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The story of Bert Blyleven's career has been told many times in the last few years. So, we will give it a brief re-telling. With his greater than 50% share in this year, there is still the possibility that the writers will eventually choose him.

If one ignores the won-loss column, Bert Blyleven is easily the best starting pitcher not in the Hall of Fame, and he is better than many in there. But before we get to that, here is a brief recap of his career. Blyleven was chosen by the Twins in the 3rd round of the 1969 draft. By the summer of 1970, he was in the major leagues at age 19. Possessing the best curveball in baseball, he was consistently excellent and durable for his first six and one-half years with Minnesota, and then with Texas for a year and half, and Pittsburgh for two.

But, he'd put up homely won-loss records. Take 1972. He threw 287 innings, walked 69, struck out 228 and allowed 22 homers, and put up a fine 2.73 ERA . His won-loss mark was 17-17. If it happens once, it's bad luck. Maybe, just maybe, if it happens twice. In 1973, he made 40 starts and threw 325 innings including 25 complete games, 9 of which were shutouts. He knocked his ERA down to 2.52 and improved all of his peripheral statistics. His won-loss mark was 20-17; if you don't count the shutouts, he was 11-17 with a 3.13 ERA.It did not stop there. For eight straight years at the start of his career, he won fewer games than one would expect from his offence and his runs allowed. It amounted to a total of 26 wins fewer than expected over that period.

In 1979, Blyleven starred for the "We are Family" Pirates in the post-season throwing a complete game victory in the playoffs and earning another victory in the World Series. 1980 was Blyleven's first off-season. That season was a dismal one for the Pirates as the newspapers were filled with stories about Curtis Strong and cocaine in the clubhouse, and the club that had been so fine between 1977 and 1979 fell fast. Perhaps dealing with these troubles helped Blyleven, as he seemed to be a different pitcher after 1980.

After the 1980 season, Blyleven was traded with Manny Sanguillen to the Cleveland Indians. The team was a poor one over the next 4 seasons, but Blyleven shone despite a poor defence (the 1981 club put up a miserable .679 DER, the lowest of the era) and poor offensive support. In 1984, he went 19-7 in 245 innings with a 2.87 ERA on bad ballclub. Did his won-loss record improve because he was older and wiser than he had been, or did the fates simply pay him back for the lean Twins' years?

In August 1985, he was traded from the Indians back to the Twins for a package including a young Jay Bell. He gave the Twins 2 fine seasons in 1986 and 1987, and earned his second ring in 1987 with a fine post-season. For his career, he was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in October. He had one good year left in him at age 38 for California, going 17-5 with a 2.75 ERA.

In the second half of his career, Blyleven was not as effective as he had been in the first, but he won at about the same rate, and actually exceeded the wins that could have been expected of him by 3.

So, what of his Hall of Fame case? For comparison points, we will use Ferguson Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, and Early Wynn.
Pitcher     IP(seasons)   ERA+   K/9IP(Lg)   W/9IP(Lg)  HR/9IP(Lg)  Team DER(Lg)  W-L

Blyleven    4970.0(18.3)  118    6.7(5.3)    2.4(3.4)   0.8(0.8)    698(703)      287-250
Jenkins     4500.7(15.5)  115    6.4(5.2)    2.0(3.3)   1.0(0.8)    689(701)      284-226
Perry       5350.3(18.4)  117    5.9(5.4)    2.3(3.3)   0.7(0.8)    695(701)      314-265
Wynn        4564.0(18.2)  106    4.6(4.1)    3.5(3.8)   0.7(0.7)    710(708)      300-244
With respect to every measure save the won-loss record, Blyleven was better than these Hall of Famers. I will acknowledge that Blyleven may have contributed to this partially, but so did his bullpen and his offence. Splitting the difference on the 23 wins less than expected he had over his career (half to him, half to his offence/bullpen) would result in a record of 298-239, essentially comparable to these fine pitchers. I make Blyleven to be in this class.

Here is a list of starters currently in the Hall of Fame, who threw after 1950 and were not Blyleven's equal: Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, Catfish Hunter, and Bob Lemon. The above comparables, as well as Phil Niekro and Robin Roberts, are fairly similar to Blyleven. He's a solid middle of the pack Hall of Fame starter.

Next up: Jack Morris.
2006 Hall of Fame ballot-Bert Blyleven | 16 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mick Doherty - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 11:22 AM EST (#139469) #
There's been quite a bit of discussion on various threads about who among two groups of similar-career pitchers (The Tommy John Group and The Bruce Sutter Group) are Hall Worthy. I provide here a breakdown, completely unscientific and unsupportable by numbers, of "Guys who when I saw them pitch, I thought 'I am watching a Hall of Famer.'"

