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Our generation of baseball fans and analysts might have been wrong about Jack Morris. Let that sink in for a moment. We yelled and bickered and picked Morris’s career apart, and we won: Morris is not in the Hall of Fame, and if he ever gets there, it will be on the strength of a Veterans Committee vote, not a BBWAA ballot. We told the world, in no uncertain terms, that Morris was an unimpressive compiler, a workhorse without distinctive merit. We scoffed at efforts to lionize him for his October achievements, pointing out (fairly, I think) that his heroics in 1984 and 1991 should be weighed against his abject failures in 1987, 1992, and 1993. Most of all, we contended that his high ERA and FIP, albeit in a huge number of innings, marked him mostly as a durable pitcher, and not as a truly great one. We might have been right, of course. But it looks a lot like we were wrong.

I talk about Deserved Run Average a lot, and I link to the article that first introduced it to the world a lot. You should absolutely read that piece, and get the full story about the development of DRA directly from the people who built it. I’m not one of them, and can’t really do it justice. Since you might not have that kind of time right now, though, and since DRA is the crux of the argument I’m about to make, let me (briefly) describe DRA. It is, in essence, the best statistical measurement of pitching value we have. Instead of measuring earned runs, which is a fairly arbitrary subset of all runs, DRA concerns itself with all outcomes and all runs allowed. It doesn’t zoom in on strikeouts, walks, and home runs, to the exclusion of all else. What it does do is credit pitchers with their role in the outcome of every plate appearance. The effects of opponent quality (in essence: how good is the opposing hitter?), defense, the catcher, the umpire, the ballpark, all of these things are corrected for. Not perfectly, of course, that would be impossible, but as well as we can. DRA also measures a pitcher’s role in slowing the opposing running game, and credits or debits him accordingly.

Let’s zoom back out for a moment. Before DRA, there were three notable ways that major baseball analysis strove to evaluate pitchers. Here’s a summary of them, along with where each one pegs Morris in the historical hierarchy.

Baseball-Reference WAR

Predicated on runs allowed per nine innings, Baseball-Reference’s WAR has the advantage of simplicity and straightforwardness, but it makes relatively little effort to adjust for the varying degrees of help or harm a pitcher gets from his defense, timing, and sheer luck.

Morris’s Career bWAR: 43.8 in 18 seasons
Rank since 1950: 69th
Similar Pitchers: Bob Welch (43.5 bWAR, 17 seasons); Al Leiter (42.6 bWAR, 19 seasons); Bartolo Colon (45.2 bWAR, 18 seasons); Vida Blue (45.0 bWAR, 17 seasons)

FanGraphs WAR

FanGraphs uses FIP as the driver of its pitching WAR, because FIP uses only the outcomes over which pitchers have been shown to exercise significant control: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. There are skills fWAR can’t capture, but many times, the pitchers we think have those skills turn out not to be able to sustain it.

Morris’s Career fWAR: 56.2 in 3,824 innings
Rank since 1950: 40th
Similar Pitchers: David Wells (58.6 fWAR, 3,439 innings); Larry Jackson (53.9 fWAR, 3,262 2/3 innings); Luis Tiant (53.2 fWAR, 3,486 1/3 innings); Jerry Reuss (52.4 fWAR, 3,670 innings)

Fair Run Average WARP

Until we developed DRA, FRA ruled here at Prospectus. It made efforts to correct for bullpen and fielder support, as well as the ability to distribute outcomes well—what we might call scattering hits. It rested on several (perhaps one too many) assumptions, but it was a mathematically strong model.

Morris’s Career PWARP: 33.3
Rank since 1950: 62nd
Similar Pitchers: Jerry Koosman (35.2 PWARP, 3,839 1/3 innings); Rick Reuschel (35.1 PWARP, 3,548 1/3 innings); Mickey Lolich (33.1 PWARP, 3,638 1/3 innings); Vida Blue (31.7 PWARP, 3,343 1/3 innings)

Stop.

