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Saturday, January 14, 2012
The Case for Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame

Jonathan Burnhardt does an excellent job of summarizing the case against Morris, so I thought I'd spend a little time summarizing the pro argument.

Let's start with this bit:
Morris racked up 254 wins, which ties him for 42nd all-time. The milestone he needed to reach was 300, and he fell far short. Additionally, he had only three 20-win seasons (1981, 1986, and 1992) over the course of his career.
Winning 300 games is indeed a milestone, but it's a milestone that guarantees induction, not a minimum requirement.  Morris' 254 wins ranks him 42nd all-time currently, and he was higher at the time he retired.  But let's take a closer look at who won 300 games, by decade of birth:

1851-60 Pud Galvin Tim Keefe Hoss Radbourne Mickey Welch
1861-70 Cy Young Kid Nichols John Clarkson
1871-80 Christy Mathewson Eddie Plank

1881-90 Walter Johnson Pete Alexander

 Lefty Grove


1911-20 Early Wynn

1921-30 Warren Spahn

1931-40 Phil Niekro Gaylord Perry

1941-50 Steve Carlton Nolan Ryan Don Sutton Tom Seaver

1961-70 Greg Maddux Roger Clemens Tom Glavine Randy Johnson

As you can see, there was a 300-game winner born in almost every decade between the 1850s and the 1960s.  There were four 300-gamers born in the 1940s and 1960s, but none in the 1950s.  Why is that?

Here's my theory.  The period from about 1975-1985, when the pitchers born in the 1950s had the heart of their careers, was a time of great change in baseball.  Free agency had arrived.  In the past, teams had an incentive to keep their players healthy and rested, because they knew they could keep them for a long time to come.  After 1975, that no longer became the case, and with salaries skyrocketing, teams quite naturally wanted to get their money's worth.  As a result, they worked their players quite hard.

By the time the players born in the 1960s came along, free agency had been established for quite awhile.  In addition, the role of the starting pitcher began to change dramatically.  No longer was he expected to complete his games; instead an outing of 6-7 innings was considered adequate.  Teams developed middle relievers who were not mediocre pitchers in the past, and the closer almost always came in to finish the game unless it was a blowout.

Proof? Let's look at the 300-game winners born in the 1960s.  Greg Maddux, a terrific pitcher, completed 109 games in his career.  Roger Clemens finished 118.  Tom Glavine got the handshake from his catcher only 56 times, while the Big Unit avoided an early shower in 100 games.

Jack Morris completed 175 games.  Put another way, he completed more games than Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine combined.  Morris finished in the top eight in the American League in complete games every season from 1981-1991 except 1984, and usually in the top five.

Another way to look at it is innings pitched per game started.  Jack Morris pitched 7.26 innings per game started. Clemens averaged 6.95 innings per outing, while Johnson managed 6.86, Maddux 6.77, and Glavine 6.47.

I don't have any stats to give you, but I would be willing to bet that Morris' career ERA was quite a bit lower in the early innings than it was late in the game.

And the point about 20-win seasons?  Well, they've become increasingly rare for any pitchers at all.  Greg Maddux only won 20 twice in his career, Clemens five times (three of which came after his suspicious late-career resurgence), Glavine five times, and Johnson three times.  So the three 20-win seasons are actually a point in Morris' favor, not something to be held against him.

Burnhardt notes:

So if he's not in by the old stats, and he's not in by the new stats, and his playoff stats are inconclusive, then what is the statistical case for putting Jack Morris in the Hall of Fame?
It's this:
3824 IP
Jack Morris pitched a lot of innings. A whole lot of innings. Once he became a full-time starter, Morris averaged 229 IP per season, and he was among the top three in innings pitched in the 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1990, and 1991 seasons. Now, these numbers look more impressive in 2012 than they did in the 1980s because of how the game and the use of starting pitchers has changed, but in 1983, Morris topped out at 293 innings pitched—the man was a workhorse, and not getting injured is as much a physical talent as any tool in baseball.
 Yes, but it does lead to burnout eventually.  Let's examine the age at retirement for the four 300-game winners born in the 1960s.  Maddux made it to age 42, Clemens to 44, Glavine to 42, and Johnson to 45.  Morris retired at 39.  Clemens didn't have 300 wins at age 39, he had 293, and there's a sizable asterisk next to his name.  Glavine had 275 at that age.  Randy Johnson had only 230 wins at a comparable age.

