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December 17, 2009

Hall of Fame 2010: Bert Blyleven

From now until the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2010 is announced, The Hall is going to be breaking down each candidate. Some write ups will be lengthy...some will be the opposite. Some will be brand new pieces...some will be re-hashes of previous pieces.

Up until recently, if you sat down with the fellas and had a discussion about “who is” and “who isn’t” a Hall of Famer…Bert Blyleven probably didn’t get brought up in the discussion.

Here’s a guy that plenty of writers are pimping for enshrinement, but, for some reason, people out in the “real world” aren’t really bringing his name up in polite conversation.

The guy played professional ball in four decades (Bert was drafted in 1969, but didn’t make the bigs until June 1970) for five different teams (twice with the Twins). He even has two World Series rings…and both times, one could argue that he was his team’s "go to" guy!

And yes, I know, I just went on and on about Harold Baines and now…I’m about to slam Blyleven. But let’s face it…the guy was a compiler.

A damn good compiler…but a compiler nonetheless.

All-time, Blyleven’s stats stack up wonderfully to some of those already in the Hall. Over at Baseball Reference, his top ten comparisons feature eight Hall of Famers.

The two that aren’t…Tommy John and Jim Kaat. And let’s be honest, someone COULD make a case for both of them.Fifth all-time in strikeouts has to account for something right? I mean, 3701 is nothing to sniff at. Only Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton have more. Of the players with 3000 Ks or more, you could almost say that all of them should be enshrined, even if the jury is still out on Curt Schilling.

Not bad company to be in if you ask me.When making the case for the Dutchman, everyone mentions Blyleven’s low ERA (3.31) and points to his career 60 shutouts as a contributing factor. To put that into perspective…Ryan and Tom Seaver each have 61. Clemens, for sake of comparison, is 26th all-time with 46…Blyleven is ninth.

Allow me to go one step further…there are only TWO pitchers eligible for Hall induction that have thrown more scoreless games than Clemens. Luis Tiant is one…he has 49. Blyleven, obviously, is the other.

The magic number for career victories is 300. Every pitcher eligible for the Hall of Fame that has more than 300 victories is enshrined. But that’s where it falls off…275 to 299 victories must not mean as much. Blyleven’s career total resides at 287. And say what you want, had there not been a strike in 1981 or had he not been hurt in 1982, Blyleven might have gotten to 300.

But he didn’t.

Heck, had he retired following his last good year (1989), he would have topped off at 271. Again, he didn’t and therefore falls into the “almost…but not quite” company of John and Kaat.

All that being said, his career numbers are, if at the least…”Hall worthy”. So, I’m confused…how do people NOT know who this character is?

The layman’s argument for Blyleven’s inclusion sounds impressive when you lay them out over the span of a “normal” career…but Rik Aalbert Blyleven pitched longer than Christ walked the Earth.

He was also durable…which means even if he was slightly above average (at best), his numbers would still pile up. And they did.Let’s start with wins.No one seems to mention that fact that of those 287 victories…only once Bert topped 20 victories. And that was in a season where he went 20-17. 20 wins is great, but 20-17 is a record only Wilbur Wood would be proud of.

Once at 20, another time with 19…then what? Five seasons of 17 victories? Is that how we’re judging “greatness now?!?It should be noted that in that 1973 season when Blyleven was 20-17, his Twins were 81-81. It wasn’t like he played for the 1962 Mets. He was a slightly average pitcher on an average ballclub.

I won’t even mention the fact that there were TWELVE American League pitchers with 20 or more victories in 1973.Wait, I just did.Let’s face it…a .534 winning percentage isn’t all that spectacular, even if you played for some lousy teams. Look at Carlton’s 1972 Cy Young year. His team had 59 wins total…”Lefty” had 27 of them.

A Hall of Famer (to me) is someone who elevates his team to be better than they should be. And, admittedly, perhaps Blyleven’s record isn’t indicative of his worth. He did, of course, pitch his team to FIFTEEN 1-0 victories. Granted, he lost ten others…but you can’t blame a guy for lack of run support.

3701 is a tremendous number when it comes to strikeouts and Blyleven reaching that plateau is an equally tremendous feat. The fact that eight times scattered throughout an almost 21 complete seasons, Bert topped 200 Ks is good…but not an eye popper.

I’m not comparing the two, just using him as an example, but Pedro Martinez topped 200 Ks in ten out of eleven years during his climb to prominence…and twice he surpassed 300! That, to me, is the example of someone out there killing the opponent.