This is the sketch of Jack Morris with which we were working for the last several years. He resembled mostly the class of pitchers closest to the Hall of Fame, while falling clearly short of it. Rick Reuschel, Vida Blue, and Luis Tiant are especially notable. All three, like Morris, had cases for closer examination as a Cooperstown candidate, but none really rose to the level of deserving induction. Of the quartet, Morris had (and still has, in some circles) by far the strongest support, but it wasn’t enough to get him over the hump. According to all of these measuring sticks, that was just.

Now, check this out.

Deserved Run Average

Morris’s Career DRA PWARP: 64.1
Rank since 1950: 17th
Similar Pitchers: Juan Marichal (64.1 DRA PWARP in 3,507 innings); Jim Bunning (61.4 DRA PWARP, 3,760 1/3 innings); John Smoltz (60.4 DRA PWARP, 3,473 innings); Jim Palmer (58.7 DRA PWARP, 3,948 innings)

Well, then.

All four of the guys closest to Morris in DRA, PWARP, and innings are Hall of Famers. Stop worrying about innings, and you notice that Morris actually has a higher PWARP, by DRA’s reckoning, than Steve Carlton.

How can it be so? Mostly, the answer is (I’m sorry, guys, but it is) exactly what the Luddites at whom you once scoffed said it was. Morris pitched in the American League for his whole career, and for the large majority, he pitched in a really strong AL East. His career opponent RPA+ (runs per plate appearance, relative to the league average) was 104, meaning his opponents were, on average, four percent better than average. Only nine pitchers since 1950 (the Prospectus database era, if you will) faced at least 10,000 batters with a higher opponent RPA+. Morris, by the way, faced over 16,000 batters in his career, so you could keep raising that minimum batters-faced number and make the stat more impressive. Morris faced the fourth-hardest slate of opponents among those with at least 12,000 batters faced, and the second-hardest (trailing only Roger Clemens) among those with at least 15,000.

By the way, the other reason Morris ranks so highly on this list is the same as the reason that he’s relatively high on the preceding lists, even if he wasn’t a Hall of Famer by those other standards: the dude pitched all the time. I wonder if we dismiss that too quickly. It’s not untrue that Morris was a compiler, but it’s also not fair to point that out with a spirit of derision. Pitchers usually get hurt, especially when they pitch as much as Morris did, both within seasons and over the long arc of a career. If Morris was in there, consistently pitching measurably better than an average pitcher. His career 91 DRA- means he was nine percent better than average, which might not sound like much, but is the 44th-best recorded figure for a pitcher with at least 10,000 batters faced (there are 129 of them in our sample). For tons of innings against vicious competition, that’s not a compiler. It’s exactly the kind of player everyone (even statheads) habitually underrates.

Every generation looks monstrous to the generation immediately following it. This is an inexorable truth of human history. My grandparents’ generation began the slow slog toward gender equality, but denied the same progress to anyone—man or woman—of the wrong color. My parents’ generation tried to ameliorate that, however imperfectly, but they transferred their hate to anyone with a non-normative sexual orientation. I’m painting with broad strokes and talking about just a couple issues, here; please understand that I’m not casting aspersions on anyone or using tunnel vision. This is strictly as an example.

What, among the things I believe, will appall and mortify my young sons? I wish I knew, because I’d be better able to change in step with the times, but I don’t. I’m sure when they’re my age, my boys will wonder how society could have taken so long to embrace and empower and celebrate and assimilate people with mental and developmental disabilities. I’m sure they’ll be aghast at the snail’s pace of our response to the threat of global climate change. I’m sure their peers will feel a greater sense of globalism, of their personal responsibility for the suffering of the very poor halfway around the world. I’m sure they’ll detest the extreme to which my generation has taken the last one’s celebration of individualism. I just don’t know which of these will be the hardest for me to really overcome, to stop justifying and deflecting and dissembling over, and I don’t know what other direction social progress will go, which direction that I can’t anticipate and won’t abide, even though I should, and would, if I could keep the grand sweep of history in view. I just know that there will be something, because there always is.

