2006 Hall of Fame ballot-Jack Morris

Friday, January 13 2006 @ 08:00 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

During his career, there were questions whether Jack Morris might be a Hall of Famer. He seemed to find his way to winning teams, and to pitch deep into games and win more than his share. His 10 inning shutout of the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series was thought to be the crowning jewel on his career. Let's take a second look.

The Tigers drafted Jack Morris in the 5th round of the 1976 draft, having selected Alan Trammell in Round 2, Dan Petry in Round 4 with Ozzie Smith to follow in Round 7. Now that's what I call a primo draft. The Tigers had nabbed Lance Parrish in the first round of the 1974 draft, Lou Whitaker in the 5th round of the 1975 draft and Kirk Gibson in the 1st round of the 1977 draft. By then, the core of their fine 1980s teams was in place.

Morris rocketed through the farm system reaching the majors in late 1977. He spent 1978 as a swingman, and then broke through in 1979, posting a career-high ERA+ of 133 in 197 innings. Career high ERA+ of 133 cannot be right, can it? It is. During his prime in the 1980s, he put up good, but not great, ERAs despite having a fine defensive team behind him (the Tigers were above average in defensive efficiency ratio every year from 1980 to 1988 and led the league twice). He did however pitch consistently late into games, and annually was among the league leaders in innings pitched and complete games. In 1989, the Tigers sagged and Morris put up a miserable 6-14 mark with a 4.89 ERA.

After his third off-year in a row in 1990, he signed as a free agent with the Twins. He put up a season that was equal to his best to lead the Twins back to the playoffs. Once there, he won 4 games as the Twins repeated their unlikely World Series championship of 1987. One of the keys to their victory was their fine defence.

Morris left the Twins after 1991 and joined the Jays for their World Series championships of 1992 and 1993, but pitched poorly in Toronto during the regular season and in the 1992 playoffs. He signed with the Indians after the 1993 season (he was clearly astute at picking teams on the upswing), but pitched poorly in 1994. When the season stopped in August due to the labour dispute, Morris was released by the Indians and his career was done.

Can a pitcher with an ERA+ of 105 and 3800 innings pitched, with fine defence behind him, really be considered for the Hall of Fame? You wouldn't think so, but there are less worthy pitchers there. So, without further ado, here's the chart with Dennis Martinez, Luis Tiant and Catfish Hunter as comparison points for Morris:

Pitcher     IP(seasons)   ERA+   K/9IP(Lg)   W/9IP(Lg)  HR/9IP(Lg)  Team DER(Lg)  W-L

Morris      3824.0(14.8)  105    5.8(5.1)    3.3(3.3)   0.9(0.9)    708(700)      254-186
Martinez    3999.7(15.7)  106    4.8(5.4)    2.6(3.3)   0.8(1.0)    701(696)      245-193
Tiant       3486.3(12.3)  114    6.2(5.3)    2.9(3.4)   0.9(0.8)    709(707)      229-172
Hunter      3449.3(12.1)  104    5.2(5.5)    2.5(3.4)   1.0(0.8)    715(706)      224-166 

As you can see, Morris compares favourably to Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter, but not to Dennis Martinez or Luis Tiant. Tiant put up superb seasons in 1968 and 1972, which far dwarf what any of the others did, and I make him the best of the lot. I do not think Tiant is quite a Hall of Famer, but it is very, very close.

It does not seem well understood that playing for the A's and Yankees in the 70s, as Hunter did, and playing for the Tigers in the 80s (followed by the Twins and Blue Jays in the early 90s), as Morris did, will help a pitcher's ERA and won-loss record. It makes an average pitcher look good and a good pitcher look very good. The careers of Walt Terrell and Milt Wilcox provide good evidence of that.

The great players on the Tigers of the 1980s were Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson. Lance Parrish was a very fine catcher. Jack Morris was a good and durable pitcher, who found himself in the company of these far superior players, and put up superficial statistics that suggested that he was better than he was. Bert Blyleven's 5th best season, 1987, is superior to any of Morris'. Tommy John was significantly better at his peak and over his career, and threw almost 1000 innings more.

Next up: Roger Clemens