Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Does Jack Morris Fit in Baseball's Hall of Fame?

By The Common Man

This post actually came out of a Twitter conversation that Bill and The Common Man were having yesterday. Here’s the timeline. Tyler Kepner wrote a thoughtful and persuasive article for the New York Times, in which he argues that there is room for Jack Morris in the Hall of Fame, saying “Numerous studies clearly prove that Blyleven was a lot better, so the point is not worth debating. One has nothing to do with the other…. It’s a feel thing with Morris, and that’s not always wrong. Emotions mean a lot.”

TCM agreed, saying that he would “be happy to support Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame, but only after Bert Blyleven is ushered in.” This got Bill up in arms, because Bill doesn’t think Morris is an acceptable candidate, and he challenged TCM “to explain this so we can go on being friends.” Bill’s joking, of course. We were never friends. But in the interest of continuing our productive partnership here on the site, The Common Man figures he owes you and Bill an explanation that is longer than 140 characters. So here goes:

Jack Morris does not have a strong statistical case for the Hall of Fame. Yes, he won 254 games, which is more than 27 other Hall of Fame pitchers. And his .577 winning percentage is better than Catfish Hunter, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Early Wynn, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, and Phil Niekro. But if you know anything about TCM, you know that he thinks “wins” and “W-L %” are terrible ways to judge a pitcher, since so much of what determines those statistics is out of a pitcher’s control.

If Morris were elected to the Hall of Fame, he would have the highest ERA (3.90) of any pitcher there. He would have the second worst ERA+ (105) of any pitcher in the Hall, behind only Rube Marquard and tied with Catfish Hunter. And via Wins Above Replacement, he would have the eighth lowest Wins Above Replacement (BR.com version) amongst starting pitchers. According to FanGraphs, his Wins Above Replacement would rank below David Cone, Chuck Finley, David Wells, and Bret Saberhagen. He never won a Cy Young Award. His performance as a post-season pitcher is vastly overrated. And claims that he pitched to the score are ludicrously and demonstrably wrong.

So why in the hell would The Common Man support his induction? By rights, Jack Morris would be one of the worst pitchers in the Hall of Fame. And if the case were solely about his statistics, Jack Morris falls short.

But the Hall of Fame voters have never relied solely on career statistics in making their decisions. Indeed, Waite Hoyt is in the Hall of Fame almost solely for being the ace of the 1927 and 1928 Yankees. Jack Chesbro is in the Hall of Fame because he won 41 games in 1904. Jim Rice is in because of “Teh FEAR!!!11!1!. Bill Mazeroski is in because he hit a homerun to win the 1960 World Series and because he is considered among the best defensive 2Bs in history. Ross Youngs, Freddie Lindstrom, and George Kelly are in because they had the good fortune to play with Frankie Frisch. Lloyd Waner is in because he played with his brother, and because “Little Poison” is such a cool nickname. Tinker, Evers and Chance had a poem.  Hugh Duffy is in because he hit .440 one year in which the rules of the game were vastly different from how they are now. And Tommy McCarthy is in because…well, TCM isn’t rightly sure why Tommy McCarthy is in.

But the point is that there is a place for Jack Morris. None of the above players have the career statistics to justify their inclusion, but were given extra credit by the bodies that elected them for their contributions to the game’s history. A pitcher who has a marginal statistical case for the Hall of Fame can and should be given extra credit, if you will, for their contributions to the game’s history. For the “fame” part of their Hall of Fame career. And Jack Morris has plenty of fame. He holds a significant place in baseball’s history. He has a defining moment. And that moment, of course, is the famous Game Seven, in which Morris pitched 10 scoreless innings.  And if 75% of the electorate get the "feeling" that Morris is a Hall of Famer because of this and his "ace"ness, maybe it's reasonable to believe that he was.

In The Common Man’s opinion, for instance, that performance and Morris’s place in baseball history is enough to justify including him in the Hall of Fame. It is not enough to prioritize his candidacy over more deserving players like Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Jeff Bagwell, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro, but it is enough to make TCM comfortable with the thought of him getting into the Hall of Fame, and being a deserving candidate under the precedents previously set.

There is are a couple of objections to this position, however. And that is the notion that including Morris in the Hall of Fame lowers the standards for inclusion. It’s true, if you consider Morris part of the statistical continuum on which candidates are judged, he would lower the standards. However, no one (serious) compares Ron Santo to Freddie Lindstrom when they make a Hall of Fame argument for him. No one tries to argue that Barry Larkin should get in because he’s better than Dave Bancroft or Travis Jackson. Alomar isn’t compared with Bill Mazeroski. These players exist outside of the continuum on which players are judged, either because historians and voters view their induction as mistakes or because they were elected for reasons that go beyond their career statistics. No one seems to have a particular problem doing that. It’s unclear why the practice couldn’t continue with Morris.

