Tyler Kepner has a piece up today about Jack Morris‘ qualifications for the Hall of Fame. I don’t buy Kepner’s arguments, but he makes the best case he can while also acknowledging the many negatives against Morris. Kepner presumably would have a vote if the New York Times let him, but there is that conflict of interest thing. Too bad more papers and writers don’t acknowledge that particular issue.
The key point of Kepner’s thesis is that Morris’ one moment of glory—the seventh game of the 1991 World Series—is just so HUGE that it puts him in, despite his otherwise less-than-Hall-worthy qualifications. Unfortunately, Kepner also lowers himself to the baffling “he looked like a winner” argument. But I will skip that for now.
I do want to address Kepner’s main point, which is that Morris’ one moment in the sun is enough to qualify him for the Hall. The good news is that we can quantify that perspective. In this year’s (and last year’s) Hardball Times Annual, Sky Andrecheck provided a great service to those of us who like Win Probability Added, Championship Leverage Index.
Here’s what it is: the value of the seventh game of a World Series is one whole championship. The teams are even and whoever wins that game will win the trophy. If you go back a step (and assume that each team has a 50/50 chance of winning future games), then the sixth game of a World Series is worth 0.5 championships. That is, the Series leader already has a one-game lead with one more win to go, so that particular game is worth half a championship. You can “chain” this logic backwards, all the way back to the first game of the regular season, which Sky did in this series of articles a couple of years ago. When you do that, you find that the seventh game of the World Series has 166 times more championship value than an average regular season game.
That’s a whole heck of a lot. Morris posted a fantastic Win Probability Added figure of 0.845 in that seventh game matchup against John Smoltz. Multiply 0.845 times 166 and you get a “Championship WPA” figure of 141. To put that in perspective, the Championship WPA leader of the 2010 regular season was Joey Votto, with eight. Morris’ single moment in the sun had 18 times more “championship value” than Votto’s entire season. If Votto has a long career in line with last year’s performance but rarely makes the postseason, his career Championship WPA won’t be as high as Morris’ single-game total.
Here’s another perspective. Bert Blyleven was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in the postseason, while Morris was 7-4, 3.80. This is another reason many of us scorn those who prefer Morris’ Hall credentials over Blyleven’s. But in postseason Championship WPA, Morris beats Blyleven handily 170-32. One game makes that much difference.
In fact, I believe that Morris’ single-game Championship WPA is the highest in the history of baseball.
And this is what sportswriters like Kepner feel, though they don’t measure it this way. They see the singular moments and games, they concentrate on who wins, and they give those factors a lot of weight. The kicker is, they’re not wrong. When you break down the math, Morris’ game really was that big.
This is why I like WPA so much. It quantifies things that people intuitively feel when they watch baseball. It says that “Yes indeed, Morris really did come up big in that game. Your gut is right on.”
Does that mean that Morris should be in the Hall of Fame? Not in my book. WPA, especially the championship variety, is too arbitrary to have so much importance for the Hall. One game, no matter how spectacular or important, just shouldn’t have that much pull. Plus, I don’t believe that anyone is consistently applying this kind of logic to Hall candidates. They’re simply remembering singular events that stand out in their memory. And no one should get into the Hall because he “looked like a winner.”
But maybe, just maybe, we should acknowledge that Morris supporters aren’t totally out to lunch.