Wednesday, December 25, 2013

1 comments Tom Verducci Also Thinks Jack Morris Should Be in the Hall of Fame

Well, Tom Verducci finally took me up on my challenge (sort of). He obviously didn't take me up personally, but happened to (sort of) write a column about Jack Morris's Hall of Fame candidacy that I didn't think could be written while making a good case for Morris to enter the Hall of Fame. Verducci tries to make a case for Morris to be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame without relying heavily on Game 7 of the 1991 World Series (well, he relies on it some). I feel like I am right, that Verducci tries to make a case, but ultimately the case for Jack Morris still fails without mentioning that Game 7 World Series victory. What's left is a bunch of discussion about how Morris used to complete games, how he was the best pitcher for a cherry-picked era of time, and he was just a real competitor. It's just not a strong case being based entirely on Morris completing a lot of games and Morris being the opening day pitcher for his team a lot. I struggle to think of a more arbitrary category than using "opening day starts" as a measure of whether a pitcher is Hall of Fame worthy or not. Tom Glavine pitched four opening day starts in his career. He would have pitched more opening days starts, but it was completely dependent on the strength of the pitching staff around him. That's why opening day starts is a very weak category to use in determining whether a pitcher should be in the Hall of Fame or not.

From 1971 through 1983, 615 pitchers made their first start in the major leagues. None of them have been elected to the Hall of Fame as a starting pitcher. It is baseball's Dark Ages for superb starting pitchers.

And oh yeah, Verducci bases part of his case for Morris to enter the Hall of Fame on the fact no pitcher from this randomly selected era has made the Hall of Fame. It's simply an arbitrary span of time. It's like saying "Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the 1980's" as if being the best pitcher from 1981-1991 means less. 

It is, by far, the longest and deepest drought in baseball history when it comes to the debut of a Hall of Fame starting pitcher.

It is also noteworthy, but ultimately meaningless as it pertains to whether Jack Morris should be inducted into the Hall of Fame or not. 

The Dark Ages has one last chance: Jack Morris, who gets his 15th and final opportunity on the baseball writers' ballot. The best of the rest of his contemporaries are long gone from the ballot: Dennis Martinez, Frank Tanana, Bob Welch, Rick Reuschel, Dave Stieb and Fernando Valenzuela, all of whom fell off the ballot after one or two years for failing to gain the minimum five percent support.

Let's just say invoking Jack Morris's name along with these six pitchers isn't going to help convince me that Morris deserves Hall of Fame induction. 

Morris is the last chance from an era of enormous change in how the game was played. The widespread use of the five-man rotation, the accepted wisdom of using relief specialists and the adoption of the designated hitter in 1973 combined to jump-start a trend that hasn't stopped its course: starting pitchers were asked to throw fewer starts, fewer complete games and fewer innings.

I smile as I write this because it sounds ridiculous...but basically Jack Morris deserves to be in the Hall of Fame not because of his performance during his career, but because of what he represents? He's an ambassador to baseball from a different era and someone who has contributed to the game in ways that exceeds his contribution on the baseball field? This is what I am to take from this. That it is not just about Jack Morris and his performance, but about what Morris represents, and that's why he should be in the Hall of Fame. I feel like this is quite the reach to make a case for Morris.

The Dark Ages began with starters completing 28 percent of their starts in 1971. By 1983 the completion rate was down to 18 percent. By the time Morris threw his last pitch, in 1994, it was down to 8 percent. Today it is down to 2.6 percent.

Complete games are great. Every team wants a pitcher who will throw 25 complete games in a season. That's just not the current state of baseball though. Teams rely more on specialists out of the bullpen and pitchers just don't complete games like they used to. I don't see what this has to do with Jack Morris and whether he should be in the Hall of Fame. Morris should not be elected to the Hall of Fame as the Last Great Pitcher of Complete Games. 

As the game changed -- especially in the DH-infused American League -- no starting pitcher who debuted in that transitional era held up better than Morris.

