In Which a Baseball "Expert" Asserts Jack Morris Was Better Than Curt Schilling
I tend to think this medium is best left to its originators but I couldn't resist FJM'ing Dan Shaughnessy's latest "effort" for SI.com. It's so devoid of logic, so arrogant, so venomous towards those of us that like to think about the game, that I wanted to have a look at the column bit by bit and present it here at Baseball Analysts.
Fortunately, we expect the mood to pick up around here later today when the 2010 HOF class is announced. The latest BBTF vote tracker, through 118 ballots, has our guy Bert Blyleven trending above the 75% threshold. Let's cross our fingers.
Baseball's 2010 Hall of Fame class will be announced on Wednesday, and I'm betting that Edgar Martinez comes up short in his first year of eligibility for Cooperstown.
Edgar presents voters with a unique choice because he is the first candidate who compiled virtually all of his resume as a designated hitter.
This article is off to a great start. Edgar does present a tough choice. He didn't rack up a ton of plate appearances by Hall standards, and all of his value is derived from his hitting, so I am assuming we can anticipate an interesting discussion on just how good that hitter should be in order to be considered Hall-worthy as a DH.
In 18 seasons, all with the Seattle Mariners, Edgar batted .312 with an on-base percentage of .418 and a slugging percentage of .515. This makes him one of 20 players in hardball history with lifetime numbers over .300, .400 and .500, respectively. He has a higher on-base percentage than Stan Musial, Wade Boggs and Mel Ott. He is one of only eight players with 300 homers, 500 doubles and the aforementioned .300/.400/.500 line. He won a couple of batting titles and was an All-Star seven times.
Oh ok, I see where you’re going. Edgar is SO good as a hitter, that you probably have to put him in. .300/.400/.500 over a whole career is a pretty special accomplishment.
He stayed with the same team for his entire career, so there would be no controversy regarding which logo to put on his Hall cap.
Crisp writing. Way to stay on point. It's essential that we think about "Hall cap", particularly in the free agent era, as we decide which ballplayers merit consideration for the game’s most prestigious honor.
The Mariners have campaigned madly for Edgar and it pains me to withhold my vote, but I just can't bring myself to put him in Cooperstown alongside Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Nobody cares at all that it “pains” you, Dan. Nobody.
And you know what, nobody is asking you to put him alongside Williams, Ruth or Gehrig. They’re three of the absolute very best of all time. Put him alongside Kirby Puckett and Tony Perez.
If I squint here, I think Dan is saying he’s a “small hall” guy. That would be fine. It really would. A Hall of Fame that enshrines fewer players, as Sky demonstrated yesterday, would be great. But Dan, not only did you vote Jim Rice in, but you were like Chuck Norris to John McCain, touting Rice's candidacy at every opportunity for what seemed like a full decade. You can’t – CAN’T – be a “small hall” proponent and also advocate for baseball’s 258th best position player of all time. It’s a complete joke.
I have been a Hall voter for more than 25 years and it's the most important task assigned to the baseball writers of America. In recent years the Hall ballot has become heavier as voters are asked to make character judgments regarding players who may have padded their statistics with illegal and/or banned substances.
There's no problem with Edgar in this area. He was never tainted by the scourge of steroids, and he retired with an impeccable reputation, on and off the field.
Funny story: Tainted by the Scourge is actually the name of a Worcester garage band Dan followed around Central Massachusetts during his days at Holy Cross.
I just don't think he's a Hall of Famer, and that doesn't make him less than great. It doesn't take away his numbers. I like Dwight Evans, Dale Murphy, Alan Trammell and Andre Dawson, but I don't think they're Hall of Famers, either.
Oh, well ok. I happen to agree on all but Trammell (although I struggle badly with Dewey) but that's cool, sounds like you've been thoughtful about this. Interesting stuff. I’m eager to learn more about your thought process. These guys don't measure up to your standard and it's your ballot so hey, tell me about your standard.
Each Hall voter applies his own standards, and mine often references the famous line that Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart applied to pornography. Stewart argued that he might not be able to define what was pornographic, "but I know it when I see it.''
