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December 30, 2011

Prospectus Hit and Run

Morris on the Ballot, Smith to Close

by Jay Jaffe

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After delivering the JAWS piece on first basemen earlier this week, I had planned to tackle the outfielders—Tim Raines, Bernie Williams et al—next. The sad news of Greg Spira's untimely passing on Wednesday presented me with a reason to change course, however. In the service of working on a chapter on Jack Morris’s Hall of Fame case for Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers in November, I had called upon the Internet Wayback Machine to unearth Greg's seminal research piece questioning whether Morris "pitched to the score." a piece that was published in Baseball Prospectus 1997, predating Morris’s arrival on the BBWAA ballot by a three years and Joe Sheehan's own outstanding Morris research by five years. I suggested to Dave Pease that we republish it on our site to run alongside yesterday’s article in tribute to our fallen colleague and friend, a fine example of his intellectual curiosity and dogged research efforts, particularly as the work dated to a time when Retrosheet was in its infancy and the relevant data not easily compiled. This piece is dedicated to his memory.

Last year, the Baseball Writers of America broke a 20-year streak when they elected Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame. Not since Fergie Jenkins' election in 1991 had a starting pitcher with less than 300 wins been voted in. It was Blyleven's 14th turn on the ballot, a span longer than the existence of JAWS (even in its unnamed form), longer even than my own history of ballot analyses, which date back to 2002. With him safely tucked into Cooperstown, and with no particularly compelling newcomers on the ballot, the spotlight falls to Jack Morris, a candidate around whom there is passionate debate.

If you missed the introduction to this year's series, please read here. Note that this is the first ballot in which I've worked with the revised version of our Wins Above Replacement Player measure that Colin Wyers has spent the past year implementing around these parts. This has created something of a seismic shift, in that higher replacement levels and different methods of measuring offensive, defensive, and pitching value have shaken up the standings of some candidates relative to the standards, which have shifted as well—after all, they're averages of individual player values. In general, the WARP values for most players are lower, and in some cases very different from what previous iterations or various competing systems have told us. Baserunning is now in the mix, as is a play-by-play defensive system.

For pitchers, this is especially true. Our previous WARP values were inflated because pitchers were compared to a replacement level pitcher backed by replacement-level fielders. Research has shown that replacement-level fielding is a misnomer, and it makes far more sense to compare pitchers to a replacement level pitcher backed by average fielding, which serves to lower cumulative pitching WARP across the board. Relievers are especially hard hit as they're compared against a different baseline than starters, because the historical record strongly suggests that replacement level relievers perform better than replacement level starters.

Our new WARP values are driven by Fair Run Average, a runs-per-nine measure that adjusts for some of the shortcomings of Earned Run Average. Going through the play-by-play record with a fine-toothed comb, FRA does a better job of dividing up the responsibility when a pitcher departs with men on base by taking into account the run expectancy of the situation, the expected yield given the number of outs and the location of baserunners. While it does away with the distinction between earned and unearned runs—and thus scales about nine percent higher than ERA, pegged to the league scoring rate—it adjusts for the quality of defensive support received. Furthermore, it credits the pitcher’s sequencing; a walk issued with the bases empty is less costly than one with the bases loaded. It also credits a pitcher's ability to get groundballs and infield popups; a grounder with a man on first base and less than two out is worth more than one with nobody on base. For more on FRA, please read Colin's re-introduction here.

Starting Pitchers

Pitcher

W

L

IP

ERA

ERA+

AS

CY

3C

HOFS

HOFM

Bal

2011%

Jack Morris

254

186

3824.0

3.90

105

5

0

3

39

122

12

53.5%

Brad Radke

148

139

2451.0

4.22

113

1

0

0

15

13

0

NA

Terry Mulholland

124

142

2575.2

4.41

94

1

0

0

9

14

0

NA

 

Pitcher

FRA

FRA+

PRAA

VORP

Career

Peak

JAWS

Morris

4.54

100

101

313

33.4

21.2

27.3

Radke

4.89

103

106

293

35.1

27.4

31.3

Mulholland

5.06

91

-65

134

14.4

11.7

13.0

AVG HOF SP

4.05

110

268

580

51.1

36.0

43.5

A brief explanation for the alphabet soup items, first from the old school table: AS is All-Star and CY is Cy Young Awards won; 3C is a tally of leagues led in the Triple Crown categories for pitchers (wins, ERA, and strikeouts); HoFS and HoFM are the Bill James Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor, respectively; Bal is how many years the player has appeared on the ballot, and 2011% is the player's share of the vote on the last ballot, with 75 percent needed for election.

