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January 10, 2012

BP Unfiltered

Watching Jack Play

by Colin Wyers

CBS's Jon Heyman Tweeted this comment earlier today:

i love the folks who never saw jack morris pitch who are certain he isnt hall of famer bec their stat guru said so

Now, to be clear, I wholeheartedly endorse being certain someone isn't a Hall of Famer because Jay Jaffe says so, so if he's your stat gury of choice, carry on. (Other stat gurus will be evaluated on a case by case basis.) Morris's numbers have been analyzed endlessly here (for those of you who missed it, Jay's latest examination of Morris is here), so I won't belabor the point. But I do want to look at something - namely, what did the people who saw Jack Morris pitch think of him during his career? And not just any people, but card-carrying BBWAA members, the sort of people now currently engaged in Hall of Fame voting?

Morris was the pitcher "of the 80s," so I took a look at Cy Young balloting from 1980 through 1989. I took each player's point total from that season and divided by the maximum number of points for a pitcher that season (such that a 1 means a player won the Cy Young, and a .5 means a pitcher accumulated half as many points as the winner). In that spirit, I give you the top 25 pitchers in Cy Young share of the 80s:

Pitcher Points
Steve Carlton 2.333
Roger Clemens 1.943
Bret Saberhagen 1.893
Rick Sutcliffe 1.558
Fernando Valenzuela 1.558
Dan Quisenberry 1.486
Dwight Gooden 1.483
Mike Scott 1.433
Orel Hershiser 1.317
Frank Viola 1.036
Dave Stewart 0.914
Rollie Fingers 0.900
Mark Davis 0.892
John Denny 0.858
La Marr Hoyt 0.829
Steve Stone 0.714
Pete Vuckovich 0.679
Ron Guidry 0.679
Mike Norris 0.650
Willie Hernandez 0.629
Steve McCatty 0.600
Tom Seaver 0.558
Jack Morris 0.543
John Tudor 0.542
Mario Soto 0.533

Morris, during the years that his defenders point to most enthusiastically, was not especially well regarded by Cy Young voters. This isn't a perfect or even a very good measure of pitching - I wouldn't suggest that Rick Sutcliffe is a better pitcher than Morris nor would I imagine anyone else would as well. But it does suggest that whatever qualities Morris has that are only noticeable to those who watched him pitch went unnoticed by those who actually watched him pitch while he was still actually pitching. The lionization of Morris seems to have started when it wasn't possible for anyone to have watched him pitch any more - in other words, upon reflection. If Morris is the Hall of Famer that people like Heyman think he is, it should be possible then to elucidate a case for Morris that relies upon reflection, and thus is as accessible to "stat gurus" as it is to those who were there for his career.

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

Related Content:  Steve Mccatty

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