Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Keltner List: Jack Morris

Since this is the last year that Jack Morris is eligible, I thought it right to put him through the Keltner List.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?

Not to my knowledge.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

I don't think so. The mid 1980s Tigers featured Lou Whitaker, Allan Trammell and Kirk Gibson. Roberto Alomar was probably the best player on the '92 championship Blue Jays, while the best player for the Twins was the late Kirby Puckett

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

I don't think so. I think many would take Bert BlylevenDwight Gooden, Brett Saberhagen, Roger Clemens in the 1980s or Maddux and Glavine at the end of Morris' career. Morris never won a Cy Young Award, not that that automatically makes the winner the best in his league.

One thing put forth is that Morris is the winningest pitcher of the 1980s. This is roughly parallel to the argument that since Mark Grace has the most hits of the 1990s, he should be in the Hall. Morris won 14 games every year from 1979-88. He led the league in victories once (1981), innings pitched and strikeouts once (1983), shutouts once (1986) and was a CY contender three times. Let's compare him to other pitchers during those seasons:

Roger Clemens 1984-88: Clemens reached the Red Sox in 1984 and won two more CY awards in 5 seasons than Morris won in his career. He also led the league in wins as many times in that span as Morris did in his career.

Tommy John won 20 games as many times as Jack Morris during that time period.

Dave Steib won 131 games in those 10 years, and led the league in more categories than Morris.

Just because a pitcher or hitter compiled more of whatever stat you wish to pick over a decade does not make that player a hall of famer. Morris was a good pitcher during the 1980s and a durable one. Does that make him a hall of famer? Good and durable? There were two seasons in the 1980s where Lamarr Hoyt was a better pitcher than Morris.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

This is the cornerstone upon which Morris' candidacy rests (along with the Pitcher of the 1980s argument). Morris won the Babe Ruth Award, given to the most valuable post season player, twice. Here are his combined stats for the 1984, 1987 and 1991 playoffs:

Record: 7-1
ERA: 2.59
WHIP: 1.096

In 69 1/3 IP, Morris allowed 20 ER, walked 17 and struck out 46. In 1992 with the Jays, Morris did not pitch well and did not get past the sixth inning in either of his World Series starts.

With the Twins facing elimination in the 1991 ALCS, the ball went to Morris and he tossed a near complete game to force a game five.

The 1991 World Series for my money is the best of all time. Seven games, all but two decided by one run, three extra inning games. Morris won game one and then painted his masterpiece in game 7. In a scoreless tie game, Morris allowed two baserunners after the fifth inning and won 1-0 on a Gene Larkin single in the bottom of the 10th. In the sixth, with runners on 2nd and 3rd with no out, Morris retired Ron Gant on a weak grounder to first, intentionally walked Dave Justice, then got Sid Bream for a double play grounder.

Far before this, however, Morris had a reputation as a big game pitcher. The evidence?

1983:  The Tigers were 4 back on July 16th. Morris won 10 straight decisions in July and August, throwing 8 CG and a shutout. Only the Orioles (Who won 29 of their last 41 games) kept the Tigers out. Morris could still get the fastball up in the mid-90s then. but not after the next season.

1984: Not much of a race. Morris won 10 of his first 11 games as the Tigers won 35 of their first 40 games. His ERA in his first 11 starts was 1.88

1987: With the Tigers tied for first on Aug 21, Morris pitched on three days rest for much of the month of September with mixed results, a 1-4 record. However, with the Blue Jays collapsing, Morris threw 9 innings of 2 run ball at them on October 3, combining with Mike Henneman to put the Tigers up for good.

1988: The Tigers finish second by a game to the Red Sox; Morris won 8 of his last 10 decisions, including 3 games in 14 days in September.

Morris was on 4 world series title teams, and was vital to the success of three of them (in 1993, Morris was injured). What jumps out, however, is that Morris wanted the ball in big games. One gets the feeling that his manager wanted him on the bump as well.

5. Was he a good enough player to contribute past his prime?

Think about this. Morris led the AL in wins twice: 1981 at age 26 and 1992 at age 37. He led the league in complete games at age 35. When the end came, it came swiftly at age 39.

6. Is he the best player in baseball history not in the Hall of Fame?


7. Are most players with similar statistics in the Hall of Fame?

James points out in Politics of Glory that for ordinary players, "we can usually find 5-10 players who were truly similar or well up in the range of the essentially similar." (93) he described essentially similar as having a similarity score of 850 or more. Morris does have 10 of those. But who are they?

