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July 13, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Jack Morris

A picture of durability, Jack Morris started 549 games in the major leagues, with just two trips to the disabled list. Along the way, Morris racked up 175 complete games, and 28 shutouts, at one point making 490 consecutive starts without missing a turn in the rotation. He did not make it to 300 wins, he does not have 3000 career strikeouts, and he never won a Cy Young Award, but Morris was one of the most dependable starting pitchers of his generation, and he did win a World Series MVP. Does he measure up to the starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame?
Let's dive in.
Selected out of Brigham Young University by the Detroit Tigers in round five of the 1976 draft, Morris shot to the major leagues, making one start for Detroit in 1977, as a replacement for injured star Mark "The Bird" Fydrich. The following season he was up for good, pitching mostly in relief before stepping into the Tigers' rotation in 1979. That first year as a starter, Morris went 17-7, with an ERA of 3.28, completing nine of his starts, pitching one shutout. The Tigers had found an ace- Morris would anchor their rotation for twelve seasons.
Along the way in Detroit, Morris won 198 games, threw a no-hitter and went 3-1 with three complete games in the post-season, helping the Tigers to the 1984 World Series title. During the 1980s, Morris averaged 244 innings pitched per season, and won 162 games, more than any other pitcher that decade.
Following the 1990 season, a tearful Morris signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Twins. At the press conference to announce the move, the St Paul native wept openly, saying he'd always wanted to pitch for the Twins. During his season in Minnesota, Morris delivered, winning 18 regular season games, and then turning in a spectacular performance in the World Series. In that series, Morris started three games, going 2-0, with an ERA of 1.17 in 23 innings pitched. Most have forgotten that Morris won Game One of that series, but few who saw it could ever forget his performance in Game Seven.
That night, with the Metrodome packed to the roof, and louder than a jet engine, Morris faced the Atlanta Braves, matching up with John Smoltz. Smoltz was outstanding, allowing no runs through 7 1/3, but Morris stole the show, going the distance in a 1-0, 10 inning victory, to bring the World Series trophy home to his native state. If a player can get into the Hall based on one big time performance, this is the one for Morris, no question.
Following that season, Morris seemed to forget how happy he'd been to go home the prior year. In a move that has many Twins fans angry with him to this day, Jack left Minnesota, signing with the Toronto Blue Jays.
His first season in Toronto went well, Jack won 21 games for the Jays, then started four post-season games as the team won its first ever World Series. This would turn out to be the beginning of the end for Morris, he pitched two more seasons, one each in Toronto and Cleveland, but he was fading fast.

Morris retired after a brutal 1994 season which saw him post an ERA of 5.6, which was actually an improvement over 1993's 6.19.
Morris was definitely durable enough to get into the Hall, and he had his share of big moments along the way, but how does he compare to the Hall of Fame pitchers from his era?
There are currently nine starting pitchers in the Hall who were active during Morris' time in the majors (I chose not to count Dennis Eckersley). The nine members are Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan, I'll use them as the control group for Morris' comparison.
These averages are on a per season basis, one season = 34 games started or 68 relief appearances, S=Seasons Played



When you take away the rhetoric and get right down to the numbers, Morris doesn't seem to compare well to the Hall of Famers from his era. He does well in wins and losses, and he's right there in complete games, but from there on it's not a match. Morris' ERA is nearly a run higher, he allowed 20% more home runs per season than the control group, and his walks are higher, while his strikeouts are lower.
I'm certain some of these numbers could be attributed to his pitching in Tiger Stadium, which was a place where home runs were frequent, but to my eyes, the discrepancies between Morris and the Hall members are too great to be written off as ballpark effect.
I have a great deal of respect for Morris, he was a tough competitor on the mound, who kept his team in most games and could always be counted on to take the ball. I also think his post-season record should be taken into account, he was the ace of the '84 Tigers team that won it all, and there's no question that the '91 Twins couldn't have done it without him.
Despite those facts, when I look at Jack's career totals versus those of the Hall members from his era, he just doesn't warrant a yes vote in my opinion.  I have to say no, very nice career, some real high points, but no.
Todd Coppernoll recently launched his website Baseball in the Blood, an entertaining mix of news, history and overall silly baseball stuff.  You can follow him on Twitter at @bballintheblood or over on Facebook.

1 comment:

tom shepherd said...

Great stats compilation but why discount Eckersley's stats? Do they skew them in favor of Morris or against? You did take into account relief pitchers and starters and Eck was both. Again, my beef is never "Why is so and so IN the hall" but rather "why ISN'T such and such" and I am asking just for clarification not argument