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More More Morris

Yes, a bit more on Jack Morris and pitching to the score … like you want to read more on that subject.

Well, hey, this time it’s not my fault. I got an email from Brilliant Reader John asking a viable and interesting Jack Morris question: He pointed out that Morris, going back to when World War II ended, won more games than anyone when he allowed four or more runs.

Before I get to his point, I should say that this Morris fact is 100% true. Here is the list of pitchers who won most often when giving up 4+ runs.

  1. Jack Morris, 54
  2. Warren Spahn, 53
  3. Robin Roberts, 52
  4. Roger Clemens, 46
  5. Phil Niekro, 45

I do think that list is intriguing and kind of surprising. Morris generally pitched in a low-scoring era. in Morris’ era, when you allowed four-plus runs, you only won about 27% of the time. In the steroid era, with more runs being scored, teams won about 30% of the time when giving up four-plus runs. So I would have expected the list to be topped by a lot of pitchers who threw in 1990s and 2000s — say, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, guys like that — to top this list.

But Morris is on top. And this is John’s point: He said that Morris winning all those games when he gave up four runs essentially essentially PROVES that Morris pitched to the score. The idea of pitching to the score, after all, is pitching just well enough to win, whether your team scored 1 run or 20. He said that when Morris gave up four runs or more, he won more often than any pitcher in the last 70 or so years. What else do you need?

After looking into it a little bit, well, I’m not saying that I entirely agree with John’s conclusion — I don’t — but I think he might have a small point. And I think his small point might get to the heart of Jack Morris’ grittiness … and why people continue to insist against logic and evidence that he pitched to the score.

* * *

In doing this post, I ran across this excellent piece by the late, great Greg Spira … he was writing about the idea of pitching to the score, and he wrote two sentences that have stuck with me:

“The pitchers who get a reputation of ‘pitching to the score’ have one thing in common – they have all generally gotten good run support through most of their careers. It seems apparent to me that pitchers get this reputation because they get better run support than most other pitchers and thus have a W-L record that looks better than their ERA or runs allowed.”

I think Greg, in general terms, was almost certainly right. I think most of the time, when people talk about a pitcher “pitching to the score” what they are really saying (sometimes unknowingly) is, ‘Wow that pitcher gets a lot of run support.” i think this comes down to that old story of narrative and our amazing ability as human beings to wander by the most obvious or simple or disagreeable or generally uninteresting conclusions for more interesting, provocative, controversial, positive, supernatural and unprovable phenomenons.

Jack Morris won 54 times when he allowed four-plus runs — more than any pitcher the last 70 years. Why? Is it:

A. Because he had the good fortune to pitch for many good offensive teams that scored a lot of runs?

B. Because he would pitch differently when his team had a big lead?

At first glance, “A” seems to me a bit more reasonable and credible than “B.” We know that he DID play for many good offensive teams that scored a lot of runs. And we know that it is impossible to win a game when allowing four runs unless your team scores at least five. Our first instinct, it seems to me, should be to think: Jack Morris was a lucky guy.

But that’s not an especially interesting or happy conclusion. Nobody ever really likes giving too much credit to luck. When people come back from Vegas with more money than they started, you might hear them say, “Yeah, I got lucky.” But then you’ll probably also hear about their brilliant blackjack maneuvering or the way they manipulated a poker pot or their roulette system or something else because, in the end, it’s hard for any of us to believe that it’s ever really all luck. We do desperately want to believe we have some control over things.

And so, it is tempting to believe that Jack Morris — who was such a competitor, who had that great mustache, who refused to come out of games, who pitched a billion innings, who won that remarkable 1991 Game 7, who started all those Opening Days, who other players spoke about with grudging admiration — that Jack Morris WILLED HIMSELF to pitch as well as the situation demanded. If the team gave up 9, hell, what did Jack Morris care if he gave up 7 runs? He wasn’t pitching to the stats! He was pitching to the score!

That is SO much more interesting.

Well, I’ll tell you: I did another quick little Morris study. And in this one, well, I sort of, kind of, found something intriguing about Morris and pitching to the score. Sort of. Kind of.

