Baseball BeatDecember 26, 2003
Only The Lonely
By Rich Lederer

The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven

Oh-woh-woh-woh-o oh-wa-wah
Only the lonely, only the lonely

--Roy Orbison and Joe Melson

In my most recent article, I pointed out that catchers and third basemen are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. I specifically mentioned Ted Simmons, Wally Schang, and Joe Torre as among a group of catchers who deserve a second look. There are a few third basemen, most notably Ron Santo, who have been ignored and warrant inclusion. However, none of the players mentioned are on this year's ballot so a discussion of their merits can be saved for a later day.

In the meantime, I would like to review the candidacy of a Hall of Fame-worthy player who is on the ballot for the seventh time. With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen of the selection jury, I hereby introduce Exhibit One in The Case For Bert Blyleven.


1    Nolan Ryan                 5714   
2    Steve Carlton              4136   
3    Roger Clemens              4099   
4    Randy Johnson              3871   
5    Bert Blyleven              3701   
6    Tom Seaver                 3640   
7    Don Sutton                 3574   
8    Gaylord Perry              3534   
9    Walter Johnson             3509   
10   Phil Niekro                3342   
11   Ferguson Jenkins           3192   
12   Bob Gibson                 3117
Every pitcher with 3,000 or more strikeouts who is eligible is in the Hall of Fame except for one pitcher. His name? Well, for those of you who may be color blind, the lone exception is none other than Rik Aalbert Blyleven. As shown, the Holland-born righthander ranks fifth all time in strikeouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, there are only two pitchers--Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson--on the above list who are not in the Hall, and both will surely be inducted on the first ballot. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.

Maybe strikeouts are not all that important as a standalone measure, you say? Well, you may be right. The object of the game is to shut down the opposing team no matter how you get them out, correct? With that understanding, ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present Exhibit Two for your consideration.


1    Walter Johnson              110   
2    Grover C Alexander           90   
3    Christy Mathewson            79   
4    Cy Young                     76   
5    Eddie Plank                  69   
6    Warren Spahn                 63   
T7   Tom Seaver                   61   
T7   Nolan Ryan                   61   
9    Bert Blyleven                60   
10   Don Sutton                   58   
11   Ed Walsh                     57   
T12  Three Finger Brown           56   
T12  Pud Galvin                   56   
T12  Bob Gibson                   56   
15   Steve Carlton                55   
T16  Jim Palmer                   53   
T16  Gaylord Perry                53   
18   Juan Marichal                52   
T19  Rube Waddell                 50   
T19  Vic Willis                   50
Bert Blyleven ranks ninth in career shutouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, every pitcher with 50 or more shutouts has been enshrined in Cooperstown. Nineteen pitchers on the inside, one pitcher on the outside. Bert Blyleven, Only the Lonely.

Still not convinced, ehh? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce into evidence Exhibit Three. Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA) represent the number of runs that a pitcher saved his team versus what an average pitcher would have allowed, adjusted for ballpark effects.


1    Cy Young                    813   
2    Kid Nichols                 678   
3    Lefty Grove                 668   
4    Walter Johnson              643   
5    Roger Clemens               613   
6    Greg Maddux                 540   
7    Grover C Alexander          524   
8    John Clarkson               508   
9    Randy Johnson               461   
10   Pedro Martinez              453   
11   Christy Mathewson           405   
12   Tom Seaver                  404   
13   Tim Keefe                   377   
14   Amos Rusie                  370   
15   Carl Hubbell                355   
16   Bob Gibson                  350   
17   Bert Blyleven               344   
18   Phil Niekro                 322   
19   Whitey Ford                 321   
20   Warren Spahn                319
Every pitcher in the top 20 who is eligible for the Hall is in with one exception. And who might that pitcher be? Once again, it's none other than the Only The Lonely man himself, Bert Blyleven.

What about ERA? Well, thank you for asking. Ladies and gentlemen, I take this opportunity to introduce Exhibit Four.


