YOU DON’T KNOW JACK

Holly Bio PicBy:  Holly Horning

Want to really stir the pot and get conversations going? All you have to do is bring up the continuing failure of deserving Tigers to enter the Hall of Fame. And if you need some background or ammunition, it’s covered here:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/the-drought-must-end/

In the case of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, the evidence supporting their induction is fairly clear. But Jack Morris? Maybe not as much as you think. (And I apologize for my evil twin, who couldn’t resist and commandeered the keyboard, coming up with this blog’s title.)

As Tiger fans, we tend to focus on the good and give the evidence that doesn’t support him getting less attention. We’re fans. We enjoyed watching him for years, saw some great games and remember so many wonderful highlights. He was dependable. He was a Tiger. And because of the connection and the fond memories, many of us strongly believe he should have been inducted into Cooperstown.

But those who vote, combined with the former MLB players and the myriad of former baseball personnel-turned-analysts, are on the fence about Jack. And their opinions, really, are the ones that count in the end.

So why the disconnect? Let’s explore the reasons why this Tigers’ pitcher has yet to make the cut.

First of all, the Baseball Hall of Fame is meant to honor the greats of the game, not just those who were really, really good. Entering the Hall is reserved for less than the top 1% of players. That alone is a tall order. Combine that with the safety step the BBWAA inserted in the process of waiting 10 years, as history gives clarity, definition and perspective to a player’s real contributions.

If we take a look at Morris’ initial stats, without digging below the surface, they look pretty good. Lots of wins. He was the winningest pitcher in the ‘80’s and threw more innings than anyone else. He won more games than anyone else during that time period.

But those in the game will tell you that wins are a flawed metric and a team-based stat, not a pitcher’s. He played for largely winning teams which helped facilitate his win total, along with being a workhorse, which is really an indicator of luck and the ability to take care of oneself. In other words, those big numbers are really due to his lengthy career, supporting a quantity instead of quality argument.

Morris is tied with Red Faber for 43rd best in wins with 10 other pitchers not in the Hall with more wins. And if you are one who includes the sabermetric stat WAR, he ranks 138th best with Bob Caruthers and 163rd with Adam Darowski if you use JAWS. Both indicators that sabermetrics are now being used as an essential tool in evaluating potential candidates.

As to the long-time point about how Morris “pitched to the score,” that too, has been disproved by Joe Sheehan for Baseball Prospectus and Pete Palmer. They found that if Jack had pitched for other teams, his ERA would have been similar. Neither found a pattern where Morris gave up runs when the Tigers were ahead given his 3.90 ERA over 3,824 innings. In fact, stats support that Jack was good, but not great at preventing runs, which is the pitcher’s #1 job. No current Hall of Famer has an ERA higher than Morris’.

Those who analyze the stats will also point out his totals in strikeouts, starts, wins, innings, WAR, shutouts, complete games, winning percentage, SO/9 innings and ERA rank historically from a high of 32nd best to as low as 748th. He was a below-average strikeout pitcher and above-average in walks allowed. His winning percentage ranks 192nd.

But what the voters and analysts do look for are the individual performance stats and awards which get the most weight. They go year-by-year and see how he ranks against the competition to get an accurate sense of his placement and whether he was dominant in any category. He was never really in the running in any year.

For example, he never led his league in ERA nor had a season in which it was under 3.00. He only led the AL once in wins – in the strike-shortened season. He never won an MVP award (highest voting had him at 13th) or a Cy Young in which he received only 2 first-place votes in his entire career. And part of that was because he never led the league in anything other than wins which supports the theory that he never dominated his competition and merely benefitted from playing for some really good teams.

And while he did win 4 World Series, those who evaluate will say that this is a reflection more about the team, rather than the individual. And the same goes for his moments of greatness – certain games within the regular and post-season – which are considered supplemental factors and not the backbone of his overall legacy. Kinda like bonus points.

But what those who crunch the numbers do say about Jack is that he lacked “impact statistics” which is the currency that gets you into the Hall – 3,000 strikeouts, 300 wins, a really good WAR and other stats that would support being able to dominate other pitchers in his era. Even in 1984, they point to the fact that he wasn’t even the best pitcher on the team – even within the starting pitching rotation. That was also the year that Willie Hernandez won both the MVP and Cy Young Awards.

And, gulp, more than one analyst offers supporting stats that paint Morris as being more of a #2 or #3 starter on his playoff teams, despite the reputation of being “the ace.” They liken him to Gil Hodges, who is also not in the Hall.

And if we veer away from Morris’ stats, there is another factor which has most probably been an issue in why voters have never tipped Jack over the edge and into Cooperstown. He did not treat people well, especially the very writers who cast their votes. A number of articles that referred to him as “rude and insufferable” – and other adjectives which we won’t print here.

So what’s to be gained from analysts’ number crunching? That a good career, a long career or even a successful career does not equal greatness. Numbers are important but the very best players dominate their industry and their competition – and have the stats to prove it.

Is this what we want to hear or read? Absolutely not. But if we rely upon the importance of these determining factors, it certainly bodes much better for Tram and Lou.


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12 thoughts on “YOU DON’T KNOW JACK

  1. There is no arguing with the facts that Holly cited about Jack Morris. All I know is that, when the Tigers faced a very important game, Jack Morris was the pitcher I wanted to see on the mound! He is in my clutch player, Tiger Hall of Fame (and I’ll bet that many Twins’ fans feel the same).

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    • I would go further. If there was a game that absolutely had to be won, there is no pitcher I have ever seen (and I went to my first game in 1964) whom I would rather have on the mound for me than Jack Morris. I would argue that this speaks more loudly for his Hall of Fame credentials than any statistic.

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    • I completely agree Thomas. Morris was real bulldog on the mound and seemed to be able to amp it up in tough situations. I could not care less if he was not very likeable, that has absolutely no relevance as to his skills or achievements.

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  2. As expected, Holly presented the most comprehensive analysis of Jack Morris’s career that I have ever read. As a fan, it was easy to look thru rose colored glasses and only focus on the strengths that I “selectively” remembered. And I thought that Mr. Illitch didn’t want to market Jack because he left the team for more $$$.

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  3. THANK YOU HOLLY! “Rude and insufferable!!!” When I hear people wanting Morris or Gibson in the booth, I wish they would remember that both left town as pariahs. There were good players, but not likeable at all.

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  4. Hard to argue against this comprehensive look. My initial reaction was “Yes, BUT” and then cite his post-season success. However, I pulled up those stats and realized that, although he had the entire ’84 post-season and the ’91 WS to point to, he also had other post-season performances that were both mediocre (’91 ALCS) and quite awful (’87 ALCS, ’92 ALCS, ’92 WS).

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      • If JVs career regular season stats take a tumble and more closely resemble Jack’s, then some voters might use WS struggles against him. But he’ll have awards (MVP, CY,, sub-3.10 ERA seasons, etc.) that Jack never had. I’m guessing that if JV’s final stats hold steady, however, I don’t think his poor WS showings will slow him down too much.

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  5. Thanks Holly for dovetailing my perceptions of Jack with the realty of Jack. He was a dominant pitcher of his era and I still hold out hope that he will get into the HOF one way or the other.

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  6. My gut tells me he played like a hall of famer. (could be biased) but he had more heart than anyone else in that era. There would be no 84 world series without him. Bulldog Morris.

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