Guest Post: Parrying with Jon Heyman’s HOF ballotBy
As we know, yesterday, the BBWAA elected Andre Dawson and no one else. The outcome was horrendous; the explanations even weaker. Today, RAB regular TommieSmithJohnCarlos grew so fed with Jon Heyman’s explanation of his ballot that he penned a massive response in the style of the late, great Fire Joe Morgan. You know how it goes.
…Generally, I’ve voted for one or two more players than average in most years, and this year should be no exception. This time I listed six “yes” votes — Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris, Dave Parker and Don Mattingly.
Dawson: A solid player, but NO
Parker: NOT F$%&ING REMOTELY, CHICO
Mattingly: NOT QUITE
Seriously, Dave Parker? Dave “.290/.339/.471/121+” Parker? Dave “Al Oliver and Rusty Staub were better players than me” Parker? Dave “people only love me because I wore a fancy black pillbox hat with horizontal yellow stripes and sang Sister Sledge songs” Parker? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
I will comment on all my picks, near picks and no picks down below. But mostly, I’ll explain three of my 20 “no” votes (one of whom has a pretty good chance to turn to a “yes” in coming years) – Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez. Those appear to be the most controversial. Or in the minds of many, just plain wrong.
Otherwise known as three guys who were all much, much better than Dave Parker, Jack Morris, Andre Dawson, and Don Mattingly.
The statistically oriented and sabermetrically inclined tend to think I’m not all there, particularly when it comes to Blyleven. But I do have an explanation.
David Ortiz also has an explanation for how he was on the Mitchell Report list. I assume the two of you will provide both your explanation and his, after you two finish solving global poverty and eliminating environmental pollution through a brilliant “converting disgusting human and industrial waste into delicious and nutritious inexpensive food staples” invention. And after Big Papi finds the real killers, of course.
I don’t put quite the same emphasis as some on career statistics,
Except when I do to fulfill the arguments backing my preconceived notions, as I did when voting for Parker, Morris, and Dawson
especially in cases where I’ve had the chance to follow a player’s entire career as it was unfolding, as was the case with this year’s entire ballot. (That happens when you get old.)
Which means F#$% YOU, Shoeless Joe Jackson, if you ever get your lifetime ban lifted, I’M NOT EVER VOTING FOR YOUR DEAD ASS BECAUSE I DIDN’T GET THE CHANCE TO FOLLOW YOUR ENTIRE CAREER AS IT WAS UNFOLDING! Sure, you may have been great, but I got to personally witness every single at-bat of Candy Maldonado’s career unfold, and that means a lot to me. So take that, you long-dead, illiterate, barefoot son of a bitch!
I consider impact more than stats. I like dominance over durability. I prefer players who were great at some point to the ones who were merely very good for a very long time. And I do recall it’s called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Numbers.
Players who were all greater at some point than Messrs. Parker, Morris, Mattingly and Dawson (list is non-exhaustive):
Oh, and for the record, I’ve been to the Hall of Fame. It’s full of plaques of great players. You know what’s written on those plaques? The numbers they put up.
Hall of Fame v. Hall of Numbers: a silly semantic non-argument. Fame is numbers. Numbers are fame. We don’t remember Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron for being “famous”, we remember them specifically for 714 and 755.
While Martinez was a superb hitter, and his career .418 on-base percentage and .515 slugging percentages are impressive indeed, only twice did Martinez even crack the top 10 in MVP voting (he was third once and sixth once). That suggests something less than dominance.
No, it suggests something less than popular acclaim. Bartolo Colon winning an MVP does not make him a more dominant pitcher than Johan Santana. It makes him an MVP winner. That’s all it does. Edgar Martinez didn’t finish in the top 10 in MVP voting frequently because people who vote on the MVP are well-known idiots, like, oh, say, Jon Heyman, for instance. Which means, Jon Heyman is arguing that Edgar Martinez isn’t good because a prior version of Jon Heyman told the present version of Jon Heyman that Edgar Martinez wasn’t good. Chew on that, Present Jon Heyman.