The other objection TCM anticipates is the idea that allowing voters to use their "feelings" to elevate a particular candidate opens the door to the Hall of Fame campaigns of Trot Nixon, Kent Hrbek, Don Mattingly and other popular players.  TCM's response would be that it's highly unlikely that you could get 75% of voters to agree that those candidates and their contributions meet the necessary requirements for induction.  But if they do, 75% is a huge burden to meet.  It's a higher percentage than is required to change the Constitution.  It's beyond a super-majority.  So maybe, if 75% of voters get that "feeling," it's a legitimate one. 

Likewise, just because a player has a significant moment wouldn't make them Hall-worthy.  Kirk Gibson could not meet the 75% requirement, even as voters consider his 1988 homerun.  Orel Hershiser didn't do enough to get in, despite his scoreless innings streak.  And Bucky Dent didn't sniff the Hall, despite his homer. 

But if enough people feel that Morris' record combined with his dramatic performance and reputation are enough to get him in, then that's acceptable to TCM.  Indeed, TCM would go so far as to encourage it, since the Hall is ultimately a museum and a keeper of the game's great history.  A history of which Morris is indelibly a part.

To be clear, The Common Man isn’t advocating for Morris to get in this year. There are too many other deserving candidates, and voters can only pick 10 of them. It’s far more important to make sure that better candidates get in. These candidates include Blyleven. But as Kepner notes, there is room for both in the Hall of Fame. It’s a big building.


lar said...

I get the point and, mostly, agree. The "museum"-quality of Cooperstown is something important. I still would prefer Morris not to be in (and no way should he be in before Blyleven and others), but I get it.

I remember asking my brother in, I dunno, 1995 or something if he thought Jeff Blauser and Mark Lemke would eventually get into the Hall just because of their association with the dominant Braves teams. I was specifically thinking of Tinkers/Evers/Chance (also, I didn't quite realize how not good they were). I didn't think they were HOFers, but I wondered if history would elevate them because of the team they were on.

Of course, they didn't last long behind Maddux et al, so it all became moot.

Anonymous said...

I honestly can't believe there is a debate.I'm going to tick it off:

Lead majors in wins (the whole point) for a decade or more - check.
ChampionshipSSS - check
Clutch - you know the game - awesome - more besides - check.
Lead an all time team - those Tigers started 35-5 that season & destroyed all in their path - check.
All time gamer along with the skill - check.
Ultra cool moustache - check
Hated my team having to face him - check
Old school tough - check
Sustained greatness - check
Did it with style - check

I'm sure there's more. It's funny how looking back at stats can change an opinion of a player. When you watched him play didn't he feel like a hall of famer to you? There are way worse pitchers in the hall than Morris. He damn well makes the rotation of the team of his era. Blyleven should be in but he was not a better player than Morris. To not get serious consideration is mindboggling to me. What's a guy gotta do?

If nothing else, that game seven was what it's all about. Jack Morris screams hall of fame. It's a shame.

Bill said...

I never tire of responding to these types of arguments, and I'm waiting in an endless virtual line to buy Twins tickets, so here goes:

Lead majors in wins (the whole point) for a decade or more - check.
Wins are the whole point for a team. Limiting runs is the whole point for a pitcher. Even if you believe in pitcher "wins," though, Ron Guidry led the majors in wins for a decade, 1977 to 1986, and had one win more during that decade than Morris did from 1980-89 (163 to 162). Frank Viola had 163 from 1984-93. There's nothing special about Morris' win total over that decade unless you're really heavily into numerology.

ChampionshipSSS - check
Luis Sojo, Scott Brosius, Dick Green, Ramiro Mendoza and Devon White will be ecstatic to learn they're Hall-bound. Like all those guys, Morris was never the best or most important player on any of his multiple championship teams.

Clutch - you know the game - awesome - more besides - check.
All time gamer along with the skill - check.
Old school tough - check
Did it with style - check

What does that even mean? Jack (like almost any player given enough opportunities) failed in the clutch about as often as he succeeded. And on "style" and "toughness" -- he was a boring whiner who loved to blame his failures on his teammates. I define "tough" quite differently.

Lead an all time team - those Tigers started 35-5 that season & destroyed all in their path - check.
Trammell, Lemon, Whitaker, Gibson, Hernandez and arguably Petry were all more important pieces on that team than Morris was. I guess this is good news for David Cone, who was the sixth most valuable member of the '98 Yankees and thus "led" an all-time team. Also a much better pitcher for his career than Morris was.

