Hall of Fame 2010: Jack Morris

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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.

2017 Preview: Minnesota Twins

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Minnesota Twins.

Which iteration of the Twins will we get in 2017? The second-place contenders of 2015, blazing their way through the standings with 83 wins and a handful of hot prospects? The burnouts of 2016, flopping to the bottom of the division with 103 losses and a lineup held in place by Brian Dozier and, well, Brian Dozier? Or something in between?

Finishing dead last has its perks, namely a first-round draft pick and the feeling that things can’t be quite as bad as they were the year before. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only major preparation they made for the 2017 season came in the form of a front office shakeup. Derek Falvey assumed control of the club in October, bringing GM Thad Levine into the fold in November as the club assumed a more analytics-friendly approach toward the rebuilding movement.

When it came to roster revisions, however, there wasn’t much moving or shaking this winter. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, catcher Kurt Suzuki and left-handers Tommy Milone and Pat Dean vacated their spots on the roster. Falvey avoided some of the bigger bats and bullpen arms in free agency and opted to sign backstop Jason Castro and journeyman reliever Ryan Vogelsong instead.

By and large, the core of the Twins’ roster remained the same. Center fielder Byron Buxton, infielder/outfielder Michael Sano and right-hander Jose Berrios still form the nucleus of the club’s top prospects. Middle infielder Brian Dozier will also return in 2017, though he appears to be on borrowed time with the Twins after putting up monster numbers in the second half of 2016. Ervin Santana will head the rotation again, accompanied by fellow veterans Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, while right-handed relievers Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle and rehabbing lefty Glen Perkins attempt to prevent another bullpen collapse in 2017.

Without any major additions to the team (and, excepting the departure of Trevor Plouffe, any major subtractions), the Twins will look to their existing cadre of players for significant improvements in 2017. Miguel Sano is expected to take over third base in Plouffe’s absence, which will bring a welcome end to his short-lived and wholly unsuccessful experiment in right field. Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco and Joe Mauer should round out the infield, with Byung Ho Park and Kennys Vargas currently vying for a spot as the team’s designated hitter.

The lineup is still four or five or six sluggers shy of formidable, but if Dozier can be counted on to repeat his 42-homer, 5.9 fWAR performance from 2016, there will be at least one Twin worth intentionally walking in 2017. Neither Miguel Sano nor Byron Buxton have quite found their footing against big league pitching yet, and another year spent struggling in the majors could mean another year of sub-optimal run production for the team as well. Jason Castro, who grades as an above-average defender behind the plate, is unlikely to provide any additional pop for the Twins at the plate after slashing just .210/.307/.377 through 376 PA with the Astros in 2016.

The pitching department also leaves a little to be desired in light of the league-worst 5.09 ERA they amassed last season. A veteran-heavy rotation could get a boost from the addition of fifth-starter candidate Jose Berrios, who is thought to be the favorite after fellow rotation candidate Trevor May underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Right-hander Tyler Duffey and 23-year-old southpaw Adalberto Mejia are also waiting in the wings. Both have made convincing cases for their inclusion on the pitching staff this spring, but Duffey is coming off of a 6.43 ERA in 2016 and Mejia lacks some of the polish that Berrios offers. Still, stockpiling young pitching depth isn’t a bad thing, and could give the Twins a cushion in the event of injury or collapse down the stretch.

The bullpen outperformed the rotation in 2016, which is saying… something, though maybe not a lot. They still finished the year with a cumulative 4.63 ERA, good for last place among their American League rivals, and delivered just 2.1 fWAR while taking on the fourth-most innings in the league. The standout performer was 28-year-old righty Ryan Pressly, who worked a 3.70 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9 in 75 1/3 innings last year. In light of Ryan Vogelsong’s recent departure from the club, the Twins will round out their bullpen with left-hander Craig Breslow, who turned in a 4.50 ERA with the Marlins in 2016 and is looking for a bounce-back season of his own after reworking his delivery at age 36.

For now, it looks like Falvey and the Twins’ front office are taking a wait-and-see approach to the coming season, which bodes well for their long-term vision (assuming most of their young prospects pan out) and not so well for their chances of moving up in the division in the next year or so. That could change by the trade deadline if they can secure a worthwhile return for Dozier, though given the rumors of their understandably high asking price, it could take more than a few months to get a deal in place.

Even assuming that all the chips fall in the Twins’ favor in 2017 — prospects start hitting consistently, the rotation solidifies, and Falvey loosens the purse strings enough to net more established contenders — it’s difficult to imagine anything more than a fourth-place finish for the club as they continue to rebuild and regroup. Barring any major improvements on the inconsistent, if occasionally productive, lineup of 2016, another last-place finish feels imminent.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL Central.

Video: Angels use eight pitchers in spring training no-hitter

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Who says no-hitters can’t be just as fun when they happen during spring training?

Angels’ right-hander Bud Norris delivered two perfect innings on Friday night, paving the way for an eight-pitcher no-hitter against the Mariners at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, Austin Adams, Drew Gagnon and Justin Anderson each filed a hitless inning of their own, leaving right-hander Abel De Los Santos to close out the ninth inning with just three pitches — and three game-saving plays by the defense.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Angels were facing a bevy of Mariners’ backups, rather than their starting lineup. In fact, Seattle’s lineup featured just two starting players — outfielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Jean Segura — while the majority of their everyday position players took on the Royals in a 4-3 win elsewhere in the Cactus League. The Mariners managed to reach base twice, first on catcher interference in the fourth inning, then on a four-pitch walk in the sixth, spoiling the Angels’ chances of turning their combined no-hitter into a combined perfect game.

Still, whether it’s executed in spring training or the regular season, against an All-Star lineup or one comprised of minor leaguers, a no-hitter is a no-hitter. The team’s eight-pitcher effort marked the first spring training no-no the Angels had completed since 1996, when they took on the Giants in a 15-0 showdown. Unfortunately for the 1996 squad, their regular season ended with a 70-91 record, good for last place in the AL West. Perhaps this no-hitter will prove a better omen for the coming season.