From the new school table: FRA is Fair Run Average, FRA+ is its normalized equivalent (like ERA+, but computed using the formula (2 - FRA/LeagueFRA) * 100 for reasons best explained here), PRAA is Pitching Runs Above Average, VORP is Value Over Replacement Player, Career is career WARP, Peak is WARP from a player's best seven seasons at large, and JAWS is the average of the two.

Note that unlike the positional standards, there is no adjustment to be made for positional distribution with the pitchers. However, as in that revised methodology, I am no longer throwing out the bottom scores in computing the standard—it's a straight average of the Hall's starters.

Jack Morris
A fifth round pick out of Brigham Young University in 1976—the same draft that produced ballot-mate Alan Trammell in the second round and rotation-mate Dan Petry in the fourth, making for one hell of a haul—Morris debuted with the Tigers in late 1977, as did Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Lance Parrish. That quartet became a fixture by the following season, and went on to anchor the Tigers' fine 1984 title team. After spending more than a decade fronting Detroit's rotation, Morris went on to even greater fame as the gritty gun for hire on two other World Champions, most memorably spinning an unforgettable 10-inning 1-0 shutout in Game Seven of the 1991 Series. That game looms so large in the Morris legend that it may yet carry him to Cooperstown, offsetting a candidacy whose merits appear to fade each year, at least under the harsh glare of the JAWS spotlight.

Morris racked up high win totals over the course of his 18 seasons, and put up some stellar performances in October (7-4, 3.80 ERA) beyond that Game Seven. He reached the 20-win plateau three times, and won at least 18 games six times. He accumulated more wins in the Eighties than any other pitcher, as his supporters are prone to say, as if we should privilege a total created by arbitrary endpoints that define the decade of skinny ties and trickle-down economics more highly than any other measure. In this view, pitcher wins are an endangered species because of the move to the five-man rotation and the systematic use of specialized bullpens designed to take advantage of late-inning matchups. Since he debuted in 1977 (another arbitrary endpoint alert), Morris’ss 254 wins have been surpassed by only six pitchers: Greg Maddux (355), Roger Clemens (354), Tom Glavine (305), Randy Johnson (303), Mike Mussina (270), and Jamie Moyer (267).

One problem with exalting Morris’s win total is that it ignores the level of offensive support that he received. Borrowing a concept from Pete Palmer and Gary Gillette in the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia (a book for which Spira served as an associate editor) but using BP's own park factors, we can express a pitcher's run support in normalized form just as we can ERA+ or FRA+. Morris’s SUP+ was 106.4, meaning that he received run support that was 6.4 percent better than the park-adjusted league average. Via the Pythagorean Theorem, each extra percentage point difference in run support translates roughly to a .005 gain in winning percentage, or an extra win for every 200 decisions. All else being equal, Morris’ss 6.4 percent advantage would translate to a record of 234-206 over the course of his 440 decisions, assuming average run prevention ability.

Run prevention is where Morris’s problem relative to the Hall of Fame really begins. His 3.90 ERA would be the highest in Cooperstown, supplanting Red Ruffing's 3.80. His 104 ERA+ would be the second lowest, ahead of only Rube Marquard's 103. Just eight Hall of Fame pitchers have an ERA+ lower than 110. Morris’s supporters dismiss his high ERA by noting that it’s distorted by the 5.91 mark he put up over his final two seasons; through 1992, he stood at 3.73, with a 109 ERA+ but "only" 237 wins. This is hardly unique, even among Hall of Famers. Catfish Hunter was hit for a 4.52 ERA and an 86 ERA+ while battling injuries over his final three seasons; he finished with a 105 ERA+, one percent better than Morris. Steve Carlton was rocked for a 5.72 ERA over his final three seasons. Phil Niekro was lit for a 6.30 ERA in his final year. Byleven posted a 4.35 ERA and just a 90 ERA+ over his final four seasons, a span that included a full year missed with injury; he had one stellar year (17-5, 2.73 ERA) and two with ERAs above 5.00 in that span. All of them elevated their win totals by hanging on, but with the possible exception of Blyleven, none enhanced their Hall of Fame cases.