But there is also, always, something the last generation had right. Progress is not a universal good, especially when that progress is undertaken without a sufficient appreciation for history and humanity. Sometimes, we overrun things, and our children (and their children) end up having to clean up the mess. I can’t say for sure that DRA is the final frontier, that we have the information now to say that the founders of this website were wrong about Jack Morris, because it might turn out that I’m the guy gleefully rebuilding velociraptors, or giving sharks brains powerful enough to make them want vengeance for their entrapment. On the other hand, this is a pretty compelling case that we were wrong about Morris, and that we’ve now done irreparable damage to his legacy by seeing that too late. It looks, frankly, like the old guard took a very firm stance on some very unsteady terrain, and like history might remember them as narrow-minded and cavalier. Little though I’m inclined to it, caution is the best counsel when it comes to things like this. It’s important to remember that no matter what you believe, there will almost surely come a point in the future at which you look stupid.

Thank you for reading

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theduke11
6/19
I just wish all the different statistical sites would come to agreement on methodologies for the key stats OR work towards minimizing differences. Its insane to say that we should be looking at stats more and less at gut feel and then have a guy like Jack Morris with WAR data so widely dispersed. If these stats were that good, the differences would be minimal.

Same applies to the defensive spectrum -- Jason Heyward is imply not a 4-5 WAR player. But defensive stats drive up his WAR to ridiculous levels.

Still don't think Morris is a hall of famer. He was very good but lines need to be drawn and I believe the voters got it right -- he's just slightly on the wrong side of that line.
Michael
6/19
Consider moving this article outside of the paywall.

That said, you're going to need a better explanation of DRA and PWARP before an article like this has impact. To say that two factors -- strength of competition and durability -- explains Morris' better than expected DRA isn't going to convince most people that DRA is a better gauge of pitching performance than the versions of WAR are.

I know you've tried to explain DRA and the new PWARP, but it's not working for me. I still look at the results and have no idea whether they are correct.
touchstoneQu
6/19
Yes. That. I'd say this result brings up two possibilities for DRA: either it's a more accurate measurement of pitching ability and can better account for outliers like Morris, or there's a fatal flaw in DRA.

Let's just go back to using pitcher wins.

depstein1983
6/19
Matt, fantastic work from a literary perspective.

I would like to see a JAWS type of metric applied to DRA for historical purposes, especially in a case like Morris, where his peak is not necessarily as impressive as his career numbers.
bachlaw
6/19
That would be neat, but probably better just to have Jay Jaffe give us his views. More inputs are always nice, and it's helpful to have a metric that directly integrates quality of opposition instead of forcing analysts to make ad hoc adjustments.
pjbenedict
6/19
Wow... great work, and I hope it moves some people.
adrock
6/19
Great piece. It would be ironic that, for the traditionalists who pushed Morris' case to begin to be able to win over the advanced-stats crowd, they would have to rely on...a new advanced stat!

Although it's not materially relevant to his Hall of Fame case, Jack Morris was a very good radio man for the Jays. Unsurprisingly, he was very knowledgeable about pitching, and he didn't ramble on too much about how they did it 'back in my day'.
proteinwisdom
6/19
Really, must vapid progressive politics infest everything, even a discussion of Jack Morris' HOF merit? Here's hoping your kids aren't cursing you for being so lacking in hubris that you'd support some kind of de-industrializing scheme that is sure to make everyone poorer and less comfortable, all because you of the surreal belief that our exhalation is a poison that controls the weather and will destroy the planet. For an antidote to such thinking, see Carlin, George: https://youtu.be/7W33HRc1A6c

As for Morris, my gut tells me -- from having watched him pitch for years -- that Morris would often trade hits (even if they were home runs) for outs when he had leads, meaning he'd throw the ball over the plate and bet he could get the necessary outs needed to win a game before the other team could come back and beat him. This, if I'm right, would explain his durability: he didn't treat every pitch as a pressure pitch, and he didn't concentrate on being fine with every wind up, particularly in later innings with a decent-sized lead. In short, he was less concerned with future generations poring over his stats than he was with helping the team finish off a win. At least, that's the way I remember it as an Orioles fan growing up.

