Jack Morris’ candidacy for the HOF has received some support. The most recent vote showed him just over 50 percent for the first time. Important writers like Jon Heyman, Buster Olney, and more have put their support behind his candidacy.
I thought it would be a valid study to see exactly where his candidacy falls in historical perspective and also within the era he pitched.
A Look at the Career
Jack Morris pitched in the American league from ’77-’94. Most of that time he pitched for the Detroit Tigers, but spent time near the end of his career with the Twins, Blue Jays, and Indians. What sticks out most about Morris’ career is that he won consistently. He won 14 or more games 13 of 14 years. He put in significant innings during those years, making himself valuable to his team.
Morris helped his team to the postseason and the World Series on three occasions. He was part of the ’84 Tigers championship team, the Twins title in ’91, and the Blue Jays pennant in ’92. He posted a significant amount of postseason work.
Morris was a power pitcher, relying mostly on a fastball and slider. He won 20 games three times during his career. He could also be a bit wild. He led his league in wild pitches six different years, and led the league in BB once. He allowed over 80 BB in 11 seasons.
Morris was an important bridge between the great pitchers of the '70s and those of the '90s.
His pitching line looks like this:
254 W – 186 L; 3.90 ERA/ ERA+ 105; 175 CG/ 28 SHO; 3824 IP/ H/9 8.4; 2478 K/ K/BB ratio 1.78; WHIP 1.296
How does Morris fit for the HOF?
I believe it is important to look at the entire picture of a pitcher’s career to get an accurate reading on their qualifications for the HOF. So we will look at all of the above categories to get an accurate assessment of where Jack Morris stands.
Contrary to many people’s beliefs, 300 wins is not the cut off line to be eligible for the HOF. Three hundred wins is an automatic induction total. It takes 200 wins to be considered. Then the rest of the resume needs to put you in, or not.
In Jack Morris’ case, he has an ample number of wins to be considered for the HOF. It may be his strongest suit for induction. But his win total needs further support from the rest of his resume.
The second most important category is ERA+. Jack Morris ERA+ is 105. That means his ERA against the league average was five percent better for his career. This is better than the league average, but a very low total when it comes to candidacy for the HOF. It would place him among the very lowest ERA+ figures among all HOF pitchers.
The next category is shutouts. Morris came in with a nice total of complete games, 175, for the '80s, but tallied only 28 shutouts. He pitched in an era where shutouts were still available. He was finishing games, but not shutting down his opposition at a HOF level. Thirty shutouts are like 200 wins for the HOF—a beginning total.
His other categories vary in strength. He has a strong strikeout total of 2,478, but it is not compelling for HOF induction like Seaver, Carlton, Blyleven, Ryan, Jenkins, Sutton, Neikro, Perry, and Gibson, who all topped 3,000 during the same era. Frank Tanana and Mickey Lolich also had more Ks than Morris.
He has a nice career length—over 3,800 innings—but it is not a length of career that makes his work of an epic nature. His H/9 of 8.4 is good. His K/BB ratio is average at 1.78, because of his less than exemplary control. His WHIP is relatively high at 1.296. It is not awful, but far from compelling for the HOF.
A fair amount of Morris’ credentials for the HOF come from his performance in the postseason. Especially compelling is his game seven performance in the ’91 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. He shut down the Braves for more than a complete game to eventually bring home the win for his team. It is a game many look at to show Morris’ greatness.
Morris’ actual postseason numbers look like this:
7W – 4L; 3.80 ERA, 92 IP/ 83 H/ 32 BB/ 64 K: 1.245 WHIP
While he did give one exceptional performance, his actual postseason numbers are very similar to his regular season stats.
Conclusion—Morris candidacy for the HOF hinges on how much weight you place on his 254 wins, a strong K total, and one game of postseason performance.
Morris’ Place in His Era
He was recently called the best pitcher of the decade of the '80s. Without getting into proving or disproving this statement, let’s grant that he was one of the better pitchers of the 80s (he never won a Cy Young award).
But actually the heart of his era began after the pitching mound was lowered and divisional baseball started in ’69. There were many great pitchers of this era, which goes to about ’92. He was rightfully overshadowed by the great pitchers of the '70s—Seaver, Palmer, Perry, Ryan, Carlton, and more. His career is more of a bridge between the great pitchers of the '70s and those of the '90s—Maddux, Glavine, Johnson, and Clemens.