And of those years where Blyleven racked up some quality strikeout figures, did he ever blow away the competition and lead the league?


In 1985, he bested Floyd Bannister by 8 strikeouts. 206 compared to 198 and Bert pitched in almost 90 more innings…not really dominant.

“Dominance” shouldn’t be judged the number of times a guy leads the league in strikeouts, right? Basically, when I think of a “strikeout pitcher”…I think of a guy like Randy Johnson. Not a guy who benefited from a four-man rotation instead of the modern five.But that’s okay.

I mean, let’s look at the bigger picture…how many times did Bert lead the league in ERA?


What about winning percentage?

How many Cy Young Awards did this cat bring home?


He was an All-Star twice, but c’mon…so was Esteban Loaiza. And frankly, when do you suppose the last (or first) time someone NOT named “Blyleven” uttered the words…"I sure do hope Bert’s on the hill today” on their way to the ballpark?

Plenty of writers will give a sympathy nod to Blyleven by labeling him “unlucky” and “colorful”. His vote totals have climbed steadily from 17.5% in 1998 to 62.7% last year.

It remains to be seen what 2010 brings.

BallHype: hype it up!


David Allan said...

This is a hall of fame case where you and I will agree to disagree. I think Bert is hall worth and here is why.

287 wins and 3701 strikeouts. Now you argue that 287 isn't 300, which I agree but as I stared publicily when Mike and I discussed votes on New York Baseball Digest a couple of weeks back. I am less and less inclined to care about 300 wins, 500 home runs, 3000 strikeouts and 3000 hits as absolutes.

For example 500 home runs used to punch your ticket, now it does not. So the truth is these numbers get you in the discussion and in the case of most players make you a lock. Unless you are Blyleven or Big Mac.

But since they got to one of the four magic numbers, and Bert got really close to the other one, I think his body of work deserve more respect than it has gotten.

You shoot down his strikeout total by saying, "Not a guy who benefited from a four-man rotation instead of the modern five.But that’s okay." But in the history of baseball thousands, if not tens of thousands of pitchers competed in four man rotations. Only 4 in the history of the game have more K's than Blyleven. Only 16 all time have cracked that 3000 k plateau. Yeah played 23 years. But of those 16 players only Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins and Pedro Martinez pitched less than 20 years. Then there is 15, 13, 15, 17 amd 17. What's that? The number of years each of the four players ahead of Bert and Blyleven himself took to get to 3000 K's, and only Randy Johnsons 13 is way lower than Blyleven.

So had he not been a "compiler" after 17 years he'd have managed 3000 k's.

At that point he was 229 and 197, with an ERA of 3.08, 216 complete games, 54 shutouts and 3090 k's.

In his "compiling" years, he added 58 wins and 53 losses with an ERA of 4.26 with 26 complete games and 6 shutouts and 611 K's.

At the 17 year mark with an ERA of 3.08, 229 wins and 3090 losses, I'd have put him in. I don't think throwing for 6 more years unmade him a hall of fame pitcher.

Just my two cents.

LargeBill said...

There are different kinds of compilers. A batter with a .270 batting average hanging around to stumble past 3,000 hits is a compiler that isn't really helping his team. A pitcher you can rely on to go out and throw quality innings every fourth or fifth day is a compiler is something I imagine most managers enjoy having around. You asked about how many times did he lead the league in various stats like ERA knowing the answer was none. However, did you look at how often he was close to leading the league? Being in the ERA race over and over isn't a bad thing. Ten times he was in the top ten in ERA and twelve times he was in the top ten for ERA+. I'll admit as a kid I didn't look at Bert pitch (I grew up in Cleveland) and instantly think HoF'r. Does that matter? As a kid I still thought Hall of Fame was Aaron, Mantle & Rose. Impressions are often wrong. We didn't have access to BB-Ref back then so if a player had good games against your hometown team you were overly impressed until you saw his card the next spring. By the how did they look to me methodology Mike Sweeney and Tim Salmon should get elected because they destroyed Cleveland pitching on days I saw them play. All I know is Blyleven did all he could to keep the opponent from scoring. Struck out a lot of batters without walking many. Kept score low so his team had a chance to win. If his team had scored a little more in thirteen more games (out of the 685 he started) he'd have gone in easily years ago.

Circle Me said...

And we're in the stone age, here, folks. Wins. Wins, and nothing but.

No, sorry. Wins and Losses, since we have to discredit that 1973 season somehow.

325 innings at a 2.52 ERA? Well, he went 20-17, so forget all about it.

You can throw out words like "compiler" all you want, but longevity should be part of the equation.