And even on his career totals, he comes up short. His final power figures (309 home runs, 1,261 RBIs) are underwhelming for someone whose whole candidacy is based on offense.
Sandy Koufax’s final innings pitched and wins figures are underwhelming for someone whose whole candidacy is based on pitching. However, Sandy’s rate stats clearly indicate he was a dominant pitcher. Edgar’s rate stats indicate he was a dominant hitter. Dave Parker’s rate stats indicate that he wore a fancy black pillbox hat with horizontal yellow stripes and sang Sister Sledge songs.
The reason I haven’t yet voted for Raines is that while he was a star in Montreal, he was merely a good player for the bulk of the rest his career, spent mainly with the White Sox and Yankees.
Dave Parker: A star in Pittsburgh, merely a good player for the bulk of the rest of his career in Cincinnati, Oakland, Milwaukee, California, and Toronto.
Dave Parker: Not better than Tim Raines in either the good halves or the bad halves of their respective careers.
Raines’ offensive career is a little like Mattingly’s in that he was exceptional for about a half-dozen years but far less than that for several more.
Actual number of years that Tim Raines had an “exceptional” OPS+ of 120 or higher: 12.
Actual number of years that Tim Raines had a “far less than exceptional” OPS+ of 105 or lower, not counting his two cups of coffee seasons as a 19 and 20 year old: 5
But while Mattingly (who I didn’t vote for the first seven years he was on the ballot) was greater in his great years, Raines did have many more seasons of solid performance, and I’m starting to lean in his direction. A strong case could be made that he makes up for far fewer MVP votes with greater overall career numbers
Which I don’t use, except when I do
(though not in batting average or slugging percentage). The numbers people will point to Raines’ gross totals of 808 stolen bases, 1,571 runs and 1,330 walks but especially to his .385 career on-base percentage, and I may not be able to ignore those figures in coming years. Several very worthwhile points were made and heard in the case of Raines, so worthwhile in fact that I could see myself voting “yes” on Raines in the future. If I do vote for Raines, he’ll become the fourth player I’ve switched on, turning a “no” vote into a “yes,” with the previous ones being Ron Santo, Jim Rice and Mattingly.
Tim Raines: A guy you were reluctantly but correctly talked into, although for some reason you’re post-dating your mental check to yourself, likely due to insufficient funds
Ron Santo, Jim Rice, and Don Mattingly: Three guys you were talked into, even though you shouldn’t have been talked into them because they’re not as good as Tim Raines and not Hall-worthy
So finally, I am starting to see the light on Raines. Yet, I remain a Bert Blyleven holdout, a position that elicits the most jeers, especially from the vocal and growing stat-minded set.
The Growing Stat-Minded Set: an American pandemic on the level of H1N1. The Centers for Disease Control urge you to see your healthcare professional to get vaccinated against Growing Statmindeness immediately, before you begin showing symptoms of A) understanding that stats are merely the unbiased historical record of what actually happened or B) acknowledging that arguments should be logically consistent and grounded in evidence rather than emotion.
Regrettably, there is no known cure for Growing Statmindedness, despite all the tireless and valiant efforts of Jayson Stark and the good people at ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. Parents, please have your children vaccinated before they begin thinking about things rationally.
Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop
Every year, I take hits for my lack of support of Blyleven, and this time on Twitter I was called “stupid,” a “moron” and “idiotic,” by (at least) a trio of Blyleven supporters.
There is no truth to the rumor that I singlehandedly made #jonheymanisapeabrainedturniphead a top ten trending topic. Allegedly.
No one player incites more controversy or stirs more emotion over his candidacy, which is slightly ironic after a career that was marked by solid attributes such as consistency and durability but somewhat lacking in drama.
Whatever Blyleven’s career lacked in drama, it made up for in humor. Dude wore a shirt in the clubhouse that said “I <3 to fart”. If that’s not a Hall of Famer right there, I don’t know what is. *
*I’m kidding, I do know what a Hall of Famer is. It’s Bert Blyleven and his 3,701 strikeouts.