Here is Jack Morris W-L record and ERA when his team scored a certain number of runs. In parentheses I put baseball team’s records when scoring that many runs from 1977 to 1991, which basically covers Morris’ career:

When Morris’ teams scored 6+ runs: 137-9, 4.24 ERA

(Morris’ win percentage .938; baseball win percentage .840)

Comment: OK, when Morris’ team scored 6-plus runs, they were almost unbeatable. Average teams would lose one out of every eight or nine times they score six-plus runs. Morris’ teams almost never lost.

When Morris’ teams scored 5 runs: 40-10, 3.44 ERA

(Morris’ win percentage .800; baseball win percentage .657)

Comment: When Morris’ team scored five runs, he was at his very best — that 3.44 ERA almost a half run less than his career ERA. And his teams won significantly more often when scoring five runs than the average team.

When Morris’ teams scored 4 runs: 33-16, 3.62 ERA

(Morris’ win percentage .673; baseball win percentage .538)

Comment: i think this is Morris’ most impressive achievement — when his team scored exactly four runs, they won about two thirds of the time — the average team won barely more than half.

And here’s the argument for Morris pitching to the score: When Morris’ teams scored four-plus runs, he went an amazing 210-35 — an amazing .857 winning percentage. The average team had a .727 win percentage. Now, does this mean Morris actually pitched to the score? Well, you can decide that because, unfortunately for the Jack Morris’ faithful, there’s a second (and more significant) part of the question.

See, pitching to the score doesn’t just mean giving up seven runs when your team scores eight. Let’s be realistic: Lots of pitchers can do that. If Morris was slightly better at that, well, that’s fine, but the crux of “pitching to the score” means pitching WELL when your team doesn’t score a lot of runs. And in this, well … to the numbers:

When Morris’ teams scored 3 runs: 24-38, 4.08 ERA

(Morris’ win percentage .387, baseball win percentage .398)

Comment: Uh-oh.

When Morris’ teams scored 2 runs: 4-22, 3.68 ERA

(Morris’ win percentage .154, baseball win percentage .244)

Comment: Double uh-oh.

When Morris’ teams scored 1 run: 4-27, 4.16 ERA

(Morris’ win percentage .129, .baseball win percentage .096)

Comment: Forget the win percentage here — look at that ERA. I have to admit being shocked by that. You have to figure that sometimes when Tigers or Blue Jays scored just one run, the conditions weren’t favorite for scoring. It was cold. The wind was blowing in. The shadows were causing hitters problems. And yet, when the Tigers scored just one run, Morris’ ERA was actually HIGHER than his career ERA. Like I say, I found that kind of stunning.

When Morris’ teams were shut out: 0-13, 4.33 ERA

Comment: Obviously, Morris cannot win when his team is shut out. But, again, that ERA.

And now, we look at it in total: When Morris’s teams scored one, two or three runs, he went 32-87 with a 4.08 ERA. That’s not good. And that’s not even including his high ERA when his team was shut out.

It seems to me you could argue, maybe, that Morris did battle well his teams scored runs for him. He completed games, and made every start and brought victories home when his team put runs on the board. But pitch to the score? No. Not unless the score was high.

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60 Responses to More More Morris

  1. Has anyone ever considered that maybe Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and the rest of 1980’s era Tigers played defense to the score? “We’re up by 7, who cares if I airmail this throw into the stands? Maybe I’ll take a nap on second base and wake me when it’s a game again.”

    Makes as much sense as the pitching to the score argument.

    • Tracey says:

      Except there’s a plausible explanation for “pitching to the score” (throwing strikes is more efficient than nibbling, but carries a higher risk. That risk is mitigated when you have a sizable lead. Pitching more efficiently contributes to being able to stay in the game longer, which has the benefits touched on by Scott, below.) There’s no similar plausible explanation for *choosing* to throw the ball into the stands.

      I don’t know where I fall in the Morris debate, or the debate over whether pitching to the score is a real thing in terms of career numbers, but surely you can imagine particular situations where changing your pitching approach based on the score makes sense strategically?