Again, these superlatives don't mean that Jack Morris deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but Morris being the best pitcher to hold up in the transitional era of the DH doesn't mean he should be in the Hall of Fame. Morris was consistently really good. He makes the Hall of Very Good, but he's not one of the best pitchers of all-time.

Plenty of pitchers posted better individual years, more than a few posted better peaks and many have Cy Young Awards or boast better run prevention metrics.

The translation I receive from this is that plenty of other pitchers were better at pitching than Jack Morris was during this time. So while Morris completed games and "held up" well during this time, he wasn't one of the best pitchers of his era, so he is not the type of player who should be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is not for pitchers who completed a lot of games or transitioned to the DH well. It is intended for the best pitchers in the history of baseball and Jack Morris by Tom Verducci's own admission wasn't one of the best pitchers of his era. 

But none of the 615 starting pitchers who debuted between 1971 and 1983 had the staying power that Morris did.

Jamie Moyer and Tim Wakefield had staying power. Are we electing them to the Hall of Fame anytime soon? 

Among all starting pitchers who debuted between Blyleven and Clemens, Morris won the most games (254) and completed the most games by far (175, or 22 percent more than the next closest pitcher, Tanana) and posted the second best winning percentage (.577, trailing only Bob Welch and his .591 among pitchers with 400 starts) and the second most strikeouts (2,478, second to the 2,773 of Tanana).

But there is no rule that says a pitcher who debuted between Blyleven and Clemens has to make it into the Hall of Fame. It's possible this was just a dry period for Hall of Fame-caliber starting pitching. Tom Verducci will soon mock those who say Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the 1980's by stating this is an overrated way to measure Morris's dominance, but he's using his very own set of cherry-picked dates to prove Morris was a Hall of Fame pitcher. 

The strength of Morris' candidacy derives mostly from the volume of his work measured against his peers through this transitional period.

And unfortunately in order to make the Hall of Fame, Jack Morris and his volume of work should be measured against his peers throughout baseball history. That's how we determine if Morris is one of the best pitchers of all-time and not the best pitcher of a cherry-picked era. 

He was a workhorse who gobbled up innings as an ace, not just as a rotation filler. Nobody else in his era equaled him in that regard, especially when you talk about the harsher duty in the American League.

You will read a lot of this from Verducci. Jack Morris was a workhorse. This is the main argument for Morris to make the Hall of Fame, along with Morris being the pitcher from 1971-1983 that held up the best. While Morris being a workhorse is true, I'm not sure how this makes him a Hall of Fame pitcher. Morris being one of the last workhorse pitchers is nice, but I think comparing Morris to all of his peers instead of just those from 1971-1983 is the best way to measure his Hall of Fame candidacy. 

The problem with Morris' candidacy, however, is that he gave up so many hits and runs that you don't find the superior quality of pitching you typically associate with a Hall of Famer.

Much like Dale Murphy, who didn't get enough hits or hit enough home runs that you find with the superior hitters that are typically in the Hall of Fame. Gee, I wonder what that means for a player's Hall of Fame candidacy when a player just doesn't have good enough statistics compared to current members of the Hall of Fame? If only there were an answer on what this means...

In his 14-year peak (1979-92), Morris ranked tied for 17th in adjusted ERA (109) among pitchers with 1,500 innings. He never finished among the top four in his league in ERA or WAR and only once did so for WHIP.

But these are advanced statistics, which don't tell the whole story. Jack Morris had a lot of complete games (as did many pitchers prior to the specialization of pitchers) and he won a lot of games (which is an individual award that based partly on how the team overall performs). He's a winner and a workhorse. 

Many of the baseball writers I know invest significant research and some angst in filling out their ballots. The accessibility and spread of information has served to create more informed ballots.

Well, for those voters who actively seek out this new information and care to use it to evaluate baseball players and their qualifications for the Hall of Fame. Meaning, not Murray Chass. 

I have come to believe that getting enough votes for election (75 percent) comes down to one simple question: How well can you sum up his candidacy in one sentence?

Well maybe that and for some of these Hall of Fame candidates it is quite clear they are worthy of the Hall of Fame. It doesn't take much to see Gregg Maddux deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, while voters have to start cherry-picking data and using superlatives to state why Jack Morris deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. 

