Giving up the anti-Jack Morris crusade

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Brace yourselves: Jack Morris For The Hall of Fame/Jack Morris Is Not A Hall of Famer season is coming. It’ll be the last season for it, as this is Morris’ final season of eligibility, so I assume the rhetoric will be particularly pitched. And particularly stupid at times too.

Here’s stupid for you: Jack Morris himself was quoted over the weekend saying that his ERA may have been high for a Hall of Famer, but that’s just because no one ever told him he needed to have a low ERA. Really. He actually said that. He said if his general manager or his manager told him that they wanted him to have a lower earned run average then “I probably would have led the league.” Jack Morris is a professional baseball analyst these days and he actually said that. And some people with Hall of Fame votes actually believe him. Just let that sink in for a bit.

But I don’t offer that little link and that little shake of my damn head as a means of firing up the engines on the Keep Jack Morris Out Of The Hall of Fame Outrage Express again.  I think I’m done manning any part of the controls of that beast. I’ve written a ton of stuff over the years on the Jack Morris Hall of Fame debate, and I’m kinda tired of it, actually. And though my position hasn’t changed — I wouldn’t vote for Morris if I had a vote — I have come around on one point that those who support his candidacy sometimes make: spending inordinate amounts of energy to argue that so-and-so shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame to the point it becomes a proxy war in some larger crusade is a negative experience.

Not that all Hall of Fame crusades are like that. The pro-Bert Blyleven thing of a few years ago was useful because it helped a lot of folks realize how overlooked the guy was. It may have educated some folks a bit about certain modes of baseball analysis. And, in the end, it was aimed at doing a good thing: honoring someone.

The Morris stuff? Also enlightening at times, yes, but when your argument is anti-something rather than pro-something, you’re going to end up in a negative place if you get too carried away with it. You have to remember after all that in those cases a “win” is a guy being told “no, you weren’t good enough.” Which, yes, is obviously the result of any process that seeks to elevate some over others, but it can be a drag. Best to state your case and get on with life rather than slog back into it again and again.

I liked Jack Morris as a pitcher when I was a kid. I’ve said all I feel like I need to have said about his case in the past — and, in hindsight, I’ve probably said way too much about it — so at this point I’m content to link that old stuff rather than rehash it all again because I’m simply not in the place now, as I may have been a year or two ago, where I feel like hating on the guy to make a political point leads to any positive returns. I’m content to live with a Jack Morris legacy that is not so tied to the black-or-white views the Hall of Fame debate forces us to have. To say that Jack Morris was a really good pitcher without feeling compelled to spend ten times more effort to say why he wasn’t a Hall of Famer. In my mind he wasn’t. If your mind is different about it I can think you’re wrong. But I am not obligated to think too hard about it.

As for the larger Hall of Fame case for Jack Morris? Well, no one’s mind is going to change on Morris based on any cogent analytical argument on the one hand or any emotional appeal to Game 7 and Morris’ winning quality on the other hand at this late date. If votes shift around it’ll be either because of some attention-seeking political reaction by a voter or else because other candidates on the ballot — like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine — require people who may have once supported Morris to pull their support due to there being too many better choices. There is still technically one more Jack Morris battle to be fought in the form of this year’s balloting, but the shooting part of the war is essentially over.

If Jack Morris gets in I feel like it will be one of the poorer Hall of Fame choices in recent years, but the world won’t end. And at this point I don’t feel like arguing to prevent him from getting in is worth the added negativity.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.