    • bigbuff_guy says:

      Teams do play defense to the score (or rather, the score and the situation. That’s why we see teams concede a run with the bases loaded and nobody out in some situations (because a double play will significantly reduce the risk of a big inning, which is sometimes a justifiable trade off for allowing a single run to score), but will have the infield in for others (a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, where one base runner scoring ends the game). It’s why the term “defensive indifference” comes into play if a runner takes second base while his team is down several runs in the late innings.

    • The thing about pitching to the score is that games develop so differently. Did a pitcher give up six runs after his team gave him an 8-1 lead? Or did he enter the late innings losing 7-3, only to be bailed out by a five-run rally? Or did the score progress from a 2-1 lead, to a 4-3 lead, and so on? Did he always allow just enough runs to stay ahead? Did he win any games where he rode an early rally to a 10-2 win, because that day he decided NOT to pitch to the score?

      Maybe the biggest reason the concept of pitching to the score seems legit is because we don’t have (or have not compiled) the data that would make the case for or against?

    • Rob Smith says:

      Milton, Joe just gave the data. Of course with a lead, ALL pitchers pitch differently. They throw strikes, avoid walks, and are willing to deal with a bases empty HR. Since all pitchers do this, the effect averages out & has a slight impact on their overall ERA. The issue, as Joe explained, is that pitching to the score means that you pitch BETTER when the game is on the line. Morris decidedly DID NOT do that. Now, you can tell me all the reasons why unicorns do, in fact, exist. But that doesn’t make it so until you actually produce a unicorn for me to look at. So, produce the numbers that back up “pitching to the score” and we’ll all bow down before you.

    • Rob– Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I was saying that the reason people may consider the “pitching to the score” idea as legitimate is that we don’t have the detailed data to show that it isn’t. Actually, we probably do have the raw data, but compiling it to prove the point may not be worth the effort.

      A final score of 8-7 may make it seem that the winning pitcher pitched to the score, but a breakdown may show that this was not the case.

  2. Rany says:

    A question, Joe: when you say “Morris’ win percentage”, is that the winning percentage for HIS TEAM, or the winning percentage for JACK MORRIS? Because if it’s the latter, then I think his win percentage in games in which his team scored 4, 5, or 6 runs will be artificially inflated. If the Tigers scored 6 runs in a game, then for MORRIS to take the loss, he would have to allow a lot of runs, and there’s a good chance he would be pulled from the game before he gave up that many runs – meaning he might escape with a no-decision.

    It’s the same reason why you’ll see the stat that Tim Hudson is 123-4 when his team scores 4 or more runs, or whatever – because a starting pitcher will get pulled when he’s particularly ineffective, a lot of team losses are disguised as starting pitcher no-decisions.

    If it’s the former, then please ignore my comment. I’m just not entirely sure from your article which definition you used.

    • Rob Smith says:

      This is a good point & backs up the overall point that “pitching to the score” when your teams score a lot of runs is meaningless. True, they might give a starter a little more rope & time to right the ship when runs start to score. But managers typically will pull the plug before the lead is entirely lost…. and a fresh reliever often restores order.

  3. This post is a thunder dunk.

  4. leberquesgue says:

    Well played. My first thought on seeing your reader’s claim was to wonder if it is easy to check whether Morris gave up those 4+ runs when already safely ahead more than would be expected by chance. This refutation is better.

  5. Scott says:

    I agree, the idea of pitching to the score is a bit silly. I do think Morris is undervalued as an exceptional innings horse though. Tom Verducci wrote a great article about this in He mentioned the amazing stat that Morris got into the 8th in over 1/2 his starts in a 14 year span (and yes, that really is amazing) but one thing stood out even more to me. Morris was in a playoff race most of those years. Having a pitcher save the bullpen and keep the team in a game every 5th start during the dog days and down the stretch is a really big deal. Verducci article here:

    • Rob Smith says:

      True, but I’ve never heard the term “Innings Eater” juxtaposed with the term “Hall of Fame Pitcher”. I.e Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Hall of Fame Innings Eater, Jack Morris. More often it’s “Veteran Innings Eater” or “Journeyman Innings Eater”.

  6. Brian Klein says:

    While I completely agree with you, what are your feelings on Closers and “pitching to the score”. I thought about this the other night when Rivera comes in up 2, gives up a first pitch homer to Longoria and then got the next 3 batters. I know no pitcher wants to give up any runs but when closers are up (or in a non-save situation) they seem much more OK with themselves giving up one run compared to a starter giving up a run when they’re up 3 in the 7th. Any thoughts?

