Hall of Fame 2010: Jack Morris


jack morris.jpgNow that the “most feared hitter” of the late-70s is in the Hall of Fame, the anti-stats crowd has found a new champion, moving right from Jim Rice to Jack Morris.

Morris first appeared on the ballot in 2000 and received 22.2 percent of the vote. After a slight dip in 2001, he’s climbed steadily since, peaking at 44.0 percent last year. The only holdovers to receive a higher percentage of the vote were Andre Dawson (67.0), Bert Blyleven (62.7) and Lee Smith (44.5).

The case for Morris rests largely on two facts: he was the game’s leading winner in the 1980s, picking up 162 victories, and he pitched one of the greatest games of all-time, throwing a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series to propel the Twins past the Braves.

And that’s mostly it. Morris did win 254 games in all, good for 42nd place all-time. He won 20 games three times and led the AL in victories twice, though the first time was in the strike-shortened 1981 season. He led the AL in innings once, in strikeouts once, in complete games once and in shutouts once. Also, he was a fine postseason pitcher apart from the game against the Braves, going 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in 13 starts overall.

The case against him is obvious. He ended his career with a 3.90 ERA, which would be the highest ever for a Hall of Fame pitcher. His never finished higher than fifth in the AL in ERA. Some will argue that he pitched to the score and had higher ERAs as a result, but there’s no evidence that the phenomenon ever existed.
His results in the Cy Young voting is also a strong point against him. Some have argued that the fact that he received votes in seven different seasons actually adds to his case, but that hardly computes.

Morris spent 18 seasons pitching in a 14-team American League. During that time, there were 504 Cy Young ballots cast. 504 chances for someone to consider Morris the best pitcher in the league in any given year. Morris claimed exactly five of those votes: two in 1983 and three in 1991.

Over the course of his career, Morris received 0.73 Cy Young shares. Cy Young shares are the cumulative total of one’s percentage shares, so a unanimous Cy Young award winner would get 1.00 points, while the second-place finisher in any given year could get around 0.50 points. By that method, Morris ranks 69th during the Cy Young era (1956-present). No one among the post-1970 pitchers around him on that list will ever be thought of as Hall of Famers: John Denny, Mike Cuellar, LaMarr Hoyt, Pat Hentgen, Barry Zito, Bob Welch, Steve Stone, Dontrelle Willis, Mike Hampton, Pete Vukovich and Ramon Martinez.

The way I see it, if Morris had been born five years earlier or five years later, he would have fallen off the ballot by now. As is, he came into the league during a period which failed to produce any long-term stud starters, and that his production fit so neatly into a decade made for some fun stats. But in the end, he’s not one of the 50 or so greatest pitchers in history and adding him to the Hall of Fame would lower the bar, just as did the vote for Rice did a year ago.

This is Morris’ 11th of 15 years on the ballot, so realistically, he needs to take a big step forward right now if he’s going to have a chance of being elected by the writers. Besides the sure-to-be overlooked Kevin Brown, there are no worthy pitchers set to debut on the ballot until 2013, giving Morris a window to sneak in. If he jumps from 44 percent to 60 or so this year, then it’d be no surprise to see him standing at the podium come 2012.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.