Monday, November 25, 2013

4 comments If Only Jack Morris Was Told He Should Give Up Fewer Runs He Could Have Lowered His ERA

It's time to do the annual dance that is done regarding the baseball Hall of Fame. Some Hall of Fame voters say why they are voting for Jack Morris and I say why these people's reasoning for voting for Jack Morris is stupid. Fortunately, this is the last year this dance will be done, as Morris is in his 15th year on the ballot and will be kicked off the ballot if he isn't voted into the Hall of Fame this year. The argument usually goes the same way. Guys like Murray Chass say, "He's a winner who wins in winning fashion. He won big games in the playoffs, but please ignore the playoff games where he didn't pitch well at all. Pay no attention to those." People who don't think Morris should be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame say, "Wins are stupid, his ERA is too high, you can't induct a guy based on how well he pitched in one World Series game." This year, Murray Chass focuses on the "anti-Morris mob" that is trying to intimidate him into not voting for Morris to enter the Hall of Fame. Of course, Murray won't change his mind about voting for Morris. At this point, I think he's not changing his mind because he simply doesn't want to change his mind. It's more about stubbornness now than whether Morris truly deserves Hall of Fame induction to him. Numbers don't win baseball games, Jack Morris wins baseball games.

Murray describes it very well for us on his non-blog. 

Having just gone through an election cycle, I received dozens of telephone calls urging me to vote for candidates for governor, state senate, state assembly, county freeholder, borough council, sheriff. No one called asking me not to vote for someone.

Receiving a phone call saying, "Please vote for Person X" is essentially a phone call asking you not to vote for Person Y...assuming you can only vote for one person of course.

However, the day before Election Day, someone sent me an e-mail asking me, almost pleading with me, not to vote for someone – Jack Morris.

“Please reconsider & do NOT elect Jack Morris, the anti-Blyleven, to the Hall! Just one more year.”

I always like how the anti-stats crowd publishes the emails of the crazy ones who write in and have something to say about Jack Morris. I don't think Jack Morris should be elected into the Hall of Fame, but I'm not going to write in to Murray Chass and plead for him to not vote for Morris. (A) That's not going to work at all and (B) It makes you look like you care too much, which is going to allow Murray Chass to make you look like an extreme person, which is going to allow him to paint Sabermetricians as extreme people. It's a slippery slope.

The writer referred to Morris’ being in his 15th and last year of eligibility on the writers’ ballot. If he doesn’t make it this year, he will be eligible in the expansion era voting after a five-year wait, meaning he will be eligible again in 2020.

Maybe in the year 2020 the voters for the Hall of Fame will be open-minded about measuring tangibles and intangibles like clutchiness, wins, and "this one time in Game 7 of the World Series this pitcher pitched a really good game."

I assume he wrote to me because I have been one of Morris’ biggest proponents since I retired from The New York Times in 2008 and resumed voting for the Hall of Fame.

And of course this is Murray's last year voting for the Hall of Fame of course, right? Once Murray has seen his pet project all the way through he is done voting for the Hall of Fame. I guess we'll see if that truly happens or not. I have a feeling Murray is going to want to be sanctimonious about the Steroid Era so this won't be his final year voting.

The e-mailer did not intimidate me.

How brave of you to not allow this random person emailing you to intimidate you. Clearly that was the intent as seen by the sentence beginning with the word "Please." By using such strong, aggressive language this emailer was definitely trying to intimidate you.

I guess Murray thinks any attempt to get him to change his opinion on a subject is an attempt to intimidate him. This is what happens when sportswriters go the majority of their career without getting immediate feedback based on what they are writing, as occurs in the present when a sportswriter posts a column. What happens is the sportswriter thinks it is unbelievable anyone would disagree with his point of view and because that person disagrees then he must be doing so in an aggressive manner.

“Jack Morris,” I replied, “will be on my ballot in capital letters.”

Very brave. Score one for standing up to bullying.

