Historical Four Factors: Joe Morgan’s Peak

It is incredibly unfortunate that my generation of baseball fans knows Joe Morgan primarily from his antics in the broadcast booth. Some know more about Fire Joe Morgan than they do about Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan. Today, I’d like to use my four factors of hitting to shed some light on Morgan’s ridiculous peak, in particular his 1975 and 1976 seasons, in which he posted 21.5 total WAR and won the MVP both seasons.

For a reminder, the four factors are BB%, K%, POW (XB/H), and BABIP. The short reason for using POW instead of ISO is that Colin Wyers told me to. The actual reason is that BABIP actually can have a heavy influence on ISO. There doesn’t appear, to me, to be a reason to judge power based on what somebody does in ABs where they make outs (think “long outs”) or don’t even make contact (strikeouts). This doesn’t mean that ISO doesn’t have its merit, but in this case we are trying to separate what these four statistics are telling us as much as possible, which, to me, is the best solution.

Back to the task at hand, here are the four factors for Joe Morgan’s 1975 with The Big Red Machine.

The numbers are staggering across the board. It should come as no surprise that this season resulted in an MVP award and an 11.4 WAR season. Morgan had a walk rate 230% of the average player. When he wasn’t walking, he was making contact, and when he was making contact, it was either a resulting in a base hit or solid power. It’s disappointing that we don’t have plate discipline numbers from this period; I can’t imagine how ridiculous Morgan’s O-Swing% or contact rates were this season to allow him to walk over 2.5 times more than he struck out.

Amazingly enough, the 1975 season almost pales in comparison with what he accomplished in 1976:

The drop in Morgan’s walk rate was pretty much in line with a league-wide drop in walks. Then, in two categories where he already outclassed the entire league, Morgan made huge strides. The drop in strikeouts compensated for the natural drop in BABIP he saw – .298 was still significantly above the league BABIP of .281, making a .336 mark like he had in 1975 slightly ridiculous. If Morgan had merely equaled his power numbers of 1975, we would’ve been looking at another 190 wRC+ type season. Instead, Morgan slugged 27 home runs, a career high and ten more than he put out in 1975. Morgan walked at a rate 226% of the average player and hit for power at a rate 184% higher than that of the average player. Morgan’s numbers is the stuff of which any baseball analyst dreams, sabermetrically inclined or not.

It can be easy to simply dismiss Joe Morgan when we hear him talk in the broadcast booth. It’s important, for those of us who care about the history of the game, however, to remember that Morgan may have been the best second baseman of all time. These two seasons are only part of a five year peak which saw five 9.0+ WAR seasons and 3 10.0+ WAR seasons. Joe Morgan was a fantastic baseball player, and that is how I will remember him.

We hoped you liked reading Historical Four Factors: Joe Morgan’s Peak by Jack Moore!

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Piccamo
Guest

I wonder how someone who was so talented and skilled at the sport could be so clueless when talking about it. I love your Four Factors series. Where do you find the averages for the stats in those listed seasons? Are you going to focus more on historic players or modern players in the future?

Justin Bailey
Guest

It does seem odd that a man of Morgan’s playing talents would be so utterly talentless in other areas.

Then again, take Ty Cobb: perhaps the greatest CF of all time, and also an abject failure as a human being. Success on the diamond means basically nothing elsewhere in life.

philkid3
Member

You have the best screen name on this site.

Alireza
Guest

Cobb was a piece of garbage, but he became a very rich man selling Coca-Cola

Jack Moore
Guest

We have the averages for all of the stats under the “Advanced” tab in the player pages. POW isn’t there, but you can calculate it like this:

SLG/AVG – 1

Piccamo
Guest

Cool. Thanks. I hadn’t seen the averages listed before, that’s really handy.

Neil
Guest
Neil

If you’re just deriving it form SLG and AVG, why not use ISO instead?

Sam
Guest
Sam

I am sorry, but just because he doesn’t talk about your favorite stats as a way of player evaluation doesn’t mean he is “clueless” about the game.

Morgan is being asked the wrong questions, and has the wrong role as a broadcaster. That is not his fault, that is ESPN’s. Player evaluation is not his best suite, and player evaluation is not the attribute that made him a Hall of Fame player. Ask Morgan about the game itself that can come from only playing the game, and he will be able to tell you more about the game than pretty much anyone else.

There are times he talks about positioning of a player, what techniques to use for a double play, the impact of how you hold a bat on someone’s swing, running on the bases, analyzing the motion of a pitcher to pick up interesting tidbits that could be of use (after about three pitches thrown by Tyler Clippard in his debut, Morgan identified that he was landing on two sides of the rubber with his fastball and curveball), and you will see what made him the great player he was. He has great powers of observation, which is what set him apart as a great player.

There are plenty of things that Morgan can offer if he is allowed to break down some of the aspects of the game that only a superior player can offer. A player of his caliber cannot possibly be clueless about the game. Yes, he has his fascination with HRs, RBIs and BAs, but that is what he was exposed to as a player. And he is not alone in fascination with statistics that were in vogue during his age: heck, BP still touts VORP as a reliable measure of offensive performance when we have more technically sound wOBA or wRC+.

Since some screenwriters with plenty of time in their hands decided to take down Morgan for his answers to questions that he had clearly no expertise to answer (and admittedly, were funny in the process), mindlessly bashing Morgan has become a cool ritual. In reality, it only reflects our own ignorance of what made Morgan the great player he was.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R

To be honest, I think Sunday Night Baseball could be a very good booth if it was Jon Miller, Joe Morgan, and someone who knew what the hell he was talking about statistically and actually add value to the proceedings, rather than Orel Hershiser.

Of course there’s non-stat things Joe Morgan could do better, like not beat those insights he does have to death.

Great that he can catch a problem w/ a player’s plate approach in just 1 at-bat, it’s a heck of a skill to have, but I don’t need 10 minutes devoted to what he’s doing wrong or right in the middle of a broadcast.

Naliamegod
Guest
Naliamegod

I think the other problem isn’t that Morgan just isn’t qualified to talk about stats or player evaluation; the biggest problem is that he refuses to learn anything about it and refuses to do any research. He’s admitted publicly that he rarely watches games anymore and doesn’t do much research before broadcasting. That just comes off as lazy and it shows in his analysis.

Lance W
Member

I think Sam raised a good point in his defense (maybe the only one I’ve heard that has any merit), but like Naliamegod said, his refusal to learn or consider new information is ridiculous. He probably wouldn’t recognize or appreciate this very article (if his name were removed), and there’s a good chance he still thinks Billy Beane wrote Moneyball.