I certainly understand why so many support Blyleven, especially in light of the new emphasis on numbers and the exuberance and passion exhibited by the strong numerically-inclined lobby. The momentum is building for Blyleven to make it, if not this year then certainly next year or the year after. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be joining the crowd. First, I want to get three things out of the way. My vote isn’t an insult.
My three aforementioned “no” votes, plus Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Harold Baines, Andres Galarraga and Lee Smith all fall just below my Hall of Fame borderline, putting them in the top 2 percent of all players (it’s been well established through decades of precedent that almost exactly 1 percent of players make the Hall).
Trammell and McGriff are both better than Dave Parker. Murphy’s pretty identical to him. As for Baines, Galarraga, and Smith, well, no argument there. There’s nothing wrong with being a “small hall guy” or a “big hall guy”, if that’s your thing. They’re both logically justifiable positions to take; the Hall itself gives no instructions as to how big or small it should be or what percentage of players should be inducted.
What’s wrong, though, is thinking Dave Parker and his career 121 wRC+ belongs in your Whatever Size You Feel Is Appropriate Hall Of Fame while Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, and Alan Trammell and their respective 151, 137, 137, and 115 (from a shortstop, mind you) career wRC+ accomplishments do not.
Small Hall? Fine. Big Hall? Fine too, if that’s your thing. Illogical Hall? No, you’re not allowed to do that, Jon Heyman.
My vote also isn’t about market size, as all the players on my ballot except Mattingly earned their vote in small- or mid-sized cities
Nobody ever said it was.
Jon Heyman: 1
Preemptive rebuttal that nobody was ever realistically going to make because it’s pointless and asinine: 0
(I also never voted for Tommy John, who had a somewhat similar career to Blyleven’s but played mostly in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago).
Tommy John: 110 ERA+, 4.3 K/9, 162 CG
Bert Blyleven: 118 ERA+, 6.7 K/9, 242 CG
Tommy John: not similar to Bert Blyleven
And it’s definitely not personal, despite what some have suggested. I don’t know Blyleven well at all but did cover him when I was an Angels beat writer in 1989 and vaguely recall that I found him to be a fun-loving and decent man. He obviously enjoyed the game and was very pleasant, a lot more pleasant then Rice or Steve Carlton, both of whom received my vote.
Jim Rice: NO
Steve Carlton: YES
Bert Blyleven: YES, especially if Rice is a yes. Logical consistency, my friend.
I don’t love that he is now campaigning for the honor, but it doesn’t make me any more or less inclined to vote for him. I have been consistent in my “no” vote, from back when I was in an overwhelming majority in his first years on the ballot until now, when he is viewed by a clear majority of voters as a Hall of Famer. I hope this isn’t about digging in my heels after having ridicule heaped on me by his most ardent and in a couple cases over-the-top supporters, and I don’t believe it is.
Occasionally his supporters engage in ad hominem personal attacks.
I’d respond to that, but you’re dumb about other things and thus wrong about this thing, so… no need to. HA!
But as I said, I was a “no” vote long before he became a cause célèbre. My contention regarding Blyleven is that almost no one viewed him as a Hall of Famer during his playing career,
If Heyman’s article was on Wikipedia, this sentence containing the phrase “almost no one” would be followed by a couple of superscript bracketed hyperlinks like “” and “[weasel words].” Who are these “no one” people? Name them. I’m sure there was a large group of people in the 70s and 80s who, like Heyman claimed, didn’t think Blyleven was a future HoFer, but there was most likely another large group that did think he was HoF material. Saying that “almost no one viewed him as a Hall of Famer” is A) ambiguous and B) incorrect.
and that is borne out by the 17 percent of the vote he received in his first year of eligibility in 1998, followed by 14 percent the next year. Blyleven obviously had an excellent and extremely lengthy career that looks a lot better to many with a decade to review it. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s the favorite of the Internet lobby. Without throwing a single pitch, Blyleven has gone from 14 percent of the vote in his second year to 62 percent last year.
All of this: Not a reason to not vote for Bert Blyleven
I certainly can understand how a statistical re-evaluation can change minds,
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and Blyleven’s career does look better on paper than it did when he was actually performing.
