Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why Ex-Tiger Jack Morris Should Not Be a Hall of Famer

By Sean Gagnier

With the Baseball Writers Association of America preparing to vote the next class of players into Cooperstown on Jan. 9th, there are several players who are making a push for the Hall that statistically do not deserve it. There are others, that are being overlooked that are indeed worthy of enshrinement.

Ex-Tiger and Twin Jack Morris has found a new life in his pursuit of the Hall of Fame of late, but with the rise of sabermetrics, his numbers, when looked at in comparison to a similar player that was denied the Hall, could also deny Morris.

And they should.

Morris is close to reaching that magic 75 percent of the vote, but should he even be this close? No.

Yes, Morris had a fantastic Game 7 in 1991, but that does not make someone a Hall of Famer. Consistent solid numbers do, and Morris does not have that.

Morris played 18 seasons with four teams, amassing 254 wins in that time. But a deeper look into those numbers shows that he was an average pitcher, at best.

During his career, Morris posted a 3.90 ERA, that is far less than good. A pitcher with a borderline 4.00 ERA shouldn't be on the mound, let alone in Cooperstown. ERA can sometimes be misleading, so perhaps a look at Morris' WHIP would help his case? Not at all.

In fact, Morris' career 1.29 WHIP is near the high end of acceptable and bordering on demotion level for a starting pitcher. That 1.29 WHIP means that Morris allowed quite a few base-runners each time he was on the mound. A Hall of Famer should be one that keeps runners off the bases, or at least strands them, Morris' numbers show that he did neither.

Delving deeper into sabermetrics gives voters the ERA+ stat, which is a pitchers ERA adjusted to the pitchers ballpark. An average pitcher would score a 100 in the ERA+, meaning anything over 100 is below average and anything under is above average.

Morris' records show that he has a career 105 ERA+, showing that even in the cavernous confines of Tiger Stadium, where he spent 14 seasons, he was unable to post even numbers comparable to the generic average pitcher.

Maybe some voters would argue that the regular season doesn't matter as much as the post season and that Morris' playoff numbers should get him to Cooperstown. Well, they don't. They damn him almost as much as his regular season numbers.

In seven playoff series, Morris played in 13 games and turned in a 3.80 ERA, not exactly the ace performance expected of him. His WHIP, again, was inflated at 1.24 and he averaged eight hits allowed per game.

Now those are not the numbers of a Hall of Famer, and yet he is inching closer to the Hall on each ballot return. His numbers are not great, in fact they compare, unfavorably, to those of fellow-Tiger Mickey Lolich who was denied entry to Cooperstown on 15 occasions.

Lolich played 16 seasons, 13 with Detroit, and won a World Series with the Tigers in 1968. But he was denied the Hall of Fame, despite having similar, if not better, numbers to the ones that could get Morris to Cooperstown.

In his 16 seasons, Lolich turned in a sub-par ERA of 3.44, not good. But while that 3.44 ERA is bad, it is better than the one that Morris compiled. Lolich also had a 1.22 WHIP, again, not the greatest, but still better than the numbers presented to the BBWAA.

Lolich also played in the pitcher-friendly Tiger Stadium, and he too, struggled to maintain the production of the average pitcher there, posting a 104 ERA+. 

Where the postseason hurts Morris' numbers, it greatly helps those for Lolich. While Morris did have more games played in the postseason, the difference between the two is vast. In two postseason series, Lolich played in five games and came out with a 1.57 ERA.

Where Morris was allowing runners to reach base and score in the postseason, Lolich was allowing less than a runner per inning in the playoffs with his 0.97 WHIP. These playoff numbers greatly favor Lolich, but his regular season numbers do drag him down a bit.

The evidence is clear, when looking at the raw statistics, Morris compares very well with Lolich, a player who did not reach Cooperstown, and he himself, should not either.

Words Above Replacement's 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot
Alan Trammel
Craig Biggio
Curt Schilling
Lee Smith


  1. Interesting. You say Lolich's ERA was "not good" but better than Morris's. Then you admit Morris had an ERA+ of 105 compared to the 104 of Mickey.

    Also, I take issue with this line: "Yes, Morris had a fantastic Game 7 in 1991, but that does not make someone a Hall of Famer. Consistent solid numbers do, and Morris does not have that."

    Really? I would say the strength of the argument FOR Morris is that he was consistently solid. He was not spectacular for any one season, which hurts him. He never had the 3-4 year stretch where he was clearly in his prime. Instead he was a steady, consistent pitcher for close to 15 years. He started at least 34 games in 11 of 13 straight seasons (one year he didn't was a strike and he led the league in wins that year). That's pretty amazing. If he was anything, he was consistently solid. But if you watched him pitch (and I probably saw 90% of his starts for the Tigers in his career), he always had 5-6 starts a year where he got smacked around, which would push his ERA up. He wasn't going out there start after start giving up four runs, he was putting up a lot of complete game 5-hitters where he gave up 1-3 runs too. He was an ace. He took the ball and he finished what he started. His ERA was higher than others in other eras? So what? There's a reason he started Game One of the WS for three teams, and was the ace of three WS title teams. The guy was a stud. Was he Jim Palmer or Tom Seaver or Greg Maddux? No. But he was as good a pitcher as Catfish Hunter and nearly as good as Don Sutton and others from a previous generation who got into the Hall.

    1. Lolich's ERA and ERA+ are both better than that of Morris, it becomes glaring in the playoffs.

      While I agree with you that Morris was indeed consistent throughout his career, I would add that he was consistently average statistically speaking. Like you said, there was never a standout year or stretch of dominance. While Morris did get wins and was the ace of several teams, he was by no means a slam dunk candidate, he is a fringe candidate, that I believe to be an average player the caliber of Lolich. And Lolich was never inducted into Cooperstown.

  2. Also, Lee Smith faced about 5,300 batters in his career. Jack Morris faced more than 16,000. It's a curious argument to say Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame and Morris doesn't. Few people who saw Smith pitch thought he was the best of his era. Not really even close. Closers pitch so little, they need to be really dominant.

    Oh, one more thing on Morris: it seems you are saying SABRmetrics has HELPED Morris's argument for the Hall, that the numbers have been in his favor. It's been the opposite. SABR guys don't want Morris in, pretty overwhelmingly. The writers have, over time, started to support Morris becuase (IMO) they realize there are no starting pitchers who were in their prime in the 1980s who are in the Hall. It's a a glaring omission.

    1. Thanks for catching the SABR thing, that was a typo on my part. The SABR community, like you brought up, do not want Morris in. While I would love to see another Tiger in the Hall of Fame, I can't see it with his numbers. But if he is voted in, I will be happy for him.

      Smith was dominating, he held the MLB saves record, of 478, until Trevor Hoffman passed him en route to his 601. When Smith came out of the 'pen it was game over. Not to mention Smith limited batters to hitting .237 against him. I don't see how there can be a Hall of Fame without one of the top three closers of all time.