The preferred candidates are those (non-PED-stained) guys who belong to the "magic number" clubs (i.e.: 300 wins, which will serve Tom Glavine well, and 3,000 hits, which will get Craig Biggio in). You get imprimaturs such as "most home runs by a second baseman (first Ryne Sandberg, and eventually Jeff Kent), "best at his position" of a certain era (Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Gary Carter) and "franchise player associated with one team" (Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Larkin, Sandberg, Biggio).

Many of these players are more than just the one sentence that Tom Verducci has created to describe them. Tom Glavine won 300 games, but he also won the Cy Young award twice and was in the Top 3 of the Cy Young voting four other times. Roberto Alomor, Barry Larkin, and Gary Carter were the best at their position in their era and their legacy holds up when compared to players at their position throughout baseball history. The same goes for Ripken and Tony Gwynn. They are more than just guys who were on one team for most of their career. They have a resume that holds up against the best players in the history of baseball, which should ultimately be the determiner of whether a player gets a writer's vote for the Hall of Fame or not. 

I also like how Verducci says he believes you can sum up a player's candidacy in one sentence, but he seems to use three separate sentences to advocate for Craig Biggio and two sentences for Alomar and Larkin. Maybe it's a compound sentence for those three players. 

Deserving players without those easy identifiers, especially Tim Raines and Fred McGriff, are woefully undersupported. It actually takes some context to appreciate their greatness.

I don't know if McGriff or Raines would have a better case if they had played for one franchise, but they certainly would have a better case if they could attach themselves to a specific record. I see where Verducci is going with this. He's going the "You just have to understand how good Morris was by getting some context," and by "context" I assume Verducci means "cherry-picking numbers from an era and then calling Morris a workhorse over and over again." 

With Morris, attempts to shrink his narrative to a sentence have done more harm than good. People rightly have derided labels such as "he has the most wins in the '80s" (overrated), "he pitched to the score" (not entirely true) and "he threw a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the World Series" (hello, Don Larsen).

Having the most wins in the 1980's is overrated, but being the pitcher that held up the best from 1971-1983 is the perfect criteria for judging Morris's Hall of Fame candidacy. 

You have to be brutally honest with Morris' candidacy and avoid the hagiography: He was a plowhorse who lived up to the demands of an ace like nobody else in his transitional era. He was a manager's dream for fulfilling that role, especially pitching exclusively against DH-loaded lineups, not for superlative rate statistics.

So why were other pitchers able to pitch against DH-loaded lineups and still have superlative rate statistics? There are pitchers from the DH era who will make the Hall of Fame. Why was it possible for other pitchers to do this, but not Morris? I would suggest this is because Morris wasn't an elite pitcher. Sure, he did a great job of hanging in there and pitching a lot of innings, but his statistics reflect the fact he wasn't elite. Elite pitchers make the Hall of Fame. 

If you still want a one-sentence summation of Morris, you can pick from among these:

You are the one who is all about the one-sentence summary of a player's career, not me. 

He won and completed the most games among all starting pitchers who debuted from 1971-83, by far the longest period without a Hall of Fame pitcher in baseball history.

So he pitched the most innings during a period when no pitchers made the Hall of Fame. This is about as relevant as saying Morris was the best pitcher of the 80's. So Morris was the best among a group of non-Hall of Fame pitchers, that doesn't make him a Hall of Fame pitcher himself. The best player in the D-League won't get named to the NBA All-Star team. 

He pitched eight or more innings in AL games more times than any pitcher in the history of the DH (248), a record unlikely even to be approached.

Over a 14-year peak (1979-92), Morris gave his manager eight or more innings more than half the time he took the ball (52 percent of his 464 starts).

He was a workhorse. It's simply being re-phrased over and over. 

