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.