What about the guys born in the 1940s: Carlton, Ryan, Sutton and Seaver?  Well, there, paradoxically, Morris suffers from being underworked.  Let me explain.  Prior to the 1980s, most teams had a four-man rotation, but almost all went to five starters right around the time Morris was starting his career.  His career high in games started was 37 (twice).  Ryan had consecutive seasons of 41 and 42 games started (which, by the way were the only two seasons where he won 20 games).  Carlton had five seasons where he started 38 or more games, Sutton had 4 (and only one 20-win season).  Tom Seaver was comparable to Morris in starts, although obviously more effective.

The point is not that Morris is the equivalent of any of these guys.  All of them were better than Morris, with the arguable exception of Don Sutton.  The point is simply that Morris' record is a product of the circumstances of his era.  Compared to other starting pitchers that were born in the 1950s, Morris clearly belongs on the top shelf.  Bert Blyleven, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, had 33 more wins.  And 64 more losses.  I believe Frank Tanana is third in wins among players born in the '50s; he had 14 fewer wins and 54 more defeats.  Really, the only pitcher born in that decade I would rate above him is Dennis Eckersley, and that's obviously a quite different story.

Morris also has several positive asterisks.  He won 7 postseason games.  He was clearly the ace pitcher on three different World Series champs;  that's gotta count for something.  He threw a no-hitter in a nationally-televised game in 1984.  He was the World Series MVP in 1991 and wouldn't have been a bad pick in 1984.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Answering Your Own Question Department

The Times runs a headline today:
Colbert for President: A Run or a Comedy Riff?
If you don't know the answer to that one, you're a fool.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Yes, the Times Should Selectively Fact-Check

But only Republicans:

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.
Get the examples he cites:

One example mentioned recently by a reader: As cited in an Adam Liptak article on the Supreme Court, a court spokeswoman said Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife’s earnings from the Heritage Foundation. The reader thought it not likely that Mr. Thomas “misunderstood,” and instead that he simply chose not to report the information.
That is not a fact, it is an opinion, and an unsupported opinion at that.  And the second example?

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”
Yes, how could anybody possibly consider this an apology?
So we must be honest with ourselves. In recent years we've allowed our Alliance to drift. I know that there have been honest disagreements over policy, but we also know that there's something more that has crept into our relationship. In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.
And it was only a few months ago that we learned that in 2009 the Japanese government had to nix Obama's plan to apologize to Japan for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Come the revolution, there will be no Mercedes.
Check out this weeper about a Belgian tourist getting busted for a crime he didn't commit:

He wound up arrested one afternoon at gunpoint, taken to the 34th Precinct station house, held for several hours and accused of lying about a crime that he not only had nothing to do with, but that hadn’t even taken place.
Sounds like a flustercluck, but when you read the story deeper, it turns out that a man had reported a burglary, and identified the Belgian as one of the burglars.  So there was very good reason for him to be arrested.  On further review, it turned out that the complainant was a nutcase, who subsequently admitted that he had made up the story about the burglary, but that had yet to be determined.  And get this gratuitous bit at the end:

Mr. Vansintjan knew nothing of this until I told him on Tuesday. When he was in the holding cell, he was the only white; the 10 others were all being held on pot charges. “If I weren’t white,” he said, he might have been held overnight.
Might there be another reason than color that he was not held overnight?  Like, specifically, that the cops found out that the accuser rescinded the charges?  Note as well that the Belgian does not know for a fact that the other detainees weren't released before the night was over.


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