When sabermetrics was mean to Jack Morris

Marc Serota

Pat Caputo writes for a Detroit newspaper. I get it. He, like roughly two-thirds of his fellow voters, believes Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame. To support his case, Caputo trots out the same arguments you've heard a million times before. If you weren't convinced then, you probably won't be convinced now.

Alas, like too many others, Caputo's got a scapegoat if Morris doesn't make it: The Dread Pirate Sabermetrics. Just a small sample:

But Sabermetrics has its flaws. One of them, for evaluation purposes regarding the Hall, is not accounting enough for statistics era to era. A 3.00 ERA in 1968 didn’t mean nearly as much as a 3.00 ERA in 1995, for example.

A Hall of Fame pitcher Morris compares to a lot is Don Drysdale. The difference, the game overall was much less offensively porductive in the 1950s and, especially the 1960s, when Drysdale did his most impressive work. Hence, Drysdale had a much lower ERA.

Caputo's got an impressive knowledge of sabermetrics. One of the founding principles of sabermetrics is that you should account for statistics "era to era" and ballpark to ballpark, etc. So it took me about eight seconds to discover that Jack Morris's ERA, accounting for the eras and other things, was roughly five percent better than league-average, while Drysdale's was 21 percent better.

But wait. This gets even worse and sillier.

Maybe it’s a Detroit whine, but there does seem to be a slanted view with voters, which doesn’t give Morris and Alan Trammell, his shortstop with the Tigers, their due. It’s absurd Lou Whitaker didn’t stay on the ballot past his first season of eligibility. I don’t hear the battle cry from the Sabermetrics crowd for Trammell, who has not come close to election, even though he had a better career WAR than Barry Larkin, and isn’t much behind Derek Jeter and Ozzie Smith. Whitaker had a far better WAR than Craig Biggio, who will probably get in this year, and so did Trammell. In fact, Whitaker had the same career WAR, essentially, as Reggie Jackson, and much higher than Roberto Alomar.

Well, if Morris has had his star drop because of Sabermetrics, why hasn’t Trammell’s risen? As for Whitaker, he was jobbed - period.

Are you kidding me with this? Dear Mr. Caputo if you haven't heard a battle cry from the sabermetics crowd for both Trammell and Whitaker, it's because you haven't been paying any attention at all. The sabermetrics crowd were the only people outside of Detroit who said anything about Whitaker falling off the ballot. The sabermetrics crowd has been trumpeting Trammell's virtues forever. We've got a 25-year history with Trammell, going all the way back to 1987, when the Baseball Writers Association of America jobbed Trammell out of the Most Valuable Player Award he deserved and Bill James excoriated them for it.

This is professional opinionating (Sports Division) at its very worst. Find a bogeyman, then blame the poor misunderstood creature for all the world's ills. Caputo actually typed this sentence: "It’s ridiculous, too, that Morris’ feats in the postseason aren’t more acknowledged."

Morris's feats in the postseason have been acknowledged more than the postseason feats of any other player in baseball history, with the possible exceptions of Don Larsen and Bill Mazeroski. The ONLY thing separating Morris from other big winners like Jim Kaat and Tommy John are his postseason feats, plus his title as Winningest Pitcher in the 1980s. And the latter is mostly a sop. The truth is that we simply aren't having this conversation if Morris doesn't win Game 7 in 1991. Any more than we agonized over Kaat and John.

You know, it really doesn't bother me when someone votes for Morris. It really doesn't bother me when someone doesn't bother to learn a few basic things about modern baseball analysis. But it's rare to see this combination of willful ignorance and abject dismissiveness in one column. On some level, you just have to step back and admire the feat.

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