Tonight in Jack Morris hyperbole

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Over the years, staunchly traditionalist baseball writers have had to stretch further and further to make their Hall of Fame case for Jack Morris. At first, all they felt was necessary was pointing to his career 254 wins, which would tie him 13th all-time (out of 56) with Red Faber for the most wins by a Hall of Fame starter. But when that point got swatted away, they turned to the fact that Jack Morris had the most wins in the 1980’s with 162, beating out Dave Stieb’s 140. But that got swatted away just as easily, simply for its arbitrary starting and ending points.

Then the hyperbole strain started chugging. The terms “workhorse” and “ace” became adjectives for Morris. His ten-inning shutout of the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with the Twins became much louder than his seven-run bombing in 4.2 innings during Game 5 of the 1992 World Series against the same Braves, this time with the Blue Jays. From there, it’s gone out of control.

Bill Madden has the latest pie-in-the-sky superlative in the New York Daily News:

His detractors have pointed out he didn’t win any hardware and his 3.90 ERA would be the highest of any starter in the HOF. But this was a guy you had to see to appreciate. For years, Morris’ Detroit Tigers were in the AL East with the Yankees and, counting his many postseasons, I got to see him 30-40 times and never once was he not the best pitcher on the mound that day.

Never once? Over his 18-year career, Morris never finished higher than third in AL Cy Young voting. That means that, unless Madden happened to attend some odd match-ups — like Morris against Len Barker in 1983 — then it’s pretty likely Morris was the inferior pitcher in at least half of those games.

An average game score for a pitcher is 50. Morris started 527 games in his career. He posted a game score of 49 or worse in 199 of those starts. That’s 38 percent below-average starts, or about two out of every five. An additional 106 (20%) fell in the 50-59 range, average to slightly above-average. With total random selection, you were seeing a mediocre or worse Morris in three out of every five starts on average.

To put that in perspective, Barry Zito has made 419 starts over his career. He posted a game score of 49 or worse in 179 of those starts (43%). An additional 73 starts (17%) fall in the 50-59 game score range. In other words, the distribution of starts by Morris and Zito are nearly identical. Morris retired with an adjusted ERA of 105, right where Zito is at right now. But no one views Zito as a future Hall of Famer.

So not only is “never once was [Morris] not the best pitcher on the mound that day” very inaccurate, the inverse is likely true, that Morris was, more often than not, the inferior pitcher on the mound on any particular day.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.