In December, the Modern Era Committee did what the Baseball Writers Association of America came close to, but didn’t do, for 15 years: elect Jack Morris to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Morris’ induction represents the final word on one of the most controversial Hall of Fame cases. It was a battle of old school vs. new school. Traditional vs. analytics.
Morris had old-school cred — 254 career victories, a reputation as a fierce competitor and a legendary 10-inning shutout performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series for the Twins.
He didn’t match up when it came to trendier analytics — namely his substandard WAR numbers (wins above replacement), especially when stacked against starting pitchers already in the Hall and those who have missed induction.
Not to mention Morris has the highest ERA of any starter in the Hall.
“Morris has a lot of things that appeal to the old schoolers on the committee, things that I think are starting to fall out of vogue when analyzed in a more modern fashion,” said former Sports Illustrated writer Jay Jaffe, author of the “Cooperstown Casebook,” which analyzes the arguments for players who should and should not be in the Hall of Fame.
But now, Morris’ case is closed — he is a Hall of Famer. Fourteen of the 16 members of the Modern Era Committee said so. It begs the question, what does this mean for future Hall of Fame criteria, and is there any justice for some of Morris’ peers who had similar résumés but didn’t get the nod?
Jaffe, who writes for Fangraphs, devised a formula called JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score System) which has gained popularity when evaluating potential Hall of Famers. JAWS averages a player’s top seven years in terms of WAR with their overall WAR number for their career. It attempts to balance just how good a player was at his peak combined with his ability to produce at a high level for a number of years.
Morris’ JAWS score is 38.3, 163rd all time, according to Baseball Reference. Only one pitcher born after 1910, Catfish Hunter, is in the Hall of Fame with a lower JAWS score. Some of Morris’ contemporaries may have a case that they deserve further consideration — such as David Cone (52.9 JAWS, 62nd), Bret Saberhagen (51.1, 69th), Orel Hershiser (48.2, 82nd) and Dave Stieb (50.7, 71st). They are players the Hall has passed over.
“As to what this means for the rest of the electorate, who knows?” Jaffe said. “I wish it would mean at the very least, a re-evaluation of a whole handful of pitchers from the 1980s and ’90s who were demonstrably better than him and got quickly dismissed from the Hall of Fame ballots.”
Jaffe said Morris benefited from his reputation, from the mystique surrounding his Game 7 bravura performance and his high win total, which Jaffe said was helped by above-average run support throughout Morris’ career. But Jaffe doesn’t expect the Hall’s standards to change now that Morris is in, considering Morris was elected by a committee and not the writers. Veterans committees tend to make the most controversial Hall selections, Jaffe said.
“They’re not using analytics,” Jaffe said. “Maybe they have passing familiarity with WAR, but I’d be surprised if any of them are using it with any regularity. That’s not what they’re geared for. They’re talking about their own perceptions of the guy and they’re probably making cases based on wins.”
The criteria for starting pitchers is going to have to change in future years anyway because of pitchers’ usage — shorter outings, pitch counts. They aren’t around to get as many decisions and compile as many wins.
“As the 250-win pitcher and even the 200-win pitcher become very scarce, I think the voters are going to have to rethink what their standards are whether they’re talking about old-school metrics or new-school metrics,” Jaffe said. “Otherwise you’re not going to have any [starting pitchers] from this era who are going to be Hall of Famers.”
But that’s for another day and time. All that matters to Morris is that he’s in, no matter how he got there.