January 6, 2003

Do you have a toothpick? I've got something stuck in my craw

Some people are really strange.

What I mean by that, of course, is that I'm really strange.

Ocasionally, something I read or see will make me really upset.

There doesn't even have to be significant reason why it makes me mad and the issue doesn't even have to be an important one.

Yesterday, I was cruising the ESPN.com baseball page, like I do every single day, and I happened upon Jayson Stark's article about who he voted for in the Hall-of-Fame balloting.

Stark voted for the maximum allowed amount of players, 10, and then explained his selections.

The following got me a little heated:

8. Jack Morris

He didn't even get 100 votes last year -- and he can blame it all on his 3.90 career ERA, which would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. But Jack Morris wasn't defined by the ERA column, friends. He was defined by the Wins column.

Maybe 254 wins didn't used to be enough to make a guy a Hall of Famer. But these are different times. And Morris is, essentially, the first product solely of the five-man rotation to be a serious Hall candidate.

All you can do is compare a man to his peers. And in his 14 peak seasons (1979-92), Morris won 41 more games than any other starter of his generation. In that same period, he outwon Nolan Ryan by 65 wins (233-168).

But above all, Morris was a clear-cut No. 1 starter for almost his entire career. He pitched a no-hitter. He started three All-Star Games. (Since the '70s, only Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson have done that). He was The Main Man on three World Series pitching staffs. And his epic 10-inning Game 7 shutout in 1991 Series was the ultimate example of what people mean when they use the word, "ace."

One of the things that I really dislike in a sportswriter is the tendency to use facts or statistical evidence solely to help support you opinion.

Let me try to explain what I mean by that.

Let's say I am writing an article about whether I would rather have Jim Thome or Jason Giambi as my starting first baseman.

And let's say I go into it with a clear preference, which is certainly understandable.

The thing I have a problem with would be someone saying "Jim Thome hit .342 with runners on 2nd base after the 7th inning last year, which puts him over the top when it comes to any comparison to Giambi."

Or "Jason Giambi drove in 367 runs over the past 412 games, which is 27 more than Thome."

Those are examples of someone using a "customized" or obscure fact or stat to help support something.

Instead of coming up with a question and then using facts or stats to form an opinion, many people often come up with a question to which they already have an answer they believe to be correct and then simply find whichever facts or stats help support that answer.

And that is something I get sick of really quickly.

Of course, no one is completely innocent of such things and I am sure there have been times and there will be times where I am guilty of the exact same thing, but I do try to avoid it whenever possible.

In Jayson Stark's case, he was given the question, "Who would you vote for in the Hall-of-Fame balloting this year" and he clearly felt that Jack Morris would be a worthy recipient of his vote, which is perfectly fine.

So Stark needed to find things that helped support his vote for Morris and he went out and chose a bunch of somewhat random and incomplete facts and stats.

First he states the fact that Morris' ERA would be the highest of any Hall-of-Famer, which is true.

But then he goes on to try to "wipe away" that fact by saying "Jack Morris wasn't defined by the ERA column, friends. He was defined by the Wins column."

First of all, anyone who believes that the amount of runs a pitcher gives up can be secondary to the amount of ball games he wins is no friend of mine!

The main issue I have with that line of thinking is that he is completely forgiving Morris for being less than spectacular in one very important area of pitching by pointing out that he was very good in another, less important, area.

It is sort of like saying "Joe Carter never had a very good batting average, a high on-base % or a great slugging %, but he drove in a ton of runs and that is what he is defined by."

Well, okay, Morris was "defined" by winning games, but so what? Why does that make the fact that he would have the highest ERA of any pitcher in the Hall-of-Fame irrelevant?

Let's move to the next statement...

"Maybe 254 wins didn't used to be enough to make a guy a Hall of Famer. But these are different times. And Morris is, essentially, the first product solely of the five-man rotation to be a serious Hall candidate."

I really don't know whether or not Morris is truly the first candidate to pitch entirely in the 5-man rotation era ever to be a serious HoF candidate and I don't really care enough to do the research on it.

To me, this is very similar to saying "Mark Grace had the most hits of anyone in the 1990s." Or even "Sammy Sosa has the most homers in baseball since the expansion to 30 teams."

Does that make Grace the best hitter of the 1990s? Or does it just mean that, unlike guys that were a lot better than him, Grace's career began in 1988 and thus he was a full-time player for every season during the 90s?

Does that automatically mean that Sosa was the best home run hitter of his era, or does it simply mean that his peak coincided with a certain time frame?

Does it make Morris a better player because other pitchers saw their careers overlap with the era of the 4-man rotation and the 5-man rotation when Morris happened to break into the league right at the beginning of the 5-man rotation era?

Of course not.

Okay, moving on to the next statement...