“Did you ever see him pitch, or do you base your view on numbers?” I asked. “A number did not pitch a shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris did.”

This is very nearly literally the only evidence the pro-Morris crowd has for why Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame. It all starts and ends with Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Sometimes the cherry-picked data showing "Morris was the best pitcher in the 1980's" gets thrown in there, but mostly the pro-Morris crowd bases his induction on three things.

1. Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. This is the most important factor in his candidacy. Nevermind that Morris pitched in seven postseason games and was bad in three of them, average in one of them, and great in three of them. Let's just focus on the one game he pitched well. How Morris pitched in the 1992 World Series is irrelevant. Pay no attention to that.

2. Jack Morris has the most wins from 1980-1989. He's a winner. Of course as Murray Chass says, a win didn't pitch a shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris did, so wins are stupid to use as a reason behind the Hall of Fame candidacy of Morris.

3. Because they voted for him last year and they are tired of the anti-Morris crowd, so they want to elect Morris into the Hall of Fame in order to show that statistics are stupid and "the eye test" still means something. It's really a fight for their own relevance more than a fight for Morris to get in the Hall of Fame.

The e-mailer said he had seen him pitch, and he saw that game. “So?” he added. “Don Larsen’s not in the HOF.”

Is that the best the anti-Morris forces can do? Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and he’s not in the Hall of Fame?

The best the pro-Morris forces can do is say Jack Morris pitched a complete game in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. The irony of Murray complaining the anti-Morris crowd is based on just one World Series game is fantastic. I dare someone to make a good case for Jack Morris to be in the Hall of Fame without mentioning Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. It won't happen because I don't think it can be done.

An excellent case for Tom Glavine can be made without mentioning Game 6 of the 1995 World Series. I can make an excellent case that Cal Ripken should be in the Hall of Fame without mentioning his consecutive games played streak. An excellent case can be made for Derek Jeter to make the Hall of Fame without mentioning his outstanding postseason fielding plays. That's what a Hall of Famer is. You can take away one small part of his candidacy and his candidacy still holds up well. You can't take away Game 7 of the 1991 World Series from Jack Morris because his entire candidacy seemingly relies on that game. That game is the springboard to show how he pitched complete games, was super-clutch, and a winner. Take away that one postseason game, he becomes a really good pitcher from an era when pitchers used to throw more complete games.

My e-mailer seems to have a twin (unless it’s the same misguided person). I was directed to an anti-Morris web site on which the blogger uses the same flawed Larsen analogy but also adds another silly example:

“Bill Wambsganss converted an unassisted triple play. Neither one is in the HOF or ever will be.”

I do agree that writing "Don Larson isn't in the Hall of Fame and he pitched a perfect game" is a silly example, but leading off Morris's candidacy with Game 7 of the 1991 World Series invites these type of comparisons. Of course Murray doesn't know this. He doesn't have the writing skills to write a persuasive non-blog post because he wrote about sports in a time when sportswriters could write whatever they wanted with no immediate feedback from readers who may disagree with him.

When we Morris believers vote for him, we are considering an entire career, in which his brilliant World Series performance was only a highlight.

What are the other highlights? He was really a good pitcher for a while and put up great numbers. He was good in a couple World Series starts, but I fail to see other grand highlights in the hundreds of other games that Morris started.

The statistic the anti-Morris gang seems to holds against him most fervently is his 3.90 earned run average. If he were to be elected, they say accusingly, his e.r.a. would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. But someone has to have the highest e.r.a. Right now it’s Red Ruffing and his 3.80.

I hold the fact he wasn't one of the best pitchers of his era against him. He was very good for a long time, but never great for more than a few years, and he wasn't one of the best pitchers of his era.

That web site I mentioned goes well beyond e.r.a., though, bringing up WAR and WAA and WHIP and all sorts of other meaningless initials.