The '80s was not a great decade for pitching. So Morris is one of the best of a not so great decade of pitchers.
Does Morris Career Put Him over the Line for HOF Consideration?
This is the most important question. First, his 254 wins make his career eligible for consideration. Let’s see how his career lines up with those I consider true entry level HOF pitchers, and a couple of contemporaries with resumes also worthy of HOF consideration.
Let’s look at the most recent member of the HOF without 300 wins, Catfish Hunter, and a HOF member who was similar to Morris in that he was a consistent winner for a good team and had post season success, Red Ruffing.
In addition we will see the pitching lines for contemporaries of Jack Morris who had resumes for the HOF that didn’t make it, Luis Tiant, and Mickey Lolich.
Then we will add a look at Bert Blyleven’s resume, since a comparison of the two became relevant when Jon Heyman discussed his voting for Jack Morris over Bert Blyleven on the MLB network recently.
Catfish Hunter – 224W; 3.26 ERA/ ERA+104; 181 CG/ 42 SHO; 3449 IP/ 7.7 H/9; 2012 K/ 2.11 K/BB ratio; 1.134 WHIP; postseason – 9-6; 3.26 ERA; 132 IP/ 114H/ 35 BB/ 70 K; 1.126 WHIP
Red Ruffing – 273W; 3.80 ERA; ERA+ 109; 335 CG/ 45 SHO; 4344 IP/ 8.9 H/9; 1987 K/ 1.29 K/BB ratio; 1.341 WHIP; postseason – 7-2; 2.63 ERA; 85 IP/ 74H/ 27 BB/ 61 K; 1.179 WHIP
Jack Morris – 254W; 3.90 ERA/ ERA+ 105; 175 CG/ 28 SHO; 3824 IP/ 8.4 H/9; 2478 K/ 1.78 K/BB ratio; 1.296 WHIP; postseason – 7-4; 3.80 ERA; 92 IP/ 83 H/ 32 BB/ 64 K; 1.245 WHIP
Luis Tiant – 229W; 3.30 ERA/ ERA+ 114; 187 CG; 49 SHO; 3486 IP/ 7.9 H/9; 2416 K/ 2.19 K/BB ratio; 1.199 WHIP; post season – 3-0; 2.86 ERA; 34 IP/ 29 H/ 11 BB/ 20 K; 1.154 WHIP
Mickey Lolich – 217W; 3.44 ERA/ ERA+ 105; 195 CG/ 41 SHO; 3638 IP/ 8.3 H/9; 2832 K/ 2.58 K/BB ratio; 1.227 WHIP; postseason – 3-1; 1.57 ERA; 46 IP/ 34 H/ 11 BB/ 31 K; 0.978 WHIP
Bert Blyleven - 287W; 3.31 ERA/ ERA+ 118; 242 CG/ 60 SHO; 4970 IP/ 8.4 H/9; 3701 K/ 2.80K/BB ratio; 1.198 WHIP; postseason – 5-1; 2.47 ERA; 47 IP/ 43 H/ 8 BB/ 36 K; 1.077 WHIP
Catfish Hunter is our most recent pitcher inducted into the HOF without 300 wins. This is a category Jack Morris would be in. While Morris has 30 more wins and almost an identical ERA+, Hunter has strong numbers across the board in all other categories.
Significant are his 42 shutouts, a HOF worthy total, his 2.11 K/BB ratio—also over the 2.00 line of excellence, and his incredible 1.134 WHIP, one of the best marks in the second half of the century.
Red Ruffing came to mind because his stats say he was a similar type of pitcher to Jack Morris, and he is in the HOF. He won 19 more games than Morris, had a similar ERA and ERA+, and pitched a very significant 335 CG and had 45 shutouts. The shutouts were attained during the live ball era, when a shutout just wasn’t that common. In fact, Ruffing’s 45 shutouts lead the entire era, including greats like Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell!
Ruffing was kind of a strikeout guy, like Morris. His 1,987 Ks actually place him higher in his era than Morris’ 2478 Ks do in the ’70-’92 era. Ruffing’s postseason career is better than Jack Morris postseason line.
