This is the 6th post in a series on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot. My first post on Jeff Bagwell covered the criteria I am using for analyzing HOF players. The next four posts covered Bert Blyleven, the middle infielder trio of Alan Trammell, Barry Larkin, and Roberto Alomar, Edgar Martinez, and Tim Raines + Mark McGwire.
In this post, I’m going to cover the two best pitchers on the ballot other than Bert Blyleven: Jack Morris and Kevin Brown.
WAR Totals: 44.3 Peak-Adjusted WAR – 39.3 career WAR + 1 All-Star seasons (+5 – defined as 5.0-7.9 WAR)
Stats: 18 seasons, 254-186, 3.90 ERA / 1.296 WHIP / 3,824 IP / 2,478 K / 1,390 BB / 175 CG / 28 Shutouts / 105 ERA+
162 Game Stats: 16-12 / 242 IP / 33 GS / 11 CG / 2 Shutouts / 157 K / 88 BB
Jack Morris was a perfectly good pitcher for a long period of time but – from a WAR perspective – he has absolutely no case for the Hall of Fame. The 44.3 Peak-Adjusted WAR is 133rd for pitchers. There are two starting pitchers in the HOF with a worse Peak-Adjusted WAR – Rube Marquard (43.5) who retired in 1925 and Satchel Paige whose WAR would be at least double that of Morris if integration happened earlier. His 105 ERA+ (adjusted for era and park) is only better than Marquard’s and is tied with Catfish Hunter. Among post-war HOF SP’s, only Bob Feller and Early Wynn have a higher WHIP.
The case for Jack Morris from writers like Jon Heyman or Bob Ryan generally rests on that he won the most games in the 1980’s and that he was a big-game pitcher. Dan Symborski of BaseballThinkFactory.org, the creator of ZiPS projections, and occasional ESPN contributor wrote a great article on Morris that address these claims. Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus did a start-by-start analysis that shows his high ERA cannot just be explained by the fact that he ‘pitched to the score’.
Here are two more logs for the fire….
1) Yes, Jack Morris had the most wins but he wasn’t the best pitcher. Below are the top 12 most valuable pitchers from 1980-1989 as measured by WAR. Several of these pitchers (Hershiser, Clemens, Gooden, Saberhagen) didn’t get started until 1983-1984 but still provided more value in 6-7 years than Morris did in 10 years. You would’ve needed a below average pitcher to throw those other years in order to match the value of Morris.
Wins depend on the team offense and defense. As Dan pointed out in his post, Morris’s teams averaged 4.9 runs in support for him which was 50% higher than average. That is how he won 22 games more than Dave Stieb despite having near equal games started, Stieb pitching much better (ERA+ 127 vs. 109), and throwing more quality starts (60.7% vs. 59.9%). All eleven of these pitchers managed a better ERA+ than Morris and only Blyleven and Hough managed a lower percentage of quality starts.
Top Starting Pitchers – 1980-1989
As for ‘big game pitcher’, here is what I wrote in last year’s post regarding Morris:
“…his career playoff stats are 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA. Good, yes. Great, no. Four of these wins came in the 1991 Twins ALCS and World Series victories – the most famous of course being his 1-0 10 inning shutout against Atlanta in the 7th game. No doubt this was awesome and extremely memorable. He was also great for the 1984 Tigers going 3-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA.
Looking at those two playoff runs, you could forgive that he lost his only start for Detroit @ Minnesota in the 1987 ALCS (8 IP / 6 ER). But how about his 1992 playoff run for the Toronto Blue Jays – a team that gifted him 21 wins with his 4.04 ERA/102 ERA+? In 4 starts across the ALCS and WS, he went 0-3 with an 8.22 ERA. Toronto beat Atlanta 4 wins to 2 – Morris lost both of those games.
I’m not saying Jack Morris was a bad playoff pitcher – it is that he is remembered as better because of selective memory. For comparison sake, Dave Stewart went 10-4 with a 2.69 ERA during his playoff stints with Oakland and Toronto. John Smoltz went 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA. David Cone went 8-3 with a 3.80 ERA. Roger Clemens – who isn’t particularly regarded for playoff dominance – has a 12-8 record with a 3.75 ERA. Net-net, Morris was good in the postseason but not extraordinary (outside of that one start).”
Jack Morris only had one ‘All-Star’ season of 5.0+ WAR. No starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame have less than two and most modern-day HOF pitchers have at least six (Sutton had 4).
I think Morris fit the ‘workhorse’ pitching archetype the best. Every year, he’d give 200-270 innings of slightly above average pitching. If he was on a very good team, he could get to 20 wins (3 times (ERA+ of 127, 117, 102). If he was on an average team, maybe he’d go 16-11. If he was on a bad team, he’d be under .500.
This type of pitcher is definitely valuable but they sometimes get too much credit when they are fortunate to play on a run of good-to-great teams. Aside from Catfish Hunter, these pitchers generally don’t make the Hall of Fame unless they somehow reach 300 wins. Examples of modern-day ‘workhorses’ include Jack McDowell (average 18 wins from 1990-1993 with the White Sox with an ERA+ around 120), Dave Stewart (4 straight 20 game seasons for the 1987-1990 A’s with only one season having an ERA+ above 120), Bartolo Colon (averaged 18.5 wins from 2002-2005 with an ERA+ around 120), Dennis Leonard (averaged 18.4 wins for the 1976-1980 Royals with an ERA+ of 113, and Andy Pettitte (averaged 17 wins for the 1996-2003 Yankees with an ERA+ of 120).
All of these pitchers managed just one 5.0+ WAR season except Pettitte (3) and Stewart (0). All of them were good pitchers who were fortunate enough to be on very good teams.