Morris isn't helped any by the move to Fair Run Average. His FRA+ of 100 (99.52, actually) means he was basically league average at run prevention once you adjust for defense and bullpen support. That's 10 percent worse than the average Hall of Fame starter, and it would be the third-worst among that lot, ahead of only Hunter (98.6) and Bob Lemon (94.0). His seasonal WARP totals aren't very impressive either. His 1983 season rates at his most valuable at just 4.0 WARP, and he's got just four other seasons above 3.0, and one other between 2.0 and 3.0. Just to throw out a comparison to the most recently elected pitcher, Blyleven had six seasons above 4.0, with a high of 9.1—the highest single-season mark since 1950, in fact—and another two above 3.0. With the new numbers, Blyleven ranks 19th among all starting pitchers in JAWS. Morris ranks 167th, tied with Aaron Sele while coming nowhere near either the career or peak mark.

Supporters have dismissed Morris’s high ERAs with claims that he "pitched to the score." The research efforts of Spira and Sheehan have long since put the lie to this claim. In studying Morris’s won-loss record through 1993 (his second-to-last season), Spira found that he was just four wins ahead of his projected record based upon run support. Sheehan, who pored over Morris’s career inning-by-inning via Retrosheet, concluded: "I can find no pattern in when Jack Morris allowed runs. If he pitched to the score—and I don't doubt that he changed his approach—the practice didn't show up in his performance record." Morris’s record is more a product of strong run support than it is special strategy. For all of his extra wins and post-season success, his case rests on a distortion of the value of one shining moment rather than a well-rounded career.

His candidacy is at a critical juncture. After vaulting from 44.0 percent in 2009 to 52.3 percent in 2010, his 11th year on the ballot, Morris inched forward only slightly last year, his 12th on the ballot, to 53.5 percent. With Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza all hitting the ballot next year, and Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Jim Edmonds, and Jeff Kent all show up in 2014, the ballot will produce such a deluge of eligible players with reasonable cases for Cooperstown that there's no way Morris will sneak through, barring a Blylevenesque jump into the 70 percent range and a subsequent lowering of resistance by the opposition. I don't see it happening.

Brad Radke
Morris isn't even the best pitcher on this year’s ballot according to JAWS. That honor belongs to Radke, who not only spent his entire 12-year career with the Twins but came to represent an organizational prototype as a pitcher who pounded the strike zone without the benefit of an overpowering fastball. "I know a scout, who in the 8 years I've known him has classified 20 Twins prospects as 'Brad Radke types,'" tweeted Kevin Goldstein last week.

The original was an eighth-round pick out of a Tampa high school by the Twins in 1991, just months before Morris would pitch his brilliant Game Seven. The same round of that draft produced Jason Schmidt, Mike Matheny, Derek Lowe, and Steve Trachsel, a bumper crop as these things go. Radke debuted with the Twins as a 22-year-old in 1995, and spent the first six years of his career toiling for a team that didn't finish higher than fourth place or with more than 78 wins in any season. He struggled in his first two years, leading the league in homers allowed both times, but he broke through in his third season, going 20-10 with a 3.87 ERA, a showing that placed him third in that year's Cy Young balloting behind Clemens and Johnson.

Radke was still at the front of the Twins' rotation in 2001, when they went 85-77 and finished in second place in Tom Kelly's final season; he went 15-11 with a 3.94 ERA, and led the league with a microscopic walk rate of 1.0 per nine. That was the only time he led the league, but he finished no lower than sixth in in any of his 12 seasons, and ranked in the top three eight times. He led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio as well that year with 5.3, one of six top-five and nine top-ten finishes in that category. He missed two and a half months the following season due to a groin strain, and finished with a career-worst 4.72 ERA; it was the only time between his rookie season and his final one in which he didn't pitch at least 200 innings or make at least 31 starts. The Twins made the postseason for the first time since 1991 that year, however, and Radke sparkled in the Division Series, beating the A's in Games One and Five for what still stands as their only postseason series victory in the Ron Gardenhire era.

The Twins would make it back to the postseason three more times during Radke's tenure, but he could never help them advance further. He had one more strong year in 2004, when he posted a career-low 3.48 ERA. In 2005, he pitched through the pain of a stiff neck and a torn labrum; rather than undergo surgery and an arduous rehab for the latter, he decided before the 2006 season that it would be his final one. He held to that, with his final appearance a four-inning start in an elimination game in the Division Series against the A's. His career was done three weeks shy of his 34th birthday.