                                DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE
1    Roger Clemens              1.20     3.19     4.39   
2    Walter Johnson             1.07     2.17     3.24   
3    Kid Nichols                0.94     2.95     3.89   
4    Cy Young                   0.92     2.63     3.54   
5    Grover C Alexander         0.83     2.56     3.39   
6    Warren Spahn               0.81     3.08     3.89   
7    Tom Seaver                 0.79     2.86     3.66   
8    Christy Mathewson          0.78     2.13     2.91   
9    John Clarkson              0.73     2.81     3.54   
10   Tim Keefe                  0.71     2.62     3.34   
11   Ted Lyons                  0.68     3.67     4.34   
12   Red Faber                  0.64     3.15     3.79   
13   Old Hoss Radbourn          0.59     2.67     3.26   
14   Red Ruffing                0.56     3.80     4.36   
15   Gaylord Perry              0.53     3.11     3.63   
16   Eddie Plank                0.53     2.35     2.88   
17   Nolan Ryan                 0.53     3.19     3.72   
18   Robin Roberts              0.51     3.40     3.91   
19   Bert Blyleven              0.50     3.31     3.81   
20   Eppa Rixey                 0.50     3.15     3.64
Nineteen of the top 20 pitchers have had their day in upstate New York or, in the case of Clemens, have already made reservations. The omission this time? You got it. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.

For those of you who still need more information, I would like to present Exhibit Five. Neutral Wins is a statistic that projects the number of victories the pitcher would have if he was given average run support, considering his total number of decisions.


1    Cy Young                    533   
2    Walter Johnson              470   
3    Grover C Alexander          374   
4    Kid Nichols                 373   
5    Christy Mathewson           361   
6    Pud Galvin                  359   
7    Warren Spahn                353   
8    Tim Keefe                   346   
9    Phil Niekro                 337   
T10  Gaylord Perry               336   
T10  Nolan Ryan                  336   
12   Steve Carlton               327   
13   John Clarkson               323   
14   Bert Blyleven               313   
15   Tom Seaver                  312   
16   Eddie Plank                 311   
17   Don Sutton                  310   
18   Roger Clemens               306   
19   Old Hoss Radbourn           300   
20   Lefty Grove                 298
Please excuse Mr. Blyleven for feeling a little paranoid at this time but, as you can see, he is the only pitcher in the top 20 in Neutral Wins who is eligible for baseball's highest honor but has not yet been voted in. Only The Lonely.

Think the above stat is a little too theoretical? Well, members of the selection committee, let's take a look at Exhibit Six. Actual wins. Nice and simple, just the way you guys and gals like it.


1    Cy Young                    511   
2    Walter Johnson              417   
T3   Christy Mathewson           373   
T3   Grover C Alexander          373   
5    Warren Spahn                363   
6    Kid Nichols                 361   
7    Pud Galvin                  360   
8    Tim Keefe                   341   
9    Steve Carlton               329   
10   John Clarkson               328   
11   Eddie Plank                 326   
T12  Nolan Ryan                  324   
T12  Don Sutton                  324   
14   Phil Niekro                 318   
15   Gaylord Perry               314   
16   Tom Seaver                  311   
17   Roger Clemens               310   
T18  Mickey Welch                309   
T18  Old Hoss Radbourn           309   
T20  Early Wynn                  300   
T20  Lefty Grove                 300   
22   Greg Maddux                 289   
23   Tommy John                  288   
24   Bert Blyleven               287   
25   Robin Roberts               286   
T26  Ferguson Jenkins            284
Although the number of wins is not the end all for evaluating pitchers, I am proud to say that our man once again finds himself in the company of nothing but Hall of Famers with just one other exception. Furthermore, there are dozens of pitchers who have won fewer games, yet you have found reason to induct each and every one of them.

Who would some of those fortunate souls be? None other than famous oldtimers such as Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown (239), Bob Feller (266), Carl Hubbell (253), and Joe McGinnity (246); greats from the '50s and '60s like Jim Bunning (224), Don Drysdale (209), Whitey Ford (236), Bob Gibson (251), Sandy Koufax (165), Juan Marichal (243), and Robin Roberts (286); and more decorated contemporaries over the first half of Mr. Blyleven's tenure such as Catfish Hunter (224), Ferguson Jenkins (284), and Jim Palmer (268).

