So, there’s been a lot written about Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame candidacy. Whether or not you think Jack Morris is deserving of the Hall of Fame, what I aim to do in this post is to point out that Mike Mussina was clearly a better pitcher.

Why? Because hopefully, someday, a writer with a vote who voted for Jack Morris but not Mike Mussina (and there were many of them) reads this post and realizes, frankly, how their position is simply wrong.

I do not care much for the old “traditional” stats of wins and losses, all-star game appearances, and all that stuff, but I recognize that some voters do. So in an effort to appeal to both sides of the coin, this post will contain a “traditionalists” part and a modern-voter portion. Proceed to whichever part appeals to you. Trust us, the conclusions will be the same.

For Traditionalists

Regular Season

Morris: 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 3,824 IP, 175 CG, 28 SHO, 1390 BB 2478 K
Mussina: 270-153, 3.68 ERA, 3,563 IP, 57 CG, 23 SHO, 785 BB, 2813 K

Analysis: Seriously, what more do you want? Mike Mussina bests Jack Morris in almost every significant career category. He had more wins, fewer losses, a lower ERA, more strikeouts and fewer walks.

He threw fewer innings, complete games, and shutouts, but much of that was a product of the era Mussina pitched in. Closers were common, complete games were not. Consider the shutout totals. What does it tell you that, despite 118 more complete, Morris threw just five more shutouts? In order to toss a complete game in Mike Mussina’s era, pitchers pretty much had to be working on a shutout

The strikeout totals aren’t close, especially considering Morris threw 250 more innings, and the walk totals aren’t even in the same area code. While strikeouts were much higher in Mussina’s era, so were run totals, which makes his 3.68 ERA look a lot better than Morris’ 3.90.

Postseason

Morris: 7-4, 3.80, 13 GS, 5 CG, 1 SHO, 92 IP, 32 BB, 64 K
Mussina: 7-8, 3.42 ERA, 21 GS, 0 CG, 0 SHO 139 IP, 33 BB, 149 K

Look, we can sit here going on and on about the legendary Jack Morris postseasons, how Mussina was screwed over by his team in 1997 and 2003, but here’s my point. For these pitchers, the postseason represents such a small portion of their career, it’s almost not worth it. Seriously, Jack Morris started THIRTEEN playoff games–that’s a little more than a third of a season for a starting pitcher. If we’re being kind, he pitched well in maybe 10 of them. Exactly what are we gleaning from a player’s career in so few starts?

Cy Youngs

Neither pitcher ever won a Cy, though we’ve written about Mussina’s 2001 robbery before. Morris finished in the Top 10 seven times, and the Top 5 five times. Mussina was in the Top 10 nine times, and the Top 5 seven. Yet another edge for the Moose.

League-Leader Appearances

Morris: Eight (Wins x2, Starts x2, CG, Sho, IP, K)
Mussina: Six (Wins, Winning %, Starts X2, Sho, IP)

Slight edge to Black Jack, but not significant

Number of 10-inning shutouts pitched in Game 7 of the World Series

Morris: 1
Mussina: 0

nussinamorrisSince I know this is roughly half of the argument for putting Morris in the Hall, and I don’t want to be considered biased, there you go. Frankly, for some voters and fans, this, along with being the “Ace” of three specific staffs, and the guy who won the most games from 1980-1989 is enough to get him in. If that’s you, well, I don’t think there’s much I can do. All three of those facts are heavily context-dependent, but if you believe they’re what does the trick, vote away.

Ryan’s Note: In Mussina’s defense, he had some magnificent postseason moments of his own. You can watch them here (1997 ALCS record strikeout performance) and here (2003 ALCS, Game 7).

As I said, I think many of these numbers and stats are meaningless. At the end of the day though, if you’re old school and you care about winning and losing above all else, here’s what will sum it up:

Jack Morris won 68 more games than he lost, allowing more runs in the process

Mike Mussina won 117 more games than he lost, allowing fewer runs in the process

For the statistically-inclined

Alright, enough with win totals and really small sample sizes of the World Series. If you’re a new-school stats person, here’s all you should really need:

Wins Above Replacement for Pitchers (FanGraphs version)

Mussina: 82.7
Morris: 52.5

Look, WAR is not a perfect stat. It, like all other stats, has flaws. But seriously, these numbers are not even close. I mean, seriously. that’s a massive difference. If you put any stock at all into WAR, there is absolutely zero question that Mike Mussina is a much, much, much better pitcher than Jack Morris. Let’s dig a little deeper into this with the following facts about the WAR of these two pitchers

Top season
Mussina 6.9
Morris 5.8

Number of 5 WAR seasons
Mussina: 10
Morris: 1

(If you’re a Morris supporter and you want to point out that there’s another version of WAR, trust me, don’t. Baseball-Reference is even less kind.)

