Baseball: Past and Present

What he did: I gave Jack Morris a vote for my recent project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. I even said he belonged in Cooperstown. Felt a little sheepish after I started counting votes– Morris, one of the more polarizing figures in baseball today, fell big in our rankings. After finishing No. 36 in the 2010 edition of the project, Morris plummeted all the way to a tie for 52nd with Rick Reuschel  this year. It made sense in the respect that advanced research shows Morris to be somewhat overrated, and a lot of my voters this year were members of the Society for American Baseball Research.

Plenty of fans and old-school writers could care less about advanced research, though and bemoan Morris’s absence from Cooperstown. Needless to say, our voting wasn’t well-received by one person who commented:

Jack Morris not being included is a joke. 4 world series rings. WS MVP. Pitched the greatest game in WS history. If that was for the Yankees, he would have been in the hall years ago.

It’s a joke.

I don’t agree, particularly since Don Larsen isn’t in the Hall of Fame or our Top 50, and he pitched the actual greatest game in World Series history and did it for the Yankees to boot. Still, the comment made me think.

Morris sports a 254-190 lifetime record and 1991 World Series heroics that grow more mythical by the year. He also won the most games of any pitcher in the 1980s, maybe helped by the fact he was on winning Detroit Tiger teams nine of those years (Detroit finally went 59-103 in 1989 and an injury-plagued Morris staggered to 6-14.) Still, the biggest thing keeping Morris out of Cooperstown might be his 3.90 ERA, higher than any man enshrined. Morris didn’t need Yankee pinstripes for a Hall of Fame plaque. He needed an era where his ERA could have been lower.

Era he might have thrived in: With his durability, good for at least 240 innings ten times in his career, Morris might have been well-suited for the 1960s. The pitcher-friendly era might take somewhere close to one run off his ERA, and on the 1968 Tigers, Morris could stand in for Mickey Lolich who had postseason brilliance of his own that year, winning three games in the World Series. That all might be enough for Cooperstown.

Why: Hall of Fame voting doesn’t always deal in context. Morris could take his exact same abilities, his 105 ERA+ and 39.3 WAR which rank near the bottom for enshrined pitchers and have passable surface stats in the right era. Playing his best years in the 1960s, this could mean an ERA somewhere in the lower half of the 3.00s. If that didn’t satisfy the Baseball Writers Association of America in its Hall voting, Morris would at least probably be honored by the Veterans Committee.

There’s a tool on Baseball-Reference.com that converts stats between different eras based largely on average number of runs scored. Since earned run average directly relates to this, it’s a good tool to see how Morris’s ERA might fare with the ’68 Tigers. In short, he’d do well with them for any number of seasons from his career. Take 1986, where Morris went 21-8 with a 3.27 for Detroit; that’d be good for 16-13 with a 2.60 ERA in 1968. Or there’s the strike-shortened 1981 season where Morris led the American League with 14 wins against seven losses and a 3.05 ERA; in 1968, that would come to 20-14 with a 2.53 ERA.

Whatever the case, it’d be a huge benefit for a man who, in real life, never had a season with a sub-3.00 ERA. Then there’s the fact that playing prior to 1980 when four-man rotations were common, Morris might get enough additional starts over the course of his career for 300 wins. Heck, Morris wouldn’t need a fairytale ten-inning shutout in Game 7 of a World Series for his plaque. Fans would have to find another non-enshrined player to get angry about.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays



9 Comments so far

  1.    Tim Newey on December 15, 2011 1:31 pm      

    Great post Graham! I always thought he was one of the most feared pitchers of the 80′s, he even looked mean. Do you think there are some single game/season individual performances like Don Larsen’s perfect game that would be so historical as to merit enshrinement in the Hall of Fame?

  2.    Graham Womack on December 15, 2011 1:37 pm      

    Hey thanks, Tim. I wrote this awhile back. I’d have no problem enshrining for one brilliant season on a limited basis. The first two guys I’d be willing to do this for are Roger Maris and Smoky Joe Wood.

  3.    Brendan on December 15, 2011 8:32 pm      

    Graham: You mention Mickey Lolich in your post. The parallels between Morris and Lolich are clear. They were identical in ERA+ at 105 and similar in IP (3824 for Morris, 3638 for Lolich) with each leading the league in this stat once. Morris has the edge in winning percentage (.577 to .532), but Lolich has the higher WAR (45.6 to 39.3). Transporting Jack Morris to the 1960s gets you a pitcher who very much resembles Lolich, and Lolich is not (or at least not yet) in the Hall of Fame, and he’s been waiting a lot longer than Morris.

  4.    Bill Miller on December 16, 2011 6:14 am      

    Hi Graham, I had no problem leaving Morris off of my top 50 not in the Hall list. His career WAR, as you pointed out, is nothing special, and wins, as even the Cy Young voters now acknowledge, as largely overrated. Yes, he pitched a couple of brilliant games, but we need to distinguish between great days and great careers. There’s nothing wrong with displaying his uniform or glove in a case at Cooperstown that he used in his Game 7 masterpiece, but that doesn’t mean he also deserves his own plaque. His career ERA+ shows that he was generally a little better than average.
    As far as eras are concerned, consider, too, that if Morris played in the late ’90′s-early 2000′s, his career ERA would probably be even higher than it was!
    Morris was a very good pitcher, but there are loads of very good pitchers not in The Hall.
    Nice post, Bill

  5.    Daniel Greenia on December 17, 2011 6:44 am      

    Enshrining a player because of one great game or one great year is frowned upon, if not explicitly prohibited. From the HOF election rules:

    “6. Automatic Elections: No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.”

  6.    Adam Darowski on December 18, 2011 8:40 pm      

    Brendan hit it on the head—this post really made the Morris/Lolich connection for me. Move Morris to the 60s and that’s who he is.

  7.    Mike on December 22, 2011 11:43 am      

    I’ve always said Morris was similar to Catfish Hunter, and would be just as bad a choice for the HOF as Hunter.

  8.    Richard Ryan on December 26, 2011 3:48 pm      

    This touting of Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame is just plain silly. He was a good, not great pitcher, a Milt Pappas who was fortunate enough to enjoy great run support through most of his career. He enjoyed few–if any–dominant seasons, and his postseason record is overblown, hyped by three memorable games. He was 4-4 in his other postseasons starts, and pitched a few stinkers. His career postseason 3.80 e.r.a. is comparable to his career regular season e.r.a., so the notion that he “got up” for big games is nonsense.

    Finally, we have this:

    96-120, 1,860 IP 4.28

    Do you know what those numbers represent? Jack Morris’s career stats against teams .500 or better. He was a losing pitcher against the tougher opposition.

    Does that strike anyone as a clutch player or as a Hall of Famer?

    Let’s keep our standards high.

  9.    Graham Womack on December 26, 2011 6:15 pm      

    I’m not sure if you’re accusing me of touting Morris for the Hall of Fame, but I wasn’t doing that here. I made very clear in my piece that I think Morris was overrated.

    For what it’s worth, I wrote this post because someone ripped my voters and I for not making Morris one of the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame.

    I suppose I just can’t win with Morris.

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  • Written by Graham Womack