Blyleven was incredible for ten years, and then just well above average for another ten.

I know that some people who are BBRAA members think like this, and I find that very depressing.

Jesus Melendez said...

Soooo...Blyleven was "incredible" for less than half of his career?

You've convinced me...let him in.

Sam said...

Why are you so hung up on the idea that he played for so long?

If he'd quit in 1982 he would've had an outstanding career, but he wouldn't have had any longevity, so he pitched another 2000 innings(and quite well, too)

Jack Morris had zero career seasons with an ERA under 3, Bert Blyleven had nine.

Is one shutout in 1991 enough to make him more deserving than Blylven's 60(plus everything else)?

During the "1979-1992, 2200 innings minimum", you cite Jack Morris as having a 3.71 ERA.

During "his career" Bert Blyleven had a 3.31 ERA

Anyone who actually advocates for Morris and not Blyleven in the Hall of Fame should be required to have a disclaimer saying so on anything they write about baseball.

Concerned In Connecticut said...

By my count Bert pitched eight seasons for teams that either won 90 or more games, were serious contenders for division titles, or both. These teams won two World Series, three division titles and finished 2nd three other times. They had a cumulative .562 winning percentage. Bert made 261 starts over these eight seasons and pitched more than 1800 innings. Here's his record for these eight seasons:

100-83, .546 win percentage, 3.55 ERA.

The simple fact is that Bert averaged 12.5 wins per season for these eight years and had a lower winning percentage - .546 - than the .562 winning percentage posted by his teams. But Bert's battalions tell us we should ignore what actually happened when Bert pitched for good teams and instead believe what they tell us Bert would have done if those mediocre Twins and Indians teams had been powerhouses.

Why couldn't Bert do what Tommy John did from '77 to '80 when John averaged 20 wins per year for good teams? Granted, John's Dodger and Yankee teams had a .594 winning percentage compared to the .561 compiled by the good teams Bert pitched for in the eight seasons we've examined, but does that explain the difference between John's 20 wins per season and Bert's 12.5 wins, or John's .696 winning percentage during this period and Bert's .546?

This is the crux of the matter. Bert couldn't establish himself as a consistent winner even when pitching for good teams; he couldn't do what elite pitchers are supposed to do - significantly improve upon their team's usual performance. True, he had very good ERA's for many mediocre teams, but compiled won-loss records that were too often no better than mediocre pitchers who received even less run support than Bert did. And when Bert pitched for good teams, he continued to compile mediocre won-loss records. This is the problem for Bert's army of backers and their arsenal of esoteric statistics. They can't explain why Bert didn't win consistently for good teams. They can't explain how Bert could receive better run support than Twin pitchers like Joe Decker and Jim Hughes and Dick Woodson and compile records no better than these mediocre pitchers.

Here's the task for the Bert Backers. Explain how this putative Hall of Fame pitcher could receive an average of 4.39 runs/game from these good teams, whose overall scoring average was 4.34 runs/game over these eight seasons, and yet have a lower winning percentage than his teams? The average pitcher on these teams received slightly less run support than Bert and yet had a higher winning percentage - was the average pitcher on these Pirate, Twin and Angel teams a Hall of Famer?

Sam said...

I don't care.

The ultimate goal of a baseball team is to win, and there is a statistic called for a pitcher called "Win", therefore the pitcher who got that stat must have had a very large role in getting the team the win, right? Wrong.

Why couldn't Bert do what Tommy John did from 1977-1980? Because he didn't happen to line his best seasons up with his best teams.

If Bert had flipped his performances and got played his best seasons with his best teams, and his worse seasons with his worst teams, he probably wins about 340 games.

If you think there's a "reason" he played worse for the Pirates of the late-seventies than the Twins of the mid-seventies, then you're welcome to it.

I think that's nonsense.

Johnstone said...

First, you call him a compiler, and speak of his longevity as if though it's a bad thing. Blyleven was very, very good for a long time. He played 22 seasons, and he was good or great for all but four or five of them. That's a positive, not a negative. Bert didn't compile mediocre seasons - he complied great ones. You know who else compiled seasons? Every other player to ever play the game. Ever. Every player compiles. It's what happens when you play a long time. Nolan Ryan compiled. So did Hank Aaron. The difference is whether or not the numbers that are getting “compiled” are great, good, mediocre, or terrible.

You go on to say that 300 is the magic number for pitchers to gain entry into The Hall. Fair enough. Every pitcher who has won 300 games is in The Hall, but what if they all won 280 games, but the rest of their statistics remained the same? Most, if not all, of them still are in The Hall because they were really, really good. 300 is just a number, like 500 or 3,000.