I'm sure there's a stat that can measure this (if it hasn't already been measured). But at any rate, this lingering perception is why some of we statistical Luddites believed Morris as whole was better than the sum of his parts.

touchstoneQu
6/19
It's interesting that with your strong distaste for evidence-based reasoning you'd spend your coin on this site...
BrewersTT
6/22
The idea that Morris and others pitched to the score, as you describe, has been investigated and debunked long ago, by reviewing the progress of the actual games.
garciamckinley
6/19
This is a very good article. Having DRA as a tool to evaluate past careers is going to be a lot of fun.

That said, your final paragraphs sort of undermine your point for a couple of reasons. First, progress isn't linear. Things don't always get better by dint of time moving forward, so the comparison to social equity rings hollow. "Every generation looks monstrous to the generation immediately following it" might be the case because the current generation can't help but have the tunnel vision you say you don't have, but do—we all do to a certain extent because that's what living in the present is.

Not only that, but the one of the ostensibly "monstrous generations" to which you refer is also called "the greatest generation" by some. But that contradiction does fit neatly into the contradiction of the time, when a racially segregated society was tasked with fighting against a regime entirely built upon racism in Europe. Progress leads to the perceived "monstrous generation" but nostalgia leads to the "greatest generation," and those things conflict. Again, progress isn't linear, it even sometimes moves backwards. History is messy.

To return to DRA, making it the most recent notch in the line of linear progress to say something definitive about Jack Morris's career is precisely the exercise of tunnel vision. It's presentism—the uncritical assumption that where we are now is better than where we were before because we are here now. Sure, the endpoint is the same as using his win percentage, which is what someone might have done in 1991, but the process of getting there is by way of our shiny new toy.

So yes, we should be using DRA to re-evaluate past careers, but we shouldn't take it as the truth. What it says about Jack Morris might very well be wrong.
jsheehan
6/19
The American League played a balanced schedule throughout Morris's career. Teams actually played more games outside the division (84) than in (78). So Morris's presence in the AL East is irrelevant.

I hope that piece of information doesn't appear "monstrous".
therealn0d
6/19
All of his games and opponents are relevant. If you want to make a claim about the quality of oppostion (just league average) that is one thing, but to claim that is irrevelvant is just weird.
flyingdutchman
6/19
He didn't claim that Morris' opponents are irrelevant. He said that pitching in the Al East has nothing to do with the strength of his opposition, which is true, other than his not having to pitch against the Tigers.
therealn0d
6/19
All of my reply didn't make it somehow, but it really doesn't matter too much. Unless every division in baseball was uniformly strong, how could the division he pitched in be irrelevant? Saying the division he pitched in, the batters he faced, has nothing to do with the strength of his oppostion makes absolutely no sense. There must be some misunderstanding.
tbwhite
6/19
Basically, every team played the same schedule whether they were in the East or West, so every team had the same average strength of schedule, because all schedules were the same. This isn't 100% true, there was a small difference, but not enough to matter.
therealn0d
6/19
Obviously it was enough to matter, hence this piece. Every team may have faced all the same other teams, but did every pitcher face all the same hitters? That's what this is getting at. Whether or not that's enough to matter is something that can be debated, but not simply dimissed out of hand.
Carl Goetz
8/02
I guess its just really surprising that Morris faced that good of hitting (4% better than average) over a full career as a high innings pitcher. It would seem that the sample size should be large enough that its not just luck, but he played in a balanced schedule so, as jsheehan pointed out, his division is irrelevant. I assume the 4% figure is already correcting for the DH so that shouldn't be the issue. Was the AL a higher offense league in the 80s even after correcting for the DH?
jfranco77
6/19
Mike Mussina (61.1 PWARP, I assume that is DRA PWARP now, but 82.7 bWAR) seems to have the opposite problem and I have no idea why. Tough park and tough division throughout his career just like Morris.
bachlaw
6/19
Pay no attention to plain old PWARP, which is the previous FRA-based system. You want to look at the column on the right: DRA_PWARP.