A solid, valuable starting pitcher. Just not a Hall-of-Fame pitcher. If elected, he’ll arguably be the worst starter in the Hall-of-Fame (with Hunter and Marquard in the discussion).
Fun (and potentially fictional) facts:
1) Fun facts/anecdotes: Jack Morris was definitely the most feared pitcher in his day…..by females in the media – as evidenced by this Jack Morris 1990 locker room gem to Detroit Free Press writer Jennifer Frey: “I don’t talk to women when I am naked unless they are on top of me or I am on top of them.”
2) Jack Morris is one of three star players from Minnesota (Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield) to have their last big years for the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins. The teams are working on a free-trade agreement that will eventually include Justin Morneau’s return to Canada and for Toronto to export a crappy Minnesotan middle-infielder to be named later for Ron Gardenhire’s collection.
3) One underrated part of Morris’s resume is the moustache revival he led in the 1980’s that inspired Kirk Gibson, Chet Lemon, and, of course, Magnum P.I.
WAR Totals: 99.8 Peak-Adjusted WAR – 64.8 career WAR + 1 MVP season (define as 8.0+ WAR) and 5 All-Star seasons (+25 – defined as 5.0-7.9 WAR)
Stats: 19 seasons, 211-144, 3.28 ERA / 1.222 WHIP / 3,256 IP / 2,397 K / 901 BB / 72 CG / 17 Shutouts / 127 ERA+
162 Game Stats: 15-10 / 230 IP / 34 GS / 11 CG / 1 Shutouts / 169 K / 64 BB
Kevin Brown’s statistical case is much stronger than most baseball fans would think. As mentioned in my Bert Blyleven post, Brown is in the top 20 of peak-adjusted WAR for post-WWII SPs who retired by 2005. The two pitchers in the top 20 (besides Brown) that are not in the Hall of Fame are Blyleven (5th) and Rick Reuschel (15th). The pitchers below Kevin Brown include Sandy Koufax, Jim Palmer, and Don Sutton.
There isn’t much mystery to how Kevin Brown did this – he pitched well above league average for a long time. His career ERA+ of 127 is 10th amongst the 54 post-WWII SPs with 200+ wins. The other 9 are: Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Whitey Ford, Greg Maddux, Hal Newhouser, Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling, and Tom Seaver.
But…he only had 211 wins. The only post-WWII starters to make the HOF with less are Sandy Koufax (165), Hal Newhouser (207), Bob Lemon (207), and Don Drysdale (209). I don’t consider wins very important but I think this shows that Kevin Brown is on the borderline in terms of longevity.
Another point worth raising is that he wasn’t very good in the postseason. He was 5-5 with a 4.19 ERA / 1.30 WHIP in 13 career playoff starts. Even worse, he was 0-3 in 4 World Series starts (2 Florida, 2 SD) with 6.04/1.579 ratios. And in the infamous 2004 Yankee-Red Sox ALCS Game 7, Kevin Brown didn’t even get out of the 2nd inning.
A last point regarding the 9 pitchers reference above with 200+ wins and ERA+ of 127 or better. I find it interesting that 5 of the 9 are from the same era as Kevin Brown. John Smoltz and Mike Mussina aren’t too far behind. While it’s very possible that the 1990’s/early 2000’s saw an unprecedented glut of exceptional starting pitchers, it seems at least possible that expansion, smaller ballparks, steroids, etc. combined to: 1) Add more MLB mediocre pitchers and 2) Create less margin for error for mediocre pitchers. Would all of these pitchers have posted ERA+ this high if they pitched in a less offensive era?
While Kevin Brown never won a Cy-Young award (finishing 2nd, 3rd, and 6th three times), he had several seasons that were at or near Cy-Young level. His 1998 season with the Padres (18-7, 164 ERA+, 1.066 WHIP) deserved to win the Cy Young award but his league-leading 8.4 WAR were bested in the voting by Tom Glavine (and his 20 wins) and teammate Trevor Hoffman (53 saves). His 1996 season with the Marlins (17-11, 1.89 ERA!, 217 ERA+, 0.944 WHIP) also led the led the league with 7.5 WAR but he came up 2nd behind John Smoltz (and his 24 wins). He also finished 2nd in NL pitching WAR in 2000 and finished 3rd in 1997, 1999, and 2003.
In some ways, his pitching career reminds me of a poor man’s Randy Johnson. He pitched well in the AL during his 20’s and then became a dominant pitcher in the NL during his 30’s. His top 6 seasons (measured by WAR) were in the NL (for Randy, it was 5 of his top 7).
This is a tough one. I think I might vote for him eventually (assuming I had a ballot) but I would not do it just yet. The statistical dominance is there. The career excellence is on the borderline if you look at wins (211) while his WAR is strong but not a lock (his 64.8 WAR is better than several HOF pitchers like Jim Palmer and Juan Marichal).
The biggest question for me is really how to judge the pitchers in Brown’s era. Where do you draw the line for the Hall of Fame? I don’t think there should be caps per se for hitter/pitchers of an era but I’m hoping that someone will do an analysis done that confirms the 1990’s were or were not an advantageous time to be an above-average pitcher. While the 1980’s arguably saw the peak of only one HOF-worthy pitcher (Roger Clemens), the 1990’s/early 2000’s saw potentially 9: Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, Mike Mussina, and Kevin Brown. I know the top 4 on this list are indisputed HOFers and Glavine’s 300 wins make him a virtual 5th. I don’t know just yet where to draw the line on the other four….
Fun (and potentially fictional) facts
2) Kevin Brown was mentioned in the Mitchell Report, suspected of taking steroids along with fellow Dodger teammates Paul LoDuca and Eric Gagne. Long-time friends and colleagues were unable to identify the common ‘roid rage’ symptom since Brown was always prone to tantrums (like this incident with LA where Brown left more than just skidmarks on a toilet).