Hall of Famers: Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter

Not Hall of Famers: Jim Kaat, Don Sutton (oops!), Dan Quisenberry, Tommy John

Quiz and Kaat JUST miss, again, in my mind and based on "What I thought while watching them."
Mike D - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 11:26 AM EST (#139470) #
Certainly, when compared with the likes of Bunning, Wynn and Catfish, Blyleven is at least as deserving and likely more so.

As well, Mike Green probably had me pegged in the Bruce Sutter comments when he chalked up my preference for Rice over Blyleven to nostalgia. Rice's OPS+ is better than Blyleven's ERA+, but I think I have to concede, considering defence, that Rice is not more worthy than Blyleven.

But I do have to once again object to hyperbole such as Joe Sheehan's remarks that Blyleven is "overqualified" and an "above-average Hall of Famer."

Unless you compare him with the non-playing likes of Lee MacPhail and Jocko Conlan, there is absolutely no way that Blyleven is an "above-average Hall of Famer," unless once (curiously, considering his advocates) resorts to counting stats. True, he's fifth all-time in strikeouts, and nobody else in the top 10 is excluded from Cooperstown. But he's a less impressive 93rd in career K/9.

As I argued in the Bruce Sutter discussion, at least 90 of the 103 initial-eligibility inductees were better than Blyleven, which simply does not add up to "above-average" Hall of Fame status. I have no axe to grind against Blyleven; unfortunately, his case for injustice vis-a-vis the Hall of Fame has become so standard in we're-so-very-much-smarter-than-Joe-Baseball-Writer orthodoxy that it's become stretched and strained. (I'm not talking about Leigh or Thomas here, of course.)

Compared with the least deserving Hall of Fame starting pitchers, Blyleven pitched as well as they did, and did so for longer. Therefore, based on these inductions, he deserves entry as a lesser member of the Hall of Fame.

Does it make him a "solid middle of the pack Hall of Fame starter"? No, it doesn't. An ERA+ of 118, with a gopher ball problem and without a particularly spectacular peak, isn't the stuff of legend. He'd be in about the 30th percentile of Hall starting pitchers, and lower than that in the Hall generally.

There's no shame in any of this, of course. Based on several of the pitchers to be recently inducted, he deserves entry. But if the 60-odd pitchers were thrown into an organization (i.e., major league club and farm system), Blyleven would struggle to make the AA squad. He'd probably be in High-A or so.
Mike D - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 11:29 AM EST (#139471) #
Mick, I thought Jack Morris was a Hall of Famer when I watched him pitch as a Tiger and Twin -- didn't you. His numbers, however, aren't nearly as good as Blyleven's.

That said, I'll leave his Hall Watch analysis to Mike Green, coming soon on Batter's Box!
Mike Green - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 12:32 PM EST (#139473) #
An ERA+ of 118 over a long career is a terrific number. Carlton is at 115; Palmer is at 125. I am not saying that Blyleven is the equal of either of these greats, but simply that the scale is much different than one might have guessed. The absolute greats (Johnson, Clemens) are in the 140s.

Blyleven is clearly in the middle of the pack of the post-1950 Hall inductees, whom I have enumerated. As for the inductees pre-1950, you have to make some adjustments. Take Hall of Famer Joe McGinnity. An ERA+ of 121 and 3880 innings sounds like he was about as good as Blyleven. He wasn't. He pitched 10 seasons from 1899 to 1908, but because of the conditions of the time was able to throw 400 innings in a season several times. This was not a miraculous total. Similar comments could be made about Red Faber or Eppa Rixey.
Mike D - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 12:49 PM EST (#139474) #
But Mike, if the innings are there, why does it matter whether McGinnity's career is shorter in terms of years? If Bert pitched the same total amount of innings with fewer innings per year, but for five more years, would that in and of itself enhance his value?

If your point is that Blyleven pitched a lot of innings relative to his peers, that's right. In 22 seasons, he led the league twice in innings(one very good year and one year in which he gave up 50 homers), and was fourth in the league three times. However, notwithstanding the ability of early-era pitchers to pitch more innings, "Iron Man" McGinnity was even more of a workhorse relative to his league.

Blyleven is not one of the 40 best pitchers of all time. Thus, he can't be an above-average Hall of Famer.
Jacko - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 12:57 PM EST (#139476) #
I was glad to see that Albert Belle picked up enough votes to stay on the ballot. As great as Jim Rice was at his peak, Belle was even better.
Mick Doherty - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 12:58 PM EST (#139477) #
Oh yes, Mike, I knew as I was writing those lists that I'd forget someone. Morris definitely IN.