Ultra cool moustache - check
You've got me there.

Sustained greatness - check
Morris doesn't have even a single great season to his credit. That's an important box Morris most definitely cannot check.

"It's funny how looking back at stats can change an opinion of a player. When you watched him play didn't he feel like a hall of famer to you?"
It's not the difference between stats and observation, it's the difference between analysis of a moment and analysis of a career. At times, sure, Morris felt like a Hall of Famer, but so did Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry and Jose Canseco and Dwight Gooden and John Tudor and Bob Tewksbury. It's a silly and ultimately pretty useless way to look at things.

He damn well makes the rotation of the team of his era.
Depends on how you define his era, but let's take 1975-1995 (which is generous, since it's pretty closely tailored to his career; 1970-2000 would probably make more sense). Morris comes in 23rd in WAR, behind the likes of Clemens, Blyleven, Ryan, Maddux, Seaver and Carlton in addition to your Stiebs, Cones and Violas. If Morris makes your all-time rotation for his era, you're certainly leaving off several better pitchers, at least one or two of which also happen to be all-time greats.

Blyleven should be in but he was not a better player than Morris.
There's no way to make a remotely convincing argument that Morris was anywhere close to the pitcher Blyleven was. We write about that here, and, more conventionally, in Rule 3 here. Morris would be one of the five or six worst starting pitchers in the Hall (not to mention the dozens who are better of him but will never sniff the Hall), while Blyleven is well above the Hall's average. There's just no comparison between the two.

JewishVampireInMonterey said...

I can't help but also to respond to Anonymous. To say that Morris was better than Blyleven flies in the face of the facts. I compared Blyleven and Morris from 1981-89, when both were in the AL and both were still in generally peak form. Now, Blyleven is 4 years older and had 11 full seasons of MLB pitching under his belt while Morris had the equivalent of 3 MLB seasons under his at that stage.

1) Morris pitched in more games and innings due to avoiding a serious injury, so Morris gets a check there. Being there for your team is a big plus.

2) Blyleven had an ERA+ of 120 and Morris and ERA+ 113, so Blyleven gets the check there, since it is a pitcher's job to help prevent runs.

3) WHIP, While Morris gave up fewer hits per 9, Blyleven gave up fewer walks per 9 and Blyleven had a lower WHIP (1.216 vs 1.245). Blyleven gets the slight check there.

4) When it came to K's Blyleven gets the check, albeit slightly. Blyleven struck out 17.00% of the batters he faced and 6.343 per 9 while Morris struck out 16.61% of the batters he faced and 6.224 per 9.

5) Complete games per start goes to Morris, 41.22% vs. Blyleven's 34.77%, but in IP per start, Morris was 7.411 IP per start and Blyleven 7.262 IP per start. This seems to say that Morris didn't last as long in non-complete games, which undercuts that tough competitor, gamer, etc., reputation. I would expect a larger margin from someone who was suppose to be a "fighter".

6) Complete Game Shut Outs goes to Blyleven. Bert had 19 during that time and Morris had 18, giving Bert a complete game shut out percentage per start of 7.42% vs. Morris' 6.08%.

7) Home Runs allowed, the check mark goes to Blyleven. Bert gave up 0.928 per 9 while Morris gave up 1.001 per 9. Also, Bert gave up a HR per 40.188 Batters Faced and Morris gave up a HR per 37.434 batters faced. So, to reiterate, Blyleven gave up fewer HR's per 9 IP and it took more batters to get a HR off of Blyleven, and this despite those 2 horrendous seasons that fell within the 1981-89 time frame.

8) In knowing how to win games, Blyleven gets the check mark again. Yes, Morris had a winning percentage of .584 and Blyleven .561 but without Morris' W-L record the Tigers had a winning percentage of .527, for a difference of .057, while Blyleven's teams, without his W-L record, had a winning percentage of .469, a difference of .092. This means Morris "gave" his team 14 more wins and Blyleven gave his team 19 more wins, based upon the number of decisions the each had.

9) Top 10 and top 5 finshes in stat categories. Using ERA, ERA+ WHIP, K/9, Complete Games, Shut Outs, K/BB ratio, Fewest Hits/9 and Fewest Walks/9, Blyleven wins in ERA, ERA+, WHIP, K/BB ratio, Shut Outs and Fewest Walks/9, while Morris wins in K/9, Complete Games and Fewest Hits/9. Blyleven gets the check there.

10) In the pitching with little Runs Support (0-2 runs) Blyleven wins with a winning percentage of .176 vs. Morris' .163, meaning that Morris didn't pitch to the scoreboard and was not as good unless given more run support.

11) If you take a look at their careers, the difference becomes even more glaring in Blyleven's favor.