Here’s a fun game to play with Mussina and Morris’ WAR totals. Go to fangraphs Take their best season ever by WAR, and compare them. Then take their second-best, and third-best, and all the way down to 18th-best. Guess how many times, out of 18, Mussina’s WAR total is higher?

18.

Ryan’s Note: Let’s do this. It makes for a nice graphic to break up all this text. I used baseball-reference because their WAR is sortable.

Mussina Morris
1992 8.2 5.8 1979
2001 7.1 5.1 1986
2003 6.6 5.1 1987
1995 6.1 4.9 1985
2000 5.6 4.3 1991
1997 5.5 4 1983
1994 5.4 3.4 1981
2008 5.2 3 1980
2006 5 2.9 1992
1998 5 2.5 1984
2002 4.5 1.3 1982
1999 4.4 1.3 1988
1996 3.6 0.9 1977
2005 3.4 0.7 1990
2004 2.4 0.2 1994
1991 2.2 0.2 1978
1993 1.5 -0.1 1989
2007 1 -1.5 1993

Ryan’s Note: Mike Mussina had four seasons better than Morris’ best season. Jack Morris had six seasons which were worse than Mussina’s worst season. Go back and read those two sentences again and tell me if there’s any argument using objective statistics in which Jack Morris > Mike Mussina.

Now, there’s a lot of other fancy stats I could discuss like:

ERA+: (Mussina 123, Morris 108)
WAA: (Mussina 45.8, Morris 9.6)
FIP: (Mussina 3.54, Morris 3.94)

But let’s be honest: If you care about advanced stats, the WAR total should be enough to convince you, because they’re not close, and they’re not close in any way you could twist the stat.

So what was the point of all this? Well, you may be of the opinion that Jack Morris is HOF-worthy. But if you are, then you should be voting for Mike Mussina as well.

Written by 

7 thoughts on “A Lengthy Jack Morris Post

  1. This is gay.

    SERIOUSLY, Jack Morris was one of the best pitchers of his time. Ask any manager who they wanted to start an important game and they’d pick Morris. Mussina was never even regarded as one of the best 5 or 10 pitchers of his time. Morris was the man in Detroit and Minnesota. He was the Tigers of the 80s and he willed the Twins to the World Series.

    The only stat that matters is this

    WORLD SERIES TITLES:
    MORRIS : 4
    MUSSINA: 0, zero, zip, nada, none.

  2. James-

    First and foremost, you’re lucky I’m letting that post stand given your first line. Consider it a warning. If you want to continue to comment on our content, you’ll cut that out right now and grow up. To anyone else reading this: Ryan and I do not tolerate that

    To your post:

    Players do not win World Series titles. Teams win World Series titles. Ricky Ledee “won” two World Series titles. Ted Williams did not “win” any. This tells us absolutely nothing about their respective careers. Furthermore, Jack Morris did not pitch in the 1993 postseason, and was horrible in the 1992 World Series.

    Mike Mussina is not responsible for other Yankee pitchers losing all four of their starts in the 2003 World Series.

    Jack Morris was a very good pitcher for a very long time. And he was one of the best players in Detroit (Though Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker were better players) but that alone is not a component of being in the Hall of Fame

  3. Jack and Mike are no longer directly in competition to get in, as Jack has aged off the BBWAA ballot. Now the only way he gets in is via the Veterans Committee. As pointed out in the original post, they pitched in partially overlapping adjacent baseball eras. Despite their relative proximity of careers, differences in eras affect the overall stats that are used to compare the players, making the comparison more difficult.

    One thing you mentioned, Jack Morris had legendary post seasons, and this is the Hall of Fame, as opposed to the Hall of Very Good for a Long Time. Jack accomplished things that no one in baseball has done since, which merit being in the Hall of Fame. You compared him to Ricky Ledee winning two World Series rings, but to me, a better comparison would be Bob Gibson or more recently Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 World Series. (do the Cardinals win without Gibson? do the Giants win without Bumgarner?) Jack was the World Series MVP the year the Twins won, going 4-0 that post season and 3-0 in the post season for the Tigers in ’84. Certainly Jack had a huge influence in the Twins winning the World Series in 91, and although the Tigers were loaded in ’84, Jack was enormous for that team as well. In the new era, with more playoff games, the divisional round and so forth, Mike had 8 more starts but fewer memorable moments.

    Yes, this is a smaller sample size. But these games in October are not the same as the games in April. These are the games that win World Championships and have a national audience against the best of the best. On the biggest stage, at the biggest moment, Jack was the best several times, not once. He was not a one hit wonder. Hard to believe that the no Tiger, other than Sparky off the ’84 Tigers was elected by the writers into the Hall of Fame. I think Jack is the most deserving pitcher that is not in, but good luck to Mike this year on the writer’s ballot.

    1. You have some valid points on Morris, although honestly, you’ve essentially reduced his career to two postseasons. I notice you don’t mention that in 1992, he went 0-3 with a 7.43 ERA for the Blue Jays in the playoffs.

