>Blyleven vs. Mo(rris)

>By Bill

It’s that time of year, when most people just think about Christmas and stuff, but baseball freaks like us spend way too much of their time thinking about Hall of Fame voting.  And for the last few years, it’s been that time of year when everybody talks about Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris.  Jon Heyman and Buster Olney, among what I’m sure are at least a few others, have already publicly admitted to voting no on the former and yea on the latter.

So that’s what I was thinking about, and I started thinking about this fun little exercise:

It’s the winter of 1994. Just a couple months ago, for the first time in ninety years, October passed without a World Series.

Jack Morris has spent the summer toiling away for Cleveland, the players’ strike mercifully saving him from the end of a dreadful season.  But now, rather than failing to land a job and winding up with the St. Paul Saints and then out of baseball, he trains really hard, tries out for a bunch of teams during the abbreviated 1995 spring training, proves to be in The Best Shape of His Life, and lands another job. They give him some starts, but he struggles again, and does better out of the bullpen.  Then late in the year, he starts fooling around with a knuckleball and looks a lot better.  Still not done at 41, he perfects the knuckler in the offseason, to where it’s one of the best pitches anybody’s ever seen.  Becomes a dominant setup man and then closer, and then the best closer anyone’s ever seen.  Knuckleballers can throw forever, as we know — Phil Niekro went until 48 — and with the closer’s light workload and his competitive bulldog mentality, Blackjack makes Niekro look like a wuss, going strong until he’s fifty-five years old, at which point he decides it’s best to go out on top and spend some time with his grandkids or whatever.

Unbelievable?  Yeah, totally.  But if all that happened, Jack Morris’ career stats might look something like this:

Year     Age   W    L  ERA     G  GS  SV     IP   BB   SO SO/BB
1977 22 1 1 3.74 7 6 0 45.2 23 28 1.22
1978 23 3 5 4.33 28 7 0 106.0 49 48 0.98
1979 24 17 7 3.28 27 27 0 197.2 59 113 1.92
1980 25 16 15 4.18 36 36 0 250.0 87 112 1.29
1981 26 14 7 3.05 25 25 0 198.0 78 97 1.24
1982 27 17 16 4.06 37 37 0 266.1 96 135 1.41
1983 28 20 13 3.34 37 37 0 293.2 83 232 2.80
1984 29 19 11 3.60 35 35 0 240.1 87 148 1.70
1985 30 16 11 3.33 35 35 0 257.0 110 191 1.74
1986 31 21 8 3.27 35 35 0 267.0 82 223 2.72
1987 32 18 11 3.38 34 34 0 266.0 93 208 2.24
1988 33 15 13 3.94 34 34 0 235.0 83 168 2.02
1989 34 6 14 4.86 24 24 0 170.1 59 115 1.95
1990 35 15 18 4.51 36 36 0 249.2 97 162 1.67
1991 36 18 12 3.43 35 35 0 246.2 92 163 1.77
1992 37 21 6 4.04 34 34 0 240.2 80 132 1.65
1993 38 7 12 6.19 27 27 0 152.2 65 103 1.58
1994 39 10 6 5.60 23 23 0 141.1 67 100 1.49
1995 40 5 3 5.51 19 10 0 67.0 30 51 1.70
1996 41 8 3 2.09 61 0 5 107.2 34 130 3.82
1997 42 6 4 1.88 66 0 43 71.2 20 68 3.40
1998 43 3 0 1.91 54 0 36 61.1 17 36 2.12
1999 44 4 3 1.83 66 0 45 69.0 18 52 2.89
2000 45 7 4 2.85 66 0 36 75.2 25 58 2.32
2001 46 4 6 2.34 71 0 50 80.2 12 83 6.92
2002 47 1 4 2.74 45 0 28 46.0 11 41 3.73
2003 48 5 2 1.66 64 0 40 70.2 10 63 6.30
2004 49 4 2 1.94 74 0 53 78.2 20 66 3.30
2005 50 7 4 1.38 71 0 43 78.1 18 80 4.44
2006 51 5 5 1.80 63 0 34 75.0 11 55 5.00
2007 52 3 4 3.15 67 0 30 71.1 12 74 6.17
2008 53 6 5 1.40 64 0 39 70.2 6 77 12.83
2009 54 3 3 1.76 66 0 44 66.1 12 72 6.00
2010 55 3 3 1.80 61 0 33 60.0 11 45 4.09
34 Seasons 328 241 3.51 1527 537 559 4974.0 1657 3529 2.13

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2010.

Is this a really long-winded way to make another silly Blyleven-Morris comparison?  Yeah, totally.  But it’s a pretty fun little story (and table), right?

You can probably tell, from the stats or the lead-in or this post’s title, that the table shows Morris’ career numbers plus the entire career to date of no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, which happen to line up exactly, Morris leaving the game just as Mo entered.  Fun, huh?

So our hypothetical Morris-prime is obviously a Hall of Famer; if for no other reason, he’s had the most bizarre and fascinating career in big league history.  But how does this Morris compare to Blyleven?  Let’s look:

Name IP ERA BB SO SO/BB
Morris’ 4974 3.51 1657 3529 2.13
Blyleven 4970 3.31 1322 3701 2.80

Freaky? Or freakiest thing ever?  Blyleven pitched almost exactly as many innings as Morris plus the greatest closer in history combined.  And even when you add 1150 innings of the all-time leader in adjusted ERA+ (and the modern leader in ERA, and in the all-time top 5 in K/BB), Blyleven ends up slightly ahead in ERA, BB, strikeouts and K/BB.  You might argue that Morris-prime is Blyleven’s equal or better — Morris-prime’s relief innings came during the home run derby era, so that ERA might be just as impressive as Blyleven’s when you adjust for that sort of thing — but the fact is that they’re really freaking close.  Morris plus the entire career of a Hall of Famer and one of the most celebrated pitchers of all time equals Blyleven, more or less.

For the real-life Morris to equal Blyleven’s innings pitched and ERA, Morris would have to had to throw another 1146 innings (for a starting pitcher, five more full years at 229 innings a year) and have a 1.35 ERA in those innings.  He didn’t do that.

Blyleven was a Hall of Famer.  Morris was a pretty good pitcher who wasn’t quite as good as Dave Stieb or Kevin Appier.  How is it that this is still a thing that people think about?

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