Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hall of Fame: Arguments of Convenience

We’re all sick of Hall of Fame talk, so I’m hesitantly putting up the post I drafted about a week ago but never got around to it. Jayson Stark just posted his Hall of Fame picks today (which included Jack Morris, who is discussed below) so I’m not the only one late to the party.

The main gripes that I have with most Hall of Fame arguments are as follows:

- They cherry pick stats
- They ignore key statistics.
- They rely on arbitrary thresholds.
- The voter decides based on “gut” or if they felt that a player was a Hall of Famer.
- They use statistics that are not necessarily indicative of Hall of Fame performance.

The purpose of this post is to show you how easy it is to support someone’s HOF inclusion based on convenient arguments and cherry picked stats while ignoring what should be fairly obvious disqualifiers.

First, here’s Buster Olney’s brief (I’m sure summarized) support for Jack Morris:

Jack Morris, like Gossage, is in his ninth year on the ballot, after winning 254 games, including three 20-win seasons. There were four instances in which he finished in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting, and he was named an All-Star five times, twice as the starting pitcher. He led all pitchers in the '80s with 162 victories, 133 complete games, 332 starts and 2,443 innings. He held the AL record for consecutive starting assignments before that mark was broken by Roger Clemens in 2001. I put an "X" through the box next to Morris' name.

Based on this excerpt, Morris could be a Hall of Famer, but he really shouldn’t be. He has a lifetime 3.90 ERA and, including his superb game 7 in Game 7 of the ’91 World Series, he was actually about as good in the postseason as he was in the regular season. A 3.90 ERA would be the highest in the Hall of Fame. In fact, his lifetime ERA+ is only 105, which means that adjusted for ballpark he was only 5% better than league average over the course of his career. As a point of reference, Rick Reuschel, in about as many innings, was at 114. 105 is the province of Denny Neagle, Jamie Moyer, and Zane Smith. Morris was a workhorse who ate innings, had great run support, and pitched one of the finest games in MLB history, given the stage.

There have been many dissertations on why Morris is not a Hall of Famer so I’ll stop there, but instead I’ll propose the Hall of Fame inclusion for a different pitcher using the same general methodology (but different measures) as many voters. Here goes:


Player X had a career ERA+ of 122, meaning his park-adjusted ERA was 22% better than his contemporaries. Despite his late career injuries, he still threw almost 3,000 innings with a career ERA+ better than Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, and Steve Carlton (the fact that these 3 are lefties is purely coincidental). During his prime years, he had a run of consecutive ERA+ of 138, 142, 145 and 172 while tossing more than 260 innings in each year. He posted two additional years of ERA+’s in excess of 130. 172 is better than Roger Clemens posted in 1986 (Cy Young and MVP that year), and better than the very best years in the careers of Glavine, Juan Marichal, and Jim Palmer. He was named to seven All-Star teams and he started two in a row. Despite playing on some bad teams, he finished with a career winning % of .562, better than Don Drysdale and Fergie Jenkins. He was in the top seven in the Cy Young voting four times, and he collected MVP votes on 3 occasions. He led the league in ERA once and was top five on five occasions. He led the league in innings twice and was top five in shutouts four times.

During his career he was one of the toughest pitchers in his league to hit. He led the league in lowest hits per nine innings twice and was in the top seven on eight occasions. He threw a no-hitter, and I believe he threw five one-hitters (can’t find one-hitter stats). He had a no-hitter broken up with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning in two consecutive starts (which is unreal). He also had a perfect game broken up with two outs in the ninth, which was ultimately a two-hitter. I remember watching that game on TV against the Yankees, and I’ve never seen pitches have so much movement. His career hits allowed per nine innings is better than Carlton, Drysdale, Marichal, Spahn, Greg Maddux, and Curt Schilling. He had the lowest ERA of any pitcher in the 1980’s (who threw at least 1,600 innings), he was second in wins and he led all 80’s pitchers with 27 shutouts. He had a better career strikeout to walk ratio than Jim Palmer.


This player was on the Hall of Fame ballot once, in 2004, and he received 1.4% of the vote. Not enough to ever be seen on the ballot again. He received 7 votes that year versus Jack Morris’ 133.

Dave Stieb shouldn’t be a Hall of Famer, and to anyone with a solid head on their shoulders, I was clearly cherry picking my stats and making arguments that are convenient to my cause while ignoring disqualifiers. I even threw in a little personal nostalgia. I could have mentioned that I know a couple people named Dave, which might be enough to warrant a vote if I were Woody Paige.

I guess my point is that I could do this for dozens of players who should not be Hall of Famers. It’s the same thing a ton of voters do for Morris. They decide, with their gut, and then find convenient arguments that support the case while ignoring things that don’t. That’s what Olney has done above, and he supported a guy that was better than Dave Stieb in my mind only because he threw 800 more innings. That’s a lot; 32% more innings, and I give Morris a lot of credit for that (it’s still just 49th all-time). In the innings they both did throw, Stieb was his better by most measures. Jack Morris’ best ERA+ year was tied for Dave Stieb’s sixth best. His second best was a mere 5% better than Stieb’s career average. Five percent isn’t much, and remember that it’s the career ERA+ margin between Jack Morris and Mr. Joe Average Pitcher.

Now after reading about Stieb, please go back and read Olney’s excerpt above and you’ll see where the frustration comes from. Read Jon Heyman’s here and you’ll slam your head into your desk.


matt said...

You actually make a fine case for Dave Stieb. But it's clear why he failed to meet the threshhold to stay on the HOF ballot - not enough 20 win seasons.

Jeff said...

I think it's the 6+ ERA he put up over 11 innings in the 1989 ALCS. Not a big game pitcher.