Radke's 2004 season rates as his best according to our advanced metrics, worth 4.2 WARP. He had five other seasons where he was worth between 2.9 and 3.8 WARP, all of them in a row from 1997-2001. His FRA+ numbers in those seasons went as high as 113 in 1998; in a high-scoring era, he beat the league average every year from 1997-2004, with his 120 in that latter season his career best. Even so, he's nowhere near the career or peak standards for a starter, and falls far short on JAWS. He'll remain a point of reference for the Twins' organization long after he's off the ballot.

Terry Mulholland
Mulholland was a rubber-armed lefty who carved out a 20-year career in the majors while pitching for no less than 11 teams, a total that's tied for fifth all-time, one off the lead. Drafted by the Giants in the first round of the 1984 draft—the same round that produced Mark McGwire—he was a compensation pick from the Tigers for the signing of Darrell Evans. He reached the majors in 1986, going 1-7 with a 4.94 ERA in 15 appearances, a none-to-impressive showing that led the Giants to keep him in the minors for the entire 1987 season. He never really clicked in his first of three go-rounds with the Giants, but a trade to Philadelphia in 1989 kicked off the best stretch of his career. Muholland spent four years in the Phillies' rotation, winning a career-high 16 games in 1991 (with a career-best 3.1 WARP) and going 12-9 with a 3.25 ERA for the 1993 NL champions. He made the All-Star team for the only time in his career, started three games in the postseason, and got the win in Game Two of the World Series against the Blue Jays. He was particularly strong when it came to avoiding walks, placing in the NL's top 10 five times in a six-year span from 1990-1995.

Traded from the Phillies to the Yankees in February 1994, Mulholland began to bounce around endlessly; during one seven-year stretch, he spent the whole year with the same team just twice. He was a more or less league average starter for most of that spell, though by the late Nineties, he referred to himself as a "utility pitcher," willing to start, mop up, or do anything in between. "I'm like a plumber who's on call 24 hours a day," he said. That willingness to do what was needed helped when he was traded to the Braves on July 31, 1999. He replaced Bruce Chen in the rotation, made a handful of relief appearances, and pitched out of the bullpen as the team made it to the World Series. He would get back to the playoffs again with the Braves in 2000, and with the Twins in 2004, but he would never win a championship. He won't get into Cooperstown either, but he made the most of his two-decade ride.

Relief Pitchers

Pitcher

W

L

SV

IP

ERA

ERA+

AS

CY

3C

HOFS

HOFM

Bal

2011%

Lee Smith

71

92

478

1289.0

3.03

132

7

0

0

13

135

9

45.3%

 

Pitcher

FRA

FRA+

PRAA

VORP

Career

Peak

JAWS

Smith

3.29

127

208

284

29.1

15.8

22.5

Avg HOF RP

3.75

113

172

277

29.1

17.5

23.3

When I first cobbled together the system that became JAWS, just two relievers were in the Hall of Fame: Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers. Since then, that number has more than doubled with the elections of Dennis Eckerlsey (2004), Bruce Sutter (2006) and Rich Gossage (2008). Though there's plenty to quibble about with regards to Sutter's election in 2006, the larger class made it easier to sketch out a standard for relievers, particularly with Keith Woolner’s development of the Reliever Expected Wins Added  (WXRL) stat. WXRL accounted for the discovery that a reliever at the end of a ballgame has a quantitatively greater impact on winning and losing (a ratio called leverage) than a starter does. It measured that impact by comparing a team's chances of winning based on the game state (bases, outs, score differential) before he enters and after he leaves. Our new regime has done away with WXRL, however. Colin has voiced his dissatisfaction with the use of win expectancy to measure reliever contributions, basically objecting on the grounds that it was rewarding a player for things that were out of his control before he showed up. "Leverage travels in only one direction; players can create or destroy leverage for the players after them, but they cannot benefit in the same way from the actions of the player after them," he wrote.

As noted above, in revamping WARP, Colin has used a higher replacement level baseline for relievers than for starters, with the result that even some of the game's best closers don't account for much more than 2.0 WARP per year. Mariano Rivera's best WARP since moving into the closer role is 2.5 in 2007; he has averaged 1.8 per year since then despite ERAs under 2.00 each year. Rivera's career mark of 33.2 WARP still compares very favorably to the enshrined relievers, but this isn't about him.

