Hall of Fame Breakdown: Curt Schilling vs. Jack Morris

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Hall of Fame Breakdown: Curt Schilling vs. Jack Morris
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The prevailing thought going into the Hall of Fame vote yesterday was that Curt Schilling wouldn’t make it in on the first ballot but would attain enough share of the vote to make him a strong contender over the next couple of years. Sure enough, a pitcher who won over 200 games and has a reputation as a great postseason performer received 68 percent of the vote.

That pitcher, however, was Jack Morris. Schilling finished with 39 percent.

To say this result is an outrage is a significant understatement. By nearly every metric, Schilling was the better pitcher; it really isn’t close. Writers like Ken Gurnick and Murray Chass, who only voted for Morris and no one else on their ballot, are part of the colossal problem that is the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). There were many deserving candidates this year, yet none were elected, and a pitcher who had a 3.90 career ERA collected the second-most votes.

The following three categories detail why The Big Schill is more much deserving of the Hall than Jack Morris.

 

Overall Career Numbers

Schilling went 216-146 over his career for a .597 winning percentage, and Morris ended at 254-186, good for .577. The one edge that Morris has, total wins, is weakened by the fact that he had a lower winning percentage. After that, it’s all Schilling.

Despite amassing 3,824 innings pitched, Morris was more than 500 strikeouts short of 3,000. Schilling, on the other hand, pitched 563 fewer innings than Morris yet cleared 3,000 strikeouts with ease at 3,116. Of the 16 pitchers in the 3,000-strikeout club, all have made the HOF except for Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz—each of whom are likely to make it once they become eligible.

Schilling is the all-time leader in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 4.4-to-1, whereas Morris’ 1.78-to-1 mark puts him right between all-timers Woodie Fryman and Steve Bedrosian. Morris had a 1.30 WHIP for his career, which ranks 447th in baseball history. Schilling, meanwhile, came in at 46th with a 1.14 mark.

Comparisons of their ERA reach the same conclusion: Morris’ 3.90 figure would be the highest ever in Cooperstown if he reached the Hall; Schilling had a 3.46 mark for his career. It shouldn’t be taken lightly that Schilling pitched in the heart of the steroid era: from 1997-2004 he posted a 3.24 ERA. That’s better than every single year of Morris’ career except 1981, and even that season was shortened by a players strike.

All of this contributes to the prevailing statistic that shows their careers were a complete mismatch: adjusted ERA (ERA+).

ERA+ measures a players ERA compared with the league average and adjusted for park factors, and is on a scale where 100 is average. An ERA+ of 110 means a player was 10 percent better than the league average, while 97 means he was 3 percent worse than average. Schilling had a career 127 ERA+, which ranks in the top 50 all-time. Meanwhile, Morris’ adjusted ERA is 105. That means he was 5 percent better than the league average pitcher over his career. If everyone with that mark or better made the Hall of Fame, there would be 527 pitchers in Cooperstown. Yikes.

 

Best/Worst Years

Supporters of Morris argue that he was one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation. The stats, however, do not back that up. Morris never had one year of a sub 3.00 ERA, nor did he ever strike out more than 232 batters. Schilling had three sub-3.00 years and struck out 300 batters in a season three times, which groups him with Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson.

Schilling finished second in the Cy Young voting three times. The only reason he didn’t win during the 2001-2002 seasons—when he went 45-13 with a 1.02 WHIP and 10.6 K/9—is that teammate Johnson submitted two historic years. Morris did finish in the top five of the voting five times, though that includes a year in which he had a 4.04 ERA and another when he went 18-12. It was a sign of things to come for his inflated Hall of Fame voting.

On the other hand, Morris put up a number of terrible years. In 1989 and 1990 he went 21-32 with a 4.65 ERA, and over 50 starts in 1993 and 1994, he had a 5.91 ERA and 1.65 WHIP. Hall of Fame pitchers do not have stretches in their careers like that. Meanwhile, Schilling’s worst year was in 2005, when he was coming off his ankle injury sustained in the 2004 postseason. He put up a 5.69 ERA through 11 starts and 21 relief appearances. Otherwise, Schilling never had an ERA higher than 4.02 in a season when he pitched more than 82 innings.

 

Postseason Success

Morris had perhaps the best postseason pitching performance ever save for Don Larsen’s perfect game: a 10-inning shutout against the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Otherwise, though, he was not a big-game pitcher. In the 1992 World Series, the only games the Blue Jays lost were games started by Morris, when he gave up 10 runs in 10.2 innings. For his career, he posted a 7-4 record with a 3.80 ERA in the postseason. Good numbers, sure, but not enough to base a candidacy off of.

On the other hand, an argument can be made for Schilling as the best postseason pitcher of all time. He went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and a .97 WHIP. In seven World Series starts, his record was 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA and a .9 WHIP, which includes a dominating 2001 postseason in which he allowed six runs in 48 innings. And no Red Sox fan will ever forget what he did in 2004, helping the Sox win two games while bleeding from his ankle.

Did Curt Schilling deserve to make the Hall of Fame this year?

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Schilling had a better career, was better at his peak and was a better postseason pitcher than Jack Morris. Yet Morris received nearly twice as many Hall of Fame votes as Schilling. Writers like Gurnick and Chass in the BBWAA have failed baseball fans everywhere today by choosing not to elect great players such as Schilling, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.

The way the game is understood and analyzed today is much different than in the past. But the BBWAA has not adapted. Instead, the organization continues to give Hall of Fame votes to traditionalists like Chass, who in 2007 wrote the following about Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), an early version of Wins Above Replacement. 

“To me, VORP epitomized the new-age nonsense…how absurd, value over replacement player…I suppose that if stat mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, that’s their prerogative.”

Those statements are insulting to baseball writers and fans who have come to value the importance of statistical analysis in today's game. If the Hall continues with their current system, Cooperstown will fade into irrelevancy. Will not electing anyone this year be the first step into oblivion, or a wake-up call? For baseball fans everywhere, let’s hope it’s the latter.

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