Jack Morris' case comes down to one game
January, 4, 2012
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Ronald C. Modra/Getty ImagesJack Morris won 198 games for the Tigers, but his most memorable win came with the Twins.It's pretty easy to build the case against Jack Morris as a Hall of Famer. For example:
ERA+ is each pitcher's career ERA, adjusted for league and home ballparks. WAR is wins above replacement, via Baseball-Reference.com. These three pitchers are pretty similar, no? Pitcher A is Dennis Martinez. Pitcher B is Morris. Pitcher C is Jamie Moyer. Martinez already appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot. He received 16 votes and was booted. Moyer is attempting a comeback for 2012, but it's safe to assume his Hall of Fame candidacy will go the way of Martinez's, one-and-done.
Here's another one. Morris won 20 games three times. His first good season was 1979; his last good season was 1992. During that span, there were 57 seasons when a pitcher won 20 games. Morris' seasonal ERAs rank 38th, 44th and 57th.
There are 63 players elected to the Hall of Fame primarily for their work in the major leagues as pitchers. Morris' 3.90 career ERA would rank last. (Red Ruffing had a 3.80 ERA, pitching in a much higher-scoring era.) Morris' 105 ERA+ would rank alongside Catfish Hunter, ahead of only Rube Marquard.
If you're a WAR kind of guy, Morris' career 39.3 WAR would rank ahead of nine Hall of Famers. But also well below non-Hall of Famers like Rick Reuschel (66.3), Luis Tiant (60.1), Frank Tanana (55.1), Bret Saberhagen (54.7), Dave Stieb (53.0), Orel Hershiser (51.5), Kevin Appier (50.4) and many others.
During his 1979-92 peak, Morris did pitch the most innings in the major leagues at 3,378.1, just over 500 more than the No. 2 guy, Charlie Hough. During those years, 31 pitchers threw at least 2,000 innings. Morris' 3.71 ERA ranks 13th of the 31, behind guys like Bob Welch (3.32), Danny Darwin (3.49) and Charlie Leibrandt (3.65).
Morris never won a Cy Young Award, never led his league in ERA, in fact never had a season ERA under 3.00. Morris topped 230 innings 11 times in his career. From 1979 to 1992, there were 80 seasons where a pitcher threw at least 230 innings and had an ERA under 3.00. Morris did not have one of those 80 seasons.
Here's another table, comparing Morris to some of his 1980s contemporaries and how often they finished in the top five in their league in various categories:
OK, the point is this: Jack Morris doesn't have a strong statistical case for the Hall of Fame. While he was consistently among the best pitchers in baseball, there were always several better at any given time. (That's not necessarily a strike against him; you don't have to be the best at your position to be a Hall of Famer.) Once you get past the 254 wins, you better leave out the stats.
Early in his career, Morris threw an above-average fastball and slider. In 1983, he added a splitter, which caused his strikeout rates to go up (from 4.6 in 1982 to 7.1 in 1983). Still, there were several things that prevented Morris from ever being the best pitcher in baseball: (1) He walked a lot of batters, 80 or more in 11 different seasons; (2) He gave up too many home runs at times (he ranked in the top five in the AL in six seasons); (3) He threw a ton of wild pitches (he led the league six times); (4) He allowed a lot of stolen bases (45 one year).
Morris' Hall of Fame case comes down to three other issues:
1. He was a durable workhorse in an era without many of those guys. I have a theory on this. Pitchers who came up in the 1960s and '70s -- guys like Seaver, Palmer, Carlton, Sutton and so on -- pitched in an easier environment. Most teams had two middle infielders who couldn't hit a lick. Most catchers didn't hit much. There were several soft spots in most lineups, places where you could cruise a bit. By the 1980s, hitters were getting better and stronger, lineups a little deeper. This was the transitional era between four-man and five-man rotations. Most of the best pitchers of this time couldn't handle the workload to bring their career win totals to Hall of Fame territory -- Fernando Valenzuela burned out, Dave Stieb developed shoulder and back injuries, Dwight Gooden hurt his shoulder, Orel Hershiser led the league three straight years in innings pitched and then tore his rotator cuff. And so on. Morris was the one guy in the decade to essentially survive unscathed. By the time the next generation came around -- Clemens, Maddux, Glavine, etc. -- pitchers worked in five-man rotations their entire careers and were better protected with better medical care, and many of them thus had longer careers than the 1980s guys.
2. He was an iconic figure for the decade. With his big, bushy mustache and tough-guy persona, Morris was certainly one of the famous players of his era. Not everybody believes this, but that has to be worth at least a little something in the voting process. After all, it isn't the Hall of WAR.
3. Game 7. Of course, it really comes down to this, doesn't it? Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Morris' 10-inning, 1-0 masterpiece that delivered the World Series to the Twins. How much extra credit do you give Morris for this game? He also pitched two complete-game victories in the 1984 World Series for the victorious Tigers (and while he was also on the 1992 champion Blue Jays, he was 0-3 in that postseason, including two losses with an 8.44 ERA in the World Series). But it's Game 7 that Morris defenders have to weigh heavily.
Is it enough? The long career, the wins, the consistency, the unique durability for his era, the 1984 World Series ... and Game 7. What is the added value of a World Series victory, let alone a 1-0 shutout in Game 7 of the World Series? In this piece, David Gassko argues it could be as much as 25 times that of a regular-season win. Is that enough? The Hall of Fame has neglected starting pitchers in recent years (Bert Blyleven was the first starter elected since Nolan Ryan in 1999). I'm on the fence ... but I don't think I can climb over it.