Jack Morris and His Last Year on the Ballot

If you watch MLB Network for five minutes, you’re bound to hear something quite stupid escape the lips of one of their analysts.  The other day, Mitch Williams was debating Jack Morris’s Hall of Fame qualifications, and regurgitated a concept I heard Harold Reynolds posit last year: that you shouldn’t focus too much on Jack’s peripheral numbers because he “pitched to the situation.”  They claimed that when Morris would get five or six runs, he might surrender four or five in return.  I’m sorry, but run support is a security blanket for pitchers, not an invitation to pitch poorly.

Before I get too much into this post, I should state how I dislike doing this: writing about how a former player doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.  It’s difficult enough to get enshrined without scribes writing pieces about how you don’t belong there.  I always liked Jack Morris.  He seemed to me a fierce competitor with nothing but the utmost respect for the game of baseball, but if what Mitch and Harold say is true, then his “pitching to the situation” completely negates the “fierce competitor” analysis I had of Jack.

When people make a case for Morris they typically point to his wins.  He is the winningest pitcher of the 1980s, with more victories than any hurler from the years 1980 to 1989.  On wins alone, Morris would seem a lock for the Hall of Fame, but we’re no longer in the era of judging a pitcher based solely on his record.  Jack’s peripheral stats are anyhting but spectacular, and when I compare him to a number of his 1980s peers—all of whom are not on the Hall of Fame ballot—you’ll see just how modest of a career Mr. Morris had.  Let’s begin, shall we?

I have assembled of group of pitchers who pitched in the same decade as Morris, and will compare their peripheral stats (some of the most important stats) to see just how Jack measures up against his peers.  The attributes of a good pitcher are keeping runners off base and forbidding those you allow to reach from crossing the plate.  The pitchers I have chosen at random are a collection of solid pitchers, but hurlers the writers felt weren’t good enough to remain on the ballot.  They are: Doyle Alexander, John Candelaria, Danny Darwin, Ron Guidry, Orel Hershiser, Jimmy Key, Dennis Martinez, Rick Reuschel, Bret Saberhagen, Scott Sanderson, Mike Scott, Dave Stieb, Frank Tanana, Frank Viola and Bob Welch.

ERA (earned run average): Guidry (3.29), Candelaria (3.33), Saberhagen (3.34), Reuschel (3.37), Stieb (3.44), Welch (3.47), Hershiser (3.48), Key (3.51), Scott (3.54), Tanana (3.66), Martinez (3.70), Viola (3.73), Alexander (3.76), Darwin (3.84), Sanderson (3.84), Jack Morris, 3.90

WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning): Saberhagen (1.141), Candelaria (1.184), Guidry (1.184), Scott (1.201), Key (1.229), Stieb (1.245), Sanderson (1.255), Hershiser (1.261), Martinez (1.266), Darwin (1.268), Tanana (1.270), Welch (1.270), Reuschel (1.275), Alexander (1.293), Jack Morris (1.296), Viola (1.301)

BB/9 (walks allowed per nine innings): Saberhagen (1.7), Candelaria (2.1), Sanderson (2.2), Key (2.3), Guidry (2.4), Reuschel (2.4), Alexander (2.6), Darwin (2.6), Martinez (2.6), Scott (2.7), Tanana (2.7), Viola (2.7), Hershiser (2.9), Welch (3.0), Stieb (3.2), Jack Morris (3.3)

SO/BB (strikeout to walk ratio): Saberhagen (3.64), Candelaria (2.83), Guidry (2.81), Sanderson (2.58), Scott (2.34), Key (2.30), Darwin (2.22), Tanana (2.21), Reuschel (2.16), Viola (2.13), Hershiser (2.00), Welch (1.90), Martinez (1.84), Jack Morris (1.78), Stieb (1.61), Alexander (1.56)

These statistics are crucial to good pitching, and when you judge Morris against his peers—those the writers view as inferior—you see that Morris was the worst of the crop.  Jack won a lot of games, like the pitchers of the Yankees juggernauts of the Ruth/Gehrig era, by pitching deep into games for high-powered teams.  Detroit of Morris’s tenure were typically among the American League’s highest run scoring teams.  In 1980, when Jack won 16 games, the Tigers led the Majors with 830 runs scored.  He went 17-16 in 1982 on a 4.06 ERA (handily the worst ERA among their starting pitchers: Dan Petry had a 3.22 mark, Milt Wilcox 3.62 and Jerry Ujdur 3.69).  His Tigers teams usually had strong bats capable of swatting the long ball.  Detroit paced the AL in homeruns as a team in 1984 while also leading the junior circuit with 829 runs.  In ’85, Detroit had one position player that failed to reach double-digits in dingers: Tom Brookens.  Morris had stars like Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon hitting for him, and long ball threats like Lance Parrish and Darrell Evans slugging to beat the band.  With all that support, it’s little wonder that Jack won more games than any pitcher during the 1980s, even on his paltry peripheral stats.

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