I really didn’t want to write another post about Jack Morris. The internet is littered with them. And to anyone who takes baseball at all seriously, all it takes is the briefest of glimpses at his career numbers for it to become immediately obvious that Jack Morris is not a premier pitcher.

We’ve all heard the arguments from those who’d rather ignore the statistics. They’ll tell you that Morris pitched to the score of the game. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around why a pitcher who saves his best stuff for important scenarios was to be celebrated. Talent isn’t a finite resource. If he’s capable of performing at a high level, why not pitch there all the time like all the guys with better numbers did?

Nonetheless, those unaware of observational biases continue to harp on his status as a big game pitcher, likely forever influenced by his performance in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series. It was a fantastic performance. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. However, over the course of his career, Morris’ numbers in the clutch bear a striking resemblance to the numbers that he put up during the rest of his career.

Let’s take a look at how batters fared against him under different scenarios with leverage levels defined by Baseball Reference:

  • Low Leverage: .694 OPS.
  • Medium Leverage: .692 OPS.
  • High Leverage: .695 OPS.

Over his career, batters had a .693 OPS against Morris, which is completely in line with his numbers in high leverage situations.

The other argument in favour of Morris is that he gutted out wins against other teams’ aces.

In no way would I use pitching wins as evidence of anything. While a starting pitcher is responsible for a larger percentage of the game than any other player who steps into the batter’s box or plays the field, he isn’t responsible for everything that happens in a game. He’s not even responsible for half of what happens.

Baseball is split up first between offense and defense. The offense is responsible for half an inning and then the defense is responsible for the other half. Already, there’s 50% of a game that a pitcher has nothing to do with. We take defense, and under this category falls pitching and fielding. Fielders are obviously responsible for fielding, further lessening a starting pitcher’s responsibility, leaving us with pitching, which also must account for relievers which brings down the amount for which a starting pitcher is responsible even further.

And even within the remaining percentile, there’s an entire element of luck (pitchers can’t control where balls are hit and no hitter is good enough to put balls precisely into play) for which we’re not accounting.

Nonetheless, even when we look Jack Morris’ starts in his 1991 Championship Season, we find that he absolutely did not collect wins against other teams’ aces. In fact of the seventeen times he faced a team ace that year, he only recorded five wins while getting the loss nine times.

Jack Morris had 35 total starts in 1991:

  1. Loss vs. Dave Stewart, Athletics #1.
  2. Loss vs. Chuck Finley, Angels #1.
  3. Loss vs. Chuck Finley, Angels #1.
  4. Win vs. Dave Stewart, Atheltics #1.
  5. Win vs. Scott Bankhead, Mariners #5.
  6. No Decision vs. Jaime Navarro, Brewers #1.
  7. Loss vs. Roger Clemens, Red Sox #1.
  8. Win vs. Jaime Navarro, Brewers #1.
  9. Loss vs. Dan Petry, Tigers #5.
  10. Win vs. Storm Davis, Royals #5.
  11. Win vs. Nolan Ryan, Rangers #1.
  12. Win vs. Jeff Robinson, Orioles #5.
  13. Win vs. Rod Nichols, Indians #4.
  14. Win vs. Jeff Shaw, Indians #5.
  15. Win vs. Jeff Robinson, Orioles #5.
  16. Win vs. Todd Stottlemyre, Blue Jays #3.
  17. Win vs. Jack McDowell, White Sox #1.
  18. Loss vs. Jack McDowell, White Sox #1.
  19. Win vs. Kevin Morton, Red Sox #5.
  20. Win vs. Kevin Morton, Red Sox #5.
  21. No Decision vs. Frank Tanana, Tigers #1.
  22. Loss vs. Jaime Navarro, Brewers #1.
  23. Loss vs. Bob Welch, Athletics #2.
  24. Loss vs. Jim Abbott, Angels #3.
  25. Win vs. Chuck Finley, Angels #1.
  26. Win vs. Bob Welch, Athletics #2.
  27. No Decision vs. Rich DeLucia, Mariners #3.
  28. Loss vs. Greg Swindell, Indians #1.
  29. Win vs. Arthur Rhodes, Orioles #5.
  30. No Decision vs. Pascual Perez, Yankees #5.
  31. Loss vs. Nolan Ryan, Rangers #1.
  32. Loss vs. Bret Saberhagen, Royals #1.
  33. Win vs. Hector Fajardo, Rangers #5.
  34. Win vs. Tom Candiotti, Blue Jays #4.
  35. No Decision vs. Jack McDowell, White Sox #1.

What interests me most about this argument, which has admittedly been long and drawn out to the point of thought entrenchment, is that there exists an obvious difference in curiosity between generations. To a large extent, those in favour of Jack Morris being elected into the Hall of Fame are representatives of baseball’s old guard, the types who still quote pitching win/loss records and RBIs as evidence of something. While certainly exceptions do exist, the other side of the argument over Jack Morris is mostly represented by the younger generation who accepts more reasonable statistical analysis as the basis for their opinions.

It’s an obvious difference, but I’d suggest that both sides are somewhat at fault in the presentation of their beliefs. The old guard shows nothing but a refusal to exhibit curiosity and embrace innovation, while the new guard is primarily seen as over-expressive in its eagerness to knock down the idols of the past.

I understand that urge. I feel it, too. Proving that common perceptions are wrong is celebrated among the people of our generation. And I, perhaps more than most, can be guilty of melting those idols and then standing over the molten metal and cheering in bad taste. These kind of methods, while sometimes entertaining, are probably not going to convince others to change their opinions.

It’s simply frustrating that when you discuss something and bring factual arguments to the table, the counter arguments to your opinion use phrases like “you had to be there” that only prove the faulty observations of the person speaking. At least find a perspective that depends on something more.

Dave Studeman made a case for Morris’ Hall of Fame candidacy based on the importance of what he did in the playoffs, according to a “Championship Leverage Index.” I’m not sure I’m fully on board with all of his observations, but at the very least, it’s something worth discussing and learning.

And that’s really what I want to get out of any argument, even ones that center around Jack Morris.