DRA loves Mussina (DRA- of 77) no doubt in large part because his opponents were also very tough (104 OppRPA+).

magua11
6/20
I went through year-by-year for Dave Stieb...he was in the same division as Morris...played for the Jays who at the start of his career were a poor team...his total DRA-PWARP came to 64.38 by my math. ranking him ahead of Morris. I haven't heard the same amount of noise about Stieb not being in the HoF. North market team ignored, I guess.
tiger337
12/19
Stieb was also the first pitcher who came to my mind when I read this article. He played in the same division and I viewed him as a better pitcher than Morris at the time. Stieb's peak value is really impressive based on DRA: 7.3, 7.2, 6.6, 5.8, 5.5, 5.3, 5.0 He finished in the top five six times. Morris never finished in the top five.
bachlaw
6/19
I think this split of the Pitcher-Career table is most useful for looking at the data of interest in this article. Obviously, anyone can customize further as they see fit.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/sortable/index.php?cid=1847034
myshkin
6/19
Can you comment on the Carlton-Morris comparison? Essentially equal career DRA- marks, and Carlton pitched nearly 1400 more innings than Morris, yet Morris is a touch higher in DRA_PWARP.
magua11
6/20
Hi Jonathan, is there a way to customize the sortable index to sort things by career?

Great article by the way!

bachlaw
6/20
Thanks for reading.

Probably easiest to just go to the Pitcher Career - Value, table.
SabreTorres21
6/19
It's an interesting article which has given me a lot to think about. That being said, it's premature to say that DRA shows Morris to be a HOFer. More in-depth analysis needs to be done before I'm ready to concede that to be true.

A player's career numbers are only part of their HOF candidacy. His numbers during his prime are just as important as his overall career numbers, but Morris' DRA- and DRA_PWARP from his prime are missing in this piece. I went back and checked these numbers, as well as his cFIP, for each of his seasons. I'm not going to print all that information in the comment section, suffice it to say that I still wouldn't classify Morris as ever having been elite. Very good, but not elite. That strikes a blow to his Hall case. As a previous commenter mentioned, a DRA_PWARP version of JAWS would really help put things in perspective.

The pitchers to whom Morris is being compared aren't exactly slam-dunk, no doubt HOFers, either. Again, I'm not going to break down all their cases in a comment section, but all their JAWS numbers come in below average. They're more borderline HOFers than people like to believe. I'm not sure that it's fair to compare Morris to these pitchers without including the cFIP and DRA related numbers of their primes as well. I tried to do it myself just now, but I either suck at using BP's stat pages or there's no easy way to do it.

I'm willing to admit that Morris is better than I had previously thought. However, we need to see how how Morris' cFIP and DRA related numbers during his prime compare to other pitchers throughout history before we start jumping to conclusions about his HOF case.

As Jonathan Judge said, it would be interesting to have Jay Jaffe weigh in on this.
weskelton
6/19
I followed Jonathan Judge's suggestion and played with the sortables. When I listed the pitchers by DRA- with a minimum of 11,000 PA's (just low enough to get Pedro on the list), the 91 looks much less impressive. It ranks 36th for the Retrosheet era). Others with DRA- between 90 and 92 include such luminaries as Javier Vasquez, Burt Hooten, AJ Burnett, Milt Pappas and Camilo Pasqual. When you look at it that way, you realize that Morris' DRA_PWARP IS the result of him being a durable compiler.
Behemoth
6/22
If we have a variety of metrics for measuring pitching competence, and we accept that DRA is somewhat better than the others, but, in this case, comes to a radically different view from the various other metrics, are we better to assume that DRA is 100% correct, or that the truth actually lies somewhere in between DRA and FIP/ERA/FRA etc?