The Bottom Line for the HOF
There are pitchers in the HOF not as accomplished as Hunter or Ruffing. In a recent article I show who these pitchers are, but also intimate that we need to set a standard today that is a little more stringent. I suggest that a pitcher with more than 200 wins can make the HOF if their supporting categories are strong across the board.
In this study, Hunter and Ruffing represent this entry level of HOF pitcher. I encourage the reader to find more examples to develop a good sense of where the bottom line needs to be.
Take a good look at Jack Morris’ resume for the HOF and compare it to these two entry level HOF members. Does he fit comfortably with them?
There are other pitchers from Morris’ era that also had resumes for the HOF, but are still on the outside looking in.
Luis Tiant is 25 wins short of Morris. But he has a better ERA+, 49 shutouts, just about an automatic HOF total, a very similar 2400+ Ks, but a better K/BB ratio, and much better WHIP. He was a higher quality pitcher than Morris, plain and simple, and easily more dominant. He was a hero in the World Series as well.
In evaluation and fairness to Morris, I believe Tiant has been overlooked for the HOF, and deserves to be inducted via the veteran’s committee. But in reality, he is waiting in line at the veteran’s committee door.
Mickey Lolich presents a case for the HOF very close to that of Jack Morris. He is 37 wins short of Morris’ total, but has an allowing total for HOF consideration of 217, (very similar to today’s Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and John Smoltz, huh? Also close to Drysdale, Lemon, Newhouser, and Hunter’s totals.) He has an identical ERA+ of 105.
On the plus side for Lolich, he is much closer to 3,000 Ks at 2832. His K/BB ratio is very impressive at 2.58, showing he had great command and stuff. He also had 41 shutouts, a HOF worthy total, and a WHIP significantly better than Jack Morris’ at 1.227. To me, these stats make up for the fewer wins.
Lolich’ postseason pitching in the ’68 series is of greater consequence than Morris’ one great game. He pitched three complete game victories for the Tigers, and faced down the most feared pitcher in baseball in game seven, Bob Gibson.
If you want to enshrine Jack Morris, then Mickey Lolich should get a pass as well!
Every one of these pitchers has a better postseason record than Jack Morris. Their accomplishments are greater—each one of them (with the possible exception of Luis Tiant), from his era, and since Morris needs to get in line when it comes to postseason accomplishments—Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter, Curt Schilling, and John Smoltz all have postseason resumes that place them at the front of that line.
Jack Morris was a strong pitcher. He had a great career. If you can comfortably place him over a line for the HOF after studying his comparison stats with these pitchers, then go ahead and vote for him. He would not be the worst pitcher in the HOF. He has some strong indicators.
Now for Our Bonus Section: How Does Jack Morris Compare to Bert Blyleven?
Ok Jon Heyman, here’s your straight up comparison:
Let’s see, Morris had a lot of wins—Bert has 287, 33 more than Morris.
Morris was a workhorse pitcher—Bert has 242 CG, 67 more than Morris, and 4,970 IP, over 1,100 more than Morris.
Morris was a great big game pitcher—Blyleven’s postseason record shows a 5-1 record, a 2.47 ERA, and a 1.077 WHIP. He was part of two world championship teams. His record shows he raised his game for the postseason against baseball’s best competition. Other than one great game, Morris record shows he pitched at his regular season level for the postseason.
Morris was more dominant—really? Shutouts—Blyleven 60, Morris 28; Strikeouts—Blyleven 3,701, Morris 2,478; command of the strike zone—K/BB ratio—Blyleven 2.80, Morris 1.78.
They have the same H/9 rate of 8.4. However, Blyleven did it for over 1,100 more innings! There is not one measuring criteria for pitching greatness in which Morris is better than Blyleven—not one!
These two pitchers were on two entirely different levels of pitching. Morris was good for the '80s, while Blyleven’s K total, shutout total, and K/BB ratio are of historic significance.
Blyleven’s ERA+ of 118 was accomplished over 4,970 innings. Morris’ ERA+ of 105 is just not in the same league.
HOF voters voting for Morris and not Blyleven are not basing their vote on the true pitching records. They get 10 votes on their ballot. If they are enamored with Morris, they should at least be giving a vote to Blyleven as well!