True, Blyleven didn't reach that plateau. But had he played until he DID get 300 wins, then does he get in? Or would be simply be a compiler?

Over the next few paragraphs, you talk about single-season win totals, and how Bert only won 20 games once in his career. You know who else won 20 games in a season? Jon Lieber and Dontrelle Willis. Which means that 20 is another arbitrary number that is in no way a reflection of how good or great a pitcher is. Two seasons ago Jamie Moyer led the Phillies in wins in the same season that Cole Hamels had an ERA of 3.09 and was better than Jamie in every possible statistical category that you can use to measure how good a pitcher is. But who is the better pitcher? Thusly, wins are one of the worst metrics to use.

However, the most egregious parts of the post are when you say this:

“It should be noted that in that 1973 season when Blyleven was 20-17, his Twins were 81-81. It wasn’t like he played for the 1962 Mets. He was a slightly average pitcher on an average ballclub.”

“A Hall of Famer (to me) is someone who elevates his team to be better than they should be. And, admittedly, perhaps Blyleven’s record isn’t indicative of his worth. He did, of course, pitch his team to FIFTEEN 1-0 victories. Granted, he lost ten others…but you can’t blame a guy for lack of run support.”

In 1973, Bert pitched 325 innings with an ERA of 2.52, an ERA+ of 158, while striking out 258. And you call that average? When are those numbers considered to be average? There is one word that you can use to describe that season: great.

Then you say that Bert's record might not be indicative of his worth, but you chastised him earlier for not having enough career victories and 20 win seasons, but that he can't be blamed for lack of run support. So which is it? Either the wins do matter, run support or bullpen be damned, or they don't.

You've proven very little in this post, and you contradicted yourself more than once. If you don't think that he is a Hall of Famer, that's fine, but you need to do a better job in proving that.

Jesus Melendez said... make some good points, but I think you are missing mine.

Blyleven, for his career, put up some great numbers. 287 wins...fifth all-time in Ks are nothing to sniff at. However, when you break his seasons down against those he played AGAINST (which, to me, is how you determine whether or not his numbers stack up), he falls short.

He was the proverbial bridesmaid I suppose...never really led the league in anything. And while you can cite names like Leiber and Willis to make your point, I'll cite Jim Palmer (eight 20 win seasons in nine years) and Fergie Jenkins (seven out of eight).

That's peak dominance...greatness if you will. To me, Blyleven never matched it.

You won't change my opinion.

Sam said...

1970-1978, Bert Blyleven

6 of 9 seasons with an ERA under 3, plus one of 3.00 and one of 3.03

ERA over the nine year stretch: 2.81

1967-1974, Fergie Jenkins

5 of 9 seasons with an ERA under 3, plus a couple around 3.20

ERA over the eight year stretch: 3.07

Not to mention that Fergie's numbers include two years in the "high-mound era" where pitching stats were easy to come by.

Just when you say "dominance" or "impact" or "elevate", just say "Wins", every time.

If you want to treat wins as the only thing that matters, that's your decision. I just think that putting all the importance on a stat that ignores half the game as being simplistic.

Sam said...

I forgot, regarding those stretches for Blyleven and Jenkins.

Over those eight years, Jenkins threw 2435 innings, 304 a year.

Blyleven's 71-78 run(a better comparison, 8 seasons) he threw 2223 innings, for 278 a year.

Pitching 26 more innings a year is really nice, and is one of the causes of getting more wins

A 2.79 ERA, 278 Innings a year for eight years

A 3.07 ERA, 304 innings a year, for eight years.

I'm not really trying to say that Blyleven's run was better than Jenkins', but calling on Jenkins run from 67-74 as a dominant stretch as though Blyleven never had something like comparable is just bizarre.

Of course, Jenkins went 166-112 over this stretch, and Blyleven just 126-114, so wins!

Johnstone said...

Jesus, you keep talking about wins as if they are the be-all, end-all statistic to measure how good a pitcher was. In reality, wins are one of the worst ways to judge how good a pitcher is, considering that the offense and the bullpen have a LOT to do with whether or not the pitcher gets the win. Had his teams been just a little bit better, like 2% better, then he has 20-30 more wins.

jay said...

he's 5th on the all time strikout list--5th--"compiler" or no he's 5th all time, and had a stretch of 5 years on a row where he averaged about 230--tossed a no hitter--and throw 60 shutouts--i guess nolan ryan was "compiler" as well...