A Jack Morris Post
… Well, it must be that time of year.
I’ve written so many Jack Morris posts through the years that I think it’s plain: I am entirely on record with Jack Morris.
1. He was a very good pitcher who doesn’t quite reach my Hall of Fame standard.
2. I think he will get elected and inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.
3. I don’t see that as a bad thing … Morris was a fine pitcher and I’ll be happy for him. In fact, I hope he gets in this year because I think the yearly Jack Morris bickering that I’m a huge part of is tiresome and unfair to him.
I get the sense that people have issues with all three of these, which is fine. The only one I really care that people understand is the first one. I have absolutely nothing against Jack Morris. I had absolutely nothing against Jim Rice or Andre Dawson either. All of them brought me great joy as a baseball fan. I just didn’t vote for any of them for the Hall of Fame. When you are voting for something like the Baseball Hall of Fame, you draw lines. Everyone can probably agree that Stan Musial was a Hall of Famer. And everyone can probably agree that Bob Uecker (as a player) was not. And the the more you go down one list and up the other, the more likely it is that you are getting closer to your own line.
At some point in the array of players, you will come upon two very similar players. And — this is inevitable — you will view one of those players as a Hall of Famer and one of them as not a Hall of Famer. The Hall of Fame is FILLED with such quirks. I have been fooling around with a Hall of Fame Lookalike quiz where I ask brilliant readers to look at the stats and pick the Hall of Famer. Here are three of them:
Case No. 1:
Pitcher A: 300-244, .551 win pct., 3.54 ERA, 4,564 IP, 2,334 K, 1,775 W, 107 ERA+
Pitcher B: 283-237, .545 win pct., 3.45 ERA, 4,620 IP, 2,461 K, 1,083 W, 108 ERA+
Case No. 2:
Pitcher A: 90-87, 424 saves, 1,245 IP, 974 Ks, 2.89 ERA, 139 ERA+
Pitcher B: 68-71, 300 saves, 1,042 IP, 861 Ks, 2.83 ERA, 136 ERA+.
Case No. 3
Second Baseman A: .255/.293/.383, 407 doubles, 58 triples, 160 homers, 886 RBI, 912 runs, 8 Gold Gloves.
Second Baseman B: .260/.299/.367, 294 doubles, 62 triples, 162 homers, 853 RBI, 769 runs, 8 Gold Gloves.
Case 1 is easy to figure — the first pitcher had 300 wins so you know he’s the Hall of Famer (all eligible 300-game winners are in the Hall of Fame). Pitcher A is Hall of Famer Early Wynn. Pitcher B is non-Hall of Famer Jim Kaat. I do believe that Kaat was a better pitcher than Wynn.
Case 2 is trickier because of the peculiarity of the save statistic and how the game has changed around it. Pitcher B is the Hall of Famer — that’s Bruce Sutter. When he retired, 300 saves was a benchmark. Pitcher A came along later. That is John Franco. He got 27 votes his one year on the ballot and then fell off.
Case 3 is a personal favorite — one of those guys is Bill Mazeroski and the other is Frank White. It really doesn’t matter which is which, does it? They were the same hitter. They were both breathtaking defenders. Many people believe neither of them belongs in the Hall of Fame, but Maz is in thanks to a now defunct veteran’s committee. Now, many people think because Maz is in, White has to be in too.
But you have to ask: Does Bill Mazeroski deserve the Hall of Fame just SLIGHTLY more than Frank White? Maybe. He hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. There are pretty sound statistical arguments that suggest they were both defensive wizards, but Maz was a touch better — indeed was the best defensive second baseman who ever lived. These are tiny shards of glass that separate excellent players, but at some point it is a shadow’s difference between greatness and goodness.
In our neighborhood school, a 93.50000000001 is an A.
In our neighborhood school, a 93.49999999999 is a B.
So, when I say that Jack Morris doesn’t quite meet my Hall of Fame standard, what I’m really saying is that there are pitchers out there, not in the Hall of Fame, who I think were better than Morris. How many? Good question. According to Baseball Reference WAR there are 66 retired non-Hall of Fame pitchers with a WAR better than Morris.
Take away the pitchers who definitely will go into the Hall of Fame or will be kept out because of PED usage — Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — and you are down to 60.
Take away a couple pitchers who I think have a reasonable shot of being elected — Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling — and you are down to 58.