    • Rob Smith says:

      It’s believed that closers tend to do better when they’re in a close game. They are geared for the one inning with a one run lead. The narrative is that they lose their edge when they have too many runs to work with. I don’t know whether I buy that, or not. A good closer saves 80%+ of their opportunities. Great closers are at, or near 90%. So, they blow some saves…. and they have poor outings sometimes in non save situations. I think it’s overblown.

  7. You really have to look at batting average (or other offensive stats) against Morris by run differential. What was the opponent BA when he had a 1 run lead? A 10 run lead? A tie game? A 1 run deficit? A 6 run deficit?

  8. Jurgen says:

    I posted this comment on Joe’s Facebook, but…

    Can all us non-Win/Loss guys start framing the debate, and stop saying pitcher so-and-so “won” anything? I know the stat is called a “win”, and I’m not advocating changing that (because it’s a losing battle to be sure). But instead maybe start saying Morris “recorded more wins” rather than he “won more games…”?

  9. I think Rany hit the nail on the head — Joe’s numbers are seriously overvaluing Morris.

    For reference, see:

    If you change the baseline from “baseball win percentage” to “starting pitcher win percentage”, I think you will see most of Morris’s high-run pitch-to-the-score skill disappear.

    Not sure how that will change the analysis in the low-scoring games.

  10. macomeau says:

    The problem I have with ‘pitching to the score is threefold:

    a) Every pitcher pitches to the score, in some manner. They pitch differently in a close game than a blowout. That said, no pitcher is ever trying to give up runs. They are always trying to prevent runs. Despite good defenses behind him, Morris was never especially good at preventing runs.

    b) The Morris version of pitching to the score is a post-hoc rationalization. People look at his wins and they look at his ERA and they say, “Well, he must have been just giving up enough runs to win.” This post gives an evidentiary clue that this is false. Looking at end-game stats (wins, ERA), indicates that Morris often gave up a lot of runs, and played on teams that usually scored even more runs. When his teams weren’t scoring runs, Morris wasn’t especially good at stopping the other team from scoring. Morris went out every four or five days and usually gave up three to five runs. His team usually scored more than that, and that’s good news for both him and the team.

    c) The Morris version of pitching to the score essentially pre-supposes that Morris constantly had leads to work with. Morris could give up four runs because his team had scored 5+ runs already. If that hadn’t happened, Morris wasn’t actually pitching to the score. He was pitching to the hope that his team would score enough to get him a win. If Morris gives up three runs in the bottom of the second, and his team scores four runs over the next seven innings, did he pitch to the score? Of course not.

  11. Schlom says:

    Joe, I think you are looking at this the wrong way. Morris knew that when his offense scored no runs or only one run the team’s chances of winning were very small. So why try real hard in those games when the chance of payoff is so small? Might as well save your best stuff for when the offense was going to score runs.

    • djangoz says:

      “Never give up, never surrender!”

    • JHitts says:

      Felix Hernandez disagrees with you, and has the Cy Young Award to prove it.

    • doc says:

      Except you *don’t know* how many runs your team is going to score until the game is over, do you? Yo give up 2 or 3 or 4 runs in the first couple of innings, do you say, “Well, this one’s over, so I might as well throw slop?” In only 3 games in which Morris gave 8+ runs did he last more than 4 innings (and there were 18 such games; in only 11 of the 27 games in which he gave up 7 runs did he go more than 4. So if we was “giving up” more runs in those blowouts, he was giving up way too early…

    • Masa Chekov says:

      Eh? That’s the exact opposite thinking a hyper-competitive ace has. If your team only gives you 1 run of support you must pitch at your absolute best for the team to win. It’s frankly ludicrous to suggest you would intentionally pitch WORSE when only getting poor run support.

    • I’m thinking that the kind of player who thinks “well, the offense hasn’t scored in four innings, I’ll just mail it in” is not the kind of player who ever gets to the Major Leagues. Or wins game seven of the 1991 WS by a 1-0 score in ten innings, for that matter.

