There are many Hall of Fame pitchers who, by the numbers, don’t stack up with former White Sox left-hander Billy Pierce. One of them is Jack Morris, who was inducted Sunday.
Does that mean Sox fans should storm the gates of Cooperstown, demanding a plaque for Pierce?
No. Metrics put Pierce below Hall of Fame average for starting pitchers. His inclusion wouldn’t be a bad thing, but his numbers aren’t so good that they leap out and demand enshrinement.
In 18 seasons (1945, 1948-64), Pierce was 211-169 with a 3.27 ERA, including 186-152 with a 3.19 ERA for the Sox in 1949-61.
It was an outstanding career, but it was a little light on victories during a time in which pitchers were judged by how many games they won. Among the 64 players enshrined primarily as starting pitchers, Pierce’s victory total would rank 51st.
Metrics have brought many around to the view that victories are a team stat, affected by defense and run support. The pitcher who prevents runs has done his job.
So where does Pierce rank by that standard?
One way to look at it is ERA+, which adjusts for ballpark and normalizes to league average, with 100 as the baseline. Pierce’s 119 tells us he was 19 percent better than the average pitcher of his time at preventing runs. That’s very good, but it would tie him for 34th among the 64 Hall starters.
By WAR at Baseball-Reference.com, Pierce’s career 53.2 would tie him for 50th among the 64 Hall starters.
What about Morris, who was 254-186 while getting 4.9 runs per game from his offense? No doubt his performance for the Twins in the 1991 World Series — especially his 10-inning shutout of the Braves in Game 7 — swung votes.
But with a 3.94 career ERA, Morris ranks 62nd among Hall starters with a 105 ERA+ and 54th with a 44.0 WAR.
Pierce was better at preventing runs, but Morris has more victories and the Series classic, so he’s in.
What about Reuschel?
In the last several years, there has been metrics-based discussion about whether former Cubs right-hander Rick Reuschel merits another look at Hall time.
On the surface, the case is tepid. Reuschel went 214-191 with a 3.37 ERA in 1972-91, including 135-127 with a 3.50 ERA for the Cubs. His 114 ERA+ would rank 49th among Hall starters.
But Reuschel’s 68.3 WAR would rank 29th, making him an upper-half WAR Hall of Famer.
Reuschel did his job very well but was not well-supported by his teams. He had the misfortune of joining the Cubs in 1972, just as the core of the late-1960s and early-1970s teams was aging out of contention.
Reuschel pitched 63 percent of his 3,548 career innings for the 1972-81 Cubs. They went 85-70 in his first season but would finish at .500 only once more (81-81 in 1977). Four of those seasons brought 90 or more losses.
It took quality pitching for Reuschel to go 129-121 for those teams. Hall of Famer? Unlikely. But in a world of WAR, he would be a contender.