Now, do I think there are 58 pitchers who are more worthy of the Hall of Fame than Jack Morris? No. I don’t think WAR is that precise. And I think Morris’ remarkable World Series Game 7 and his extraordinary pitching stamina and consistency do add to his Hall of Fame value beyond his aggregate statistics. But I do think there are a few pitchers who should go into the Hall of Fame before Jack Morris does. I want to talk about one of them: Kevin Brown.
Numerous people told back in 2011 that I was making a mistake in leaving Kevin Brown off my ballot and not at least propping him up so that he could get a fuller discussion. In retrospect, they might be right. Brown tumbled off the ballot with only 12 votes, so he never got that fuller discussion. I think Brown was one of the first excellent pitchers to fall victim to what I will call the “wins gap.” We all know starting pitchers are winning fewer and fewer games.
18-game winners by decade:
2010s so far: 22
The 1980s and 1990s were a bit skewed down because of strike years. But as you can see, the 1960s and 1970s were kind of golden years for pitchers who won a lot of games and — not coincidentally — these were golden years for 300-game winners: Ryan, Seaver, Carlton, Niekro, Perry, Sutton. And a handful of others — Kaat, Blyleven, Tommy John — came close to 300.
There was talk that the 300-game winner was extinct … he wasn’t. Roger Clemens won 300. Greg Maddux won 300. Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson won 300. But, more and more, we began to see the really dominant pitchers in baseball NOT winning a lot of games. Every so often, I go to Johan Santana’s Baseball Reference Page just to be blown away by his win total. Santana was absolutely the best pitcher of the 2000s. He won two Cy Young Awards and and probably deserved at least one more, maybe two more. He won 20 one year, lead the league in wins another, and posted a 156 ERA+ over his six dominant seasons. By comparison, that’s PRECISELY the same ERA+ Sandy Koufax posted over his six dominant seasons.
Johan Santana has 139 wins. Over his entire career.
Roy Halladay, who has been the best pitcher if you look over the last dozen years, is still one win away from 200. Tim Lincecum won back-to-back Cy Young Awards and has pitched for two World Series winners — he only has 79 victories. Pedro Martinez from 1992 to 2005 was, perhaps, the greatest pitcher in baseball history. He only has 217 victories — and he picked up 20 of those in garbage time seasons at the end when he was a shell of himself.
Still, when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, people cannot help but look at wins. Kevin Brown won 211 games. Yes, his 127 ERA+ would put him Top 20 among Hall of Famers — tied with Bob Gibson, nestled between Carl Hubbell (130) and Jim Palmer (125). But those wins, I think, kept him from being considered a serious candidate.
Well, look, he wasn’t a likable guy. He was a mercenary. He pitched for six different teams. He was wildly inconsistent — a 4.82 ERA in 1994, a 1.89 ERA in 1996, unpitchable in the 1997 World Series, untouchable in the 1998 Division Series — and when it comes down to it, there just weren’t too many people who wanted to stick their neck out for him at Hall of Fame time.
But when you compare his career to Morris? No comparison. Morris pitched in the relatively low-scoring 1980s, Brown smack in the middle of the steroid era, and yet Brown’s 3.28 ERA is WAY better than Morris’ 3.90. Brown twice led the league in ERA, Morris never finished better than fifth. Morris did strike out about 80 more batters over a career (he pitched about 600 more innings), but Brown walked almost 400 fewer batters and allowed 181 fewer home runs.
Morris threw 11 more shutouts, which is something. But that’s really a function of their times. Morris pitched when starters were allowed to finish games; Brown did not.
If you look at number of starts when the pitcher threw at least seven innings and gave up zero runs:
Morris has a few of those extras — like the amazing postseason performances — but Brown was a better pitcher than Morris. By Baseball Reference WAR, it isn’t close (Brown 64.5 WAR; Morris 39.3 WAR). By Fangraphs WAR, it isn’t close (Brown 77.2, Morris 56.9). By Baseball Prospectus’ WARP it is close but Brown is on top (Brown 35.8, Morris 33.3). I don’t think Kevin Brown is quite a Hall of Famer and I did not vote for him. And this gets to my point. A Hall of Fame with Jack Morris and without Kevin Brown … or Tommy John … or Jim Kaat … or David Cone … or a few others doesn’t make much sense to me.
If we want a big Hall of Fame with everyone that was at least as good as Jack Morris, hey, that’s OK with me. I actually would like a bigger Hall of Fame. In fact, I have this Hall of Fame idea that I’ve been toying with that I’ll spell out later today — an idea that could help with the steroid question too. But the way the Hall of Fame is now, I just think there are too many pitchers in front of Jack Morris. That’s why I won’t vote for him. But, as mentioned, I’ll still be happy for him when he gets elected.