Five of them are Hall of Famers (Bob Gibson, Red Ruffing, Amos Rusie, Burleigh Grimes and Bob Feller). One could be (Andy Pettite) and the other four won't be (Chuck Finley, Luis Tiant, Dennis Martinez and Jamie Moyer). Martinez is the most similar to Morris. In 2004, Martinez received 3.2% of the vote on the ballot. Why? Martinez made three starts in two World Series (1979 and 1995, which is something in and of itself) and did not win any of them. Morris record is 254-186, Martinez 245-193. Morris was named to 5 AS teams, Martinez 4. According to James, any score over 900 is "truly similar" and Martinez is at a 903.

In many ways, this is a fascinating list. Feller  (The Heater from Van Meter) and Rusie (The Hoosier Thunderbolt) are considered two of the hardest throwers of all time. Gibson was the most intimidating mound presence of the last 50 years. Tiant was a swirling, twisting, mustachioed work of art who would use any arm angle or pitch at nearly any time. Moyer was slow, slower or slowest. Grimes was the last of the legal spitballers. Ruffing won 273 games and in many ways benefited by playing on the late 1930s New York Yankees. I would argue that in form as well as in stats, Martinez is truly the most similar to Morris.

8.Do the players numbers meet hall of fame standards?

Morris scores a 39 on standards with an average hall of famer at 50. He scores a 122 on the monitor with an average hall of famer at 100. Morris was not a dominant pitcher, but he was a good pitcher for quite a while.

As an example, there are things called the Black Ink test and Grey Ink test, measuring how many times that player led the league or appeared in the top 10 in important pitching categories. Going back to that increasingly interesting set of comparison scores, we get this list:

Black Ink
Grey Ink

Morris is in the middle, but much closer to the non hall of famers in the bunch. Red Ruffing beats Morris by 65 in the grey ink test and won 20 games four years in a row.

While Gibson and Morris look similar, Gibson made 7 AS teams and won two more CY awards than Morris and turned in a seven year peak period with nearly double the peak WAR Value. He was also marginally better in the series (see #15)

9.Is there evidence to suggest he was much better or worse than his statistics?

His post season record and the fact that he made 14 consecutive opening day starts, the last being in 1993. Morris was one of the last pitchers to routinely throw 10 complete games every year, and he was incredibly durable (34 GS per year from 1982-88). Morris was a bulldog.

10.Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted?

No. Clemens, Maddux and Glavine would be ahead of Morris on my ballot. Lee Smith may also be ahead of Morris.

11. How many Cy Young type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP or Cy Young Award? If not, how often did he come close?

Morris appeared in the top 15 in the MVP voting three times. He was the Sporting News 1981 pitcher of the year in the AL (Steve McCatty or Morris probably should have won the Cy Young instead of Rollie Fingers that year) and he finished in the top five in the CY voting 5 times. I don't see a year, other than 1981, where it can be argued that Morris should have won the award. Dan Quisenberry was awesome in 1983, Clemens was dominant in 1991.

12. How many all star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?

Morris made five all star teams and started three games (1981, 1985 and 1991). In 1979, Morris was 9-2 after the All Star break but was probably deserving in what was his first excellent season. Most pitchers who started three all star games have many more appearances than Morris, though some of them benefited by having two all star games in one year (Spahn 17, Clemens 11, Ford 10, Bunning 9, Maddux 8 Billy Pierce 7).

13. If this man was the best player on his team, could that team conceivably win the pennant?

I am inclined to say no, even though with Morris circa 1979-87 as an ace the team would contend.

14.What impact did the player have on baseball history?

Morris is outspoken in his criticism of PEDs and turned in one of the greatest world series performances in baseball history. Larry Granillo wrote an article about Morris for the Hardball Times (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/is-collusion-to-blame-for-jack-morris-hof-case/) that is an interesting look at the impact of collusion on Morris, and well worth a read.

15.Did the player uphold the standards of the hall of fame?

As far as I know.

Jack Morris is not a hall of famer. He was a good pitcher for a long time and pitched very well in the postseason. Do 9 games of post-season greatness make someone a hall of famer? I don't think so. Some may seek to compare Morris' postseason achievements with Gibson. On the surface, they are similar. Morris was 4-0 in the World Series (I won't count 1992) with a 1.54 ERA and 0.78 WHIP. Gibson is 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA, .889 WHIP in double the innings as Morris. Also, there are the 92 Ks in 81 innings to think about.

Morris clocked his 15 wins in different 12 seasons with no CY awards. Maddux won 15 games 18 seasons in a row and posted 4 CY. Maddux is one of the true great pitchers. Morris was a damn good pitcher, but not a hall of famer.


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