Lee Smith
Plucked from Castor, Louisiana by the Cubs in the second round of the 1975 draft, the physically intimidating Smith—6-foot-5, 220 pounds—stepped into the large shoes previously filled by Sutter in Wrigleyville and did a very credible job in six years as the Cubs' 100-inning-per-year closer. From 1983-1987, he finished in the top five in saves every season, leading the league once, and he ranked third or fourth in WARP among NL relievers in each of those years, averaging 2.1 per year.

Traded to Boston after 1987, he continued to post high-quality seasons, though his workload and save totals dipped a bit. Traded again to the Cardinals, he flourished, topping Sutter's NL save record and recording 160 saves in parts of four seasons—taking over the all-time lead in that category—before packing his bags again. Through five more stops, the innings began to take a toll, and his managers limited his usage to about 50 frames a year, one inning at a time, to keep him effective. He spent his last two seasons in a set-up role, with diminishing returns, finally hanging it up in 1998.

From a traditional standpoint, Smith's case starts with his status as the number three guy on the all-time saves list, his seven All-Star selections, and an amazing string of consistency which followed him to virtually every stop on his 18-year ride. Until his abbreviated final season, his ERA+ was always better than league-average, 32 percent better for his career. On the down side, his teams never went further than a LCS appearance, and he got bombed in his brief post-season appearances, blowing two ballgames in best-of-fives.

Smith's career WARP matches the standard for enshrined relievers, a standard based on an admittedly small sample and skewed by Eckersley's high total, much of which owes to his days as a starter:

Pitcher

Career

Peak

JAWS

Dennis Eckersley

54.0

24.1

39.0

Rich Gossage

27.9

20.4

24.1

Lee Smith

29.1

15.8

22.5

Hoyt Wilhelm

28.7

14.5

21.6

Rollie Fingers

25.0

17.9

21.5

Bruce Sutter

9.9

10.5

10.2

Smith career total actually outdoes those of all of the non-Eckerlsey relievers. He falls shy on peak by what amounts to a couple of runs per year, toping only Fingers and Wilhelm, but in the balance, his score fits behind Eckersley and Gossage.

It's a borderline call. In the years I've done JAWS, I've come down on both sides for Smith, and have remained open-minded as to his qualifications. While the new WARP may have me convinced that it's not a great idea to put relievers in the Hall, it's pretty clear that Smith is more or less even with the standards of those who are in. Given a short slate of JAWS-approved candidates this year, I'm inclined towards inclusion.

So that adds Smith to a slate that includes Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez and Jeff Bagwell. We'll turn to the outfielders and the lone catcher on the ballot next week.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

41 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

JeffRose
(814)

Jay, you've got "2104" where you should have "2014".

Dec 30, 2011 04:32 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

fixed, thx

Dec 30, 2011 08:50 AM
 
MountainCat

A change in W/L % of .005, as you say 1 win in 200 decisions, would change Morris's wins by just 2, not 20. Maybe you meant a change of .05.

Dec 30, 2011 06:40 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

.005 * 6.4 (reflecting Morris' 106.4 SUP+) = .032 gain in winning percentage

.500 + .032 = .532 winning percentage

.532 * 440 decisions = 234 wins, 206 losses

Dec 30, 2011 07:56 AM
 
Lou Doench

Not to start a Jim Rice level discussion on the issue, but doesn't Lee Smith open the door for John Franco and other such types? I'm not complaining btw, I'm a big hall guy and think Franco would be a worthy addition.

Dec 30, 2011 08:09 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Franco's way below Smith on the JAWS scale, much closer to Sutter: 13.6/12.4/13.0. Hell, Jeff Nelson and Elmer Dessens are above Franco at 13.4.

Dec 30, 2011 08:14 AM
 
adambennett

Do you have the score for Quisenberry?

Dec 30, 2011 09:11 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I liked WXRL.. it gave me an idea of the kinds of situations relievers found themselves in.

Also, I'm surprised Radke rates better than Morris across the board from a JAWS perspective. Radke threw 1000 less innings and seems only signficantly better in the ERA+ department.

And I have fond memories of Mullholland from his Giants and through his Cubs days.

Dec 30, 2011 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
Patrick

I guess that shows how big a difference it was pitching in the 1980s versus the mid-90s/early-00s.

Dec 31, 2011 10:58 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Maybe Jon Lieber will have a good JAWS score then.