In AL history since the DH debuted, Morris ranks first in Opening Day starts (14),

Irrelevant as it pertains to Hall of Fame voting because whether a pitcher has 14 opening day starts or 2 opening day starts depends on the pitching staff around him. 

first in starts of eight or more innings, second in starts of seven or more innings (to Clemens), second in complete games (to Blyleven)

Has Verducci mentioned he was a workhorse? If not, he was. This is very important to know. 

and third in wins (to Clemens and Mike Mussina, a deserved Hall of Famer).

That's fantastic too. I can't help but wonder where Morris ranks in losses since the DH debuted. 

Now you begin to understand that his 10-inning shutout in the 1991 World Series was about more than just one historic game. You have to go back to the first day of spring training that year, when Morris, signed the previous month by Minnesota as a free agent, walked into the camp of a team that finished in last place the previous season and announced, "Men, I'm going to get you guys to the World Series. I'm going to throw the most innings on this team, have the best ERA and win the most games. I will lead you."

Does Tom Verducci realize how many times an athlete promises a championship to his teammates and it doesn't turn out to be true? Also, what Morris said is irrelevant to his Hall of Fame candidacy. I hate to keep saying this, but what a baseball player states and is able to back up is not a part of his Hall of Fame resume. 

As it turned out, Scott Erickson had the most wins and Kevin Tapani had the best ERA, but Morris threw the most innings and was the undisputed leader.

So basically Morris is going to get credit for saying something that he didn't even completely back up? So now what Verducci wants Morris to get credit for is leading the 1991 Twins in innings pitched. He was a workhorse. It's now on repeat, simply re-stated. 

By then Morris owned a reputation as one of the best, if not baddest, dudes in the game. He was so stubbornly competitive that once in 1982 Tigers manager Sparky Anderson started walking to the mound to remove Morris on what would have been his second visit that inning. Morris ran over and stopped Anderson before he could cross the third-base line.

"Get the hell out of here," he told Anderson. "What you've got warming up is no better than what I've got right now."

"You're nuts," Anderson said.

The manager turned around and walked back to the dugout.

Wow, I didn't know we could use stories to get players into the Hall of Fame. One time Fred McGriff hit a home run so far it bounced off a man's head back into the field of play where McGriff caught the ball threw it back to the pitcher who threw McGriff another pitch that McGriff hit right back at the same man, who caught it this time. Everyone elect Fred McGriff into the Hall of Fame now. 

And so there was no way Morris was letting Tom Kelly take him out of a scoreless Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris was 36 years old at the time. He was making his fifth start of the postseason, including three of the last four on short rest. It was his third start in eight days. The 10 innings pushed his season total to 283 -- and none of the final eight batters he faced managed to get the ball out of the infield.

It turns out I lied. Tom Verducci can't make a case for Morris to enter the Hall of Fame without at least mentioning Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. See, I don't think it can be done. I don't think a case for Jack Morris to enter the Hall of Fame can be made without mentioning this World Series game. His candidacy centers around one (very important) game, that he was a workhorse, and if you cherry-pick a subset of time then Morris was one of the best pitchers during that time compared to other pitchers during that time. It's not a strong case for the Hall of Fame in my opinion. 

Twins GM Andy MacPhail called it "the most impressive pitching performance I ever have witnessed."

So the Twins GM appreciated the performance that helped his team win a World Series? How unforeseen. 

It wasn't just about the 10 innings Morris pitched that day. It was about a career of fulfilling the responsibility of an ace and refusing to give in. After that series, Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that Morris had compiled a career similar to Hall of Famers such as Catfish Hunter, Herb Pennock and Jesse Haines, only with more superlative World Series numbers (4-0, 1.54 ERA). "It is a distinction that will probably send him to Cooperstown one day," wrote Carchidi.

The opinion of a sportswriter from 20 years ago immediately after a fantastic performance does not a Hall of Fame career make. It's not like sportswriters tend to overstate things due to the immediacy effect or anything. 

Also, as I have shown repeatedly, these World Series numbers are impressive but didn't look so impressive after his performance in the 1992 World Series or when factoring in his ALCS numbers. Of course, who cares about the ALCS, and Jack Morris can't be expected to pitch well in the World Series at the age of 37, so those numbers clearly shouldn't count nor be mentioned when discussing Morris's postseason achievements. 