I did not include guys who had shortened or otherwise affected careers who seemed Hall-Worthy at the time I saw them pitch -- Guidry and Gooden come to mind.
Mike Green - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 01:02 PM EST (#139478) #
It matters because the conditions of the time routinely allowed pitchers to throw more innings in a season. In 1903, McGinnity threw the most innings of anyone, 430, but many threw over 300. But, the conditions of the time, no home runs, allowed pitchers to save their stuff and routinely throw those innings. As I pointed out in my first piece on this topic, you have to adjust innings pitched for the conditions, in the same way that you do for ERA. Using the standards of the average innings pitched of the #3-#5 starter in the league, McGinnity threw about 12 seasons worth of work. Blyleven threw over 18. McGinnity's career was more like Dave Stieb's than like Bert Blyleven's.
Shrike - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 06:15 PM EST (#139511) #
I'm pretty miffed that Will Clark dropped off the ballot right away.


(I'm not saying he deserves to be elected to the Hall, by the way, but he's a better candidate than you might think.)
Ron - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 09:23 PM EST (#139526) #
Did anybody else listen to the Dan Patrick show today?

I tuned in late but Patrick/Oberman and the callers were very critical of Jeff Blair who was an earlier guest. The hosts were saying Blair only picks one player per ballot.
One caller had a problem with Blair saying "my criteria" when there should be a Hall of Fame criteria. And they even took a cheap shot by saying he use to cover the CFL.
James W - Wednesday, January 11 2006 @ 09:35 PM EST (#139530) #
One favorite writer of some of you, Jayson Stark, covered his thoughts on Bert Blyleven recently.

He tries to explain why Blyleven's W-L record is relatively poor compared to the rest of his stats; poor run support. I happen to agree that Blyleven should definitely be in the Hall of Fame.
Glevin - Thursday, January 12 2006 @ 12:57 AM EST (#139541) #
"I'm pretty miffed that Will Clark dropped off the ballot right away."

Put him with the Yankees, and he'd probably get in the HOF. His career is certainly a lot better than Mattingly's. I think Fred McGriff wil be even more undervalued when his time comes, but we will see.
Chuck - Thursday, January 12 2006 @ 08:08 AM EST (#139544) #
I think Fred McGriff wil be even more undervalued when his time comes, but we will see.

Whether McGriff is Hall worthy is debatable, but I do agree that he'll be undervalued. Back when AL OPS averaged around 720, from 1988 to 1993, McGriff hit 200 homeruns. The AL OPS has averaged around 770 since then. His early years will not be evaluated in context, but will be viewed through the "modern day" prism and offensive context of the past decade.

This may be a stretch, but McGriff may be a good comp for Blyleven. Long career. Minimal recognition as a marquee player.

And if the selection of Sutter over Gossage means that career peak will now overshadow longevity in the eyes of the voters (and I'm not saying categorically that this is so -- the Sutter vote represents a single data point), then McGriff is definitely in trouble.

Mike Green - Thursday, January 12 2006 @ 09:18 AM EST (#139547) #
Well said, Chuck. The McGriff/Blyleven comparison is a good one.

Incidentally, it's not clear to me that Sutter's peak years, 1977, 1979 and 1984 were any better than Gossage's peak years, 1975, 1977 and 1978. Gossage threw 30 more innings per season during his peak years with almost the same level of effectiveness. I think that it has more to do with the importance of the splitter in modern baseball, particularly for the career of Roger Clemens.
Chuck - Thursday, January 12 2006 @ 01:59 PM EST (#139565) #
Incidentally, it's not clear to me that Sutter's peak years, 1977, 1979 and 1984 were any better than Gossage's peak years, 1975, 1977 and 1978.

I was in a rush this morning so I wrote what I wrote without checking first. That was dumb of me. Using Lee Sinins' RSAA as just one metric to compare their seasons, Gossage's top 3 years net to 93 while Sutter's net to just 88. (Career totals: Gossage 160, Sutter 123).

The closer I look at the Sutter vs. Gossage debate, the more I concur that the main thrust of the pro-Sutter vote is the splitter. It has to be. A numbers-based argument would never work. Whether Sutter's introduction of the splitter should make him Hall worthy is entirely subjective.

I will say that from a numbers perspective, the HoF bar for closers has been set awfully low. Any number of closers could meet that standard. Hell, Quisenberry is a virtual clone in terms of performance and longevity. But I don't think he invented the sidearm delivery. ;)

Nick - Thursday, January 12 2006 @ 07:48 PM EST (#139574) #
I did not hear Blair on the radio, but did read his comments about it in his blog. He thinks the process is too inclusive because a writer can vote for 10 players. What? There was 1 player inducted this year - the floodgates didn't exactly burst open. Voting for only 1 player is ridiculous in my opinion. So next year when Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, and Mark McGwire are on the ballot, he'll only vote for 1 of them? While I disagree, I don't think it makes Blair stupid or anything like that. The process is completely subjective. He has a vote and can vote however he wishes. Who would care about the HOF if everyone wasn't constantly arguing about it all the time?
2006 Hall of Fame ballot-Bert Blyleven | 16 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.