Dec 31, 2011 14:17 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Jay, I love these articles and analyses. One of the highlights of the off-season.

I don't know how much trouble it would be, but I find your use of JAWS lists to be particularly illuminating in these discussions to show context of the nominees' achievements. Could you add lists showing the 7 players ranked just above/below each of the nominees being discussed according to JAWS?

For instance, you mention that Morris ranks 167th for SPs on JAWS. Can you list the pitchers who are 160-175? Same for Radke.

Same for Smith and the RPs. Since the role has evolved considerably, I expect this list may not be as revealing as the list for SPs, but I think it might still be educational.

Thanks in advance!

Dec 30, 2011 08:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

It's a worthy idea but a fair bit of trouble to plunk those down for every player in what's already a three or four thousand word piece. Dealing with the tables is already one of the banes of my existence, and I don't think our editors love them either, particularly when they arrive at 1 AM as part of a huge, gnarly monster article.

JAWS sortables, soon. The river outside Prospectus HQ will run red with blood if they're not up at some point during 2012.

Dec 30, 2011 10:20 AM
 
BurrRutledge

Just spent some time looking for JAWS in the sortable stats and came up empty. Nice to see the career stat sortables, but would love to have JAWS in there, too. Is that something that we might one day have available?

Also just read Greg Spira's research article on pitching to the score thanks to the way-back machine. Run support is a valuable commodity in a pitcher.

Dec 30, 2011 09:30 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

Right now is a really, really busy time of year for me with PECOTA, but I'm planning to add JAWS and the run support stats Jay used in this article to the sortables prior to the start of the season.

Dec 30, 2011 10:02 AM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

What Colin said. With the career sortables, he and our current tech crew have accomplished something that I've been requesting for at least seven years, bringing JAWS sortables much closer to fruition.

Dec 30, 2011 10:07 AM
 
BurrRutledge

Thanks to you both, and all the folks behind the scenes bringing us the annual updates and publications. Happy New Year!

Dec 30, 2011 12:49 PM
rating: 3
 
Todd Boss

Does it not concern you that your own JAWS tool tells you that Brad Radke was a better pitcher than Jack Morris? If you didn't have your JAWS tool in front of you, would you say the same thing based on your experiences and based on a review of their overall careers? Because I think you'd be hard pressed to find a baseball writer who actually covered the game and saw both players play who would say the same.

Stats are important. I get that. But ignoring the player's context in the game and ignoring what your eyes tell you having watched a player play are a fallacy. The proper analysis of a player and his contributions should be a combination of both.

I think the Radke-Morris comparison also belies some of the issues in ERA+. Especially so for relievers; The nats Doug Slaten allowed 47% of his inherited runners to score, had a 4.41 era and a 2.1 whip in 2011 ... but his ERA+ was *only* a 90. To tell me he's "only" 10% worse than the average park-adjusted pitcher is ludicrous; he was a failure across the board.

Dec 30, 2011 10:51 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

It does not concern me in the least, because I have spent dozens of hours poring over Jack Morris' career and am thoroughly convinced that he was overrated, and I am far from the only one who feels that way.

I can accuse you of ignoring the context as well. Radke pitched in a much higher-scoring era - the highest-scoring since the 1930s - and put up better ERAs relative to his leagues. He fares well in part because his short career did not have a sharp decline phase the way that Morris' career did. When we use advance metrics to credit the things for which a pitcher has considerable control (particularly strikeout, walks, and homer rates) versus the things he doesn't (defensive support, bullpen support, offensive support), Radke maintains that edge.

To bring the ERA+ of a lefty specialist reliever (Slaten) into this discussion is a completely off-base use of that particular statistic that has no bearing on the comparison at hand. Fair Run Average and FRA+ account for baserunners inherited/bequeathed, which is one reason why we lean on them instead of ERA and ERA+ for the heavier lifting of our advanced metrics.

Dec 30, 2011 11:47 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm more concerned about the 1400 less innings that Radke pitched when compared to Morris, to be hoenst. I know we touched on it in the McGwire discussion, but career length impacted McGwire's JAWS case significantly and in Radke's case, we're talking the equivalent of five less seasons that he pitched compared to Morris. Radke would've had to post Maddux-esque numbers to be rated that much higher than Morris.

Dec 30, 2011 12:13 PM
rating: 1
 
BurrRutledge

In Morris' case, the extra innings he pitched compared to Radke we're not necessarily high-quality innings. And the remainder of his career is one of good pitching and even better run support. Not necessarily the characteristics we associate with his career, but there you have it.