Morris was never the same after 1991, which is to be expected when a 36-year-old pitcher throws 283 innings. He did lead the AL in wins the next season with 21 for Toronto, but mostly because the Blue Jays rolled out the second-highest scoring offense in the league.

So now the same pitcher who Verducci is building a Hall of Fame candidacy around being a workhorse can't expected to be a workhorse? It's a nice way to have it. Base Morris's candidacy on him being a workhorse and then state the Blue Jays shouldn't have expected Morris to be a workhorse after the 1991 season. Also notice how Verducci bases part of Morris's candidacy on him having the most wins of the DH era outside of Clemens and Mike Mussina, but dismisses wins as a relevant statistic when it is useful to show that Morris wasn't the same pitcher during the 1992 season. Wins are a team statistic when Verducci wants to show the struggles of Jack Morris, but magically become an individual statistic when Verducci wants to describe what a great pitcher Morris was. 

He also went 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA in the 1992 World Series for the Jays.

But this doesn't count because the workhorse was all worked out at this point. 

After the '91 World Series, Morris pitched to a 5.07 ERA in his final 84 regular season starts. The three-year decline phase raised his career ERA from 3.71 to 3.90, causing the "future Hall of Famer" Carchidi wrote about in 1991 to be recast dubiously as "the pitcher with what would be the highest ERA of any Hall of Famer," displacing Red Ruffing and his 3.80 mark compiled against an AL that was neither integrated nor turbo-boosted by the DH.

So Jack Morris, the great compiler of wins and other statistics over his 18 year career, shouldn't have the fact he didn't pitch well for the last three years of his career held against him? I guess that means the 38 wins and 24 losses, as well as 11 complete games don't count either? So Jack Morris ended his career with a 3.71 ERA, 216 wins, 162 losses (which lowers his career winning percentage to 57.1% compared to his real winning percentage of 57.7%) and he had 164 complete games. Does that get him in the Hall of Fame? If we took away the last three seasons of every pitcher's career when it comes time to evaluate that pitcher's Hall of Fame candidacy would that make sense? 

Since his third year on the ballot, Morris has gained 288 votes. (Blyleven gained 393 over his time on the ballot.) His gain of only three votes last year does not portend well toward picking up the 40 or so he needs on his last try. It is possible that Morris, after a 71-vote leap the previous year, simply has neared his ceiling of support, though it is also possible that the most mean-spirited campaigning against one player in the history of the Hall of Fame ballot has cost him votes.

And of course disagreeing that Morris should be in the Hall of Fame is mean-spirited. I'm not sure how pointing out a player doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame in response to many articles being written about why that player should be in the Hall of Fame is mean-spirited, but it's best to paint the anti-Morris crowd as being unreasonable rather than argue on the facts. 

I am both baffled and saddened to see how people continually lampoon Morris and those who support his candidacy.

I'd love to see examples of this lampooning of Morris's candidacy. I'm guessing I would see this lampooning as simple disagreement over Morris's candidacy, but again, it's better to paint the opposition to Morris being in the Hall of Fame as extremists who are mean bullies. 

Morris has received 2,873 votes, the most ever by anyone on the wrong side of election.

It looks like Morris even sticks around the Hall of Fame vote long enough to accumulate impressive numbers. I can't wait for the sportswriter to make the case that Morris should be in the Hall of Fame because he has received more votes than any other candidate who hasn't gained entry into the Hall of Fame. 

If you prefer a statistical autopsy to determine your Hall of Famers, you probably will find Morris lacking. Many of the rate numbers aren't pretty enough.

If you prefer non-anecdotal evidence, a candidacy based on Morris being the best pitcher in a cherry-picked selection of dates only against other pitchers during those dates, and Game 7 of the 1991 World Series as proof of Morris's candidacy then you are probably voting for him. In the end, his candidacy should be based on what he did as a pitcher during his time in the majors, not based on what he did from 1971-1983 versus the other pitchers during that time. 

But, using another set of numbers, there is no denying the volume and impact of what Morris did.