Murray says these are meaningless statistics and immediately dismisses them because he doesn't understand them, but of course that isn't a knock against him, but a knock against the use of statistics and other things that Murray is incapable of understanding. It's about Murray's legacy and if these new-age statistics are going to be used, it makes Murray feel less relevant and hurts his ego. Covering baseball is as much about massaging Murray's ego and letting everyone know how smart he is in regard to the sport. If there are facets of baseball that Murray doesn't understand then that makes him less relevant and only shows that Murray isn't as smart in regard to the sport he covers as he believes himself to be. So new things are bad because it hurts Murray's feelings when he doesn't understand these new things.

And also, if there is an individual statistic than is the most meaningless then it is the win. A pitcher gets a win based on the performance of his team, so in my mind it is pretty meaningless to be used in determining how well a pitcher pitched when taken all alone. WAR, WAA, and WHIP are "meaningless initials" that attempt to isolate a pitcher's performance outside of the performance of his team. I don't consider that meaningless, but to each his own I guess.

Then Murray prints an email from a SABR member who wants to point out there is a historical SABR group and a statistics SABR group. This SABR member who wrote in to Murray said,

"I have no use for the fantasy world statistics like WAR. I am mystified anyone takes them seriously."


“I was able to totally avoid any discussion of the new forms of creative statistics, for the three days I was there.

“Perhaps you could specify the SABR Stat Heads or something similar so as not to malign those interested in baseball history.”

I have no use for a lot of things, but the mere fact they exist doesn't make them part of a fantasy world or any less relevant compared to those things which I do have a use for. As I have said before, I would be interested as to how these anti-stats people did in advanced math classes in high school and college. Statistics is a course with a lot of "creative statistics" that may seem like a fantasy but are really a combination of different formulas in order to create an answer using a larger formula. This isn't fantasy world stuff, but a higher level of measuring the performance of baseball players. If you don't like it, that's fine, but don't disparage it because you don't understand what these statistics mean. 

Whether or not they are members of SABR, the anti-Morris mob needs help. Expending as much mental passion and physical effort as they have in trying to block Morris’ road to the Hall of Fame indicates the need for them to get a life.

One person wrote Murray an email asking him not to vote for Jack Morris to enter the Hall of Fame and now there is an entire anti-Morris mob. When you need to discredit an opposing view, make them opposing view seem less rational and much larger than it actually is. Any good propagandist knows this works well.

It’s one thing to use new-age statistics to persuade ignorant voters to vote for a candidate, as happened with Bert Blyleven three years ago;

These poor ignorant voters were persuaded to vote for an unworthy candidate by the evil new-age statistics mob.

I don’t recall a candidate’s being the target of non-voters trying to induce voters not to put an X next to the candidate’s name.

Personally, I can’t wait to get my ballot so I can mark it for Morris.

That's Murray's prerogative in his last year of voting for the baseball Hall of Fame. Because it is Murray's last year voting, right?

However, last year Morris gained only three votes to 67.7 percent, and I don’t think that was enough for him to attain the required 75 percent this time around, especially with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on the ballot for the first time.

Don't you just hate it when real Hall of Fame candidates appear on the ballot and take away votes from borderline candidates like Jack Morris who haven't been voted into the Hall of Fame after 14 tries? It's so unfair when qualified Hall of Fame candidates appear on the ballot.

Having a negative campaign waged against him may not hurt him, but the loss of just a few votes that he otherwise might have had could. Morris, 58 years old, had not heard of the existence of an anti-Morris web site.

I get the feeling there are a lot of things about baseball that Jack Morris hasn't heard of. I feel like he stopped learning new things and paying attention sometime around the time Murray Chass did, which was probably 1977.

“How about that?” Morris said in a telephone interview last week. “The sabermetricians have to justify their cause. I’m their leading candidate.”

I'm not even sure what this means, but it could very easily be seen that Murray Chass has to justify his cause and Jack Morris is the leading candidate. As much as players like Jack Morris and Murray Chass view the statistics movement as an underground surge led by people who hate the game of baseball and need to justify their cause, it's not true. The advanced statistics cause has been justified and Jack Morris is showing how out-of-touch he is. There isn't a reason to justify the cause anymore because more and more teams are accepting the use of stats-driven analytics to judge the performance of players. What's interesting is Jack Morris admits this is true, yet still seems to think advanced statistics are irrelevant.

