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The 2011 Hall of Fame Ballot: Morris and Blyleven

I think the Hall of Fame ballot gets a lot more interesting as you get older, for you begin to look at players you've actually seen play. There's only a couple players on this year's ballot that I don't remember watching, and there are several players who I've watched for pretty much their entire careers. And some, like Roberto Alomar and Carlos Baerga, I was able to watch every day for several seasons. Edgar Martinez and Juan Gonzalez were career AL players, and Rafael Palmeiro played the last 17 seasons of his career in the AL. Now the memory of a player should not be the only criteria used in assessing his Hall of Fame candidacy, but it does provide a lot of context to the normal analysis.

Two of the more prominent players on this year's ballot, however, I don't have many memories of. Bert Blyleven was done after the 1992 season, and Jack Morris, though he pitched with the Indians in 1994, was a shell of himself by that time. Blyleven was on 74.2% of the ballots last year, just a few votes short of the 75% threshold necessary for induction, while Morris appeared on 52.3% of ballots in 2010, garnering the fourth-highest total. Normally, once a player gets above 50%, it's usually a matter of time before he makes the Hall.

Blyleven should have made the Hall many years ago; he ended his career with a 118 ERA+ with 4970.0 innings pitched (14th all-time), and ranks 5th all-time in strikeouts and 9th in shutouts. He had several seasons with more than a 140 ERA+ (1973, 1974, 1976, 1984, and 1989), though he won 20 games just once in his 22-year career. And that, I think, is why Blyleven hasn't made the Hall of Fame yet; he didn't win quite enough games (287), and lost too many (250) to convince voters who still look at a win-loss record first while evaluating a pitcher. Bert did pitch for two World Series champions (1979 Pirates and 1987 Twins), but for most of his career pitched with bad teams. He also moved around quite a bit during his career; he was traded five times, and though he did spend parts of 10 seasons with the Twins, that was only half of his career. Because he had his best seasons on bad teams, he was often penalized by voters in Cy Young voting and made two All-Star teams for similar reasons. My guess is that during much of his career he wasn't thought of as a great pitcher, and even with plenty of evidence to the contrary, that reputation has been hard to let go of.

Jack Morris, on the other hand, is picking up steam on the ballot thanks to his reputation. His career stats (3824.0 IP, 105 ERA+) aren't all that impressive compared to starting pitchers in the Hall, or even some of his peers not in the Hall of Fame. Compare his career stats to Dennis Martinez, for instance, and you won't see much of a difference. But El Presidente didn't get 5% on his first ballot, while Morris is probably a couple of ballots from induction. The standard arguments for Morris include leading baseball in wins (and other during the 1980s as well as his pennant drive and postseason clutch pitching, especially Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. The 1980s argument isn't that compelling to me, as that's stacking the deck with time periods. Many of the great pitchers of that era were either winding up their careers (Jim Palmer, Don Sutton, Steve Carlton) or were just getting started (Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson). And besides, these are wins we're talking about, not an individual statistic. Morris was fortunate to pitch on some excellent teams, and because he threw a lot of innings, he got a lot of decisions, and most of them were wins. His best single season ERA+ during the decade was 127, though he got a ton of Cy Young votes because of the wins.

The second argument essentially rests on the 1984 and 1991 postseasons. His 1984 lines are very impressive (25.0 IP, 5 ER, 17 SO, 4 BB), and he threw 10 shutout innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. But to me postseason success should only serve as something to push a player over the top if he's a borderline candidate. Morris had neither the peak nor the career length to put him anywhere close to bringing those postseason successes into play. His career ERA+ of 105 should have been enough by itself to remove from consideration. But I guess reputation dies hard, as evidenced by Jim Rice's induction.

Tomorrow: The "Steroid Era" players.