  12. Toar Winter says:

    As a child of the 70’s, I have a lot of Jack Morris baseball cards, and I remember his career in a much more favorable light than Joe does (not a Tiger fan either). In looking at his career splits, I did notice one conspicuous line that might explain Joe’s staunch opinion on Morris and the HOF.

    Morris KILLED the Indians. Killed them. Now the Indians weren’t very good for most of his career, so it makes sense that he’d have a winning percentage around .750 against them. It also helps to explain Joe’s hatred. Would he advocate for Morris’ induction if he pitched for another team?

    Also, Joe has been in Dale Murphy’s corner for his duration on the ballot, and it seems that Murphy’s impact on the game is some percentage less than Morris’. Their careers track pretty well, and when Murphy was done, Morris was winning Game 7. Why the love for one and not the other? If Murphy destroyed the Indians too, would Joe be on the ‘no Murphy’ train as well?

    • djangoz says:

      Your childhood memories weren’t based on insightful statistical analysis? Shocking!

      Maybe that also explains why you’re 11 year old stock picks never amounted to much. Kool Aid’s P/E ratio wasn’t something you really considered.

    • Toar Winter says:

      What I’m saying is that perhaps Joe’s insightful statistical analysis is based on HIS childhood memories. If Joe lent his eloquence to enshrining Morris instead of debunking his candidacy, I bet he would build a compelling and convincing narrative that would persuade a number of us to believe Morris is worthy. But, perhaps not coincidentally, Morris owned the Indians (32-12 in 47 starts), and Joe loved those Indians. Does this explain the veracity of Joe’s opinion….?

      My Hall has room for Jack Morris. Dale Murphy too. And the steroid guys. I’m Big Hall all the way.

    • Beating a bad team (the Tribe in the 70s and 80s) like a drum doesn’t really add to your status as a great pitcher. Maybe if he were a Yankee Killer or a Blue Jay killer or even a Red Sox killer, then we can talk about how much that helps his case

    • Unknown says:

      And seriously, I expect that a pitcher who absolutely killed my team would be inclined to get MORE respect from me, not less.

    • Rob Smith says:

      This is nonsense. The opposite would be true. For example, I was an Angel fan. It went to hundreds of games. I saw Bert Blyleven pitch many, many times against the Angels. Usually, Blyleven’s teams were horrible. And generally, the only win his teams got in the series was when Blyleven pitched. I loathed him. But guess what? When it came time for him to be in the HOF, I could not understand those that said he wasn’t a HOF pitcher. It seemed like every time I saw him pitch, he was unworldly. So, I would think if Joe saw Morris continually beating his Tribe, he would have been impressed & more willing to buy into the crazy narratives around Morris. No, Joe is using data and logic, while his detractors are using emotion and narrative. Like, gee, maybe Joe didn’t like Morris so much because he was so good against the Indians. That’s a decidedly subjective statement…. and not a very intelligent one either.

  13. Brendan says:

    Another point is that doesn’t the whole team play “to the score?” A manager might call for a steal or a sac bunt (smart or not) in a close game but not in a blowout. An infield may play in with bases loaded in a close game but back for a double play in a lopsided one. Those factors might play into a pitchers record in those types of games, and are completely out of the pitcher’s hands.

    I think this post by Joe really does blow out any idea that Morris specifically pitched to the score. I think what it captures is his remarkable consistency. I’d like to look closer at the statistics, but my hypothesis would be the following:

    He was very good at pitching good games. He had very few lousy games and very few really awesome games (game 7 notwithstanding). I suspect that the game-to-game variation for him would be significantly narrower than typical.

  14. Unknown says:

    If pitching to the score were a real thing pitchers did, the big stat we’d want for pitchers would be a hockey-style +/-.

    Also, could anyone explain why pitching to the score should be considered a positive thing? So your team is up 5-0. It’s still bad to give up 4 runs. It decreases your probability of winning the game – after all, you can’t control what your bullpen does after you. And giving up runs (by what? throwing softer or something?)doesn’t save your arm for the more important games or anything, because it generally would mean you’re throwing more pitches (since you’re not shortening the game by recording outs). So the only way pitching to the score would be good would be if you buckled down and performed better during those times when runs from your team were scarce, and as we see in Morris’s case, he was not able to do so.