Speaking of Mr. Blyleven's peers, I thought it might be instructive to compare how he ranks in RSAA over the course of his career. I would like to offer Exhibit Seven for your review.


1    Bert Blyleven               344   
2    Roger Clemens               329   
3    Tom Seaver                  321   
4    Jim Palmer                  289   
T5   Dave Stieb                  241   
T5   Phil Niekro                 241   
7    Steve Carlton               239   
8    Gaylord Perry               228   
9    Nolan Ryan                  215   
10   Dennis Eckersley            204
Not only is Mr. Blyleven number one but he is the only pitcher on this list who has come before you and not been so honored. I recognize that the time period chosen favors our man because it conveniently covers his entire career. Nonetheless, if you run the same screen ten times using the various career lengths for each of the above moundsmen, the pitcher ranked first in every sort is in the HOF or will be in the HOF (in the case of Clemens, who is #1 over his playing days as well as Dave Stieb's career).

Want a "cleaner" period like the decade of the 1970s instead? Ladies and gentlemen, I provide you with Exhibit Eight.


1    Tom Seaver                  281   
2    Jim Palmer                  280   
3    Bert Blyleven               261   
4    Phil Niekro                 248   
5    Gaylord Perry               237   
6    Ferguson Jenkins            195   
7    Steve Carlton               176
The top seven are all in the HOF except for the fellow with the initials "BB", who ranks third. The two hurlers ahead of him--Tom Seaver and Palmer--are multiple Cy Young Award winners and first-ballot HOF inductees. Bert Blyleven. Only The Lonely (Know How I Feel).

Bert Blyleven also ranks in the top ten for the decade of the 1980s, and he is second for the ten-year period (1975-1984) overlapping these two decades--behind only Steve Carlton, who is also a multiple Cy Young Award winner and first-ballot HOF inductee.

In addition to the above qualifications, Mr. Blyleven meets or exceeds three of the four Hall of Fame measures established by Bill James, one of baseball's foremost analysts. Only 21 pitchers in the history of the game have met all four standards, including just nine who began their careers after World War II. I present Exhibit Nine for your consideration.

Black Ink: Pitching - 16 (128) (Average HOFer ~ 40)
Gray Ink: Pitching - 239 (22) (Average HOFer ~ 185)
HOF Standards: Pitching - 50.0 (36) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Pitching - 120.5 (65) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Overall Rank in parentheses.

Furthermore, as displayed in Exhibit Ten, eight of the most similar pitchers according to (one of the most widely used and highly respected baseball statistical sources) are in the Hall of Fame.


Don Sutton (914) *
Gaylord Perry (909) *
Ferguson Jenkins (890) *
Tommy John (889)
Robin Roberts (876) *
Tom Seaver (864) *
Jim Kaat (854)
Early Wynn (844) *
Phil Niekro (844) *
Steve Carlton (840) *

*Denotes Hall of Famer.

The two pitchers not in the HOF are most similar to Mr. Blyleven in terms of their number of wins, but neither ranks among the top 20 in any of the other Exhibits that I have presented before you. Seven of the remaining eight show up not only on the career wins table alongside my client but at least once more. As such, I would contend that the following seven pitchers (Hall of Famers all) are the most statistically comparable to Mr. Blyleven:

Steve Carlton
Ferguson Jenkins
Phil Niekro
Gaylord Perry
Robin Roberts
Tom Seaver
Don Sutton

Herewith is Exhibit Eleven in The Case For Bert Blyleven.