No, it doesn’t. It looks just as good. The only difference between Blyleven’s career on paper and the one you remember in your mind’s eye is that the one you see on paper, which is nothing more than an unbiased, unemotional historical record of what he actually did—that paper record doesn’t lie to you like your mind’s eye does.
Blyleven’s paper record doesn’t suffer from confirmation bias, or reconstructive memory, or the serial position effect, or manufactured narrative, or the fact that Jack Morris had a sweet freaking moustache that you were just dying to be able to grow so that you, too could look like Burt Reynolds and get all the top-shelf trim at the discotheque while Bert Blyleven was a goofy-looking mountain man spazwad who looked silly in his cherry-red Twins hat (although, the Pirates pillbox!!! Why does it work for Parker but not Blyleven? Such is the mystery of life.)
Some of his support comes from folks who are relying solely on stats, and a few of them may not have seen any of his career.
Ad hominem argument, meet Jon Heyman. Jon Heyman, ad hominem argument. You two kids play nice.
But I am in the group that believes a player’s career goes beyond the numbers, and that there is value in watching a player’s career as it is unfolding.
There’s also a value in thinking about things dispassionately. You should try it sometime.
For instance, while I may form an opinion on the Hall-of-Fame worthiness of the careers of Johnny Mize, Ralph Kiner, Phil Rizzuto (all of whom are in Cooperstown) and Ken Boyer (who is not), I concede there is something to having seen and followed their careers while they were happening. The same goes for Blyleven. Blyleven’s career has been re-evaluated for the better by numbers people, and while it’s tough to make his winning percentage (.534) sparkle, the stat people emphasize other numbers such as strikeouts (3,701), complete games (242) and WHIP (1.19) and many of them even ignore win totals as being largely the result of circumstance beyond a pitcher’s control.
The stat people have sound arguments behind those positions. You, on the other hand, have the opinions of past versions of your own ignorant self.
Stat people’s rationales >>>>>>>>>>>> Jon Heyman’s rationales
While I leave some room for statistical re-evaluation (and am on the verge of being convinced regarding Raines), I still see Blyleven as just short. I look at numbers, too, and while my numbers may be slightly more simplistic than WHIP, WAR or VORP, I think they tell a story of a pitcher who was extremely good, consistent and durable but not quite Cooperstown-worthy. Blyleven was dominant in a lot of at-bats (thus, the 3,701 strikeouts) and even a lot of games (60 shutouts). But he was never dominant for a decade, a half decade or even a full season.
“Dominance”: A stat Jon Heyman actually likes and will attempt to explain to you below, whether you like it or not. Buckle up.
Only four times in 22 seasons did he receive Cy Young votes (he was third twice, fourth and seventh once),
One of those two third place finishes was 1984, when Blyleven went 19-7 in 245 IP with a 2.87 ERA (third best among starters) and 170 strikeouts (fourth best among starters) for a miserable Indians team. He was actually in a neck and neck race all year long for the Pretend-Cy-Young award—given in the imaginary land in my head where rational, plain-thinking people make logical choices and don’t let their personal prejudices or emotional overreactions guide their decision-making process—with Dave Stieb (who we’ll return to later) and Mike Boddicker. Blyleven won the Pretend-Cy-Young award that year, with Steib and Boddicker coming in a close second and third, respectively.
In the real world, Boddicker was fourth and Steib an inexplicable EIGHTH in the voting total. Blyleven lost to a couple of relievers, Willie Hernandez and Dan Quisenberry. Hernandez won not only the Cy Young but also the MVP that year. That is not a misprint. Now, Willie Hernandez had a great year in 1984 (a 1.92 ERA in 140.1 IP), a truly masterful campaign. Blyleven threw almost as many innings as the two men in front of him COMBINED, though. Hernandez faced 548 batters. Blyleven faced 1004.
Using Cy Youngs and MVPs as a way of evaluating a player’s candidacy is a poor idea. There’s way too many times where deserving players didn’t win (or even get votes) when they should have won, and too many times where players DID win or get votes where they shouldn’t have.