One memorable and remarkable high-pressure performance in 1991 has colored the public perception of the rest of his career.

Dec 30, 2011 12:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm not looking at wins and losses but maybe it's just the Don Sutton argument... I'd think Radke would've had to be very elite to make up 1400 innings worth of league averageish production.

Dec 30, 2011 16:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

ERA+ is based on ERA, which is a rather flawed statistic.

Dec 30, 2011 13:51 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

At the level of 2000 innings, most of the noise that makes seasonal ERAs so sketchy is gone - fluctuations in BABIP and HR/FB and bullpen support have evened out - but yes, there are better measures, and we employ them to drive our values. At that level, it's still miles better than W-L record.

Dec 30, 2011 14:12 PM
 
Drew Miller

I was attempting to agree with your defense against the Slaten argument, BTW.

Dec 30, 2011 15:14 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Duly noted. Apologies if you felt I pounced upon you.

Dec 30, 2011 16:08 PM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Also, I just want to underscore one point that I've made over and over again throughout the series but didn't here, and clearly should have:

JAWS is a tool to build a Hall of Fame argument. I have always fully recognized that there are things it does not encompass, which is why I bother to cite things like the Hall of Fame Monitor scores and awards won and postseason performance. Radke's ahead of Morris in JAWS by a small margin, but Morris' postseason highlights almost certainly make up for the gap between them.

So when I say "Morris isn't even the best pitcher on this year’s ballot according to JAWS," that's not a definitive statement that I think he's the worse candidate overall.

Dec 30, 2011 14:59 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I, for one, like JAWS since it provides a good framework for discussion and a tool to compare players. As well, I enjoy the writeups you do.

Dec 30, 2011 17:02 PM
rating: 3
 
juiced

Morris is so not a HOFer and the continued advocacy for him from various media pundits is ridiculous. It does also speak to the weakness of the 1980s starting pitching class, particularly compared to the 90s.

Dec 30, 2011 13:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

If Morris gets in, it's going to be great when they keep Clemens out--even with the best steroids on the planet, Morris wouldn't be half the pitcher Clemens was.

Dec 30, 2011 13:55 PM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I wouldn't call it weakness so much as a lack of staying power. Dave Steib was a better pitcher but hung it up early. Dwight Gooden had drug problems. Fernando Valenzuela fell into the Lasorda shoulder thresher. Mike Scott didn't figure it out until mid-decade. And so on.

Dec 30, 2011 14:10 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

Jay - if it isn't too much trouble, could you run a quick JAWS comp of Morris against some other high-profile 80's starters? Maybe Stieb, Hershiser, Gooden, Valenzuela and Scott?

Dec 30, 2011 15:46 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Can't get to it right now but check back tomorrow and I'll put something together here.

Dec 30, 2011 16:09 PM
 
SC

This chart is from the 2007 Class JAWS article, I was interested in Morrs v Saberhagen, but other comps may be useful as well:

Last PRAA PRAR WARP3 PEAK JAWS
Blyleven 296 1492 131.0 63.0 97.0
Hershiser 126 850 85.5 55.4 70.5
John 96 1104 103.4 45.8 74.6
Morris 7 932 78.5 48.4 63.5
Saberhagen 251 866 85.6 57.8 71.7
Witt -111 535 43.5 31.6 37.6
AVG HOF SP 244 1041 99.0 62.7 80.9

Of course the measures are all old (WARP3! I feel like a young man again), and the JAWS scores not reflective of new entries.

Jan 04, 2012 09:02 AM
rating: 0
 
juiced

I'd call it weakness. All of the great 80's pitchers that you mentioned, Gooden/Fernando/Stieb/Scott had lesser peaks than the 90s greats Maddux/Pedro/Unit/Clemens. It's not just that the latter four had longer careers.

Dec 30, 2011 18:44 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

If we're using peak in the sense of JAWS score 7-best year peak, then I certainly agree with you. At the same time, it's worth pointing out that in the single-season WARP values since 1950 that I linked to above (the Blyleven comment), Gooden has the 3rd most valuable season since 1950 (1985, 9.0 WARP) and three of the top 31 (1984 and 1990 being the others) but no more in the top 100. Scott's 1986 is 28th. Jose Rijo comes in at 11th and 81st. Stieb doesn't have a top 100 season. Maddux's only top-100 season, 1994, comes in 79th. Clemens is at 18, 22, 56, 62, 80, 90. Pedro's at 4, 48, 65, 74, 76. Johnson's at 5,7,9, 24, 43, 49, 68. In the balance, the latter group is clearly the better one, but the former had a small handful of seasons that exceeded the latter group's best, at least via the WARP reckoning. So I stand by what I said about a lack of staying power.