                IP    H     ER    BB    SO   HR   ERA    W    L    PCT
Blyleven       4970  4632  1830  1322  3701  430  3.31  287  250  .534
Group Average  5032  4577  1800  1379  3396  448  3.22  316  239  .569
As detailed, Bert Blyleven's stats are roughly in line with the average of these seven pitchers across the board with the possible exception of wins, losses, and winning percentage. However, as shown in Exhibit Twelve below, his rate stats for the three areas controlled by the pitcher are actually better than this exclusive group.
		BB/9	SO/9	HR/9
Blyleven	2.39	6.70	0.78
Group Average	2.47	6.07	0.80
How was it possible that Mr. Blyleven could have better rate stats yet have 22 fewer wins and five more losses than the group average? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that the difference in my client's won-loss record was nothing more than being a victim of poor support. For example, do you realize that his team scored just 18 runs in his 15 losses in 1971? In fact, I would argue that Mr. Blyleven is one of the "unluckiest" pitchers in the history of baseball.

To compare "apples to apples", I hereby offer Exhibit Thirteen, which reveals the won-loss records of Mr. Blyleven and the group average by equalizing the run support for my client and the same seven starters, all of whom are among the elite group of pitchers in the Hall of Fame.

Blyleven	313	224	.583
Group Average	316	239	.569
Neutral Wins and Losses prove my point that the only differences in Bert Blyleven's actual won-loss totals and winning percentage are a function of run support (or lack thereof). Recall that Mr. Blyleven broke in with the Minnesota Twins after the franchise's hey day in the second half of the 1960s, then played for the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, the Twins again, and the California Angels.


Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to summarize Bert Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame.

1. Mr. Blyleven ranks fifth all time in career strikeouts. You have seen the virtues of electing the top dozen other than the man known as Only The Lonely.

2. Mr. Blyleven ranks ninth in shutouts. You have seen the virtues of inducting the top 20 other than our subject.

3. Mr. Blyleven ranks 24th in wins. You have seen the virtues of honoring every eligible pitcher ahead of him save one.

4. Looking at more advanced metrics, Bert Blyleven ranks 14th in Neutral Wins. You have voted in every pitcher in the top 20 other than Mr. Blyleven.

5. Mr. Blyleven also ranks 17th in Runs Saved Above Average. You have enshrined every pitcher in the top 20 other than him.

6. Among pitchers with 4,000 or more innings, Bert Blyleven ranks 19th in ERA vs. the league average. Once again, you have found a spot in Cooperstown for every pitcher in the top 20 other than Mr. Blyleven.

For some icing on the cake, may I point out that Bert Blyleven was named American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year in 1970 at the age of 19, threw a no-hitter in 1977, and was voted Comeback Player of the Year in 1989? I might also add that Mr. Blyleven pitched on two World Series Championship teams, compiling a 5-1 won-loss record and a 2.47 ERA in the postseason.

By the way, I would like to bring to your attention, ladies and gentlemen, the little-known fact that you haven't honored any pitchers born since 1947 (Nolan Ryan), yet you have felt compelled to induct eight hitters (George Brett, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount) born since then. Furthermore, every pitcher that has been elected since Mr. Blyleven became eligible six years ago, as well as the two immediately preceding his candidacy, has won 300 or more games. In fact, Rollie Fingers in 1992 was the last pitcher that was voted into the Hall of Fame without 300 wins and he, of course, was a reliever.

Based on the above, one can't help but think that winning 300 games has become the de facto standard for pitchers. As a point of clarification, had you held to that magical mark all along, there would only be 20 pitchers currently in the Hall of Fame with another one on his way (Clemens) and perhaps a second one on the horizon (Greg Maddux). A total of 22 starting pitchers would be comparable to only four or five position players. The fewest number of HOFers at any one position is 11 (3B). As such, holding starting pitchers to a minimum of 300 victories is overly strict and unfair. Focusing exclusively on wins is also a mistake as this stat is as much dependent on the pitcher's team as it is on the pitcher himself.

Ladies and gentlemen of the selection committee, I believe the facts in The Case For Bert Blyleven are indisputable. The evidence presented clearly indicates that Mr. Blyleven has all the qualifications necessary for you to finally reward him with his own plaque in Cooperstown.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sources: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and

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