/falls off chair
Indeed. Hall of Famers, just like pornography! Except, no. Just, no. You DON’T know it when you see it. Branch Rickey didn’t know it when he saw it. Robinson Cano LOOKS like a Hall of Famer to me. Sweet, powerful swing. Smooth and athletic in the field. But he’s not! He might yet become one, but I know he’s not because I can check his performance record and note that his does not stack up to others in the HOF. If I didn't know more about his numbers and that he hadn't played long enough, and I had the same standard of "knowing it when I see it" then I might conclude Cano was, right now, a Hall of Famer.
For me, it's the same with Hall of Famers. Some guys just strike you as Cooperstown-worthy and others do not. Edgar Martinez was a very fine hitter, but I never said to myself, "The Mariners are coming to Fenway this weekend. I wonder how the Sox are going to pitch to Edgar Martinez?''
YOU might not have said that but why don't you talk to Red Sox advance scouts? Because I am positive they agonized over it.
But there you have it, this is Dan’s standard. At this point, given how much we know about what makes a baseball player good, isn’t this just criminal. Isn’t this the very height of arrogance. Stat folks are often criticized for being arrogant themselves, but isn’t it the person that says “it is because I know it to be” who’s arrogant? Not the person who arrives at some sort of logical, objective and defensible conclusion based on reason?
I want to revisit a Bill James quote I used in a piece about Shaughnessy last year to reinforce this point:
"Virtually all sportswriters, I suppose, believe that Jim Rice is an outstanding player. If you ask them how they know this, they'll tell you that they just know; I've seen him play. That's the difference in a nutshell between knowledge and bullshit; knowledge is something that can be objectively demonstrated to be true, and bullshit is something that you just 'know.' If someone can actually demonstrate that Jim Rice is a great ballplayer, I'd be most interested to see the evidence."
Thanks, Bill! And great timing, because guess who Dan's going to bring up next?!?!
It was different with players like Eddie Murray and Jim Rice. They were feared. Murray got into Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility (thanks to 500 homers, no doubt), while it took Rice 15 years to finally get the required 75 percent of votes.
But what about Eddie Murray’s cap? So many teams!
Anyway, Murray and Rice were feared, but Edgar Martinez was not. That’s Shaughnessy’s point. Let's pretend this makes any sense at all - this "fear" stuff. The best way I can think to measure it is by the intentional walk.
Murray was walked intentionally 222 times (once every 57 plate appearances), an incredible figure. As a switch hitter who played for a very long time and had a ton of plate appearances, this isn’t too surprising. Beyond being a good hitter, Murray presented opposing managers late-inning bullpen match-up problems.
Edgar was intentionally walked 113 times (once every 77 plate appearances). Martinez hit in some stacked Mariner lineups though, with the likes of Ken Griffey, Jr., A-Rod, Jay Buhner, Tino Martinez, Paul Sorrento and others. It’s a respectable total, but one that was influenced downward by the excellent hitters surrounding Edgar. Remember, Roger Maris wasn’t walked intentionally once in 1961.
As for Rice, his career total of 77 intentional free passes (once every 118 plate appearances) places him tied for 180th all time. Among others, Geoff Jenkins and Terry Pendleton are tied with Rice.
So I would say it’s best not to use the “feared” argument at all, because once you start to investigate the claim in any meaningful way, you end up with a lot of information pulling you in different directions. Directions like the exact opposite one you're hoping for when you argue that Rice was a HOF'er because he was "feared."
Both were feared sluggers who spent a lot of time in the field before becoming DHs as elder statesmen.
But there you go again! With the “feared”! You just can’t help yourself! Why don’t we keep it simple? AVG/OBP/SLG – OPS+ - Plate Appearances
Murray: .287/.359/.476 – 129 – 12,817
Rice: .298/.352/.502 – 128 – 9,058
Edgar: .312/.418/.515 – 147 – 8,672
Ding Edgar for no defense. Ding him for not enough plate appearances, but good grief, admit he was a much, much better hitter than both Eddie Murray and Jim Rice!
This year I voted for Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris.
I guess that’s good. Two of the three are deserving but there are some glaring omissions.
Alomar goes down as one of the greatest second basemen of all time and was the best at his position for just about the entire time he played. This is his first year on the ballot and I think he'll be the top vote-getter in the class of 2010.
Blyleven has been on the ballot for 13 years and may come up short again, but he won 287 games, ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts and compiled a 3.31 ERA over 22 seasons, pitching for a lot of bad ball clubs.
Yeah, you got it.