BTW, another guy who never won the Cy Young award: John Scott Morris. His friends called him Jack.
only twice did he make the All-Star team
All-Star teams: also a poor way of evaluating a player’s candidacy. Let’s go back to 1984. Steib and Boddicker made the ’84 Midseason Classic. Blyleven did not. One of the other starting pitchers that did that year was Rich Dotson of the White Sox, who, on the heels of his solid 1983 campaign (the only truly solid one of Dotson’s career) got out to a fast start and had an 11-4 record with a 2.64 ERA at the break. After that ASG appearance, the only one of Dotson’s life, he returned to mediocrity and finished the year with a total line of 14-15 with a post-break 4.77 ERA (3.59 on the season). Does the fact that Rich Dotson played in the 1984 All Star Game and Bert Blyleven did not mean that Rich Dotson was a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven in 1984? No, it does not. Your friends in the BBWAA also didn’t think it meant that, as is evidenced by the fact that they gave Blyleven 45 Cy Young votes that year and gave Dotson a fat lump of coal.
and only twice did he win more than 17 games.
Number of times Blyleven won EXACTLY 17 games: five. 5+2=7. Number of times Blyleven won 17 or more games? Seven. Intentionally misleading math FTL.
Furthermore, Blyleven has only one fewer season of 17 or more wins (7) than Jack Morris does (8), despite suffering from worse run support most of his career. The only real reason Morris has a better winning percentage and more seasons with 18/19/20/21/22 wins than Blyleven is because Morris played on better teams that bailed him out with better offense more consistently.
Morris allowed 4.22 runs per 9 innings in his career, his run support per 9 innings was 4.9, and his IP/GS was 7.1; he finished with a .577 W%. Blyleven, on the other hand, allowed 3.67 R/9, his run support was 4.2 runs per 9 innings, and his IP/GS was 7.2; he finished with a .534 W%.
Blyleven pitched deeper into games than Morris, allowing fewer runs. But his teams didn’t score enough corresponding runs for him for that dominance to be manifested in the flawed “wins” stat.
Blyleven lost 99 quality starts in his career (fifth most since 1954) and he had 79 quality start no-decisions (11th most). He lost 139 games when he pitched at least seven innings — more than any pitcher since 1954.
Blyleven’s 1972 was a hard luck year. That was the year he lost two 1-0 games, two more 2-1 games, and went 17-17 despite a 2.73 ERA and 287 innings pitched. Blyleven’s 1973 was a hard luck year — one of the more famous hard luck years. That was the year he went 20-17 though he threw 25 complete games, nine shutouts, had a league leading 3.85 strikeout-to-walk and a league leading 158 ERA+. Then he came back with, in some ways, with his hardest luck year of all. In 1974, Blyleven lost two 1-0 games (and in one of those the run he allowed was unearned). He lost three more 2-1 games. He lost eight quality starts in all, and in two of his three no decisions, he pitched nine innings…
Put it this way: In those three years, Blyleven lost 18 games where he allowed two runs or less. It’s a different era, sure, but C.C. Sabathia has only lost 13 of those games in his whole career.
It’s not hard to demonstrate that wins severely undervalues Bert Blyleven. It’s one of the reasons the stat is flawed and should be deemphasized in our collective psyches.
(BTW, lest you start thinking that all of Blyleven’s tough luck 0-1 losses indicate somehow that he’s not a cluchy gritbearder capable of winning the big games in the big moments, Posnanski would also like to point out to you that Blyleven won FIFTEEN 1-0 CG shutouts in his career, more than any single pitcher in the past half-century; more than Carlton, Maddux, Ryan, Koufax, Gibson, Palmer, Drysdale, Seaver, Marichal, Neikro, Ford, etc. And ten more than Jack Morris.)
I tend not to vote for players who I see as great compilers rather than great players, which is why I don’t see Lee Smith or Baines as Hall of Famers, either.
“Great Complilers rather than Great Players”: a fake distinction Jon Heyman is now making up and basing a large portion of his argument on. Do you know how you become a “Great Compiler”? By being a “Great Player” for a “Long Period of Time”. The only way to compile a nice large number of shiny counting stats without being a great player is to play like twice as long as everyone else does. The only two Great Compilers who were not also Great Players I’m aware of are Julio Franco and Jesse Orosco, with an honorable mention to Minnie Minoso.
