Is Jack Morris Really a Hall of Famer?
The modern version of the Veterans Committee have added Jack Morris and Alan Trammel to the Hall of Fame. The teammates were scorned by the BBWAA for the 15 year period, but many felt they should have been inducted. Usually there is a reason why players get overlooked. Sometimes the writers are not wise enough to recognize all forms of greatness. That is true in the case of Trammel. They had Morris pegged right though.
The argument for Morris is an extremely unsophisticated one. It usually centers on his ability to win baseball games. Somehow, the argument goes that certain players are gamers and demonstrate an added ability to win games even beyond the sum of their other numbers. The idea is that they can somehow selectively turn it on and off when they need to. A starting pitcher can give up five runs when his teams scores him six and then turn in a one run effort when they score two. I can’t completely dismiss this argument out of hand. Clutch factors are difficult to prove or disprove, but the basic numbers don’t follow that line of thinking.
I will select a few contemporary pitchers who are all on the outside looking in and compare them to Morris without using wins above replacement. That is a common crutch a lot of us move back to. Quite frankly, I don’t need it. I will simply look at the arguments that the conventional fans and commentators like to use when trumpeting his cause. Of course, I should mention our Faustian bargain: if I can’t use WAR then I also won’t look at wins.
The first significant argument in favor of Morris is that he was a durable pitcher that could pitch deep into games. I picked a group of rough contemporaries to see if he was really good at pitching deep into games. So, what follows are the number of starts in their respective careers, the number of innings, and then their innings per start. Let’s see if Morris really separates himself here.
- Frank Tanana: 616/4188/6.80
- Luis Tiant: 484/3486/7.20
- Rick Reuschel: 529/3548/6.71
- Dennis Martinez: 562/3999/7.12
- Orel Hershiser: 466/3130/6.72
- Ron Guidry: 323/2392/7.41
- Jack Morris: 527/3824/7.26
So, Morris is impressive in this department. He has more starts than all but three on the list and more innings per start than all but one. However, when you consider that none of these other pitchers are in the Hall of Fame then you have to take some pause. This is particularly true when we look at not only ERA itself, but also ERA+. ERA+ is a statistic that distills a pitcher’s era (which we have already done) and his home ballpark. So, we essentially remove most of the relevant excuses.
- Tanana: 3.66/106
- Tiant: 3.30/114
- Reuschel: 3.37/114
- Martinez: 3.70/106
- Hershiser: 3.48/112
- Guidry: 3.29/119
- Morris: 3.90/105
So, he is the worst of the bunch. Sure, Dennis Martinez and Frank Tanana come close in ERA+, but does anyone really consider them to be Hall of Famers? Interestingly enough, both come close in career victories to Morris. Tanana has 240 to Morris’ 254 and Martinez has 245. Both of them also surpassed him in games started and innings pitched for their career. The others were considerably better in ERA+ and none of them have gotten more than lukewarm support for the Hall of Fame. Some, have gotten virtually none and they were considerably better pitchers according to these statistics.
Hogwash you say. ERA is dependent on defense and maybe Morris didn’t have good defense behind him. Maybe his fielders were trash. Of course, we are talking about the likes of Trammel, Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker, and Kirk Gibson, but you go on with your bad self. Let’s look at only the statistics that pitchers can control. Let’s look at strikeouts per nine innings, walks per nine innings, strikeout to walk ratio, and home runs per nine innings.
- Tanana: 6.0/2.9/2.07/1.0
- Tiant: 6.2/2.8/2.21/0.9
- Reuschel: 5.1/2.4/2.13/0.6
- Martinez: 4.8/2.6/1.85/0.8
- Hershiser: 5.8/2.9/2.00/0.7
- Guidry: 6.7/2.4/2.79/0.9
- Morris: 5.8/3.3/1.76/0.9
So, Morris is tied for fifth among the seven pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings, has the most walks per nine innings, has the worst strikeout to walk ratio in the group, and only Tanana surrendered more home runs per nine innings. These numbers more than any other would seem to indicate that his ERA wasn’t necessarily inflated. In fact, he may have come out better than he might have based on the teams he was on.
Hogwash you say. All of this Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) stuff is for the birds. We are a fantasy baseball site. Let’s break this down to brass tax. You say pitchers really can affect contact and limit the amount of hits that the opposing team has. Fine. Let’s add hits allowed per nine innings to walks allowed per nine innings to get a version of WHIP.
- Tanana: 8.7 + 2.7 = 11.4
- Tiant: 7.9 + 2.8 = 10.7
- Reuschel: 9.1 + 2.4 = 11.5
- Martinez: 8.8 + 2.6 = 11.4
- Hershiser: 8.4 + 2.9 = 11.3
- Guidry: 8.3 + 2.4 = 10.7
- Morris: 8.4 + 3.3 = 11.7
Morris allowed more base runners per nine innings than any other starter on this list. So, it makes perfect sense that he would also have the highest ERA in the group. In fact, he now has the highest ERA of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. However, someone has to have the highest ERA in the Hall of Fame, so that is not a particularly compelling argument against. What is a compelling argument is the fact that all six of these guys have cases as compelling if not more compelling to be in the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, this is not an exhaustive list of comparable pitchers from the same time period.
But but but, Game 7 1991, the 1984 World Series, and he pitched for the Blue Jays when they won their World Series title. He’s a big game pitcher. That’s the difference between him and the rest of these guys and that’s ultimately what we play the game for. So, I’ll break my own rule and look at simple postseason numbers for each of these guys.
- Tanana: 2 GS, 0-1, 4.35 ERA, 10.1 INN, 4 SO, 6 BB
- Tiant: 4 GS, 3-0, 2.86 ERA, 34.2 INN, 20 SO, 11 BB
- Reuschel: 7 GS, 1-4, 5.85 ERA, 32.1 INN, 14 SO, 12 BB
- Martinez: 7 GS, 2-2, 3.32 ERA, 43.1 INN, 18 SO, 12 BB
- Hershiser: 18 GS, 8-3, 2.59 ERA, 132.0 INN, 97 SO, 43 BB
- Guidry: 10 GS, 5-2, 3.02 ERA, 62.2 INN, 51 SO, 25 BB
- Morris: 13 GS, 7-4, 3.80 ERA, 92.1 INN, 64 SO, 32 BB
In all seriousness, baseball is as much about big moments as it is about the aggregate. I get it. 1991 was a huge series there is no bigger moment than Game 7 in any series. Throwing ten shut out innings is a big deal and we can’t take that away from him. However, Guidry had big moments in 1978 when the Yankees won the World Series. Orel Hershiser was huge down the stretch in 1988 and during the World Series.
Luis Tiant had some big moments as well even if his Red Sox were not nearly as successful. Given small sample sizes, Rick Reuschel is the only pitcher on the list you could credibly claim under-performed in the postseason. Everyone else was either as good if not better. Ultimately, Morris was about the same. He had some big time performances and some performances that weren’t as good. The end result was pretty much what you saw throughout his career.
To be perfectly fair, we have compared Morris to some pretty fair country pitchers. We could find close to a half dozen more that pitched during his 15 year run as a good pitcher that would be comparable. That isn’t a bad thing. All of this wasn’t meant to demean Morris. Baseball has seen a lot of good pitchers come and go and most were not Hall of Famers. Jack Morris isn’t really one either. He’s a good pitcher that had the fortune of pitching on some really good teams. The Hall of Fame isn’t meant for those guys. It’s meant for those a cut above the merely good.