      While I’d agree that October innings carry special weight, I don’t know that the 61 amazing innings Morris threw in 1984 and 1991 outweigh the 3,841 other innings he threw during the course of his career. You mentioned Bob Gibson. He was an excellent postseason pitcher, but he also won a pair of Cy Young awards and an MVP, while also producing arguably one of the most dominant pitching seasons of the 20th century. Morris never came particularly close to winning a Cy Young.

      Morris’ entire candidacy, relative to Mussina at least, is based on those 61 postseason innings in 1984 and 1991. That’s a tough case to make.

      I am glad you enjoyed the article, and that you took the time to write a thoughtful, reasonable comment. We always welcome debate.

      Patrick

      1. So Patrick .. One thing about Jack’s ’92 season (his playoffs that year were not good) is that like the other two seasons mentioned … I am not sure Toronto would have been the World Series Champs without Jack. He led the league in wins that year, 21-6 at age 37 with a 4.04 ERA with over 240 innings pitched for the 3rd straight year. I don’t think you can take those innings away from Toronto and still see them as the division winner. He didn’t do well that post season .. but he played a huge role on that team just getting to the playoffs to win the World Championship … he earned that ring as well. No offense to Steve Kerr, Robert Horry, or Ricky Ledee but Jack was a huge reason for 3 world championships, and that has to count for something.

        To me, Jack is hard to compare. If you look at the similarity scores on baseball reference, his most comparable career guy is Dennis Martinez at 903. Mike’s most comparable is Andy Petitte at 912. Jack’s second most comparable guy is also Andy Petitte at 885. Jack’s 3 and 4 are Bob Gibson and Luis Tiant, Mike’s 2,3,4 are Bartolo Colon, CC Sabathia, and Juan Marichal.. Jack’s career was just slightly less comparable to anyone than Mike’s .. but not by much. Both top 10 most similar lists for both players have Hall of Famers, Mike (3) and Jack (4). Mike’s 3 most comparable hall of famers were Marichal, Palmer, and Carl Hubbell. Jack’s are Bob Gibson, Red Ruffing, Amos Russie and Burleigh Grimes. What I read from that, is that even for his time, Jack was a throwback pitcher. You can say that because of his era, before the advent of the modern bullpen, Jack through a lot more innings than Mike (roughly pitching a full season more than Mike over the same number of seasons) but Jack was also pitching a lot of innings, compared to guys of his own era. Jack fairly routinely pitched innings totals that Mike only reached early in his career. Some of this can be explained by the era, but i don’t think all of it. Jack was a workhorse and I give him the edge there. He wasn’t always a magician on the mound, but he always answered the call. He always showed up for work.

        Limiting myself to two (long) paragraphs. 🙂

        1. Mr. Whippet,

          I completely agree that Morris played a role in those championships. But there’s still a fundamental flaw in arguing for championships: You can’t win them alone. The 1997 ALCS is a perfect example. It was a 6 game series, and Mike Mussina did not appear in four of them. In the two he appeared in, the Orioles failed to score a run when he was the pitcher of record. What more is he supposed to do in this scenario? He can’t allow negative runs. It’s the American League, so he can’t hit. All he can do is prevent the other team from scoring when he’s on the mound.

          As far as Morris/Mussina’s innings totals, Mussina averaged 6.64 innings per start in his career, and Morris 7.1. This is essentially the equivalent of one extra out a start. I’m not sure if that outweighs the fact that when they were on the mound, Mussina was the one giving fewer runs.

          Never feel like you need to limit yourself on our site! We welcome all manner of civil debate!

          Patrick

  4. For more on Mike’s candidacy and Jack Morris’, “Smart Baseball” by Keith Law. pages 225 – 228 are about Mussina suitability for the HOF. Law has a good chart where he compares Mussina’s runs allowed per 9 innings compared to the American League’s runs allowed average for Mike’s career. He says that voters have a hard time reconciling Mike’s high ERA with HOF, because they don’t compare it to the high octane offensive era in which he pitched. He says that Mike looks more and more qualified as a candidate when you look at his advanced (modern stats) versus conventional stats.

    While this was an enjoyable book, one thing where I would disagree with Law has to do with his opinion of the pitching Win as a stat. In defense of Mussina, Law says that using wins to evaluate his career is “stupid because pitcher wins are useless.” Maybe he has not watched the Tigers this year as much as I have, but starting a game and pitching 5 or more innings and turning a lead over to the bullpen, I don’t think that is a useless stat. Maybe an imperfect stat because a reliever can easily get a W where it is hard for a starter to get a W. But that doesn’t make it a useless stat, especially to evaluate starters. In the current environment, I think people have gone overboard to devalue wins. Starting Pitching wins may be HARDER to get now, and as a result, W totals are still impressive to me. (Of course, Law dismisses Jack Morris’s win totals because “he was on good teams”. Which to me is kind of a joke, because Jack helped make those teams what they were.)

Leave a Reply