"All you can do is compare a man to his peers. And in his 14 peak seasons (1979-92), Morris won 41 more games than any other starter of his generation. In that same period, he outwon Nolan Ryan by 65 wins (233-168)."

That pair of sentences has a whole lot of problems.

Stark singles out a set period of time (1979-1992) that is the most beneficial to Jack Morris.

If he includes 1978 he includes a year that Morris had a 4.33, if he includes 1993 and 1994 he includes ERAs of 6.19 and 5.60.

Then he compares Morris' performance for that period of time that was specifically tailored to show Morris in a good light to the performance of another pitcher during that same time frame.

He is taking Morris' best years and comparing them to Nolan Ryan in the same time frame, which spans from Ryan's age 31 season to his age 45 season.

What does it really prove that Jack Morris was better in a handpicked set of seasons than Nolan Ryan was during his late 30s and 40s?

And I am even leaving out the fact that Stark is using wins to make this ridiculous comparison, which is very problematic itself.

Moving on...

"He started three All-Star Games. (Since the '70s, only Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson have done that). He was The Main Man on three World Series pitching staffs. And his epic 10-inning Game 7 shutout in 1991 Series was the ultimate example of what people mean when they use the word, "ace.""

Why pick 3 All-Star Games as the cutoff? Why not 2 or 4 or 5? Obviously because 3 is the best possible number for making Morris look the best.

And then Stark uses the example of a single game to show that Morris was an "ace."

I am Twins fan and one of my first memories of baseball is of that game in 1991, but whether he went 10 innings or 50 innings that night has nothing to do with whether or not he was an "ace" during the rest of his career.

Don Larsen pitcher a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, does that make him an ace?

Mariano Rivera gave up the hit that lost the World Series for the Yankees 2 years ago, does that make him a bad closer?

Of course not.

One spectacular game is certainly a very nice "bonus" for a career and Morris will forever be remember for it, but it has absolutely no effect on his performance in the other 500+ games he pitched in.

His great 1991 World Series makes him no more of an "ace" than his awful 1992 World Series makes him less of one.

Okay, as you can see, something as insignificant as 4 measly paragraphs in a Jayson Stark column can get me all riled up.

I calmed myself down and continued reading the rest of the article, which is when I came upon this:

"Sorry, not this time...Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, Alan Trammell, Steve Garvey, Tommy John and Don Mattingly."

To quote the great George Constanza, "Whoa, back it up, back it up. Beep, beep, beep."

Jayson Stark went through all that trouble to help build his case for voting for Jack Morris and then he a) fails to vote for Bert Blyleven and b) completely fails to give Blyleven any sort of mention in the article beyond "Sorry, not this time."

Before I go any further, I should point out that I feel that Bert Blyleven should be a Hall-of-Famer and I do not feel as though Jack Morris should be.

Because of that, I am in danger of doing exactly what Stark did in his column, which is manipulate the facts and stats to fit my argument.

I will try to avoid doing that, so bear with me.

Let's take a look at Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven and (hopefully) objectively decide which one is a more deserving Hall-of-Famer.

In judging a pitcher's long term performance, I look at only 2 main things - the rate at which they prevented the other team from scoring runs and the amount of innings they pitched.

That is really all a pitcher can do.

From Pedro Martinez and Omar Daal to Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris, a pitcher has no control over the amount of runs his teammates score for him or the ability his team's relievers have holding a lead, so the only control over wins and losses is the amount of runs he surrenders himself and the amount of innings he pitches.

It's pretty simple, right?

Basically, if a pitcher pitches 7 innings and allows 3 runs, whether or not he wins the game depends on if his team's offense scores 0-2 runs or 4+ runs and/or whether or not the bullpen can hold the lead, right?

Career Innings Pitched:

Blyleven = 4970

Morris = 3824

Big advantage to Blyleven here. He pitched about 30% more innings than Morris did.

This stat might be misleading however, because, as Jayson Stark pointed out earlier, Blyleven was asked to pitch every 4 days for the first several years of his career, while Morris was asked to pitch every 5th day.

However, looking at their stats, the significance of that does not seem particularly large.

Jack Morris regularly started 35+ games per season.

A strict 5-man rotation would mean that a team's #1 starter would make 33 starts per year.

So, in most seasons, Morris' team skipped the #5 starter and gave Morris extra starts several times.

Morris started:

35 games 4 times.

36 games 2 times.

37 games 2 times.

Morris debuted in 1977, so I guess we will treat anything prior to 1977 as the era of the 4-man rotation, just to completely go along with what Stark said.

Prior to 1977, Bert Blyleven started...

40 games 1 time.

38 games 2 times.

37 games 1 time.

36 games 1 time.

35 games 1 time.

Is that really all that significant?

In Blyleven's time pitching in the 4-man rotation era, he did manage to start 40 games once and 38 games in 2 seasons.

