January 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

Kurt Mensching

Why Jack Morris does not belong in the Hall of Fame

Jack Morris was known during his career to 'pitch to the score.' (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Statistically speaking, if elected, Jack Morris might be the fourth-worst pitcher in the Hall of Fame. Or he might be the worst, depending just which statistic you prefer.

“But did you see him pitch?” comes the popular retort.

When you think of pitchers of his era, Morris’ name inevitably comes to mind — and for good reason.

Morris, who spent 14 years of his career with the Tigers, was the winningest pitcher in the 1980s and the ace on three teams that won the World Series. He’s most famously known for a 10-inning shutout victory in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with the Twins.

Even having a discussion about Morris’ Hall of Fame merits likely sounds ridiculous to some. Of course he’s a Hall of Fame player.

Did you see him pitch?

What they saw

Many did, and for the longest time they didn’t see him worthy of Cooperstown. Morris did not make a quarter of Hall of Fame ballots until his fifth year of eligibility. He didn’t crack the midway point until his 11th year. Wednesday he’ll find out if he finally earned the 75 percent needed for enshrinement in this, his final year of eligibility before the issue goes to the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee.

But did you see him pitch?

Many did, and during his career they didn’t rush to the ballot box to honor him, either. He finished no higher than third in Cy Young voting, garnering no better than 27 percent support — and that was in the seventh year of a career that spanned 18.

Morris appeared in the All-Star Game five times. He started in it three times. He led the league in strikeouts once; he finished no higher than fifth in earned-run average in his career. He finished no higher than fourth in walks plus hits per inning pitched.

He made quality starts in just 56 percent of his career appearances. The quality start isn’t exactly the stat it claims to be. You stay on the mound at least six innings. You give up three runs or fewer. That’s an ERA of 4.50. We’re not handing any awards to pitchers with an ERA of 4.50. A potential Hall of Famer?

But he knew how to win. He just pitched to the score.

Is that really what you want out of your pitcher, let alone a pitcher touted as Hall of Fame-worthy? He pitched to the score? Do you think Justin Verlander pitches to the score? Does Max Scherzer pitch to the score? How about Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, or any other number of today’s stars? Pitch to the score? No. They dominate. They own the stadium and want everyone to know it.

Here’s what pitching to the score means: Making it more difficult to win the game while putting pressure on one’s teammates to score runs because you keep giving them up. Morris pitched to the score. This is said like it’s a good thing.

But he pitched to the score?

Morris had the fortune of playing for one of the winningest teams of the 1980s — the Tigers. When they were at their best, he was at his. Don’t turn it around. Morris started one out of every five games; the team won and lost just the same even on the four others.

Morris then pitched for Twins and Blue Jays teams that won more than 90 games while scoring among the most runs in the American League every year: The Twins had the fourth-most, the Jays the second-most both years.

He knew how to pick a winner, anyway.

A deeper look

Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system was created to compare a pitcher’s career to those in the Hall of Fame, looking not just at how good a player was for his entire career but also how good he was at his peak.

Morris ranks 159th. That puts him far behind fellow pitchers on the ballot: Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine and former Tiger Kenny Rogers.

But it does put Morris ahead of three already in the Hall.

Morris finished his career with a 3.90 ERA, which would be highest among Hall of Fame pitchers, and allowed 4.09 runs per nine innings.

By ERA+, which compares a pitcher to those of his own era, Morris was just five percent better than an average pitcher, and actually worse than average in seven seasons.

Morris told former New York Times baseball writer Murray Chass his ERA was only high because no one told him it should be lower.

He could have done better, but no one told him to? He pitched to the score? That’s what we want out of a potential Hall of Famer?

Did you see him pitch? He hasn’t done so since 1994.

It’s funny how memories can play tricks on us after all those years.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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