“They’ve already taken over the game,” he said. “Ninety percent of the general managers are in it.

So there's nothing to justify because the cause is a part of baseball.

That’s why the game is messed up.”

Oh, so THAT'S why the game is messed up. I wasn't even aware the game was messed up, much less did I know the reason the game of baseball was messed up.

“They say that numbers are a good way to evaluate,” he said, “but they can’t predict. SABR can only tell what players have done. They can’t predict what a player might do.”

Jack Morris is an idiot. Can Jack Morris predict what players will do? Does the use of the win, RBI, home runs, or complete game statistic tell us what a player will do? Absolutely not. So to indicate advanced statistics are pointless because they can't predict the future is a dumb argument. Yes, there are advanced statistics projections that try to predict what a player/team might do, but advanced statistics are mostly used to evaluate how a player performed, which not-at-all ironically is the exact same damn thing the older statistics that Murray Chass and Jack Morris cling to so tightly are built to do. Advanced statistics are just a different way of evaluating a player. That is all.

To attempt to discount the use of advanced statistics by saying, "Well yeah, but they can't predict the future" is a dumb counter-argument and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the use of advanced statistics.

“They’ve never played,” he added, “but they can go to the owners and produce charts and graphs, and the owners don’t know any better.”

Yes, advanced statistics have many charts and graphs they produce to take advantage of the ignorant multi-millionaires who run MLB teams. If only there was a chart that could show hustle, grit, and percentage of mustachiness as compared to ability for a player to pitch to the score of the game then I'm sure these naive multi-millionaires would see that advanced statistics are useless. What's funny is that Jack Morris criticizes stats-driven GM's for not knowing how to evaluate a baseball player because they have never played the game, yet he's never been a general manager and claims to understand how to run a baseball team. Jack Morris hasn't ever been a GM, but he believes himself qualified to tell other GM's how to run their team the right way.

Morris rejects the e.r.a./WHIP criticism by explaining what was important to the people he played for.

“Innings pitched, complete games and games started,” he said. “They wanted me to suck up innings. If you look at that in any era, the guys on top would lead the league in e.r.a.

And that's great that Morris sucked up innings. Unfortunately sucking up innings and having a lot of complete games doesn't mean he should be in the Hall of Fame.

I never had any incentive for quality starts or WHIP or WAR. All these formulas didn’t exist.

Wait, what? Jack Morris didn't have incentive to pitch well because there weren't statistics that measured how well he pitched? So Morris didn't pitch as well as he could have pitched during his career because he needs incentive in the existence of the stats that he rejects as invalid? So these statistics are invalid and the reason MLB is messed up, but Jack Morris certainly would have paid attention to these statistics in order to provide incentive to pitch better during his playing career. So basically these stats are worthless unless they existed during Morris's pitching career, in which case they would have provided him more incentive to pitch well? Got it.

Morris makes a valid point. The stats geeks judge him on statistics that didn’t exist when he pitched. In another example, the new-age guys discount Morris’ 254 wins, saying wins are the least meaningful statistic for pitchers.

Right, but these statistics don't need to exist to evaluate Morris as a pitcher. I can't fathom the logic behind discounting these new-age statistics as being faulty and then Morris acting like he would have changed the way he pitched in order to have looked better in the eyes of these faulty new-age statistics.

Also, wins are a team measurement, not just the measurement of how well an individual pitcher has pitched.

Yes, fellow dinosaurs, that’s what they say these days, even though when Morris pitched, wins were still meaningful

Wins are meaningful still, but they shouldn't be the main criteria on which a pitcher is judged for the Hall of Fame.

Speaking of his time and the matter of wins, Morris said, “You gotta ask, what is important to get to the World Series?” The answer was wins.