Dec 31, 2011 08:18 AM
 
brucegilsen
(999)

Jay, how did Maddux's 1995 not make the top 100? Superficially, it looks better than 1994, given that he had 9 unearned runs in 1994 and only 1 in 1995. And his ratio was .81!

Jan 02, 2012 10:22 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

You can't count on the same number of all-time great pitchers in each decade. I think the '90s bunch (Rocket, Unit, Pedro, Maddux) was possibly the greatest cluster ever. Was it? The teens (Christy-Alexander-Big Train)and the '70s (Seaver-Carlton-Perry-Palmer-Jenkins-Reuschel) were particularly strong decades. The 1980s were sandwiched in-between two of the best and paled by comparison. How do they compare to the '20s, '30s, '40s, and '50s?

Dec 31, 2011 13:41 PM
rating: 0
 
brucegilsen
(999)

"Research has shown that replacement-level fielding is a misnomer, and it makes far more sense to compare pitchers to a replacement level pitcher backed by average fielding, which serves to lower cumulative pitching WARP across the board."

This makes sense from a common sense standpoint as well - the minors are filled with guys who can field but not hit.

Jan 02, 2012 10:23 AM
rating: 0
 
rlendog

The problem with the analysis of Lee Smith is that it completely ignores postseason performance. This is a problem with much "advanced" analysis, but particularly for relievers whose value depends heavily on leverage - and postseason games are heavily leveraged. I realize that to a large extent getting to the postseason and World Series involves luck, but the games count - a lot more than individual regular season games - and ignoring them for analyzing who should be in the Hall of Fame does not make sense. And Smith cannot compare to any of the other Hall of Fame relievers when it comes to postseason performance.

I don't have any advanced statistics, but the regular stats are clear enough. All of the Hall of Fame relievers pitched in at least one World Series, Smith never did. The two times Smith reached the postseason, he pitched 5 1/3 innings with an 8.44 ERA. His ERA in each of the postseasons he reached was over 8.

How does that compare with Gossage? Gossage pitched 31 1/3 postseason innings to a 2.87 ERA. In the World Series alone he pitched 13 2/3 inning to a 2.63 ERA.

How about Fingers, a supposed "mistake"? Fingers pitched 57 1/3 postseason innings in his career (almost all before there was a divisional series). That is a full regular season worth of innings for Smith, but massively more leveraged. Fingers had a 2.35 ERA in those innings. In the World Series alone he pitched 33 1/3 innings with a 1.35 ERA (and 6 saves, which despite the flaws are telling in a situation as leveraged as a World Series game). Even if Smith and Fingers are equal in regular season performance, Fingers' postseason performance puts a few miles of distance between him and Smith.

Eckersley wasn't all that impressive in the World Series, but his postseason stats are 36 innings with a 3.00 ERA (and 15 saves). He only pitched 4 2/3 of those innings in the World Series, with an ERA of 5.79, but even that is 2/3 of Smith's postseason ERA. And of course, Eck is way ahead of Smith in regular season value.

Hoyt Wilhelm had similarly little postseason exposure as Smith. But his performance there was much better - in 2 1/3 innings he didn't give up a run.

So we're left with Sutter. Sutter's postseason performance was fairly brief and unimpressive, but still more substantial and far better than Smith's. 12 innings with a 3.00 ERA in the postseason and 7 2/3 innings with a 4.70 ERA in the World Series. His edge over Smith in the postseason is probably not enough to offset his regular season deficit. So if we want to say Smith is a better candidate than Sutter, fine. But if we put in every pitcher with a better statistical case than Sutter, the Hall of Fame is going to get awfully crowded with relievers.

Jan 07, 2012 19:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

At least Mike Stanton's on the ballot next year.

Jan 08, 2012 14:49 PM
rating: 0
 
rlendog

Once Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman get enshrined, the standards will be significantly different, even excluding any postseason considerations.

Jan 08, 2012 19:33 PM
rating: 0
 
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