So, the big Baseball Hall of Fame debate this year is going to be Jack Morris vs Bert Blyleven. Both pitched 17+ years, both came out with 250+ pitching wins, both are borderline Hall of Famers. So far there's been SOME discussion regarding the two of them on Purple Row, but I'd like to open this debate up a bit with some of my own flavor of analysis: ERA+.
I know this is where "stats don't tell the story" comes into play, but this is just ERA, represented as a percentage of league average. "But he played in a small park" yep ERA+ accounts for that, by giving him an ERA+ boost for being in a hitter's park. "But a 3.90 ERA in that era was pretty solid" yep, ERA+ accounts for that, by comparing it to the league-average ERA.
I'll just come right out and say it: Career 105 ERA+ is not HoF quality.
Click past the jump and we'll dive into some numbers.
Morris' top 5 ERA+ seasons:
1979: 27GS (ok, I'm sure there was injury in there or something), 197.2 IP (downright solid, considering only 27GS), 2.7 BB/9 (that's good), 5.1 K/9 (that's not very good, but above league average). 3.28 ERA (pretty good, considering the league 4.00 ERA), and an ERA+ of 133. Good season.
1986: 35GS, 267IP (both excellent), 7.5 K9 (very good), 2.8 BB9 (excellent), 3.27 ERA (3.97 league ERA), 127 ERA+.
1987: 34GS (good), 266IP (excellent), 7.0 K9 (good), 3.1 BB9 (good), 3.38 ERA (league 4.29), ERA+ of 126. Also a good season.
1991: 35GS, 246.2IP (both excellent), 5.9 K9 (average), 3.4BB9 (below average), 3.43 ERA (league 3.91), ERA+ of 125. Overall good, but nowhere near his 1986 numbers.
1981: 25GS, 198IP (excellent inning load for only 25 starts), 4.4K9, 3.5BB9, 3.05 ERA, 124 ERA+. I'd make the case that Morris was lucky this year and had some strong defense behind him, because those peripherals look like a #5 starter. There's obviously other things to take into consideration like composure and moxie and stuff. A .232 BABIP will do that for you.
So let's stack Morris' top 5 seasons up to Bert Blyleven's top 5 seasons.
1973: 40GS, 325IP (both excellent), 7.1 K9 (excellent), 1.9 BB9 (superb), 2.52 ERA (league 3.75 ERA), 158 ERA+ (led the league).
1977: 30GS, 234IP (excellent inning load considering 30GS), 7.0 K9 (excellent), 2.6 BB9 (very good), 2.72 ERA (league 4.00), 151 ERA+ (league-leading 1.065 WHIP).
1984: 32GS, 245IP (both very good), 6.2 K9 (very good), 2.7 BB9 (good), 2.87 ERA (league 3.81), 144 ERA+.
1974: 37GS, 281IP (both excellent), 8.0 K9 (excellent), 2.5 BB9 (good), 2.66 ERA (league 3.63), 142 ERA+.
1989: 33GS, 241IP (both very good), 4.9 K9 (below average), 1.6 BB9 (superb), 2.73 ERA (league 3.71), 140 ERA+. Really poor K9 for Blyleven in 1989, but when you stack it up next to that miniscule walk rate, it balances itself out.
Bert Blyleven struck out 2.8 batters per walk allowed over his career. Morris: 1.78. Blyleven sported a 3.31 ERA, 3.19 FIP. Morris: 3.90, 3.94. Per Baseball-Reference, Blyleven was worth 90.1 WAR over the course of his career. Morris: 39.3. I realize that these two men pitched at somewhat different times, but there is an AWFUL lot of overlap in their two careers to try and paint them as pitchers of different eras.
Some of the commentary on whether Morris should be in (or Blyleven, for that matter) revolves around "Well, if Don Sutton got in, so should Blyleven". Well, let's look at Don Sutton's top 5 seasons.
1972: 33GS, 272.2IP (superb), 6.8 K9 (good), 2.1 BB9 (very good), 2.08 ERA (league 3.26), 162 ERA+.
1980: 31GS, 212.1IP (good), 5.4 K9 (good), 2.0 BB9 (very good), 2.20 ERA (league-leading, league average 3.84), 161 ERA+.
1973: 33 GS, 256.1IP (excellent), 7.0 K9 (very good), 2.0 BB9 (excellent), 2.42 ERA (league 3.75), 144 ERA+.
1971: 37GS, 265.1IP (very good), 6.6 K9 (very good), 1.9 BB9 (excellent), 2.54 ERA (league 3.47), 127 ERA+.
1981: 23GS, 158.2IP (good inning load considering only 23 starts), 5.9 K9 (very good), 1.6 BB9 (superb), 2.61 ERA (league 3.58), 126 ERA+.
What we see from Sutton is a guy who pitched a very similar career to Morris (108 ERA+ compared to Sutton's 105 ERA+), but had much higher high points to his career than Morris did.
Morris had a nice plateau from 1981 to 1987 where he sported a combined 117 ERA+ and was one of the better pitchers in the league. Sutton had more of a twin-peaked career, building to his 1972 162 ERA+, then declining to a 96 ERA+ in 1979, then shooting up again the next year to a 161 ERA+, then declining again to the point of his retirement. Blyleven's career had several peaks, none as high as Sutton's, but his plateau (valley?) seasons between peaks were generally at a much higher level.
Point is, there's no reason Blyleven SHOULDN'T be in the Hall of Fame, based on the existing standards. There's that nebulous "ohhhhh well he didn't hit 300 wins" or "he just wasn't the best" kind of rationale that floats around about him, but I frankly don't understand it. If it's really the all-relevant Pitching Win that is preventing Blyleven from getting into the Hall, then why is Jack Morris even in the discussion? Morris won 254 games. Blyleven, 287. That's a 33 win difference, or two "solid" seasons.
Why is Bert Blyleven getting the cold shoulder while Jack Morris is finding all of this support? You tell me.