Baines and Blyleven compiled similarly in some key areas, with Blyleven finishing with four percent short of 300 victories at 287, and Baines four percent short of 3,000 hits with 2,866.
Harold Baines: not a pitcher
Bert Blyleven: not a designated hitter
They didn’t “compile similarly in key areas”, because they didn’t share any similar key areas. What they both did was come up just short in two different and wholly unrelated arbitrary event-counting benchmarks, benchmarks that don’t really mean exactly what you think they mean anyway. Lou Gehrig finished with 493 homers and not 500. I can only conclude from this that Gehrig was a Great Compiler and not a Great Player and who, like Blyleven and Baines, probably shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.
For a guy who claims to avoid numbers and stats when defining what “dominance” is, Heyman sure has an annoying way of always picking the most flawed, outdated, arbitrary, unreliably, and dubious numbers on which to base his claims. Maybe the reason you don’t like numbers or stats, Jon, is because you’ve been wedded to dumb and outmoded ones for too long?
And actually, a case could be made that Baines had more greatness, as he made six All-Star teams, three times the number of Blyleven.
Number of quality designated hitters in the American League, per annum: about 4-8
Number of DH spots on the AL All Star team in the 70s/80s: one or two
Probability that Harold Baines will be one of the 1 DHs selected from that group of 4-8: decent
Number of quality starting pitchers in the American League, per annum: 20 to 25, possibly more
Number of SP spots on the AL All Star Team in the 70s/80s: five or six
Probability that Bert Blyleven will be one of the SPs selected from that group of 20 or 30: lower than Harold Baines’s chances
In any event, the question of who had more “greatness” between Baines and Blyleven is a mildly interesting one. What’s not mildly interesting is Baines v. Morris or Blyleven v. Morris. Morris loses both of those in landslides. Also not “greater” than Baines: Dave Parker
Some will say that Blyleven’s career was equal to Hall of Famer Don Sutton’s but I say it is just short of Sutton’s. They both had big totals in other categories but Sutton wound up with 37 more victories, going over the magic 300 mark by 24.
Take just half of Blyleven’s 99 hard luck quality-start losses and turn them into wins. What’s his career record now? 337-200 (62.7%). If that’s too aggressive for you, take just the 18 games from 1972-1974 where he lost despite giving up only 1 or 2 runs and switch those losses to wins. Blyleven is now 305-232 (.567), a winning percentage higher than that of Waite Hoyt, Ferguson Jenkins, Don Drysdale, and yes, Don Sutton. More importantly, he’s over that magical, mystical 300 win plateau.
Don Sutton has more victories than Bert Blyleven for the same reason Jack Morris does: Sutton and Morris had the good fortune to have played on more good teams.
Many stat people suggest wins are not important in evaluating careers. But until wins don’t decide who’s in the playoffs and who’s out, who makes the World Series and who doesn’t, I will continue to view them as important.
Newsflash: Wins don’t decide who is in the playoffs and who is out of the playoffs, who makes the World Series and who doesn’t. At least, not Pitcher Wins, which is the stat you’re citing repeatedly. Team wins, a different stat, does that. Pitcher wins do not decide bubkes.
CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Adam Wainwright all tied for the lead in Pitcher Wins in 2009. Two of those gentlemen made the playoffs, and two of them sat on their expensive Italian leather sofas at home watching on their 108” super-expensive laser screen flat-panel televisions (or possibly fell asleep on their yachts in the Caribbean, not watching the game at all, on top of a pile of money and surrounded by many beautiful ladies). Want a hint of which two didn’t make it? It’s the two who were surrounded by an somewhat inferior grouping of 24 teammates.
Sabathia and Wainright made the playoffs not because of THEIR pitcher wins, but because of the team wins their clubs accumulated. Team wins that they played a role in, sure, but not wins they achieved all by themselves with no help. Several of their own pitcher wins were generated not because of their own performance, but because of the performances of Messrs. Rodriguez, Jeter, Teixeira, Pujols, Holliday, et. al.
