris was a pretty good pitcher who wasn't quite as good as Dave Stieb or Kevin Appier.  How is it that this is still a thing that people think about?

9 comments:

sdvinay said...

"Blackjack"? We can call Jack McDowell "Black Jack" or something like it, but not Morris.

Interesting idea, but it's not going to convince anybody already voting for Morris or against Blyleven, because they *don't care that the ERA and K/BB are better in the same innings*. Note that the Morris+Rivera has way over 300 wins and 500 saves; that pitcher is *obviously* more valuable than Blyleven, regardless of ERA and IP (even to the statheads in the audience). For those who don't already believe in the advanced stats, this is just more fuel behind the idea that, "You can prove anything with stats."

Bill said...

Morris' fellow Twins radio broadcasters call him Blackjack. It's annoying, but not nearly as annoying as Morris' color commentary.

Note that the Morris+Rivera has way over 300 wins and 500 saves; that pitcher is *obviously* more valuable than Blyleven, regardless of ERA and IP (even to the statheads in the audience).

The parenthetical is false. The real statheads in the audience, by and large, completely ignore wins and saves. I know I do.

Bill said...

I don't like the way I said that -- it implies that I'm some sort of stats expert. "Hopeless stat nerd" is probably more accurate for me than "real stathead"

Avenger-in-Chief said...

People were mesmerized by the mustache, 1984, and Game 7 in 1991. I know I was.

Thankfully, your insanity has given me reason to pause and reevaluate Jack Morris

Barry Gillis said...

But Jack Morris was feared !

Feared, I tell ya !

Sincerely,

Jim Rice

Diamondhacks said...

Jack-Bert comparisons are about as hackneyed as it gets, but this was a fun approach, which not only illustrated the distance between them, but deftly implied the value disparity between starters and relievers. Enjoyed it.

A.J. said...

sdvinay: For those who don't already believe in the advanced stats, this is just more fuel behind the idea that, "You can prove anything with stats."

Restated:

For those of us who won't believe your statistical evidence, no matter how good it is, this is just more proof that we won't believe your statistical evidence no matter how good it is.

studes said...

Yeah, but what does this say about Mo and the Hall of Fame?

PhilM said...

Great idea, and entertainingly presented! Another cool thing is that Morris+Rivera has an ERA+ of 118, over almost an identical number of innings as Blyleven. I suppose this is what John Smoltz is going to use to get him into the Hall -- he's like Dazzy Vance plus 1979-1983 Bruce Sutter (4 of his 5 five save titles)! This gene splicing is fun. . . .