    Finally, we do have a pretty interesting group of stats that actually do measure players’ contributions in light of the specific game circumstances in which they occurred – win probability. So if Morris’s pitching were really the thing that got his team to win games when you take his team’s scoring into account, he should have a high cumulative WPA. This theoretically doesn’t measure actual skill, but measures how often the player’s individual actions made his team more likely to win (or lose).
    For pitchers only since WWII, Morris ranks 75th in cumulative WPA, right between Dave Righetti and Brandon Webb. If Morris’s traditional stats aren’t enough to get him in the hall, then his WPA sure isn’t either.

  15. KHAZAD says:

    I think that if Morris hadn’t pitched one of the most memorable World Series games ever, he would have fallen off the ballot years ago.

    • djangoz says:


      It was a hell of a game though.

    • Exactly, the most memorable World Series game I’ve seen. Also the best World Series I’ve seen. The Braves would have one if Lonnie Smith hadn’t been deked by Chuck Knoblauch…

      Regardless, one game does not make Jack Morris a HOF’er, although that particular game should be memorialized there, as it belongs in the HOF of games.

    • John Gale says:

      And if my aunt had wheels, she’d be a bicycle. He did pitch that game. Not saying it makes him a Hall of Famer, but there’s no point in engaging in hypotheticals about what *might* have happened unless there’s a really, really (e.g. guys missing prime seasons due to World War II) good reason.

    • Shad Gregory says:

      I know I can’t prove this, but I don’t think that the World Series has anything to do with his HoF support. I think his support is based on his 254 career wins and multiple 20 win seasons. Morris is basically the only starting pitcher from his generation to hit a major milestone. Dave Stieb may have been a better pitcher, but there’s no way the voters were going to go for someone with only 176 wins. Morris supporters realize that not everybody buys the value of pitcher wins, so they end up concocting all these weird arguments. Of course, nobody would be talking about that one post-season start, or pitching to the score, or the number of opening day starts if Morris actually had a good Hall of Fame case.

    • LargeBill says:

      Shad Gregory,

      Kaat and John would disagree with your premise that Morris’ highlight WS performance is not a huge contributor to his HoF support. Separately, I can’t make sense of your claim he is the only pitcher of his generation to reach a major milestone. What major milestone did he reach? While not exact contemporaries several pitchers had careers that overlapped Morris’ and who won more games and recorded more strikeouts.

  16. Morris belongs in the “Hall of the Very Good.” It is located down the street from the Hall of Fame, and includes such luminaries as Fred McGriff, Dave Kingman, and Orel Hersheiser.

  17. Phil says:

    I love all our new metrics, but we have to remember that to the vast majority of HOF voters, wins and only wins matter. 300 career wins = always HOF. Leading the majors in wins over a five-year span = almost always HOF (87% of the leaders 1876 through 1984). It’s true going back to 1871, but here’s that list 1980-2004:

    1980-1984 – Steve Carlton – 88 wins
    1981-1985 – Jack Morris – 86
    1982-1986 – Jack Morris – 93
    1983-1987 – Jack Morris – 94
    1984-1988 – Frank Viola – 93
    1985-1989 – Frank Viola – 88
    1986-1990 – Roger Clemens – 100
    1987-1991 – Dave Stewart – 95
    1988-1992 – Roger Clemens – 92
    1989-1993 – Greg Maddux – 89
    1990-1994 – Greg Maddux – 86
    1991-1995 – Tom Glavine – 91
    1992-1996 – Greg Maddux – 90
    1993-1997 – Greg Maddux – 89
    1994-1998 – Greg Maddux – 87
    1995-1999 – Greg Maddux – 90
    1996-2000 – Greg Maddux & Pedro Martinez – 90
    1997-2001 – Randy Johnson – 96
    1998-2002 – Randy Johnson – 100
    1999-2003 – Randy Johnson & Greg Maddux – 87
    2000-2004 – Randy Johnson – 86

    Recent pitchers include Roy Oswalt, Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, and maybe Justin Verlander if he has a strong 2013. Future HOFers, almost all of them. Love it or lump it, wins is where it’s at.