A pitcher’s goal for each game is to win the game, not to strikeout the most batters. And until that changes, I will count wins and losses. I also believe the truly great pitchers pitched to the scoreboard with the real goal in mind.
“Pitched to the scoreboard” is a stupid euphemism that’s been used repeatedly to justify Jack Morris’s gaudy W/L totals despite his merely slightly above average ability to actually prevent runs from scoring (via strikeout or otherwise, btw.) For this, let’s listen to Joe Sheehan:
That brings us to perhaps the core question of the Jack Morris Project: was Morris’ career ERA of 3.90 so high because he was a 3.90 ERA pitcher, or because he was more concerned with innings and wins, and allowed a disproportionate number of runs when those runs wouldn’t hurt his teams?
To answer that, I tracked Morris’ performance at every score, or more accurately, the score when he took the mound to start the inning. Top of the first: tie game. Down 3-1 in the sixth: that’s -2. Whatever Morris did in that inning is categorized based on what the score was when the inning started…
Looking at the year-by-year data isn’t particularly informative. Morris has a couple of seasons that look like they could be examples of “pitching to the score,” but the evidence is weak, and if you have enough pitcher-seasons, you’re bound to have some that fit whatever pattern you’re looking for.
[Take] 1979, for example…Morris pitched very well when protecting a small lead, and gave up runs when he had a larger cushion. However, that 4.10 RA in tie games is well above his seasonal mark. Morris showed a similar pattern in 1980. With a seasonal RA of 4.50, he had an RA when pitching with a one- or two-run lead of 2.98.
If these figures represented a skill, though, and Morris was actually allowing runs based on the score of the game, then you would expect him to show it throughout his career. He didn’t. Instead, he had seasons like 1983… That theoretical “valley”? It’s a peak here, as Morris was at his worst in one-run and tied games. In fact, that looks like what you might find in a theoretical “unclutch” pitcher, someone who chokes when the game is close.
Morris won 20 games in 1983, largely by throwing 293 2/3 innings for a team that was fourth in the AL in runs scored.
I can find no pattern in when Jack Morris allowed runs. If he pitched to the score-and I don’t doubt that he changed his approach-the practice didn’t show up in his performance record…
What we now know is that instead of “pitching to the score,” as his supporters claim he did, Morris actually put his team behind in 344 of his 527 career starts. All told, Morris blew 136 leads in 527 starts, or about one every four times out, and that’s using a generous definition of “blown lead.”
The real goal in mind isn’t pitching to the score. It’s preventing as many runs as possible. That’s all you can really do as a pitcher.
Some will say Blyleven was handicapped by playing for a string of horrific teams. But his many teams combined for a record of slightly over .500. For the most part, they were mediocre. While his career mark of 287-250 is clearly better than his teams’ overall record, it isn’t that much better.
This is because of one primary factor: Bert Blyleven and Bert Blyleven alone. In games Blyleven started, his teams W/L was slightly over .500. In all the other games he didn’t start, they were BELOW .500. He virtually singlehandedly pulled his crappy teams into mediocrity.
My basic philosophy is to emphasis impact more than numbers. That’s why I voted for Ozzie Smith but not Trammell (though during their careers it’s true the Tigers never would have traded Trammell for Smith). It is why I vote or Jack Morris, a bulldog who was considered the best pitcher of the ’80s,
Jack Morris was not the best pitcher of the 1980s. Even if you discount Roger Clemens and Dwight Gooden for only pitching in half the decade (which is irrelevant, because their halves were immensely better than Morris’s whole), Morris still isn’t the best pitcher to have pitched in the whole decade. Besides Blyleven, you’ve got Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch, and the ageless Nolan Ryan who all had demonstrably more dominant and outstanding decades than Morris did.