But you have to use numbers that compare him to other Hall of Fame pitchers and I just feel Morris is lacking in that department. 

The facts show that Morris was the most reliable ace of his generation whose ability to continually take the ball deep into AL games was unmatched and may never be seen again.

He was a workhorse. I'm pretty sure you have mentioned this once or eleven times already. 

What also is true is that he altered baseball history by going 7-0 with a 2.05 ERA in the 1984 and 1991 postseasons, pitching the Tigers and Twins to world championships. Neither franchise has won a World Series since then.

Whether these franchises have won a World Series since Morris played for them is, again, irrelevant. Morris pitched poorly in the 1992 World Series and the 1987 ALCS. Why doesn't this count?

If you view baseball from the viewpoint of the manager, as I like to do, Morris is a Hall of Famer.

If you view baseball from the viewpoint of the manager then a lot of players are Hall of Famers. Managers will think most of their best players should be in the Hall of Fame. 

Just imagine you are the manager, and for nearly a decade and a half -- in the AL, with the DH -- when you give the ball to Morris more times than not he is going to give you a minimum of eight innings, and over his career and from the inception of the DH to this day he will win more AL games than anybody except Clemens and Mussina.

That's great and I will be happy my team's offense scored enough runs for Morris to win all of these games, while noting it's good the offense scores runs because Morris certainly gives up more runs than your typical ace would give up. 

the most players elected in one year is three. Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas should be expected to clear 75 percent this year. If you get an unprecedented fourth player elected, it could be Biggio rather than Morris. Biggio finished ahead of Morris last year by three votes and has no one campaigning against him.

Yes, NO ONE is campaigning against Craig Biggio, which is why he made the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot, right? Wait, he didn't make the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot? But, no one is campaigning against how did he not make it? 

Under current rules he would have to wait until December 2016 for a 16th try at enshrinement. That's when he would be eligible for consideration by the 16-person committee chosen by the Hall of Fame to vote on the next Expansion Era ballot.

I think Morris will get in the Hall of Fame at some point. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes it in December 2016. 

It shouldn't have to come to that. Jack Morris deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and he has my vote.

Tom Verducci is being very mean-spirited in this discussion by disagreeing with me that Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame. So adding to the list of reasons Morris is a Hall of Famer (best pitcher of the 1980's, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series) is that Morris was a workhorse and the pitcher who has held up the best during a randomly selected point of time as compared to other pitchers during that era. As I expected, a great argument for Jack Morris to make the Hall of Fame can't be made without mentioning Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Verducci didn't initially rely on that game to back Morris's candidacy, but he rambled around calling Morris a workhorse multiple times until he fell back on the that World Series game.

I wonder if Verducci considers this take on whether Morris should be in the Hall of Fame to be mean-spirited in that is it well-thought out and reasonable?


DG said...

As a longtime reader of SI on-line and in print I have never really been a big fan of Verducci. His writing voice smacks of superiority and the comment in this story I found particularly condescending was seeing it from the managers perspective. I get that not all of us fans "got to be a Blue Jay" (remember how awful that story was?) but maybe not being so involved allows a more objective viewpoint.

This is aside the point, but I remember a story he did a couple years ago for where he said Cliff Lee wasn't an attractive trade chip because he had a high salary and a low win total over the previous few years (WTF!). He really values wins and he cites win total from '81-'93 in this story as well.

At the end of the day, when I read I just have the attitude that SI keeps old dogs like PK and Verducci around because they've earned their stripes on the beat, but their writing always seems to pander to a lower denominator than more nuanced takes by other often younger writers/bloggers who need it to get views.

I am glad you took the time to critique this piece because it speaks to the gap that seperates ex-players/beat writers with people who earned their rep with their knowledge and logic. It reminds me of last year on ESPN NBA countdown when whenever Magic Johnson was questioned he would smugly reply "five rings" as if his ability always made him right. I feel like in the same way a career as a beat writer has given Tom this air where if you diagree you are either irrational or simply don't have the proper context that could only come from playing/managing/reporting experience.

This was a good read on the merits of Morris candidacy as well.