    • LargeBill says:

      Phil, I think you are assuming a commonality equals causation. Obviously, since past HoF voting has leaned heavily on wins and losses then players who had good stretches of wins will also be elected to the HoF at a good rate. 87% is not that exceptional for pitchers who had a 5 year span like that. In fact among the recent ones who you assert are almost all future Hall of Famers less than half will likely make the HoF.

    • Phil says:

      I acknowledge that it’s correlation, not causation: but it’s a factor that correlates so strongly that it’s the only commonality among every single BBWAA electee with fewer than 300 wins except for Don Drysdale: Vance, Pennock, Lyons, Koufax, Ford, Marichal, Jenkins, Hunter, Palmer, all of them. It may be considered a necessary criterion, and almost a sufficient one. And I think that Santana, Sabathia, and Halladay (and maybe Verlander) will all be in Cooperstown someday, particularly since the 300-game winner has been fading away due to the advent of the five-man rotation.

    • Phil says:

      I should have said “except for Don Drysdale and Bert Blyleven.” Tommy John notwithstanding, perhaps 287 wins is becoming the “new” 300. I can see maybe Sabathia, Verlander, and King Felix as those who could reach 300 wins based on their ages at 100 wins (and 150 for CC) — the 300-game winner is definitely a dying breed.

    • Ian R. says:

      I tend to doubt either Oswalt or Santana will make the Hall. Santana was brilliant at his peak, but he didn’t last long enough to built a really strong case. Oswalt has better career numbers, but he still only won 163 games, never won a Cy Young, and probably falls well short of the record.

    • Phil says:

      Santana will be an interesting case, particularly if his career is indeed over. The Lesson Of Sandy Koufax reveals that only a five-year peak is necessary to establish Hall-of-Fame greatness. From 1962-66 Koufax led the league in ERA 5x, SO 3x, ERA+ 2x, WHIP 4x, H/9 4x, SO/9 4x, Pitcher WAR 2x, and he won 3 Cy Young awards and an MVP. Pedro Martinez from 1996-2000: ERA 3x, SO 2x, ERA+ 3x, WHIP 3x, H/9 3x, SO/9 3x, Pitcher WAR 3x, and 3 Cy Young awards. Johan Santana from 2004-08: ERA 3x, SO 3x, ERA+ 3x, WHIP 4x, H/9 3x, SO/9 3x, Pitcher WAR 3x, and he won 2 Cy Young awards. When a peak compares so favorably to two of the greatest high-peak performers ever, that’s certainly cause for consideration.

    • LargeBill says:

      Santana had a great stretch, however his stretch is a step short of Pedro’s & Pedro’s career while short by Hall of Fame starting pitcher standards is considerably longer than Santana (116 more games & 800+ more innings of much better quality pitching). Nothing against Santana, but if he doesn’t return his Hall of Fame chances are extremely slim. His 139 wins would be lowest for any primary SP in Hall of Fame. Closest is Dizzie Dean at 150 and he was an odd HoF choice. Heck, there’s a primary reliever with more wins Wilhelm. We can criticize wins as a measurement of pitchers, but voters still look at them.

  18. doc says:

    I think you need to reverse the question–When Jack Morris *gave up* 1 run, or 2, or 3, or 4, or 5, or…, what was his record? (Pitching to the score is more about how many runs you gave up than how many your team scored isn’t it? If you give up 1 or 2 when your team scored 6 or 7, is that “pitching to the score”? No, “pitching to the score” is giving up 4 or 5 when your team scores 6, 5 or 6 when your team scores 7, and so on…

    Now, I don’t know what the “average” record is, but here’s Morris:

    0 Runs Allowed

    1 RA

    2 RA

    3 RA

    4 RA

    5 RA

    6 RA

    7 RA

    8+ RA

    Someone else can figure out if that’s better than average or not.