Oh, and I promised we were going to return to something. Mystery player time:
Pitcher A, 1980-1989:
332 starts (#1 in the decade), 2443.2 IP (#1), 20 SHO (t-7), 3.66 ERA/109+ (#13), 264 HR allowed (most), .684 OPS against
Pitcher B, 1980-1989:
331 starts (#2 in the decade), 2382.2 IP (#2), 27 SHO (t-1), 3.32 ERA/127+ (#1), 183 HR allowed (only 14th), .659 OPS against
A is Morris. B is Dave Steib, the REAL best pitcher of the 1980s, and someone who shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame because while he was great in that decade, being the “Best X of Decade Y” is not a good enough rationale for Hall entry, all things considered. That means no, Don Mattingly being the best first baseman of the 1980s does not merit induction.
and who pitched the best game of the ’90s.
Personally, I thought the best game of the 1990s was this, but, to each his own, I suppose. Jack Morris was certainly nails in that epic and memorable (i.e. Serial Position Effect) Game 7.
He was decidedly less so the year after that, when he almost singlehandedly eliminated the Blue Jays from both the ALCS and the WS with a grotesque 7.43 ERA in 4 starts (three losses and a no-decision), but I guess we all just sweep that under the rug and count that title as one of the great times that the super-bulldog Morris willed his team to championship glory by pitching to the score. Whatevs.
Morris was considered the ace of three World Series teams and was almost always selected by his manager to start Game One of the playoffs.
So was David Cone. So was Dave Stewart. Smoke Stewart, BTW, went 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA in the postseason. Morris’s career playoff mark is a rather solid but unspectacular 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. Morris’s rep as a big-game playoff pitcher is quite overstated. Outside of that one famous Game 7, he wasn’t exceedingly special in any right.
David Cone, Dave Stewart, and Jack Morris: All aces who started Game Ones of playoff series. All not Hall of Famers.
Blyleven was the ace of many teams but usually mediocre teams. Like Morris he did pitch well in the postseason.
Including beating Morris head-to-head in Game 2 of the 1987 ALCS, then coming back on three days rest to beat Actual 1987 Tigers Ace and Actual 1987 Game One Starter Doyle Alexander in the clinching Game 5 of that series, eliminating the Score-Pitching-To Jack Morris and his Motor City Kitties. The 1987 Twins were one of the few good teams Blyleven had the opportunity to pitch for, and his Twins beat the Cardinals in the subsequent World Series, a Cardinals team anchored by John Tudor, who was also a Bulldog Considered The Best Pitcher In the 1980s™, or who was at least much better during that decade than Jack Morris was.
But he was not the top pitcher on his two teams that won World Series titles.
Curt Schilling was not the top pitcher on his three teams that won World Series titles. Lefty Gomez was not the top pitcher on any of the five teams he won World Series titles with. Curt Schilling, Lefty Gomez, and Bert Blyleven: All not as good as Jack Morris because they occasionally had a teammate who was a better future Hall of Fame pitcher.
Quod erat demonstrandum.
Clearly, I don’t grade on stats alone, but it is interesting to note that while Blyleven never led the league in wins or ERA
FWIW, he did lead the league in ERA+ in 1973. His ERA of 2.52 trailed Jim Palmer’s ERA of 2.40, but ERA adjusted for park factors (and other variables) gives Palmer an ERA+ of 156 and Blyleven and ERA+ of 158.
But whatevs, this is just like the “17 wins” number. Blyleven never lead his league in ERA, but he finished in the top six ERAs eight times. Number of times Jack Morris lead his league in ERA: zero. Number of times he was top-six in ERA? Three.
he did lead the league in losses,
Rinse and repeat.
earned runs allowed
As did Morris. Because they both pitched a crap-ton of innings every year; because they were ace workhorses.
and home runs allowed.
No argument there. Twice, in fact. His ERA during those back-to-back gopherball seasons, however, was still 4.01 and 4.01, each of which is lower than EIGHT different seasons of Jack Morris’s career.
(He did lead once in strikeouts.) His overall impact was big, though not quite big enough in my mind.
My advice to you, Jon Heyman, is to get a bigger mind. Or perhaps a fancy pillbox hat with bright-colored contrasting horizontal stripes. Maybe a nostalgic day-glow polyester pullover top. Makes every man seem more appealing.