Baseball Jeremiad

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A Curiously Intelligent Baseball blog

When Reality Mirrors Perception

My father and I have a running list of guys who “kill the Mets.”  For example, Chipper Jones always killed the Mets.  My father recalls Willie Mays absolutely killing the Mets.  There are also lesser known players who we perceive to “own” a certain team. 

For example, in a book written by the folks at Baseball Prospectus a couple of year ago, they review the perception about Mark Redmond “owning” Tom Glavine.  In a summary that doesn’t do justice to the amount of work they put into the chapter, the phenomena of the small sample size seems to rule the day.  That’s not to say, however, that certain players don’t have more success against some players than others.  In fact, this doesn’t even mean that certain players don’t play above their seeming statistical ability against players of necessarily more talent. 

In The Entitled, Frank Deford writes a scene in which the manager, Howie Traveler, uses an all-field, no-hit infielder as a pinch hitter because the player in question had gotten a hit off a pitcher with a similar assortment of pitches earlier in the season.  In this particular case, the pinch-hitter lines a frozen rope that is gloved by the second baseman.  The move fails; but an inch or two either way and Traveler would have been brilliant. 

A few days ago, Joe Posnanski wrote a column picking up on a similar statistical trend.  Using Jack Morris as a starting point, Posnanski investigates a Bill James study about the what he calls “The Bully Factor.”  In short, James investigated whether some players did better against poorer teams and worse against better teams.  Surely, this concept seems self-evident, but it’s rather fascinating when you get into the nuts and bolts of it. 

Posnanski investigates the “Bully Factor” numbers for Jack Morris.  And look what he discovers:

So, Jack Morris? Well, considering the scope of his career, he was not terrible against Class A teams. He was not very good, no. He was 48-57 with a 4.50 ERA. The ERA is high, but as a percentage of his career ERA, it’s more or less what you would expect. Morris’ won-loss record is actually worse against Class B teams — those good but not great teams. He was 44-57 with a 4.14 ERA. That means he was 22 games under .500 against the better than average teams. That doesn’t blare “WINNER!” but, hey, it’s not especially horrid. Gaylord Perry was 26 games worse than .500 against the Class A teams. Nolan Ryan was 32 games under .500 against the Class A teams.

Still, you know where this is leading. That’s right: Bill found that Jack Morris was the biggest bully of the last 50 years. The bulk of his won-loss record was compiled against the Island of Misfit Toys. This is not to say he dominated bad teams … not exactly. His ERA against Class C and Class D teams is a pretty ordinary 3.54.

But his win-loss record against the dregs is special:

Class C teams: 77-39, 3.64 ERA
Class D teams: 82-29, 3.42 ERA

There you go. Against C and D teams, Jack Morris went 159-68, a robust .700 winning percentage. You want to say Jack Morris knew how to win … you need to finish the story. Jack Morris knew how to beat lousy baseball teams. He was better at beating those bad teams than most pitchers in baseball history.

Jack Morris, in other words, got fat in a way that wasn’t necessarily connected to the overall quality of his performance. 

My irrational conclusion: Chipper should wear a Mets’ hat into the Hall.  They got him there.

 

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One Response

  1. Chris J says:

    Howie Taveler…how cute…..I think we can add Pat Burrell to that list of Met killers if he’s not on there. He would look like a Little Leaguer against most other teams until the Phillies went to Shea. It was crazy. Jones has killed the Phillies as well…

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