How Jack Morris complicates future of Hall of Fame pitcher selections

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I’m about to do something you should never do.

Here’s what I mean: If we took the worst players in the Hall of Fame — say Freddie Lindstrom or High Pockets Kelly or Jesse Haines — and suggest everyone better than them is a Hall of Famer, well, the Hall of Fame would need to purchase a few more buildings to house all the plaques. George Kelly was a 1920s-era first baseman with a career value lower than Mike Hargrove or Mo Vaughn or Kevin Youkilis. That would be a big Hall of Fame.

I do wonder, however, how the recent selection of Jack Morris by the Modern Era Committee will change the future dynamic of electing pitchers. It’s easy to dismiss the poor selections of players such as Kelly and Haines, who played so long ago, as products of a different Hall of Fame, or merely idiosyncratic choices. Heck, most current voters don’t even know who those guys are, let alone use them as any kind of standard.

Morris is different. He’s a more contemporary figure, a better guide for comparison. We either saw him play and remember him, or we can watch his highlights on YouTube and look at his stats and understand the context. When you compare his career to the career of Mike Mussina or Curt Schilling, two pitchers on this year’s ballot, it’s clear those two had far superior careers. How can you have a Hall of Fame with Jack Morris, but not Mussina and Schilling?

This isn’t even about Morris’ viability as a candidate. His case has been dissected and prodded like a frog in junior biology class. Mussina and Schilling, however, are not going to get elected. According to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame vote tracker, Mussina has received 73.3 percent of the public vote and Schilling 66.1 percent.

Those percentages are expected to decline once the final results are announced, with both players falling short of the 75 percent needed to get in. However, both players will likely see their percentages increase over last year. Mussina was at 51.8 percent last year and Schilling at 45 percent, suggesting that Schilling’s controversial political views aren’t costing him many votes. Considering both players have more time on the ballot — this was Mussina’s fifth and Schilling’s sixth appearance — a big jump this year is important. Morris’ election in December may have helped both.

Beyond those two, it’s possible that some of other pitchers who are no longer on the ballot will also be helped by some future special committee. Here are career totals for Morris and some other hurlers from roughly the same era:

Morris’ advantage over the others (except Dennis Martinez) is clear: Longevity and wins (plus Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, although Bret Saberhagen also had a Game 7 shutout). But what’s the value in all those extra innings over those other pitchers? By using the number of additional earned runs allowed, we can calculate Morris’ ERA over those innings — and it doesn’t reflect well on the value Morris provided. Let’s include Mussina and Schilling in this chart as well (leaving out Martinez since he threw more innings than Morris). Here is how Morris compares in various categories over those extra innings:

This tells us that, sure, Morris won 38 more games than Schilling and pitched 563 more innings, but he compiled a 6.46 ERA over those extra innings. What this chart really shows us is that Hall of Famers overemphasize longevity over career value.

That wasn’t always the case. The view on starting pitchers changed when Gaylord Perry was elected in 1991. Like Perry, the next five starting pitchers elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America — Tom Seaver in 1992, Steve Carlton in 1994, Phil Niekro in 1997, Don Sutton in 1998 and Nolan Ryan in 1999 — each had 300 wins. That became the de facto standard, and explains why Bert Blyleven with 287 had difficulty getting elected.

Before that group, however, look at the previous starters elected by the BBWAA:

Heck, Sandy Koufax made it with just 165 wins. Anyway, the 300-win standard is finally starting to go away with the recent elections of Pedro Martinez (219 wins) and John Smoltz (213), and now Morris. Other than Mussina and Schilling, I’m not necessarily advocating for any of the above pitchers as Hall of Famers — although Kevin Brown certainly appears to have a strong case — as even Morris’ supporters would agree he’s a weak Hall of Famer. At the minimum, Morris’ election should at least force the next Modern Era Committee to consider pitchers who had shorter careers but much higher peak performances than Morris.



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