But then his next best totals were 37, 36 and 35, which are totals Morris reached several times in his career, which was spent, according to Jayson Stark, pitching completely in the era of the 5-man rotation.

The bottom line is that Blyleven pitched over 1000 more innings than Jack Morris did and that is extremely valuable no matter what kind of spin you want to put on it or what time frames you want to associate with it.

That inning total is a cumulative one and that might be misleading as well, so let's compare their individual seasons...

Innings pitched per season:

Bert Jack
325 294
298 267
294 266
287 266
281 257
278 250
276 250
272 247
267 241
245 240
244 235
241 198
237 198
235 170
217 152
207 141
164 106
159 46

Pick a cutoff: 100 innings? 150 innings? 175 innings? 200 innings? 225 innings? 250 innings? 275 innings? 300 innings?

Blyleven had more seasons with whatever that "magic" amount of innings you decided on than Morris did.

If it is 200 innings, Blyleven wins 16 - 11.

225? Bert wins 14 - 11.

250? Bert wins 9 - 7.

275? Bert wins 7 - 1.

300? Bert had the only between them.

Bert pitched 4 more seasons and 1000 more innings and that has quite a bit of value.

He also had more seasons of (insert whatever # you like) innings pitched than Morris.

Okay, so we covered the whole "innings" portion of their careers.

Let's move on the "preventing runs" part.

Career ERA:

Blyleven = 3.31

Morris = 3.90

Wait, I'm not done yet!

Just looking at the ERAs is extremely misleading if you do not consider the era they pitched in (which is better, a 3.00 ERA in the 1980s or a 3.00 ERA in the 2000s?) and the ballparks they called home (which is better, a 4.00 ERA in Dodger Stadium or Coors Field?).

Adjusted League ERA:

Blyleven = 3.90

Morris = 4.08

What that stat above means is that during Blyleven's career, the leagues he pitched in had a 3.90 ERA when you adjust for the ballparks Blyleven pitched in.

And during Morris' career, the league had a 4.08 ERA.

So, for his career, Morris pitched in an environment that was about 4.5% percent better for scoring runs.

Which essentially means that if Blyleven's career ERA was about 4.5% better than Morris', they would be essentially even.

But they are no where close to even.

Blyleven's career ERA was 3.31 and the leagues he pitched in had a ERA of 3.90, which means his career ERA was about 18% better than the league.

Morris' ERA was 3.90 and the leagues he pitched in had a 4.08 ERA, which makes his career ERA 5% better than the league.

I am going to steal Jayson Stark's line here and say: That, my friends, is a big difference.

Blyleven pitched 1000 more innings than Morris.

He pitched 150, 175, 200, 225, 250, 275, 300 - whatever cutoff you want - innings in a season more times than Morris did.

And he prevented runs about 18% better than the leagues he pitched in, while Morris prevented them about 5% better.

I may be falling into the same trap as Stark did, using certain statistics to help my cause, but if I am I don't see it.

I am using innings and run prevention, which are the 2 most important things for a pitcher.

Heck, if you are one of those guys that is a huge believer in wins being the biggest thing for a pitcher...

First of all, you are wrong and I am sorry you feel that way.

And second of all, Jack Morris won 254 games...and Bert Blyleven won 287.

True, Jack Morris had a better winning percentage than Blyleven, but that is completely due to his teams being much better than Blyleven's were offensively and if you don't see that, I doubt I will ever be able to convince you otherwise.

I don't object to Jayson Stark voting for Jack Morris, although I do disagree with it.

What I do object to is Stark manipulating things to suit his argument for Morris and then both not voting for Blyleven and not giving him more than a passing mention in the article in which he devoted 4 paragraphs to the Jack Morris lovefest.

My objection became even stronger after I read another article on ESPN.com that asked "ESPN.com's staff of baseball experts to tell us who they voted for on this year's Hall-of-Fame ballot."

The experts were Stark, Peter Gammons, Jim Caple, Tim Kurkjian and Phil Rogers.

The results?

All 5 of them voted for Jack Morris, while only Kurkjian and Rogers voted for Blyleven.

Geez, I feel kind of strange actually siding with Phil Rogers on an issue we are in the minority on, but oh well.

You know, I thought I would feel a little better after getting all of this off my chest, but I really don't.

It is sort of like the feeling you get when someone does something bad to you and then appologizes for it later.

You might accept the apology, but you aren't going to forget what happened and you probably won't even feel better about it.

Jayson Stark said something to which I took offense.

My writing about it and giving my opinion is sort of like me receiving an apology.

And I don't feel any better about it than I did 3,000 words ago.

Plus, I just made a really stretched analogy about apologies and Jayson Stark and I feel sort of bad about that now too.

For more on the Blyleven/Morris "debate" please check out Charlie Saeger's awesome article over at BaseballPrimer.com.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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