For a TEAM, the most important statistic is wins and how many games that team wins in the playoffs. So yes, wins are the most important thing to a team, therefore wins are a team statistic. Thanks for proving my point for me. That was very kind.

Taking what Morris’ employers told him they wanted, games started and innings pitched, how does Morris compare with the 69 pitchers in the Hall of Fame? His 527 starts and 3,824 innings are both above the average.

How many starts a pitcher has and how many innings he pitched doesn't make that pitcher a Hall of Fame candidate. Jamie Moyer has 638 starts and 4074 innings pitched. Tim Wakefield has 463 starts and 3226 innings pitched. This doesn't mean they are Hall of Fame candidates. Innings pitched and starts made by a pitcher aren't Hall of Fame criteria without that pitcher having superior statistics in those starts and innings pitched. I'm not sure Jack Morris has those superior statistics.

And what might Morris have done if the general manager or his manager have said they wanted him to have a lower earned run average?

“I probably would have led the league,” he said.

I'm confused by this. So Jack Morris could have pitched better than he did if his manager had told him to do so? This blows my mind. So when Jack Morris went out on the mound he didn't give up as few runs as possible and could have given up fewer runs in order to lower his ERA? I'm not sure whether I should be more outraged by this claim, the fact Jack Morris is essentially admitting he didn't give up as few runs as possible when pitching or that Jack Morris believes he could have been a better pitcher if he had tried harder.

What this comment does tell me is that Jack Morris is a Hall of Fame pitcher in his mind. That's something we can agree on. In his mind, and in his mind only, Jack Morris deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.


HH said...

This is amazing! Don't you realize what this means?! Before like, 1999, pitchers weren't even really trying to pitch well! Can you imagine how great everyone could have been if someone had told them "Hey, pitch well."?

In all seriousness, Blyleven had excellent rate stats and no one had to tell him to pitch well. Same for Gibson and Koufax and Seaver and Carlson and Roberts and Feller and so on. This was the same argument they tried to use for Jim Rice: "At the time no one cared about on-base percentage." Yeah, well, the truly good players still got on base 80 points better than Rice did.

I feel stupid for having read that.

Bengoodfella said...

HH, I can only imagine how many games Cy Young would have won if he had been told to be conscious of his WHIP and WAR. He could have won 700 games or at least won more games than he appeared in.

I lose more respect for Jack Morris every time he opens his mouth about why he should be in the Hall of Fame. I find it impossible to believe he could have given up fewer runs if he had just known that is what he was supposed to do. Isn't that the purpose of pitching? To give up as few runs as possible?

Anonymous said...

"And what might Morris have done if the general manager or his manager have said they wanted him to have a lower earned run average?"

Giving up as few runs as possible is a goddamn assumption. You really need your GM to tell you to do that? This is really some of the stupidest bullshit I've ever read. Murray is trying to convince people Morris is a Hall of Famer by saying he COULD have given up fewer runs. As if back in the 1980s no one cared about run prevention. "I could give up 2 runs today, but fuck it, I'll just give up 5 and go along my merry way. We'll score 6, so I'll still get the win." Ridiculous.

The original poster here is absolutely correct. Even if on-base percentage wasn't well known up until the past decade, great players still succeeded at it throughout history. Even if WHIP wasn't well known, great pitchers still had low WHIPS. Why? Because this stuff has always been part of what makes players great, even if they didn't know it. Run prevention and base-runner prevention has always mattered, and if Jack Morris truly could have done better in that regard, then shame on him for not doing it. This is a defense mechanism, of course. He truly couldn't do better than he did, which is fine, but it doesn't make him a Hall of Famer.

Bengoodfella said...

For me, Jack Morris simply isn't a Hall of Famer. The fact "someone" has to have the highest ERA in the Hall of Fame isn't very persuasive to me, nor is a great performance in a crucial playoff game.

I don't get how Morris essentially claims he could have given up fewer runs if he wanted to.