Morris won 254 games in 18 seasons and pitched one of the greatest World Series games of all time, a 10-inning, 1-0 Game 7 victory over the Braves in 1991. There's already support for Boston blowhard Curt Schilling, who won't be on the ballot for another three years, but Morris has to get in before Schilling gets in. Morris was better.
We're going to pause here so that everyone can appreciate this. Jack Morris is better than Curt Schilling. Let that sink in for a moment.
Here’s a man who covers baseball for a living. Think of what you do for a living, how you have trained to come to understand what you need to in order to carry out your job well. How you strive to learn as much as you can so that you can perform to the best of your abilities.
And now ponder for a moment what it must be like to spend your career working in baseball, to laying claim to and having others bestow upon you some measure of expertise. And you assert that Jack Morris was better than Curt Schilling. I get Dan's schtick, but it's just so beyond the pale.
Curt Schilling was a career 127 ERA+ pitcher with a 4.38 K/BB ratio in 3,261 innings. Jack Morris was a career 105 ERA+ pitcher with a 1.78 K/BB ratio in 3,824 innings. The innings difference is not insignificant, but those innings amount to an additional 563 frames of 6.46 ERA ball. Like, two or three full seasons of Adam Eaton. If you place a lot of stock in peripherals, a stat like K/BB, then although Schilling might be lacking in longevity compared to other Hall performers, he is still one of the best of all time. Jack Morris is kind of like Livan Hernandez or Tim Wakefield.
As for their post-season performance, Morris was 7-4 with a career 3.80 ERA in the playoffs. Schilling was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA.
Now, you’re a Sports Editor. You like Shaughnessy because he’s plucky and he attracts readers because he appeals to some segment of sports fans I'll never understand while irritating another segment. But at what point does self-respect come into play? At what point do you say to yourself, “Enough’s enough. It reflects too poorly on my organization and me professionally to continue to provide this guy a forum”? Does that point ever arrive? Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but with the likes of Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer and Keith Law furthering their march into the mainstream, that day’s coming a lot sooner than Dan Shaughnessy may think. It's simply preposterous to lay any claim whatsoever to baseball expertise and simultaneously hold that Jack Morris was better than Curt Schilling. It's irreconcilable.
The toughest omissions this year were Dawson, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff ... and Edgar.
But not Raines or Trammell. And certainly not McGwire, what with his taint of the scourge and all.
A lifetime .312 average is impressive and Edgar's OPS puts him in an elite class. But he wasn't a home run hitter (309), he couldn't carry a team, he didn't scare you, and (sorry) he rarely played defense. Edgar spent a couple of years at third for the M's in the early 1990s before taking over as full-time DH.
Two facts (a lifetime .312 average IS impressive, his OPS DOES put him in an elite class) and then meaningless and/or counter-factual assertions. He "wasn't a home run hitter" with "309" listed parenthetically. How does one amass 309 home runs without being a "home run hitter"?
"He couldn't carry a team." Good grief, well who can? 9 players HAVE to come to the plate! "He didn't scare you." He didn't scare who! You?! Why should he?! So dumb. So very dumb. Ask Andy Pettitte (career 1.132 OPS vs Edgar) or Bartolo Colon (1.049) or Chris Carpenter (1.183) if Edgar scared THEM!
The stat geeks, those get-a-lifers who are sucking all the joy out of our national pastime, no doubt will be able to demonstrate that Edgar was better than Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby. I'm not buying. Stats don't tell the whole story. A man can drown in three feet of water.
Nope, nobody has said he was even close to as good as either of those players. And really, who sucks the joy out of baseball? The fan eager to enhance his or her understanding of the game or the sportswriter who trusts his eye/gut over any sort of elementary performance metics? Oh, hold on, I know, it's the third option; it's the writer who has built his career by being a know-nothing instigator. THAT guy sucks the joy out of the sport.
Edgar Martinez was a fine hitter and got on base a lot. But he was a corner infielder who didn't hit a lot of homers and then he became a guy who spent the majority of every game watching from the bench.
You know who else spends the majority of the games behind the bench? EVERY SINGLE PITCHER EVER VOTED INTO THE HALL OF FAME! But really, great point.
Ok, that's done with. Hopefully Baseball Analysts readers for whom Rich Lederer's tireless work advocating for Bert Blyleven's candidacy has resonated can stop back later on today and we can all toast some good news. And to end on a positive note with Dan himself, given that he cast a vote for Bert, he will have had a hand in that potential bit of good news. So at least there's that!