Occasionally, when we look at the writers’ selections, we end up seeing an outlier. The term “outlier” is one of those fancy statistical terms that represents data that does not seem to fit the pattern. We could call it a mistake, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to label any selection as a mistake per se. It is far more accurate (and fair) to simply call it an outlier. However, we can turn it into a game. Think back when you took the SAT. Which of the profiled players does not belong?
As we go through the Hall of Famers that retired between 1980 and 2000 we notice a few things. I will not throw the table up that we did last time because there is no new data to report. Essentially, we are seeing strikeouts decrease as we go further back in time. We are also seeing innings per season increase. Oddly enough, we don’t necessarily see a huge difference in the number of innings. It’s all in how they are distributed. We will look at the index, standard pitching numbers, playoff performance, and the two Cy Young tests. Let’s see if you can identify our outlier.
I could start with the obvious, but these numbers illustrate a couple of very important points as it pertains to the index itself. Tom Seaver is the top pitcher in the group according to win shares and BWAR. He is the fifth most valuable pitcher according to FWAR. I used these three platforms because they often don’t agree on the value of players. If I used a single source I wouldn’t necessarily get the kind of results that jive with our perception of history. Even with this methodology we sometimes don’t.
That brings me to the second point and something I have said dozens of times in past articles. The index was never designed to rank order players. Is Blyleven really a better career value pitcher than Gaylord Perry? Are either of them better than Steve Carlton? That is not for me to say. At least it isn’t with this data. What I can say is that nine out of ten of these pitchers were obvious fits for the Hall of Fame.
You’ve honed in on Jack Morris by now. Heck, most of you probably already knew the answer before seeing a number. Morris’ problem will come into focus when we look at the conventional pitching numbers. I’ll even throw in a comparison to further illustrate the point. It’s hard to call his selection a mistake outright, but it’s hard to defend based on these numbers.
Peak value serves two main purposes. First, it adds depth to a career profile. Jim Palmer looked deficient when we looked at only career value, but he jumps a little when we throw in peak value. Sutton is the inverse. He falls a little when we consider peak value. This gives both of their careers depth and promotes a greater understanding of the kind of pitchers they were. Sutton was never very good, but he was solid to good for a long time. Palmer’s career was relatively short, but he was very good during his prime.
The second thing peak value does for us is that it gives us another opportunity to create separation where it exists. Seaver is the most valuable career value pitcher and the most valuable peak value pitcher. The effect of both is to create more separation between him and Perry. Of course, the inverse is also true. Morris was tenth in career value and tenth in peak value. The overall outlook is not good for him and he trails the next closest pitcher on the list by more than 80 wins.
As it turns out, Sutton and Morris are somewhat comparable when we look at peak value, so we will highlight some additional information that will help put their careers in some context. In some cases they are very similar and others they are not. It’s easy to look at one number and come to a hasty conclusion. We want to consider all of the evidence before making a final recommendation. Morris appears unqualified, but we will run through the other tests to see if that really is the case.
It’s pretty obvious that Sutton and Morris are kind of on an island by themselves. This can clearly be seen when we look at ERA+. Out of all of the statistics above, that one is the best barometer of pitcher quality. So, it would be easy to say that Sutton only got in because he won 300+ games. There are some kernels of truth to that, but it goes beyond that when we start looking at concepts of value.
The word on Morris is that he just knew how to win. He is second on the list above in winning percentage, so I guess if you buy into that sort of thing then you get the appeal. On the flip side, you get those that bemoan the fact that he has the highest ERA (3.90) of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. That is tortured logic as well. Someone has to have the highest this or the lowest that in the Hall of Fame. We are mainly looking for gaps. However, let’s do some deep diving and see what the appreciable difference is between Sutton and Morris.
|200+ INN||120 ERA+||5+ BWAR||2+ BWAR|
This is one of the subtle points that people don’t get about statistics like WAR and win shares. Being average or above average has value. It may not be overwhelming, but it adds up over time. If you look at the seasons with five or more BWAR and an ERA+ of 120 or greater then you’d see it was a dead heat. If you look at the sheer number of seasons where they were solid but not great then you can see the difference between Morris and Sutton.
When you can throw 200 or more innings (or on pace to as both were in 1981) more than 20 times then you are bound to accumulate some numbers. So, it would be fair to say that Sutton was never great, but he was solid to good for a very long time. Morris was also rarely great, but did not enjoy the longevity. Sure, he was the winningest pitcher in the 1980s. That and three bucks might get you a cup of coffee. Morris was legitimately good when he was at his best, but he just didn’t sustain it long enough.
Of course, conventional numbers and the index are not the only considerations. Morris does have the reputation as a great playoff pitcher. Playoff performance doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the index or the conventional numbers. How much weight you give to it is up to the individual person, but we should first check to see if the reputation was justisfied.
This is where analysis gets difficult. Are careers made up of individual moments or are they made up of the collective whole? Morris had some great moments. Game seven of the 1991 World Series might have been one of the best pitching performances in the history of the World Series. However, we aren’t putting Don Larsen or Brandon Backe in the Hall of Fame. Brilliant individual performances are what makes being a fan worthwhile, but is that how we are supposed to judge guys like that?
In the aggregate, Morris was what he had always been. He’s a guy that won more games than he lost, but the overall numbers were a bit underwhelming. Again, some of that might have been a bad final season of playoff performance. Yet, when you look at the numbers for everyone else you see that even Perry pitched well in accordance with his rate statistics. He had some bad batted ball luck. His numbers should have been better than Palmer’s, but Palmer is the one with a sparkling 8-3 record and 2.61 ERA.
It’s also funny how certain guys got certain reputations during their time. Blyleven had to wait over a decade to get into the Hall of Fame because people saw him as a compiler and as someone that shrunk in big moments. Those numbers don’t look like the numbers of someone who folded when the chips were down. This is why we keep numbers in the first place. Our perceptions often become skewed over time.
Cy Young Points
|Top 10||Top 5||CY||Points|
BWAR Cy Young Points
|Top 10||Top 5||CY||Points|
We make our sacrifice to the God of wins. As we move back in the 1960s and 1970s we see that the pitcher that won the most games was usually considered the best pitcher. That represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what the starting pitcher can and can’t control. We often see successful pitchers win, but that doesn’t always happen. In 1987, Nolan Ryan led the league in ERA and strikeouts, but managed only a 8-16 record. His fault? Did he just not know how to win?
Blyleven was consistently hurt by this. He won 20 games once despite leading the league in ERA+ once and in fielding independent pitching twice. He had six straight seasons with 250 or more innings and nine consecutive seasons with 216 or more. There were ample opportunities, but for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Lee Sinins installed a neutral wins and losses metric in his encyclopedia years ago. It was built on the notion of league average run support. That certainly helps, but it doesn’t account for no decisions.
All of this is to say that Cy Young points are proof of perception against actual performance. It does not prove anything else necessarily, but it is a piece of the puzzle. We add all the pieces together and we still see Morris as an outlier. This will become increasingly apparent when we look at starting pitching tiers later on.