  19. I think pitching to the score had a lot of merit . . . in the Dead Ball Era. There is anecdotal evidence that Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson pitched to the score (they said they did), and being willing to not throw your best stuff all the time would at least in part explain the insane amount of innings the pitchers in that era could throw on a yearly basis. Furthermore, it would be logical to think that a pitcher, in an era where XBH were rare and it would take a string of events to score a single run, would be willing to save his best stuff for those situations when either a) runners were in scoring position; b) Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner was up; or c) both. However, when they livened up the ball in the 20s, and the amount of XBH skyrocketed, I would suspect that pitchers pretty quickly adjusted and quit saving their best stuff for the truly crucial situations. And guess what, IPs went down because guys couldn’t throw as many innings throwing their best stuff all the time. In 1914, the NL’s best pitcher (Grover Alexander) threw 355 innings and 7 others threw over 300. In 1925, one pitcher threw over 300 innings (Donohue of the Reds).

  20. Richie says:

    Before I get to his point, I should say that this Morris fact is 100% true. Here is the list of pitchers who won most often when giving up 4+ runs.

    Jack Morris, 54
    Warren Spahn, 53
    Robin Roberts, 52
    Roger Clemens, 46
    Phil Niekro, 45

    Do we know how many total games each of these guys gave up 4+ runs? I don’t think the total number of wins means much without knowing how often they were in the circumstance.

    • “Here is Jack Morris W-L record and ERA when his team scored a certain number of runs. In parentheses I put baseball team’s records when scoring that many runs from 1977 to 1991, which basically covers Morris’ career:”

      A neat exercise, but perhaps it would be more appropriate to compare Morris’s data with his contemporaries already in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps they too excelled at this “pitching to the score” philosophy!

    • doc says:

      Morris was 54 – 139 (see my earlier comment). What the rest of them were, I don’t know.

  21. Dan R says:

    If my team is a run-scoring machine I will more often have more runs than the other guy’s team (than not). High-scoring teams generate more wins for their pitchers. This is why wins don’t measure pitching. If the Braves don’t bring in Pena…if Lonnie Smith…if if if. If one hanky waves the other way in the Metrodome, we aren’t even having this discussion.

  22. jim says:

    “that remarkable 1991 Game 7” is one of the most famous games in one of the most famous series in modern baseball history. as far as i can tell, neither individual games nor series can be elected to the baseball hall of fame. that’s a shame. alas. i’m fine with jack morris being elected as a proxy. getting past this discussion will allow joe to continue to beat us over the head with his conservative worldview disguised as sports writing. oh joy. (see what i did there?)

    • LargeBill says:

      jim, I realize some folks see politics in everything, but I’m at a loss to see how you are able to complain about Joe “beating you over the head with his conservative worldview.” Joe seems very intelligent so I can see how you’d assume he was generally conservative, but he mostly avoids politics in his writing.

    • Rob Smith says:

      So Jim, you’re OK with Jack Morris as a proxy for the Game 7 World Series? How about we also elect Gene Tenace for his fine 1974 World Series effort? Or maybe Bernie Carbo for that famous three run HR that enabled Fisk to win the game? Alas, you weren’t happy with simply one dumb comment. Nope. You had to opine that Joe is somehow a conservative beating us over the head with politics. As a left leaning person, I would have been the first to call Joe out for this and I’ve read him for a few years now. It’s never happened. Here’s my suggestion. Get back on the meds. You may not like them, but they do bring you back to the real world.

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  24. jim says:

    Dear The Internet,

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  25. NRJyzr says:

    I find it amazing this is still discussed.

    I am unable to locate it at moment, but an erstwhile member of the intarwebs researched individual games started by Jack Morris, finding there was no evidence of his pitching to the score.

    If you look at Baseball-Reference’s page for career splits for Jack Morris, you’ll find his OBP and OPS allowed are virtually the same across his career across High, Medium, and Low Leverage situations. Interestingly, he allowed more hits in High Leverage situations than in Medium or Low Leverage situations.

    Seems a fairly stark “negative” IMHO.

  26. […] 80s, his career regular season ERA of 3.90 isn’t spectacular. As Joe Posnanski points out in his post on the subject, there seem to be two alternatives: (1)  He happened to get the necessary run support to win all […]

  27. […] games in the 80s, his career ERA of 3.90 isn’t spectacular. As Joe Posnanski points out in his post on the subject, there seem to be two alternatives: (1)  He happened to get the necessary run support to win all […]

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